Dia De Los Takos – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Most Versatile Mobile Food Kitchen in Albuquerque

NOTE: Although Dia De Los Takos has closed, founder-owner-chef Dominic “Dom” Valuenzuela has launched a new restaurant called Tako Ten.  Look for a review soon.

Felix, a character in Adi Alsaid’s young adult fiction book North of Happy was asked what makes a taco perfect. “It’s a taco that tastes as good as the idea of a taco itself. A taco that’ll hold steadfast through memory’s attempt to erase it, a taco that’ll be worthy of the nostalgia that it will cause. A taco that won’t satisfy or fill but will satiate your hunger. Not just for tonight but for tacos in general, for food, for life-itself, brother. You will feel full to your soul. “But!” he added, a callused index finger pointed straight up at the sky. “It’s also a taco that will make you hunger for more tacos like it, for more tacos at all, for food, the joy of it, the beauty of it. A taco that makes you hungry for life and that makes you feel like you have never been more alive. Nothing short of that will do

Finding the perfect taco may be as futile a quest as finding a modicum of talent in any Kardashian. There is probably no such thing! There are only good, very good, excellent and more rarely, outstanding tacos and that’s more than enough. If you (and we all should) persist in your quest for the perfect taco, accept that the pursuit is truly about the deliciousness of the journey not some mythical perfect taco destination…and what a rewarding journey it should be. Since the turn of the century, tacos have given the ubiquitous burger a run for its money as the most popular of all hand-held foods. Tacos are no longer just the province of Mexican restaurants and taquerias. Nor are they solely constructed from Mexican or Mexican-inspired ingredients. You can find the once-humble taco crafted from a fusion of exalted multicultural ingredients. 

Two Cali Convertible (Fish) Takos

Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than at Dia De Los Takos which just might be the closest you’ll ever come to finding that elusive, maybe unachievable perfect taco. More than any tako we’ve enjoyed across the Land of Enchantment, these tacos pop with flavor and ingredient combinations that are bold and brash yet sophisticated and refined.  These are flavor combinations obviously born of  trial, fun, folly and mostly pure genius.  The genius (perhaps mad scientist) behind these tacos is Chef Dominic “Dom” Valuenzuela.  You can almost picture him standing over burbling beakers of sauces he creates, adding a dash of this and a dab of that in his own quest to create the perfect taco, a symphony of concordant flavors.  

Chef Valenzuela is one of the new breed of young chefs transforming the Duke City’s culinary landscape–mavericks out to prove New Mexico isn’t solely about our sacrosanct red and green chile.  While chefs of previous generations may have aspired to haute French cuisine or fine dining, this new breed is more apt to prepare affordable street food for the masses. They’re innovative and original, not bound to established culinary mores or to traditional brick-and-mortar milieus.  They have an almost reverent respect for the ingredients and flavors of (among others) Japanese and Peruvian culinary cultures.  This new breed–which also includes Burque born or raised chefs Javier Montano (Vara Winery), Marie Ynguez (Bocadillos Slow Roasted) and Israel Rivera (The Shop)–can compete in any culinary arena.

Left to Right: The Jalope, Kia Klunker, The Saigon Scooter

One of the other defining characteristics of the new breed of Albuquerque chefs is how well they support (even root for) one another. Sure culinary competitions such as the 505 Food Fights are emulous, but at the end of the day they’re also fun and friendly. Chef Dom is one of the binding forces in this fraternity, bringing his chef colleagues together to shed light on New Mexico’s burgeoning culinary culture in his entertaining and enlightening podcast Let’s Tako About it With Chef Dom. There’s no better avenue for getting to know some pretty good chefs who are even better people.

Competition certainly brings out the best in Chef Dom who bested fifteen of the metropolitan area’s most accomplished chefs in the inaugural 505 Food Fights.  As with all successful chefs, he’d probably echo the sentiments of British actor T. Alan Armstrong who once said “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.”   Chef Dom has been preparing for culinary success since he was a high school freshman at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque.  After high school, he matriculated in the prestigious Johnson & Wales University (class of 2004), earning a degree in culinary arts.

