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Chelito's Mexican Restaurant

Estes Park CO

145 e elkhorn ave, estes park CO 80517

Chelito's Mexican Restaurant (Estes Park CO)

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Rating: 87
Price: $$

The scientific community has been increasing its focus on interdisciplinary research in recent years. To those ends, the National Science Foundation and other organizations have been trying to bring together disparate fields within the research community, and this effort culminated in my invitation to the Long Term Ecological Research Network All Scientist Meeting to participate in a working group on the integration of tacos in the ecological research community.

Surprisingly, tacos have been historically overlooked at most if not all LTER sites. Despite its proximity to the taco motherland, the California Current Ecosystem site has failed to initiate even a preliminary investigation into the food web dynamics of taco invasion on upwelling coastal waters. Thankfully, most sites are starting to gather baseline data on the current taco-related ecosystem process. With my colleagues from the North Temperate Lakes and Coweeta field sites, we convened on afternoon to address the three primary questions the taco community has been trying to get answered:
1. Can we define a 'reference taco' and standardize consumption protocols to allow for scientifically robust cross-taco comparisons?
2. Are taco population dynamics better characterized using top-down or bottom-up trophic models?
3. To what degree does the distribution of taquerias on a landscape influence the spatial distribution of various ecosystem services?

On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon, a working group convened in Rocky Mountain National Park to bat some ideas around about potential cross-disciplinary synergies. First was a brief field campaign to investigate a lake and waterfall system in its natural, taco-free state. True to the rumors, not even a tortilla was spotted swimming up the waterfalls. Our baseline observations recorded, we exited the mountains to seek out tacos.

As scientists work to characterize the Anthropocene, it has been noted that taco presence frequently follows large-scale disturbances to the land scape. Two primary (and linked) drivers are urbanization and land use change, and tacos are typically found in the vicinity of large tracts of impervious surface. We headed to the nearest settlement, Estes Park. Within a single square mile, there were multiple taco sightings and we entered an uninhabited section of Chelito's Mexican Restaurant in hopes of finding some tacos in a fairly undisturbed setting.

A great diversity of tacos and associated fauna (burritos, margaritas, sopes, etc.) were found within. Our first encounter was with some chips and salsa, typically an indicator of tacos in the area and often a bellwether for taco quality. Things tasted quite promising - the chips were thick and very crunchy. The salsa was characterized by an extremely high quality level of mediumness. It was tomato-based, with a medium level of chunks. There was also a medium-high level of direct spice (direct, meaning without significant smoky or chipotle flavor) that didn't mask the tomato-y flavor at all.

Inspired by this sighting, we sallied forth to investigate some tacos in the vicinity. Myself and several business associates found the taco platter, a high-biodiversity assemblage of tacos containing asada, chorizo, carnitas, shredded beef, and al pastor. These were accompanied by a single slice of lime and a pickled pepper. Each taco had a double-corn tortilla, which looked and tasted house-made, and were topped with chopped onion and cilantro in what appeared to be a symbiotic relationship of deliciousness. The subspecies can be described as followed:

-Al pastor had a mildly tangy marinade lacking significant pineapple overtones. The dominant flavor was cumin, of which I am a huge fan, and there was a medium-light level of sauce. This was the best of the tacos.
-Chorizo was soft and crumbly. It had some traditional tangy sausage flavor, but not in high amounts - as far as chorizo goes, it was weak both in texture and flavor.
-Asada was the weakest taco around. It seemed like I received the runts of the litter, fairly small and overcooked chunks with some gristle. Likely this came from the bottom of the asada bin, meaning it may not be a representative sample of the region.
-Carnitas was cubed pork without much seasoning. It was greatly enhanced via the addition of lime and some light salsa application.
-Shredded beef was simple and lightly sauced.

Overall, all meats were fairly light on seasoning, but could be helped with the accompanying red and green salsas. Interestingly, the quality of Chelito's tortillas was in some ways detrimental - the homemade tortillas were so thick and flavorful that they often overwhelmed the meats. On the whole, however, these tacos were significantly more delicious and reasonably priced than we had expected to find in such a human-dominated ecosystem. These surprising developments should be more than enough to apply for additional funding to study the dynamics of taco distribution and health in non-montane systems around the US and beyond.

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