I enjoy eating late at night, but some places that stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, have just one laudable quality: that they stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I feel the same about most fast-food joints. We allow the "fast" to mitigate deficiencies so severe that the moniker "food" itself could be called into question. In both cases, quality and flavor are sacrificed at the altar of convenience and necessity.
These thoughts ran through my head as I reluctantly pulled into Taco Express on South Nevada Avenue more than two years ago. It was late or, rather, early, about 2:30 in the morning. My brother had just arrived from a long road trip. He was hungry, and I didn't have the makings of much at home. So, out we ventured, but the usual suspects had turned their lights and fryers off already.
At the end of the strip, we were faced with a choice: travel further afield in search of open arches, or take our chances on the one place still open, a somewhat sketchy-looking taco shop neither of us had ever tried. Waiting out a red light, we decided that burritos in hand bettered burgers in the bush, and we turned in.
In our journey from the driveway to the giant menu, to the pick-up window, and back to my kitchen table, something magical happened. My doubts and anxieties gave way to joy and wonder. I experienced what can only be described as a transformation with surprisingly religious qualities something like enlightenment.
Crowded shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother at nearly 3 a.m., I discovered my abiding passion for Taco Express.
Now, don't get me wrong. Taco Express is not the holy grail of Mexican dining. There are some things there, like the fish tacos and enchiladas, that I really detest. Other items, such as carne asada and carnitas, are serviceable, but not stellar. Both are too dry and bland to make them worth ordering on a regular basis.
Much better are the plump, juicy chunks of pollo asado that bring home a solid char-grilled flavor. They also make great bean-and-cheese burritos for those who don't eat meat or just need a frijoles fix.
But after two years and more than 100 visits, my loyalties lie squarely with the sacred triumvirate: adovada tacos, lengua burritos and chorizo breakfast burritos.
The adovada, whose namesake marinade consists largely of red chiles, is sweet, smoky, brooding and always juicy.
The lengua, or cow tongue, may be served up fast, but is essentially slow food. Muscled and fibrous, tongue must be cooked slowly and gently to break down the connective tissues, before you get rich, savory and beautifully tender ribbons of melted fat. If you're feeling grossed out, be brave and get over it.
Fist-thick, a Taco Express breakfast burrito is the perfect partner for beginning or ending a long day. Chorizo, eggs, potatoes and cheese congregate in an eye-opening, artery-clogging extravaganza. (An accompanying Bloody Mary is strongly recommended.)
In sum, Taco Express offers something of an oxymoron: good fast food. It's consistent across all three Colorado Springs locations, offers excellent, homemade red and green salsa, and can't be topped for price, convenience and flavor. Better still, some of it's pretty healthy eating. You've no better hope for resurrecting your fast-food palate.
1455 S. Nevada Ave., 520-5553 1750 S. Circle Drive, 477-9079
605 Circle Drive, 520-3599