If 2020 has revealed anything, it’s the many individuals who make up the service industry’s sheer tenacity, creativity and staunch unwillingness to give up. Inescapable systemic problems have all too often been supplemented by personal misfortunes large and small. Even so, restaurant owners have pressed on, adapting at a pace so sweetly characteristic of an industry that has always run on rocket fuel. For the family behind Peyote Mexican Food Truck — including father Orive Martinez, mother Mayte Salinas, son Amaury Martinez, daughter Wendolyn Martinez and her husband Naruki Sato — the year has been particularly tempestuous.
When asked to expand their already remarkable food truck concept to the space formerly occupied by Mariscos El Licenciado, they jumped at the opportunity to augment their taco, torta and quesadilla-heavy menu to include a more robust range of ceviche, aguachiles and cocktails. Sadly, only a few short months after opening, the landlord pulled the plug, citing personal tax complications. “It was like a punch to the gut,” said Amaury. “It had taken like a whole month just to clean the kitchen,” he continued.
To add insult to injury, the news came just days before Arte x Federal — a collaborative throwdown curated by Kansas City native and Denver staple DINKC — descended on the parking lot to completely refashion the building’s exterior, fence and general vibe. On the Saturday preceding this year’s CRUSH Walls, DINKC tapped Shitty Kitten, Chelsea Lewinski, Alyssa Mora, Omega Marcusus, Iconick and several other collaborators to bring their talents to an area distinctly lacking in the kind of color and design so pervasive in other parts of the city. The family had discovered DINKC at the previous year’s Secret Walls, enlisting him for the project through Instagram. “We didn’t even say hi to him at the event. We just saw his work,” said Wendolyn.
Art appears to have always been central to Peyote’s general aesthetic. Amaury designed the food truck and the unmistakable deer-centered logo. Though the love runs deeper. The name itself was inspired by the Huichol Tribe — known for its distinctive bead art and annual pilgrimage involving the sacred cactus. Prior to immigrating to the United States, both Orive and Mayte frequented the Huichol’s native Nayarit and Jalisco, then absorbing and developing a deep appreciation for the craft and culture. The truck and the now-vacated brick and mortar both are rich in vivid colors and psychedelic nods. Having originally opened the truck in March 2019, the family has since returned to operating exclusively from the mobile kitchen.
While the reduction of the Federal location’s exemplary menu is tragic, the truck still provides a glimpse into some of the list’s best items. The Mango Ceviche is particularly radiant both in terms of its incendiary flavor and harlequin presentation. Chili Cheese Fries are available loaded with al pastor, chicken, chorizo, steak, shrimp or mega-meat — which involves a splendidly wanton combination of all the previous land-faring cuts. The tacos alone are worth the trip — with the previous proteins being joined by fish. While the truck can’t serve booze, with any luck, the Denver dining public will again be able to enjoy the Cevichelada — a not-so-slight glass of beer, spices and tomato and lime juices topped with a nearly full serving of ceviche and a crown of Doritos.
Despite the knocks, Peyote hasn’t sacrificed quality or its commitment to delivering the kind of fare usually reserved for Los Angeles or Mexico itself. The food truck is set to continue operating throughout the winter. There is currently no news on if or when the project will redevelop towards a brick and mortar. Denver should certainly celebrate the team’s resilience, hopefully over tacos. “Peyote will never stop,” said Amaury.
Peyote will currently be posted up in front of the ViewHouse at 2015 Market St., Denver on Thursday – Sunday from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. The art is still up for viewing at 555 South Federal Blvd., Denver, though for how long is anyone’s guess.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.