If you have ever cruised down West Central, you’ve probably spotted it. A decommissioned city bus fully modded into an epic taqueria right on the north side of 47th and Rt. 66. But this is no mere taco truck. If you’ve never dropped in, you are missing out on some of the richest and most flavorful Mexican food in town. That said, don’t even bother ordering unless you are equipped with a voracious appetite.
Pulling up to Taco Bus you might expect a battered old short bus. Not even. While the surroundings may be a bit rough around the edges, Taco Bus is a gleaming enterprise. While Taco Bus has been serving up hungry patrons for around eight years now, it recently got some upgrades. See, Taco Bus began its journey as a Denver city bus. For years it still had a bit of that run-down look. However, the owners of Taco Bus recently acquired another old city bus, this one from Detroit, and gave it a full remodel. It is freshly painted, covered in bright yellow vinyl, and basically looks brand new—even if you can see the old decals if you look closely. Taco Bus even contains indoor seating that vibes like an after-hours lounge. And it should be opening up for the public any day now, as COVID restrictions continue to be relaxed. As it stands, Taco Bus has a pager system in place that allows people to chill in their cars while they await their orders. Oh, and according to the staff, their older model is currently getting similar upgrades and should be reopening at a second, still undisclosed, location in the coming months. Taco Bus may be a bit pricier than some spots around town, but you are paying for quality ingredients prepared masterfully, not just for the polished environs.
As many renowned restaurants and taco trucks have, understandably, raised prices and changed menus during the course of the pandemic, I’ve found myself hunting for new standbys. Taco Bus has rapidly become a personal favorite spot for an array of specialities. They boast an expansive menu with a range of tacos, tortas, hamburguesas al carbon, quesadillas and caldos (soups). This includes a super legit birria de chivo ($14.50). Yes, that’s right. While most every “birria” spot in town has gringofied their recipe in response to tastes on this side of the border, replacing the traditional goat or mutton with beef, Taco Bus keeps it classic. The owners of Taco Bus are originally from Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco—widely believed to be the cuna (cradle) of the now internationally popular, fiercely-spiced dish—and are therefore committed to preserving the dish’s traditional dynamic.
The birria being traditional wouldn’t matter much to me if it weren’t slurp-it-up-’til-gone delicious. But what Taco Bus has achieved here is nothing short of habit-forming. The broth alone will inundate you with waves of flavor from various dried chiles and herbs, punched up with vinegar acidity, tempered by a bit of grasa and made substantial with plenty of mouth-meltingly tender goat meat down at the bottom. Most everything on the menu will benefit from a dunk into this life-affirming elixir. That said, this is a heating dish and will be most delicious when eaten out of direct sunlight or on a cool day. Luckily, Taco Bus is open late for all you night owls chasing the cooler weather through the coming summer months.
Taco-wise, while the asada, pollo al carbon and tripitas were all solid offerings, I was won over by the barbacoa de borrego, or barbecued lamb ($8.50 for an order of four). The first bite had me mentally flashing back to all the matanzas I’ve had the pleasure of attending on both sides of the border. The meat is tender, even delicate, and pairs wonderfully with their smoky red salsa.
The hamburguesas, cooked over coals, are honestly intimidating. I mean, the Monster Burger ($9.50) is loaded with “weenies, bacon, ham, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled chili” and condiments. A la vey. The name is apt, as it bears some resemblance to a Frankenstein creation. The Casper ($16.50) is basically the same monstrosity but in a 10-inch iteration and includes grilled pineapple. I, attempting to think of my insides and the future, passed up these monster burgers and went for the more reasonably sized Fuego Burger ($7.50), a scorching creation that will probably have you tearing up in joy from the prickly sharp and tropically bright homemade habanero sauce that is applied quite liberally throughout. Of course, this also comes in a 10-inch version … if you are really trying to do that to yourself.
Lastly, I couldn’t pass up the Taco Bus Octopus Fries. I honestly was a bit overwhelmed with my order already and didn’t read the caption here. This appetizer, or more likely kids’ meal, is a nice serving of crispy fries, topped with the standard ketchup, mustard and mayo combo and then a few … octopi? Upon closer inspection I realized that these were not chopped up marine creatures but, in fact, hot dogs cut up in such a way that, after a dunk into the fryer, they expand where sliced to resemble baby octopuses. Can’t say I would get this again when Taco Bus has so many delicious and legit Mexican items on the menu. But it was entertaining.
With such a lack of quality, local, late-night options around the Burque, I am confident that Taco Bus will continue to ascend in popularity. If they can maintain this caliber, they will surely keep opening up new locations. I’m currently keeping my fingers crossed that one of them ends up in the SE, so I don’t have to cross the river every time I am craving some of that legit, fiercely addictive, birria de chivo.
4723 Central Ave. NW
Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday 6pm to midnight, Friday 6pm to 2am, Saturday 6pm to 3am, and Sunday 2:30pm to 11:30pm. Closed Mondays.