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  • Writer's pictureEric Elkins

Ode: The Lamb Barbacoa from El Borrego Negro

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


I’m not generally a get-up-and-go kind of guy, especially on the weekends — when my favorite thing is to steam up a dirty chai and loll on the couch in pjs, lounging until early afternoon, reading the paper, doom-scrolling, catching up on Instagram, or falling back to sleep. You’d have to give me a pretty compelling reason to abandon that unstructured time after a full week of go-go-go. But I woke up before my alarm one bright winter Sunday morning when Josefudes and I finally got our shit together and hustled down to south Denver for fresh lamb from 2x Beard-nominated chef Jose Avila.


El Borrego Negro sells their barbacoa every Sunday at the Westwood Food Co-op off Morrison Road. They cook a whole young lamb underground in the traditional Mexican manner, then start selling kits of happiness around 9am — and close down when it all sells out. Which can happen well before noon, so it’s best to get there by 8:45 and find a place in line. Ouch.


But for the cost of an early morning jaunt and fifty bucks (plus, come on, drop a tip), you’ll get the full package of sheepy goodness: a pound of shredded meat, fresh tortillas, two kinds of homemade salsa (verde and roja), diced onions, consommé, lime wedges, chopped greenery, and even a container of horchata to wash it all down. One kit is meant to serve 2-3 people, but even four of us hefty eaters felt fairly well sated (and sleepy) by the time we’d devoured our forenoon tacos and mezcal brunch.


See, you build yourself one taco at a time to ensure your tortilla is warm and pliant, piling on the shredded mutton, onions, cilantro, and salsas before squeezing some lime over it all. Then you drizzle the birria over the top or dip your three-bite masterpiece in the Styrofoam container. These are the dribble-down-your-wrist style of street tacos — the lick-your-fingers, grab-more-napkins, make-grunting-sounds, sip-some-horchata, take-a-swig-o’-mezcal experience.


The lamb meat is oh-so-tender, long shreds that fit well along the spine of that little corn tortilla, the crunch of the raw onion morsels like baby exclamation points that make the two kinds of salsa pop pop pop. An ovine ovation, one might say.


The pacing of the meal means you have plenty of time for conviviality between tacos, passing around the ingredients and catching up on your week. It’s a day drinker’s delight, a hang-with-homies holiday, where you just chill around the table for an hour or two in communal contentment.


By noon — between the meal and the mezcal — you’re all a little woozy and relaxed, Sunday scaries tamped down for the time being. Which leaves you the choice to either indulge in an early afternoon snooze or double down and head out for a boozy crawl.


Either way, that 8am alarm buzz was totally worth it.


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