There is an old superstition that suggests that eating lengua (or beef tongue) leads to great improvements in the worlds of diction and elocution. Whether or not it does improve one’s ability to converse, it is without question a delicious and essential addition to any adventurous eater’s repertoire. The meat is high in fat, somewhat gamey, soft, chewy and versatile. Having been a staple of Latin American cuisine for ages, it is only recently starting to gain traction in the American culinary landscape. While unfamiliar bits of the animal can be intimidating, the list below can provide you with the support you need to ease your way into the delightful and complex world of lengua.
El Taco De Mexico
Where: El Taco De Mexico. 714 Santa Fe Dr., Denver.
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.
The Lowdown: El Taco De Mexico is a Denver institution. Serving the community some of the city’s finest traditional Mexican cuisine since opening its doors in 1985, the place shows no sign of slowing down. There is hardly room on the walls of the modest interior for all the accolades it has received over the years — framed awards from nearly every local publication are squished together on all sides, even above windows. Burritos, breakfast plates, heaping cauldrons of magnificent green chili, tamales and rellenos are all delivered quickly, cheaply and with great pride. It is the tacos, particularly the lengua tacos ($2.10), that truly inspire. Served on two lightly fried corn tortillas they are lengua, onions, cilantro and house made salsa — no frills necessary. Asking for lime is an option, but somewhat of a faux pas. Unadorned and utterly brilliant, the ingredients speak for themselves, and simplicity reigns supreme.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Where: Tacos Tequila Whiskey. 1514 York St., Denver. 3300 West 32nd Ave., Denver.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m – 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Monday 3 – 10 p.m.
The Lowdown: If the thought of trying tongue strikes fear in your heart, this would be the place to start. The lengua is triple-cooked, resulting in a crispy and unintimidating variation reminiscent of pork belly. Set atop two corn tortillas, the meat is drenched in avocado, onion, cilantro, roasted tomatillo salsa and guajillo honey mayo. The generous heap of sauce neatly masks the gamier aspects — the combination a decadent, albeit messy foray into parts unknown. The lengua taco ($3.50) is one of the finest choices on a menu where it is impossible to go wrong.
Olive & Finch
Where: Olive & Finch. 1552 East 17th Ave., Denver and 3390 East 1st Ave., Denver.
Hours: Every day from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. on 17th and every day from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. at Cherry Creek.
The Lowdown: Olive & Finch just recently opened the doors to a second location in Cherry Creek — making it even easier for the lengua-curious to explore the delicacy in an innovative way. The Greggers ($12.50) is six-hour house braised beef tongue piled high atop a baguette then adorned with roasted garlic puree, tarragon aioli, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and arugula. The massive sandwich is served with chips and a pickle, justifying the somewhat hefty price tag. Conquering this beast is no easy task — the juicy ingredients often spill out of the sides, the flavors big and bold. In addition to innovative sandwiches, Olive & Finch serves up excellent espresso drinks and unforgettable pastries.
Where: Sancho’s. 2850 Iris Ave., Suite i-4, Boulder.
Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Despite being hidden away in a strip mall in north Boulder, Sancho’s is worth the trek. Conveniently located directly across from the DMV, the young restaurant is quickly establishing itself as a formidable addition to the Front Range’s excellent culinary landscape. Sancho’s lengua tacos ($1.95) also follow the classic mold, achieving greatness without decoration. Juicy lengua is perfectly highlighted by the lime (provided here without rebuke), crisp white onions add a delicate crunch. What separates Sancho’s is its well-stocked salsa bar. Five house made salsas including mild fresca, smoky ahumada, formidable habanera, creamy verde cremosa and balanced el diablo are set against the far wall. Patrons can mix and match to their heart’s content — each combination distinct and delightful.
Adelita’s Cocina Y Cantina
Where: Adelita’s. 1294 South Broadway, Denver.
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Monday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
The Lowdown: Adelita’s on South Broadway is known for its incredible selection of tequilas and mezcals. Providing yet another marvelous rendition of the traditional style the lengua tacos ($8.95 for a plate of three, served with rice and beans) are served with a house made tomatillo salsa that makes any other addition (including limes) entirely unnecessary. Providing both heat and a perfect touch of citrus, the salsa takes the beef tongue — simmered in onion, garlic and spice — to the next level. Visit on Tuesdays when all tacos are available for a dollar, with the more decadent lengua still costing a mere two.
Featured image by Glenn Ross. All other photography by Colin Wrenn.