***This post originally appeared in my Gorging Global column for Denver Magazine. So far as I know, I’m not beholden to any confidentiality agreement following its demise, which means THE TRUTH CAN BE TOLD: I was all set to single out Socorro’s green chile as the best you haven’t tried in an upcoming issue.
Now, that’s not necessarily intended to be a factual statement as much as a deliberately provocative one, meant to shed deserved light on a dark horse contender. Still, I became convinced I wasn’t far off the mark after watching the Director—who remains fiercely loyal to El Taco de Mexico after 20 years spent scouring this town’s trucks and taco huts—basically do the butter dance with one bite. Relatively thin, with a richness that derives not from adulterating cornstarch but visible chunks of pork fat, it’s speckled with, of all things, bits of carrot—which only highlight the purity of the whole, roasty, electrically vegetal, &, yes, cough-inducingly spicy.
Onto the post.***
“Why aren’t you open?!” reads the graffiti on the door of Socorro’s. It’s a fair question: after a year in business, the tiny New Mexican–themed snackeria just off South Broadway in the Baker District still seems to be working out some logistical kinks. An ink-&-paper sign displays revised winter hours. Prices on the blackboard show an increase from the take-out menu I picked up only a couple of months ago. Don’t get your heart set on a particular agua fresca: the flavor you choose may or may not be available at any given time. And if you take the claim that the bread for the tortas, the Mexican sandwiches I came for, is “baked fresh daily” to mean that it’s made in house, well, you know what they say about assuming. It isn’t.
Despite or because of its slapdash operating procedures, however, I can’t help but get a kick out of Socorro’s. With all of 9 stools lining the counters, the space is bright & cheery, its red & yellow walls bedecked with license plates & road signs from the Land of Enchantment. Beneath them, a lone employee with a moustache as shiny as his gold teeth keeps asking me questions in Spanglish I can’t understand. No matter. The grin on his face is permanent & gentle, and his movements are mesmerizing; I’ve never seen sandwiches assembled with such forethought. He even uses two different knives to halve them: one to make the initial cut, the other to complete it.
The care he puts into them is, of course, inversely proportional to their all-out sloppiness — but it shows in their total deliciousness.
After it’s buttered and grilled, the bread is slathered with mayo & refried beans, then piled with admirably fresh, parsley-&-jalapeno-spiked pico de gallo; chopped iceberg; & your choice of six fillings. The slow-roasted, coarse-chopped beef (barbacoa), for example, is moist and & simply but deeply flavorful; the marinated, cumin-scented chunks of pork spilling from the torta al pastor (a/k/a “The 505,” named for New Mexico’s area code) are mixed with juicy chunks of fresh pineapple. At some point I realized I was squeezing the whole mess the way a child would a rag doll: with extra-stupid love.
At $7.25 apiece, Socorro’s tortas are relatively expensive (as are its other specialties: street-style tacos go for $2 a pop, & a deluxe burrito will run you as much as $7). But I say they’re worth it — especially since they come with a broad, sweet smile.