On our late summer trip to Colorado, we took in a Colorado Rockies game one evening. Given the number of restaurants in the LoDo District of downtown Denver, we decided we'd go somewhere after the game to get something to eat. The only problem is that through the week a lot of the non-chain restaurants in the area close around 9 or 9:30 p.m. It was 9:15 when the game was finished and our first choice for food that evening - the very good Venice Ristorante Italian restaurant - was finished with their seatings for the evening. (Click here to see my entry on Venice.) Walking along Blake Street wandering back toward our hotel, we encountered a little taqueria called T/aco. (see map) We decided to go in and give the place a try.
There are two T/aco locations, the first one in Boulder opened in May of 2012, while the one in Denver opened in the fall of 2012. Initially, the concept was a joint venture between TAG restaurant and TAG Burger Bar owner/chef Troy Guard and his friend, H/Burger owner Geoff Smith. However, just before the Boulder location was to open, Guard stepped out of the partnership citing a difference of vision between H/Burger management and himself. It may have also had something to do with a highly visible and messy divorce that Guard had just gone through.
Before Guard left, he had recruited Matt Collier, the sous chef at The Kitchen, a trendy bistro in Denver. Collier had a long resume of restaurants that he worked at in the Chicago area including the highly regarded Avec, Blackbird and the Publican. (Click here to see my entry on the Publican.) Previous to moving to Denver, Guard had worked at Big Star, the urban taqueria in Chicago. (Avec, Blackbird, the Publican and Big Star are all under the same restaurant umbrella owned by chef Paul Kahan.) After Guard left, Smith and his C.O.O. Whitney Olmstead decided to go ahead with Collier as their head chef at T/aco.
Many of the copper top tables and booths were open when we got into T/aco around 9:40. Our server for the evening, Jacqueline, greeted us and I asked if it was too late to get some food. She said, "Naw, come on in. We'll get you some food." She led us to a booth along the wall and laid down a couple menus for us. I ordered a Pacifico draft beer and Cindy got a margarita. Cindy was hungry and asked for some chips and salsa. Chips and salsa are not gratis at T/aco. But Jacqueline brought us a big basket and some of their housemade tomato salsa. She said, "This is a little more than they normally give you. Since it's so late, they were probably going to throw some of these away. So, you got a deal!"
When I opened up the menu, I saw that they also had fresh made guacamole, and shrimp and red snapper ceviche on the appetizer menu, as well. I hadn't had ceviche for quite some time and if it wouldn't have been so late I would have ordered some. But I felt bad for the chefs and decided to go for the simple tacos.
Tacos and tacos is about all you can order at T/aco. They have skirt steak tacos served with a sliced poblano pepper in a cream sauce, guacamole, with Cotija cheese. The pork carnitas tacos had red onions, pineapple and cilantro on it. The chicken mole taco had a chayote squash and red onion salsa on it along with a poblano creme sauce and lettuce. And the braised pork belly taco had guajillo chili seasoned salsa, with pickled onions, Cotija cheese and cilantro. They also had a vegetarian taco, a straight cheese taco and two fish tacos - a red snapper and an ahi tuna taco. And if you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you know I'm a sucker for grilled fish tacos.
The only problem was that they didn't have the fish tacos that night. Jacqueline told us, "I'm sorry guys, but we're out of the fresh ahi and the snapper tonight." Hmm... Damn. Oh, well, they had a few other things to choose from. Not to waste any more time, Cindy ordered up two skirt steak tacos with soft corn shells and I got a skirt steak taco, a pork carnitas taco and a shrimp taco. They marinate the shrimp in Mezcal before grilling, then they top the shrimp with a lime/garlic pico de gallo, guacamole, Cotija cheese, cilantro, and finished with a fresh salsa verde. That had a lot going on with it and it sounded pretty interesting.
The skirt steak tacos were the first I tried and they were a little overcooked for my taste, but the seasonings they used were pretty good. There was a chunk of fresh avocado - it wasn't guacamole like it said on the menu - but that was all right. And the poblano cream sauce had a nice little kick to it.
I tried the pork carnitas next. The pork was also a little overcooked and had sort of a hard bark to the outer side of it. The red onions and cilantro were fresh and flavorful on the taco and the warmed pineapple chunk was a nice little touch. But I was disappointed in the carnitas.
The winner of the evening was the shrimp taco. It had a lot of taste sensations going on. The shrimp had a great grilled taste to it and even if they hadn't marinated it in Mezcal, I probably wouldn't have known the difference. The cilantro, guacamole, pico de gallo and salsa verde each had a distinct taste to it. It was simply wonderful.
Cindy said her skirt steak tacos were good. She said, "This is perfect. I didn't want a lot of food this late in the evening. This probably is a lot better idea than getting Italian at 10 o'clock at night."
Before we left, Jacqueline asked if we were in Denver visiting. When we told her we were, she asked where w were from. After we said, "Iowa," she said, "Oh! My sister is marrying someone from Pella!" I told her that I grew up not far from Pella and I asked if her sister's fiancee was Dutch. "Very Dutch," she immediately replied. It's pretty good bet that if you're from Pella, you come from Dutch ancestry.
So, our visit to T/aco was all right. I'm sure that food suffered a bit from the lateness in the day. The skirt steak and carnitas had probably sat around for some time before it was reheated and served to us. But the shrimp taco was delicious. Cindy was satisfied with her skirt steak tacos. For a nice place to get some drinks and nosh on some tacos while you're doing it, T/aco would be a good place to try. Just don't expect it to be a regular Mexican restaurant.