After 35 years building a devoted following across Denver, El Taco de Mexico finally became a national food treasure this week. On Tuesday, it received a 2020 America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation.
El Taco de Mexico is one of six restaurants across the country that will receive the Classics Award this year, and it was the first to be announced by the Beard Foundation, with the rest to follow throughout this week.
Former “Top Chef” competitor and Colorado-based chef Brother Luck announced El Taco de Mexico’s award via video on the James Beard Foundation’s Instagram account.
He mentioned El Taco’s green-chile-smothered pork burrito, which the foundation also called “the restaurant’s crowning glory… humming with earthy spice. Made extra-heaping as a breakfast burrito stuffed with egg and chorizo, it brings bleary-eyed devotees back to life.”
Known in Denver for its cheery yellow counter in the Santa Fe Art District, El Taco de Mexico keeps a dedicated, mostly female staff that serves tacos and smothered burritos around the clock.
The foundation also honored owner Maria Luisa Zanabria, who arrived in Denver from Mexico City in 1985, first opening a trailer on Santa Fe before growing her business into a small but lasting taqueria.
“Among Denver’s thriving Mexican food culture, El Taco de Mexico is a lodestar whose appeal cuts across lines of race, class and age,” the foundation wrote. “The serious, focused cooks (all women) keep pace with the all-day crowds, turning out tacos (carne asada, al pastor, and lengua are among the options), enchilada, gorditas and weekend menudo.”
The annual James Beard Awards are considered the Oscars of the food world. While this is the first time a Colorado restaurant has received the Classics Award, there have been multiple winners of other James Beard Awards in Denver and Colorado.
More than 100 restaurants have received the Classics Award since 1998. All of this year’s honorees will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Awards Gala on May 4 in Chicago.