El Cotorro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

El Cotorro for Extraordinary Tacos and So Much More

There’s a scene in the 2006 lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) comedy film Nacho Libre in which Nacho’s ectomorphic tag team partner Esqueleto (“the skeleton”) orders two grilled, buttered and chile-dusted elotes (corn-on-the-cob) from a street vendor. Esqueleto graciously attempts to hand one to Nacho who rebuffs the offer, knocks the elotes to the ground and bellows “get that corn out of my face!” That antagonistic act so enraged Esqueleto that he leaped on Nacho’s back and attempted to throw his corpulent partner to the ground. The sight of the two golden elotes tinged with red chile on the ground was funny at the time, however, after consuming the elotes at El Cotorro, we would consider knocking elotes to the ground an act of sacrilege and sheer madness. It’s no wonder Esqueleto was so upset.

El Cotorro Dining Room

Sure we’ve had elotes elsewhere…plenty of elotes at a plethora of elsewheres, in fact, but only at El Cotorro have elotes made us swoon in appreciation. El Cotorro, which translates to “the parrot” in English is not what you might expect from a Mexican restaurant of that name. It’s not a restaurant named for the stereotypical squawking “Polly wants a cracker” parrot mascot some kitschy restaurant might employ. To understand the moniker El Cotorro, it helps to understand that the restaurant is actually named for Mexico’s lottery.

Similar to Powerball and Mega Millions in the United States, the Mexican lottery (loteria) is a game of chance, but instead of plain numbers adorning ping pong balls, a number is assigned to 54 images on a deck of cards. The game begins with the caller randomly selecting a card from the deck and announcing it to the players. Players with a matching pictogram on their board mark it off just as they would a Bingo card. The first player to complete a previously specified pattern or who fills their board shouts ¡Lotería!” and is declared the winner.

The Counter Where You Place Your Order

Often, instead of calling out a number, the caller will use a riddle. For the card sporting the number 24, for example, the caller would recite “Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar” which translates from Spanish to “Parrot, parrot, stick our your claw and begin to chat with me.” A large depiction of a parrot on the number 24 loteria deck sits on the roof just above the entrance to the Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro on Carlisle. It’s indeed indicative that you’ve won the lottery in the form of some of the very best tacos, gelato and elote north of the border.

El Cotorro

During the contentious 2016 Presidential run ending with Donald Trump’s election, Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner across the fruited plain, there are now two corners in the Nob Hill district in which taqueria storefronts welcome teeming masses. The first, Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila opened its doors in January, 2012 (and closed in 2019). Some four-and-a-half years later (in July, 2016), restaurant impresario Daniel Boardman launched El Cotorro which is patterned after taquerias and heladerias in Southern Mexico. El Cotorro is located about a block south of Central on Carlisle at the former site of Rodeo Furniture which moved next door.

Mango-Apricot Agua Fresca, Chips and Salsa

As with Boardman’s two other Duke City eateries, Tia Betty Blue’s and Tia B’s La Waffleria, expect El Cotorro to garner significant acclaim. We first learned of it from Kristin Saterlee’s glowing review on Unfussy Epicure, her wonderful blog. Kristen effusively predicted El Cotorro is “quickly going to become a favorite Albuquerque stop for dinner, snacks, and dessert.” Her prognostication gained even more traction when El Cotorro expanded its hours of operation. Initially open only during dinner hours (5-9), on January 9th, 2017, El Cotorro is now open Monday through Saturday: 11:30AM to 8PM and Sunday, 5PM to 8PM.

Extraordinary Elotes

Okay, so Albuquerque has another taqueria. If you’re not excited by that prospect, it could be you haven’t the experienced the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos. Today’s tacos aren’t your mother’s tacos nor are they the tacos proffered to this day at many New Mexican restaurants. You know the type–hard-shelled, greasy, fried corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef topped with sundry and predictable ingredients: grated cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes with salsa on the side. One bite and these tacos fall apart, exploding onto your plate or shirtfront. Of course we can derive pleasure from these messy, hand-held treasures, but there’s oh, so much more to the tacos of contemporary America.

