Carrera’s tacos bring the Mexican west coast with a competitive edge
Josh and Ryan Carrera grew up in San Diego playing sports. They also grew up in the kitchen, learning a range of cooking styles from their grandmother and members of both sides of their family. Josh remembers scribbling the name Carrera’s Tacos in elementary school notebooks, with the duo discussing plans and possibilities long before either had a driver’s license. Together, the brothers now own and operate a food cart bearing their name, having spent nearly two decades updating the project – without missing a single step needed to turn a daydream into a damn delicious reality. Operating both from an indescribable culdesac near the Denver Tech Center – outside the building where the two live – and at catering events and concerts across town, Carrera’s delivers the must-haves from Tijuana to southern California, complemented by refined gastronomic technique. It is then presented in the decidedly simple way that food deserves.
While Carrera is straightforward, it’s by no means low-key. Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, fries, and spinning specials are all approached with a champion mentality – relying on quality ingredients and genuine hunger to build what is clearly becoming an inevitable buzz. Throughout their teenage years, the brothers competed with their school teams, playing basketball, baseball and football. Much of their early competitive sense was gleaned from watching their two older sisters Briana and Tamara, both of whom earned softball scholarships at James Madison University. The same ambition was reflected in their attitude towards the cart, whose flames are constantly fueled by the search for true excellence. Ryan and Josh face off, and everyone on the pitch, whether here or at home.
“If we’re better than the food in San Diego, we’ll probably be better than the rest of the Denver tacos,” Josh said.
That’s not to say the duo are on the hunt for blood. Both learned from an early age that cooking is based on nuance and that it is above all a matter of community. “We haven’t done anything else since we started working. We were still cooking, ”Ryan said with a smile. “We just like to bring people together. That has always been the motivation, ”he continued. Their presence in Denver has already earned them a spot at the North Side Market, a weekly appearance at the City Park Farmer’s Market, and a fan-favorite position with the Denver Bronco’s offensive line – who are known to descend to the culdesac during some eats. out of hours. The competition is friendly – Josh said he found the stage here both welcoming and extremely helpful – although it’s clear when it comes to food, Carrera’s doesn’t perform. In 2019 alone, the booth scored a People’s Choice victory at Chicken Fight as well as a nod for second place in the vegetarian category at Top Taco. “I don’t know if it brought us a lot of sales, but it gave us more confidence,” Josh smirked.
The couple are indeed true lifers at the restaurant, with Josh generally focusing on the back of the house and Ryan focusing on the front. Starting their career at a neighborhood pizzeria called Alexander’s, the two brothers really cut their teeth during a stay of more than five years at the Trust Restaurant – a coastal fine dining restaurant by James Beard Award nominee Chef Brad Wise. Josh moved to Denver in 2017 after being offered a job at Urban Egg, with Ryan joining him soon after. Josh then returned to the high end track with a year and a half as a sushi chef behind the counter at Sushi Den. It was around this time that Ryan did much of the initial legwork to get Carrera off the ground, apply for the business license, and handle logistics and paperwork. Ahead of the opening, the brothers performed much of the early recipe testing in their own kitchen, helping to tease the project ahead of the actual debut.
“The first 30 photos we posted on our Instagram were all of things we ate at home,” Josh said with a laugh.
After opening in May 2019, the brothers returned home in January 2020 to visit family and host a series of pop-ups where they tested their food against the cuisine that inspired it. Each of the 10 events sold to rave reviews, with Josh and Ryan using the trip in part in the interest of researching the evolving scene. Always hoping to stay at the cutting edge of technology, the duo keeps its mercurial menu.
“We take our favorite things at home and try to replicate them or make them better, and do it all in one place,” Josh said. Tacos ($ 3.50) – with steak, adobada, shrimp, cauliflower or carnitas – are stacked high and topped with delicate micro cilantro. the surf and turf burrito ($ 13) is a massive company, with carne asada, chorizo, avocado cream, fries and a sizable portion of whole shrimp. It’s a juicy deal, with what will sure be a growing pile of soaked towels, which is a good sign that Carrera’s is indeed using the right things. Make sure you leave room for the churro bites ($ 5) – a perfectly balanced result with a pinch of salt and a homemade English horchata. Or, for a pro move, come back for the weekend brunch service, where Carerra’s dispenses churros pancakes ($ 12) – which sees a stack of three topped with an almost intimidating stack of what is surely one of the most decadent desserts in town.
While Carrera’s is currently only in Denver, Josh and Ryan said they plan to open one in San Diego in the coming years, with longtime friend Louis Romero at the wheel. Carrera’s is great on its own, made better by the fact that this only seems like the beginning.
Information on where to find Carrera Tacos is updated weekly on its website.
All of Charla Harvey’s photographs.