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El Cotorro serves top-quality tacos, street food in beach-bar atmosphere

El Cotorro is a Nob Hill staple, at Carlisle and Campus NE, a block north of Central.

Because it’s slightly off the beaten path, you might overlook this gem-quality taco shop right in the heart of the city.

It’s priced well, the food is made in-house of top-quality ingredients, and the flavors are indisputably authentic.

On a recent visit, I ordered a variety of street-style foods, including tacos and grilled corn and chips and salsa. For around $15, including a tip, I got an incredibly filling, tasty meal in about five minutes.

The first to arrive was the freshly made tortilla chips, served warm with the accompanying salsa bar, for only $2. They were cut smaller than usually, a nice break from the oversized corn tortilla chips served at some restaurants. They were amazing, easily some of the best I’ve had, and a perfect appetizer. The portion isn’t huge, so plan on ordering separately if you’re in a big group. They’ll go fast.

The tacos – I ordered two carne asada for $2.85 a piece – came with a generous portion of well-marinated grilled flank beef steak, cut into small strips, topped with a lime sour cream and tortilla strips, piled on top of a phenomenally good housemade miniature flour tortilla.

The beef was tender and spicy, cooked so well it almost fell apart.

With salsa – the salsa bar features six varieties, from the perilous habanero to the reasonably milder green and red – these tacos were outstanding, surprisingly filling for their size, and worth every penny. These would make a perfect end to a night out, or a quick, affordable lunch during the workweek.

The elote – or grilled corn – is smothered in cotija cheese, a lime-and-chili aioli and dried red chile at El Cotorro. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

The best part of the meal was the elote – or grilled corn. It comes as a side ($3), and it alone is worth the trip. A big ear of sweet yellow corn is grilled to perfection, then smothered in cotija cheese, a lime-and-chili aioli, and just the right amount of dried red chile.

The corn was delicious, unbelievably flavorful and rich. It was filling, too, and for the price, it’s one of the best deals in Albuquerque.

The place is very clean and laid-back, indistinguishable from an upscale beach bar in San Diego (which itself would be inspired by beach bars in Baja). A bunch of Edison bulbs dangle from the ceiling. It’s got a college/beach vibe, not pretentious at all; the entire design, from the outside architecture to the menu, is practical, almost self-aware.

Every university needs an El Cotorro within walking distance.

Diners with a sweet tooth can feast on dessert in the adjoining heladeria, run by El Cotorro, which serves housemade ice creams made with locally sourced ingredients.

Large parties are welcome at El Cotorro, and children will find plenty they like.

A good selection of beer and some local wines are also featured.

For less than $15, you can indulge in some of the best, most authentic, street-style tacos in town with several excellent sides you can’t get anywhere else. The crowd is a mix between local families and college students, both of whom know a bargain when they see one.

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