Cobia Fish, Shrimp and Chard & Papitas Guisado (Veggie) Tacos

It turns out the tacos with which Americans have become so enamored are, in many cases, the tacos proffered across Old Mexico for years. No longer are hoity-toity Americans turning up our noses at the “peasant” ingredients (huitlacoche, barbacoa, lengua, buche, tripas, etc.) which used to make all but the most culinarily intrepid among us cower in revulsion. Americans have arrived at the realization that there’s deliciousness to be found in these strange, exotic ingredients. Daniel Boardman, who fears no ingredient, fell in love with the variety of tacos and ice creams available in taquerias and heladerias (ice cream parlors) throughout Mexico and patterned El Cotorro’s menu after dishes he enjoyed from Mexico City to the Yucatan.

Vegetarian Tacos: Camotes (Sweet Potato) and Mushroom Medley

El Cotorro’s 1,650 square-foot edifice is divided in two–one section for the dining room, the other for the bustling, hustling kitchen, a maelstrom of activity. As you make your way through the queue, you’ll espy menus suspended from the ceiling above the beverage counter. Scrawled above the exhibition kitchen is the inviting suggestion “Vamos A Echarnos Unos Tacos” (let’s have some tacos). In October, 2017, El Cotorro relocated its heladeria operation next door to a venue now entirely dedicated to Mexican frozen deliciousness. Step into Heladeria El Cotorro and you’ll be mesmirized by freezer cases in which a panoply of colorful ice cream flavors is displayed, each as tempting as Eve’s apple.

Al Pastor and Pork Carnitas Tacos

Much like taquerias across Mexico, the menu isn’t overly large or complicated. One menu board lists tacos and their respective meats: al pastor, pork carnitas, braised oxtail, carne asada, chicken tinga and smoked lamb’s leg barbacos. The next lists seafood tacos: shrimp and cobia fish, as well as vegetarian tacos: nopales and chard-and-papitas guisado. On the third menu board, you’ll find the glorious sides: elotes, frijoles churros, chips and salsa bar, chips and guacamole and ceviche. You’ll also find a kid’s menu and a section for drinks: iced tea, aguas frescas and Mexican hot chocolate. Look for daily specials by the counter where you place your order.

Chicken Tinga Taco (Flour Tortilla on the Side)

21 January 2017: You’ll certainly want to order the chips and salsa bar with your choice of flour or corn chips made fresh to order. Six steel trays in the dining room display a variety of salsas along with recommendations as to which salsa goes well with each of the tacos. You’ll ladle your choices onto small steel vessels and ferry them to your table to await the made-to-order chips. These are no ordinary chips. The flour chips, for example, are made from flour tortillas cut into triangular shapes which are lightly dusted with red chile. There’s only one thing wrong with those chips—there’s not enough of them. Each of the three salsa vessels we filled were still half full when we ran out of chips. The salsas are terrific! They’re Mexican salsas with the fiery personality of Montezuma.

Buy Three Tacos Get One Free: Top–Chard and Papitas Guisada and Al Pastor; Bottom–Nopales and Fried Avocado

17 July 2022: If you don’t order the elotes, El Esqueleto would be justified in jumping on your back. This is quite simply the very best corn-on-the-cob we’ve ever had…and I grew up on a farm where we raised and grilled our own sweet corn. Not only is the flame-grilled corn-on-the-cob sweet and moist, it’s seasoned with a lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. The lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese are in such perfect proportion to one another that no one flavor dominates. Instead, this tasty triumvirate combines to give your taste buds a hearty, happy experience.

21 January 2017: Landlubbers and sea-farers alike will enjoy the tacos. Interestingly, the meat-filled and vegetarian tacos are served on corn tortillas while the seafood are served on flour tortillas though you may substitute on request. Authenticity is readily apparent even as you’re placing your order. You’ll espy a vertical spit on which sliced, marinated pork is impaled onto a steel rod just as it’s done in Mexico. Above the glistening pork are slices of fresh pineapple whose flavor drips onto the pork, imbuing it with a tangy sweetness as both cook slowly. Order the al pastor taco and you’ll be rewarded with thinly-sliced pork served with white onions and cilantro sprouts. You won’t find a better al pastor taco anywhere. To my liking, pork carnitas tacos are about as boring as a taco can get, but not at El Cotorro where pork carnitas means slow-cooked pork shoulder, sweet corn pico de gallo, lime crema and cilantro sprouts. Harmonious flavors, thy name is pork carnitas! Wow!