Tako Chingon

In between stints (mostly as a sushi chef) in Southern California and Hawaii, Chef Dom returned to the Land of Enchantment briefly in 2012 where he launched and operated Dia De Los Takos as a mobile kitchen (that’s food truck for you, Bob). It was a tease. When he left, Duke City taco aficionados flew aprons at half-mast and offered up novenas in hopes he’d soon return. There was much rejoicing when he returned to Albuquerque in 2019, launching Dia Del Los Takos inside Albuquerque Indoor Karting, “one of Albuquerque’s funnest adrenaline destinations.” His hero’s welcome back included earning accolades from readers of Albuquerque the Magazine. In its annual “Hot Plate Awards” edition for 2019, the magazine’s readers bestowed a well-deserved “Hot Plate” award to Dia De Los Takos for “the entire taco menu.“ 

5 December 2019: In November, 2019 Dia De Los Takos left the confy confines of Albuquerque Indoor Karting and returned to its roots.  That means Chef Dom is once again plying his formidable talents from a mobile kitchen, albeit one in which signage for “Dia De Los Takos” is subsumed by larger signage for “Street Food Blvd.”  Don’t let that confuse you.  Chef Dom and his business partner Raul Maestas are the brain trust behind not only Dia De Los Takos, but Ohana Hut and the aforementioned Street Food Blvd.  Just how good is this partnership–at the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho event, Street Food Blvd pulled off a Triple Crown of sorts, earning three first-place awards: best appetizer, best entrée and People’s Choice. It’s a feat no other Rio Rancho restaurant ever managed in the event’s auspicious six year existence.

Confit Beef Cheek Tako

9 July 2019: The “Hot Plate” award was accorded to the entire tako menu–not one taco singled out from the others.   Ostensibly, that means you can’t go wrong no matter what tako(s) you order.  Fittingly, my inaugural visit transpired on Tuesday, the nationally recognized Dia De Los Tacos.  Taco Tuesday at Dia De Los Takos means the very best fish taco in the city for a pittance.  As with other takos on the menu, the fish taco is named for for a classic car.  It’s called the Cali Convertible and it’s about six near-perfect bites.  A hefty blue Peruvian tilapia filet battered with cerveza from Marble Brewery is nestled in a single tortilla where it shares a crowded space with Chef Dom’s brightly-colored signature slaw (hand-cut cabbage, red peppers, red onion, vinegar and lime juice) and cilantro crema.  It’s an adventure in  textural contrasts, heat and cold temperatures and absolute deliciousness.

11 July 2019: Perhaps the most misnamed tako on the menu is the Kia Klunker (soy-braised pork belly, lettuce, kimchi, Korean chile sauce).  There’s nothing klunky about this tako. In fact, it’s an exemplar of Chef Dom’s ingenuity in putting together ingredients and flavors that titillate your taste buds.  That pork belly is more crispy than it is fatty, more savory than it is sweet.  The Jalope (maple-glazed crispy fried chicken breast topped with lettuce and chipotle crema) does that, too, offering taste and texture contrasts that’ll delight your soul.  The fried chicken is as good as the best (non-Nashville-style) fried chicken in the city.  My favorite, however, also showcases chicken.  It’s the Saigon Scooter (Vietnamese sticky crispy chicken, with pickled Daikon and carrot, mint and cilantro, peanuts, and jalapeño).  If you’ve ever wondered what a banh mi would taste like in tako form, you’ll get your answer with every bite of this paragon of creativity.

The Takoma on a Burnt Cheese Tortilla

9 August 2019:  Growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, my friend and publicist Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) never had a taco until he matriculated at The University of Southern California.  As it was for many denizens of taco deprived regions of the fruited plain, his introduction to tacos was at Taco Bell.  Dia De Los Takos really challenged his taco paradigm, but to his credit he dove right into the Camero (Philly cheese steak taco with tender brisket, caramelized onion and American cheese) and the Saigon Scooter.  Whether he’s become a “convert” remains to be seen, but at least he tried and enjoyed something new.

