New to Denver’s authentic Mexican food scene, Cilantro has made a splash on Federal Boulevard with its delicious list of street tacos and over 100 varieties of tequila.
Cilantro first opened on June 19 after about 14 months of restoration to a family building on Federal Boulevard, just walking distance from Empower Field at Mile High. Owners and brothers Refugio and Fidel Robles bought the current building from their parents with the vision of creating a rustic and authentic taqueria. The Robles saw how valuable this location was because of the potential for growing business in the area.
The name Cilantro was inspired by traditional Mexican tacos that are always served with chopped onion and cilantro. The simplicity of the two toppings leaves room for the tender meat and warm tortillas to be the star of the dish. It doesn’t hurt that cilantro rolls off the tongue much more smoothly than a restaurant named onion.
The Robles family is originally from Jalisco, Mexico — a region of Mexican cuisine that has largely influenced their lives and continues to inspire both the menu and décor at Cilantro. Having grown up in a rural part of Mexico without running water or electricity, making food wasn’t a simple task. Many people today can order food from their phone, but Robles had to physically go out and pick cherries for his dessert.
“Where I’m from you had to cook, you couldn’t just go to the grocery store. Everything we ate was made from scratch,” Robles said.
Both owners and chef Noe Serrano take that lifestyle and incorporate it in the menu. All tortillas are handmade and every ingredient is locally sourced from microgreen to protein. Serrano prepares meat authentic to the taste of Jalisco by slow roasting the barbacoa overnight.
The most sought out tacos are El Clásico ($4.50), El Auténtico ($4.50) and the Camarón Pelao ($5.25). The Clásico taco is made with tender skirt steak on a hand-crafted tortilla topped with cilantro, sautéed onions and guacamole aioli. El Auténtico is made with slow cooked barbacoa and simply topped with onion and cilantro. This taco is unique to Cilantro because of the thin layer of cheese melted to the bottom of the tortilla. The Camarón Pelao taco is a red pepper tortilla served with lightly battered shrimp, jalapeno lime aioli and a healthy handful of cilantro coleslaw.
The master crafting from head chef Serrano is represented in each authentically Jalisco taco on the menu.
Robles moved to the US on October 31, 1988. An easy day to remember because he was immediately able to go door-to-door asking for candy — an unheard-of phenomenon. The Robles brothers grew up with cattle ranchers, jewelry store owners and later restaurant owners for parents so each of their parents’ hard work is reflected in Cilantro’s overall aesthetic.
When taking a breather from stuffing delicious tacos in your mouth you might find a rustic yet modern decor surrounding you. From the hand beveled copper table and exposed brick to the handmade clay plates and original artwork from Jalisco— Cilantro presents a modern take on traditional cattle rancher lifestyle from Mexico.
The combination of gourmet tacos, long list of tequila and popular Reggaeton artists radiating from the ceiling put a youthful twist on this authentic taqueria.
Cilantro is located at 1703 Federal Blvd., Denver. Cilantro is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
All Photography by Jason Stilgebouer