Left: Blackened Mahi; Right: Smoked Lamb’s Leg Barbacoa (Photo Courtesy of Sarita)

21 January 2017: The seafood lover in you will love what El Cotorro’s kitchen staff does with the bounty of the sea. Picture flame-kissed shrimp sautéed in garlic and joining pipian salsa, arugula, avocado and pumpkin seeds on a flour tortilla. A light squeeze of lime and flavors galore will explode in your mouth. The textural contrast of the shrimp and pumpkin seeds is especially notable. It used to be you couldn’t find a decent fish taco in the Duke City. El Cotorro joins a number of restaurants now serving exemplary fish tacos with a cobia fish taco (blackened Panamanian cobia on jicama-jalapeno slaw topped with diced mango) as great as you’ll find in San Diego. Unlike so many other fish tacos, the coleslaw isn’t overly creamy and has very nice notes of piquancy courtesy of the jalapeno. Counterbalancing the smoky brininess of the shrimp are diced, sweet mangoes. There’s a lot going on here. Similarly, there are a wealth of flavor notes on the chard and papitas guisado (veggie) taco constructed with a mix of sautéed onion, garlic, rainbow chard and purslane (depending on availability) de-glazed with salsa roja and topped with papitas and cilantro sprouts. Surprisingly, this one turned out to be our favorite.

13 July 2017: Taco Tuesday isn’t just some clever marketing ploy designed to lure hungry patrons to their favorite purveyor of tacos. Taco Tuesday has become part of American vernacular and culture. Like Pavlog’s dogs, some of us have become conditioned to start drooling right around lunch time on Tuesdays. Let El Cotorro hook you up. On Taco Tuesdays, the incomparable al pastor tacos and the vegan guisado tacos are just two bucks each. An equally enticing deal offers “buy three tacos, get one free.” How can you possibly pass that up? You can’t–especially if one of the four is the fried avocado taco (fried avocado, black beans, sweet corn, pico de gallo and lime crema on a fried flour tortilla) the very best vegan taco I’ve ever had. The buttery avocado loses none of its richness when it’s fried while the combination of black beans and lime crema would, on their own, make for a great taco. Another superb vegetarian taco showcases the briny-slightly tart flavor of nopales (crunchy, fried cactus on asadero cheese topped with crispy green onions.

Shrimp and Pineapple Ceviche with Mixed Chips

25 July 2019: One of the joys of being “the guy who has eaten everywhere” is seeing a friend’s face light up when he or she really “gets” it.  Such was the case when my friend Sarita asked me to join her for her inaugural visit to El Cotorro.  Sarita is a kindred spirit, an adventurous diner who really understands and appreciates the totality of a dining experience.  Sharing a meal with Sarita is not only great fun, it’s affirming for me as a critic who doesn’t always know if my effusive rants are reaching my readers.  Not only does she read all my reviews, she visits many of the restaurants I recommend and she provides very thoughtful comments as well as great photos.  If I’m lucky she’ll ask me to join her.

Because we were “saving ourselves” for El Cotorro’s life-altering gelato, Sarita and I went a bit light on our ordering.  As everyone should the first time they visit, she had the elote.  Her impressions mirrored my own.   We both had the smoked lamb’s leg barbacoa taco (house-smoked lamb, golden raisins, mint crema, cilantro sprouts), an exemplar of the creativity and deliciousness both Sarita and I appreciate.  El Cotorro’s innovative rendition of the time-honored pairing of lamb and mint is genius.  So are the  sneaky palate-pleasing sweet notes from the golden raisins.  My other taco was the special of the day, a blackened mahi taco (served on a corn tortilla over a spicy fennel slaw finished with an avocado crema and micro cilantro) better than any taco I had in San Diego.  The spicy fennel slaw was a perfect foil for the rich creaminess of the avocado crema while the blackening was executed so well that the mahi’s characteristically sweet, delicate flavor wasn’t overshadowed.  Both tacos were outstanding!