9 August 2019: Spanish speaking New Mexicans don’t use such anemic adjectives as “awesome” or “great” to describe something we like. We use the term “chingon” (no, not the Federation’s enemy on Star Trek). Chingon describes something that’s not just extremely awesome, it’s f’ing awesome.  Dia De Los Takos Tako Chingon (confit beef cheek topped with guacamole, cilantro and elote salad) certainly earns its name.   Instead of being greasy, a consequence sometimes of cooking a meat in its own fat, the confit beef cheek had a flaky-grained texture and deep beef flavor punctuated by the richness of the guacamole and sweet, creamy corn niblets.  Tako chigon takes chingon to another level!

Four Tremendous Takos: The Cali Convertible, Quixote Taco, Confit Beef Cheek Tako and Tako Chingon

9 August 2019:  On the counter where you place your order, you’ll espy a number of sauces in squeeze bottles. Ostensibly some diners use them, but for me it would be a desecration to mess with Chef Dom’s creativity.  Takos such as the confit beef cheek tako (guacamole, cilantro and onion) need no amelioration.  It’s perfect just as is–even if it’s not named for a vehicle.  If it’s starting to sound as if Chef Dom has a thing for confit beef cheeks, count your blessings.  Confit beef cheeks go well with everything Chef Dom pairs them with.

9 August 2019:  If BOTVOLR’s taco paradigm was shaken by the Camero and Saigon Scooter not being made on pre-formed, crispy corn tortillas, it was blown away by a tako constructed on a burnt cheese corn tortilla.  More accurately, a cheese “skirt” is formed around the corn tortilla, a sort of wrapper for a wrapper.  Burnt cheese is more than an interesting concept.  It lends rich, salty and delicious notes that go so well the Takoma (tender confit beef brisket topped with guacamole, salsa fresca and queso fresco).   It’s a tako not only brimming with flavor, but it’s fun and different.

The I-25 Burger

9 August 2019:  Chef Dom has ended his podcasts by collaborating with his guests to reimagine takos.  After a scintillating interview with Chef Javier Montaño of the Vara Winery (a Gil favorite), the dynamic duo came up with the Quixote Tako (juicy achiote chicken with a Spanish red wine salsa and sour cream).  Named for Don Quixote De La Mancha, the tragicomic hero of Spanish literature, this is a tako for which Quixote would have undertake a quest of errantry.  It’s Chef Montaño at his Iberophile best.  That Spanish red wine salsa is fantastic and it’s pairing with sour cream absolute genius.  I’ll be saying a few novenas for this tako to remain on the menu.

It’s not just Gil’s Thrilling opinion that El Dia De Los Takos is the best in the Land of Enchantment.   MSN worked with Yelp to compile a list of each state’s most exemplary taco joint, ranking them using such factors as total volume and ratings of reviews in 2019. Named as New Mexico’s best taco place is the spellchecker-confounding Dia De Los Takos. Here’s what MSN had to say: “Did anyone else this restaurant name and think El Dia De Los Muertos? Head to the beautiful city of Albuquerque for epic hikes and to nosh on delicious tacos at Dia De Los Takos, including the electric bike, a vegan taco that comprises crispy sweet potato, cashew cheese and guacamole.”

Fabulous Fries

9 July 2019:  Chef Dom’s genius isn’t limited to tacos.  The menu is replete with options–burgers, burritos, a mac and cheese dish reputed to be sheer magic and even salads–all beckoning repeat visits. There are nine burgers on the menu, some named for a street, route or interstate.  The green chile cheeseburger (green chile, 2x 3oz chuck patty, American cheese, red onion, lettuce, tomato, special sauce) is named the I-25 for the north-south interstate that runs from Las Cruces to Buffalo, Wyoming.   The I-25 is about half the price of almost every other green chile cheeseburger in town.  It’s also about twice as flavorful.  Seriously, this is a too-good-to-be-true bargain that can go head-to-head with any burger in town and beat them. Just ask my friend Captain Tuttle. 

