The story of Tacos Selene, deemed one of the best taco joints on the Front Range by Denver Post readers, starts in a food truck.
As Celene Rivera, the restaurant’s namesake, tells it, her parents, Carmen and Enedino Gonzalez, immigrated to the United States in the 1990s and started two businesses: a painting company and a food truck. They parked the food truck at an AutoZone on Colfax Avenue in Aurora where they quickly became known for their authentic street tacos and menudo, a weekend-only specialty that still draws fans who line up before the shop opens just to grab a bowl.
“People have traditionally used menudo as hangover food,” Rivera said. “We do the red chile sauce and then we have the option of with or without hominy. We pair it with toasted bread, toasted bolillo. We can do tortillas, we top with onion, cilantro — whatever the customer wants to add.”
Over the course of their first decade in business, the Gonzalezes tried to open a brick-and-mortar location – once in a grocery store and again in a space in Westminster, Rivera said — but the spaces never quite fit. By the time Rivera, the oldest of three Gonzalez kids, went to college in 2010, she enrolled at a school in Arkansas with the expectation her parents would soon close the truck and move there, too.
But in a twist of fate, the Gonzalez family’s dream location became available soon thereafter.
“This spot … on Sixth Avenue and Chambers, *(dad’s) always, for the longest time, looked at it and it was never available,” Rivera said. “That year, that spot became available and my dad jumped on it.”
The original space had just 30 seats, but as demand for Tacos Selene’s food grew, the business was able to expand into neighboring square footage. The Aurora restaurant can now accommodate 120 guests, as can the one in Littleton, which opened about four years ago.
If you’re wondering why Tacos Selene is spelled differently than Rivera’s name, credit whoever processed the business’ original licensing and title paperwork for the typo.
“It was such a process to get it changed that my dad was like, ‘You know, just leave it. Maybe you can change your name later,’ ” Rivera recalled with a laugh.
The tacos here are the biggest draw, whether you’re craving pineapple and pork pastor, barbacoa or tripe. Can’t make up your mind? Rivera recommends getting a taco plate so you can try one of each, all served on corn tortillas and ready for dressing at the serve-yourself-salsa bar, which just recently returned after a pandemic hiatus.
Tacos Selene also sells burritos, quesadillas and tortas, or sandwiches.
Rivera currently works as a nurse and helps her parents out with the taco shop, but she and her husband are hoping to join the “thriving” family business full-time. They are currently scouting a location for a third restaurant, possibly in Castle Rock, that they can operate like a Tacos Selene franchise – spelled with an “s,” Rivera confirmed. And why not, when you’ve just been named one of the best taco spots near Denver?
“They (my parents) came from having $20 in their pocket for a whole month to where they are now,” Rivera said. “My dad still to this day works 16 to 17 hours a day, but he wouldn’t change it for a thing. He’s so proud of everything he’s done. His family, they’ve all seen him work so hard for it, and they’re so proud.”
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