Red Chile Camaron Ceviche

17 July 2022:  In Albuquerque, only the great chef Elvis Boncomo of the greatly missed Passion Latin Fusion restaurant was as creative with ceviche as the chefs at El Cotorro.  Anticipating something exciting and different on El Cotorro’s ever-changing array of ceviche specials will make the hair on your arms stand up.  You can bet the ceviche will not only be exciting; it’ll be great.  It’s not quite Mexican.  It’s not Peruvian.  It’s not New Mexican.  It’s a fusion of flavors from the inventive mind of a Rube Goldberg-like chef–only instead of overly complicated, the ceviche is overly delicious if that’s possible.  One such example is the red chile camaron ceviche (shrimp mixed with cucumber, red onion, serrano, jalapeno in a red chile salsa finished with avocado and micro cilantro.  That’s three incendiary elements in one dish and it works exceptionally well because those elements don’t obfuscate the other flavors.  Even the shrimp, a seafood that can easily be overwhelmed, is allowed to shine. 

17 July 2022: Too many restaurants pay lip service to vegetarian food.  At El Cotorro you can expect four vegetarian tacos on the menu at all times.  My latest most favorite vegetarian taco is the mushroom medley taco, El Cotorro’s plant-based taco entry in the 2022 ABQ Vegan Chef Challenge.  If all vegan food was as delicious as the mushroom medley taco (oyster, shiitake, baby bella, chanterelle and lions mane mushrooms sautéed with onion and garlic served on a fresh corn tortilla finished with a melty vegan mozzarella, shaved vegan Parmesan, radish and epazote), I might convert.  Mushrooms are among the most umami-rich of all foods, so richly satisfying and earthy you won’t miss meat at all.  Both the vegan mozzarella and shaved vegan Parmesan could pass for the “real” thing.  This taco IS the real thing, as good as any taco in town.  Even anti-vegans will enjoy it.

Chocolate and Orange-Clove Gelatos

13 October 2017: Since introducing my “work-wife” and good friend Elaine Rising to El Cotorro, she’s visited it more often than I have, including three times in one week. She’s enamored of the tacos, particularly those of the vegetarian persuasion. It goes without saying that she’s besotted with the gelato, too. Call it showing off if you will, but I’ve delighted in introducing her to dishes she might not know about or otherwise wouldn’t order. Asking nicely, we got the chef to prepare two fried avocado tacos which Elaine loved. They’re now on her two-to-three tacos per visit rotation. Another new to her but instantly a favorite is El Cotorro’s shrimp and pineapple ceviche served with both corn and flour tortilla chips. This paragon of deliciousness is as invigorating as any Mexican-style ceviche we’ve had with a pronounced citrus freshness permeating every bite. Micro-greens, red onion and shrimp sliced small impregnated with lime make this a must-have.

21 January 2017: Since 2013, Frost Gelato in Albuquerque’s Uptown district has redefined, revitalized and refreshed the ice cream experience across the Duke City. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is creamier, smoother and silkier than its American counterpart. It’s also denser yet more elastic than ice cream. Gelato is made with far less cream than conventional ice cream which means less butterfat and a lighter, less airy composition with a better “mouth feel.” Consider it heretical if you will, but after our inaugural experience at El Cotorro, we believe Mexican gelato to be far more bold and brash than its Italian counterpart–more intensely flavored and constructed of ingredients with lots of (and multiple) personality.

Hawaiian Pizza and Chocolate Banana

21 January 2017: The ice cream station features a daily rotation of vibrant flavors in kaleidoscopic colors. You’ll may do a double-take at the brassiness and alchemy of the flavor combinations—fruits with savory seasonings, ice creams flavored with adult libations and herbaceous ingredients, creativity blessed with audacity. Who wants vanilla when you can have tarragon grapefruit? The ginger gelatowill help you relive the palate-cleansing experience of a sushi meal coupled with the refreshing coolness of ice cream on a summer day. Not surprisingly, the infusion of ginger’s punch also makes it an ideal finish to a piquant meal. The notion of chocolate and caramel gelato may seem as exciting as a Reese’s peanut butter cup commercial, but with the intensity of Mexican chocolate and bravado of Mexican caramel, this gelato has as much personality as some salsas.

21 January 2017: Because deciding what gelato flavors to order will certainly be a challenge, avail yourself of the opportunity to sample several flavors. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll discern with one spoonful. That’s all it took to convince me one of my two scoops would be orange-clove. Ben, the craftsman behind the gelatos, was concerned that this combination might be too strong, but it was just about perfect for this coveter of clove and inamorato of orange. My other flavor choice—Azteca chocolate—may not have the sheer bravado of other gelatos, but then Mexican chocolate is so much bolder and expressive than mere mortal chocolate. We loved every not-so-subtle nuance in the four flavors we ordered, but won’t allow ourselves to fall so much in love that we don’t order other flavors.