5 December 2019:  Some day culinary historians might debate which restaurant introduced the concept of French fries as a canvas for other ingredients.  Consensus will be that the K&I Diner was probably first to demonstrate the potential of fries to intermix with other forms of goodness.  Now, if the debate centers around who exploits fries to their full potential as a vehicle of mass deliciousness, there’s no doubt the conversation would center around Chef Dom and Dia De Los Takos.  How can you possibly not appreciate a plateful of fries topped with carne asada, garlic Parmesan cheese, green chile and a fried egg?  It’s a mishmash of ingredients that go exceptionally well together.  The canvas for this artistry are perfectly prepared fries–hand-cut to about four inches in length and as thick as your pinky finger.  They’re crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.  If you thought Chef Dom’s amazing carne asada was just for tacos, you need to try this carne atop those fries.  Then there’s the magical pairing of garlic Parmesan cheese and  green chile, a blending of strong personalities that work very well together.  A fried egg over easy explodes beautifully onto the other ingredients to provide the coupe de grace.

Dia De Los Takos for Uniquely Delicious Tacos, as Close to Perfect as You’ll Find in New Mexico!

Perhaps the sole disappointing aspect of Dia De Los Takos having moved to a mobile kitchen operation is that you won’t get to hear the satisfied swoons of appreciation for tacos about as close to perfect as you’ll find anywhere.  You’ll only get to hear your own swoons and that’s probably good enough.

Dia De Los Takos
5110 Copper Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 December 2019
1st VISIT: 9 July 2019
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cali Convertible, Kia Klunker, The Jalope, The Saigon Scooter, I-25, The Chingon, The Takoma on a Burnt Cheese Tortilla, Confit Beef Cheek Taco,
REVIEW #1120

19 thoughts on “Dia De Los Takos – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. They’re baaack! The boys from Dia de los Takos have finally re-opened a brick and mortar called Tako 10, On Candelaria just West of Tram. The food is as good as ever, but you pay a price, as they are super busy, and do not as yet take orders online.

    I happened on a nice little find today, by accident. It is on Menaul, a couple of blocks west of Baillos. A homemade sign with no name announces Chinese restaurant or Chinese food : it is good.

  2. Saw on the news last night that Chef Dom has opened up a restaurant on Candelaria called Tako Ten. Looks like he is still working his magic on tacos. Looked good, so will have to try it out one day.

    1. Captain Tuttle, your last two comments remind me of Captain Kirk’s eulogy for Mr. Spock: “We are gathered here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. But it should be noted that this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world.”

      On June 16th, Mimmo’s posted the following blurb on its website: “here appears to be some rumors that we are closing for good… this is not true. As posted before, we are working on a safe and functional reopen. Thank you for your patience and loyalty 💚. It appears rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

      Still, we celebrate the dawning of Chef Dom’s new restaurant. I always thought both the go cart place and the food truck (that’s mobile kitchen for you, Bob) were too small for the Chef’s immense talents.

      1. Ahh, the Wrath of Kahn…GREAT movie. Scottie playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes gets me every time!

        Yes, we shall remember the fallen, even as we celebrate new ventures. We shall start a new journey, in the shadows of a completed trek.

        That’s all I got…

  3. Gil, what do you know of Birria tacos in ABQ?
    As I understand, Birria is a traditional Mexican dish, originally made with goat meat, but also made with beef, veal, lamb or pork. It can be served as a stew or as a taco filling.

    1. There are a number of Mexican restaurants across the Duke City which offer birria tacos. For my money, the best in the state comes from La Guelaguetza where birria is available as a stew and as a taco filling.