Buttered Popcorn and Mango Chamoy

21 October 2017: In January, 2017, the President of Iceland placed himself on the pantheon of terrible world leaders with his declaration that he hates Hawaiian pizza so much that he’d ban pineapple on pizza if he was able to make and pass laws on his own. Predictably, the backlash was instantaneous. Calls for impeachment and worse were widespread. Undoubtedly the Icelandic imbecile would hate the Hawaiian Pizza gelato at Heladeria El Cotorro. Another exemplar of creativity (basil, tomato, prosciutto and pineapple), this gelato is certainly not for everybody, but it is for those of us who like bold, “different” gelato flavor combinations. More traditional is a chocolate-banana gelato which pairs two flavor profiles which go so well together. It’s terrific! 

Perhaps only the KRQE 9PM news team wouldn’t enjoy El Coterro’s bold and brash ice cream flavors.  After a human interest story on Oscar Meyer’s hot dog ice cream sandwich, meteorologist Connor Lewis remarked “only a sociopath would eat that” or something to that effect.  The anchor was nearly as repelled.  It’s the first time I’ve ever been diagnosed as a sociopath.

If you still think of tacos as a delivery system for ground beef, lettuce and cheese on a hard shell, you owe it to yourself to visit Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro and soon! Similarly, if you’re bored with timid ice cream flavors, El Cotorro will rock your world with Mexican gelato that is bold and brash. This is a taqueria for the 21st Century courtesy of traditional Mexican flavors.

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro
111 Carlisle, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2022
1st VISIT: 21 January 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Elotes, Carnitas Taco, Al Pastor Taco, Cobia Fish Taco, Shrimp Taco, Chard & Papitas Guisado Taco, Fried Avocado Taco, Nopales Taco, Chips and Salsa, Chocolate Gelato, Orange-Clove Gelato, Ginger Gelato, Caramel-Chocolate Gelato, Pineapple and Shrimp Ceviche, Hawaiian Pizza Gelato, Chocolate Banana Gelato

6 thoughts on “El Cotorro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

    1. Hi Sarita

      That is absolutely terrible news! Most of the comments in the reddit post showed a lot of empathy with employees, but not as much for the restaurant owner. Restaurants operate with the expectation of some profit. Restaurants operate at very small profit margins as it is, but El Cotorro would not compromise on quality. That quality and the work required to deliver outstanding meals necessitated higher prices that a lot of diners aren’t willing to pay.

      I’ll miss El Cotorro, but am glad to have had the opportunity to introduce you to such a great taqueria. As always, I enjoyed sharing a meal with you.

      As highly as I regard El Cotorro, I’m disappointed that there is no notice of its closure on El Cotorro’s website or Facebook page. At the very least restaurateurs should thank their customers for their loyalty and patronage over the years. Websites and Facebook pages aren’t solely for telling guests what the day’s specials are.


      1. I had the same reaction to the Reddit comments. El Cotorro was on the expensive side, but the quality was right there. It was a bit of a splurge; so what. Average (good) tacos are everywhere — the El Cotorro quality and attention to detail are not. Reminded us of the good stuff in the DF. And that elote! … Best wishes to all concerned and thanks for the memories.

  1. We went here for the first time tonight and both loved the oxtail taco. Not sure if that is a new menu item or not. My second favorite was the lamb taco. On the sweet side, in addition to the gelato, we got two churros fresh from the fryer. So good and can’t wait to go back.

  2. Terrific. Amen. We had the guac and chips, and while it was enough for two, I wish I’d ordered one for myself — just because the dish was that good. Corn-on-cob was terrific, all that you said, aggressively and perfectly seasoned. I enjoyed my tacos (lamb, oxtail) although the spicy meats were curiously similar, at least as wrapped up with all that other goodness. My son wasn’t a fan of the two al pastor tacos he’d ordered as the meat was dry. We also went for the ice cream, delicious. Very much enjoyed the Latin music mix. Headed back to El Cotorro soon and often.

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