  4. Creative interpretations of tacos is right up there with interpretations of the national anthem at the Super Bowl. It’s tedious, and quite frankly, annoying. And yes, good fish tacos or fish and chips are as scarce as a virgin in Hollywood. But if our roving gourmand gives this restaurant a 24 rating I perk up faster than a rooster at day break. I’m in.

  5. OMG…been sleeping under a rock in terms of knowing of this “partyplex”**!
    RE food…Gil has stolen my Thunder, but let me say this: I was able to make the truly exotic Gal who took our orders, roll her eyes when I asked her (in the Spirit of Inclusivity RE my ’00 Firebird) “What year is The Camero (Tako)?” (She also serves as the bustling waitress delivering the delectables to a healthy noontime flow of patrons…so tipping, I’m sure, is appreciated.) Anyway the Camero is my FAV of the two I ordered…I thought I detected a subtle sweetness. As my dining forte is not noon, I only took a tiny bite of the Saigon Scooter and found it intriguing to take home for later. Alas, despite Capn Tuttle’s suggestion of a paper towel if miking it, the oil was too devastating. Elsewise, I did have an AHA! moment about its eponym: https://tinyurl.com/y3o6fhwo as in that special “connectivity” of driving a Vespa in LA eons ago…and surviving….LOL
    In a previous notation where I questioned some pictured Takos as actually being flour per some char, I can confirm Gil was correct that they are indeed soft corn tortillas as I’d use in what I call my version of Huevos de Los Ranchos.
    BTW, a can of tonic (aka soft drink) is included with your order of Takos; beer is available.
    ** First, the signage for Dia de Los Takos is almost non existent, but it is indeed going into the entrance for the Go-Kart track https://tinyurl.com/y45vdmht for which you apparently take a COA safety video. Indeed there are hospitable young people overseeing your racing and ya get equipped with a helmet. Adjacent to the casual dining area is a den of video games. Just outside and along the main entrance from the spacious parking lot, is a “beach” volley court which looks like it has real beach sand, and there’s a building for indoor soccer, which I didn’t go into, further away! Looks like a possible fun place for your teens/G-Kids, or for Folks who think of themselves as “being of an age” where such activities are a piece of cake!

  6. Joined Gil and Roberto de Los Ranchos for lunch today. I got the I-25 burger. Very good, but I could do without the special sauce…it sorta detracted from the chile. It was good, but again, it detracted from what is really good chile. I was ok with the well done burger, as this meat lent itself to that doneness. I prefer medium for my burgers, but was completely satisfied with this burger.

    I also got the Grandpa’s Truck tako, and so glad I did! Wonderful carnitas is the star of this show.

    Get down to Dia De Los Takos and prepare for satisfaction…

  7. We don’t usually go out of our way for tacos as decent ones are everywhere but this menu intrigued us. Would never have gone here without your nudge as the ambiance of garage, loud rap music, video game area and what looked like a generic snack bar would not have called our name. We ordered skeptically but were blown away with the fantastic tacos. We had an Impala, a Monte Carlo, a Cali convertible and a Takoma. All of them had unique flavors we’d not come across before. we will definitely be back, probably several times to work through the menu. The artistry in the fusion of ordinary ingredients was subtle enough that I’d have no idea how to try these at home. The staff was warm and friendly and helpful and no trace of attitude that so many young folks flaunt easily. After we ate, we walked over to the kart track and and again found warm and friendly staff. May be inclined to do take-out in the future as the seats aren’t comfortable and I can only handle a minimum of loud rap.

  8. Searching for the perfect taco is the abstract desirability of perfection. It doesn’t exist. Perfectionists kid themselves into thinking there’s the best of something out there in the world. When the Seventh Seal of Death knocks upon their door, perfectionists will be on Yelp looking for the highest rated mortuary.

    That said, damn those tacos look good!!!!

  9. Unless I’m slipping a gear Gil, I don’t think you’ve ever expounded upon the nuances/”history” of the flour and crisp corn tortilla tacos. As I think I’ve noted before, my first experience with a taco was a hundred years ago out of a window of food truck (aka, a pull along trailer…that’s a mobile kitchen to you Gil) in a dirt lot on Vermont Ave. in the middle of LA. I believe it is safe to categorize it as a Mexican venue instead of a NM one. At any rate, it enchanted me as a hard shelled, corn tortilla hamburger beef taco con lettuce/tomato/cheese….i.e. there was no mention of a soft shell taco option! My best recollection…albeit out of a Taco Bell window just several years ago…was then learning of a choice of soft or hard taco being offered…e.g. is soft “new” as with a provenance?
    Interestingly, in your pic of the “trio”, the corn taco looks like it has a flat bottom as akin to e.g. the recent invention of same by El Paso Taco Shells in a Box http://tinyurl.com/y4pe89ef .
    – At Dia de los Takos (with that spelling having a Greek flavor to it) I’m not clear if one has a choice of flour/corn with all the offerings or are they ingredients specific?
    Also and most disappointingly, particularly in light of Chef Dom’s stint chefing in Hawaii, I do not see any SPAM related offerings on his menu!!!!
    – Elsewise, you overlooked mentioning if there is alternative form of seating, as some readers may suffer Hyelophobia.
    – Finally, per your comparative observation about you-know-who, I’d suggest that given today’s world, you be best cautious in not calling forth accusations of misogyny, chauvinism (is that even used nowadays?), etc. (Oh! Per your avocation of being a Wordsmithy: In today’s ever changing world of neologisms or the revival of old terms, e.g. trope, trolls (e.g. I don’t remember them on my SATs), etc, I heard an interesting one just 2 hours ago as in to be “frog marched” when Congress is simply exercising its due diligence/oversight.)

    1. Taco Bell is widely credited with the proliferation (though not necessarily invention of) the prefabricated, pre-fried hard shell.

      Experts such as Gustavo Arellano, the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, have written volumes on the history of corn and flour tortillas. I’ve merely touched upon that history in reviews of such taco stalwarts as Casa Taco, but will look for opportunities to expound further in future reviews. It’s an interesting topic.

      Arellano believes flour tortillas in New Mexico and southern Colorado “taste wheatier; some food historians think that they’re a remnant of the crypto-Jews and Muslims who settled the area in the seventeenth century.” How’s that for intriguing?

      The tortillas used in the construction of tacos are largely a matter of personal preference…as are the ingredients with which the tacos are stuffed. Chef Dom offers only corn tortillas–one, not two, per taco–on Dia De Los Takos wondrous tacos. Though it may appear Dia’s tacos are “flat-bottomed,” they’re not. That flat-bottomed appearance may be courtesy of how overstuffed they are. As fabulous as Chef Dom’s tacos are, he doesn’t price them for the one-percenters and he portions them for hearty eaters.

      Spam would make for an interesting taco filler. You can bet Chef Dom knows exactly which complementary ingredients would work best with it.

      Sadly, there is no alternative form of seating, but these tacos are so good they might just cure any fear of glass you might have.

      1. Whoa Cowboy…sorry that I mislead you with my tortuous grammar!!! Thank you for that much appreciated discourse. That includes the reference to the Casa Taco which I may have overlooked. All I meant to get was a little provenance RE when the corn tortilla taco expanded to include the flour tortilla taco! As a Gabacho, I’m thinking the latter is essentially an unwrapped burrito!
        ~ Elsewise, RE your noting “Chef Dom offers only corn tortillas–….” Alas, maybe Los Anos is really getting the better of me cuz in the pic of the trio, 2 definitely look like “flour” tortillas!!! Well, in the end, does anything really matter given I just ran across this http://tinyurl.com/y9zqbg3e !!!

  10. Hey Gil,

    Great writeup. I am hungry now! BTW, making sure you’ve seen that Netflix has a new series called the Taco Chronicles. Looking forward to going to Dia De Los Takos!

    1. PS BTW, that burger looks killer too. Still looking for my fav ABQ burger and it is taking awhile because I don’t go out for burgers often.

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