You might remember that a few weeks back, our intrepid Chef Pat hit up the Street Food Showcase and managed to eat from a staggering selection of vendors (and take some great photos, too). In her write up, she mentions that she tried “a trio of mouth watering tacos from the Taco*Bar.” Well, that day, so did my friend Mark, and he gave it a very enthusiastic thumbs up. To understand the value in a thumbs up taco report from Mark, it’s worth noting that when he plans a vacation, Mexico tops his list of favorite destinations so he can eat street tacos – and little else – for days on end. He goes to the great Cinco de Mayo celebration in Civic Center Park every year with hopes of eating EVEN MORE tacos than he did the year before before – which seems impossible, but he always does. He’s also an avid fan of Pinche Tacos, who we all know rules the street taco world in Denver. So, needless to say, hearing Chef Pat and Mark report so enthusiastically on Taco*Bar, I just had to try them myself.
It just so happened that the very next day, Taco*Bar was slated to be serving it up curbside at Great Divide. (Note that Quiero Arepas has moved their Great Divide shift to Thursday evenings.) I had gone on a 30ish mile bike ride in the morning, deliberately working up an appetite – for tacos, yes, but beer too it must be said. I arrived at Great Divide starving – and am delighted I did! I scarfed down two of the best veggie tacos I’ve ever had in my life, folks. Don’t get me wrong – Pinche Tacos’ Queso A La Plancha is a dear, dear favorite. I love them so much I’ve joked about making t-shirts about them. But while they’re vegetarian, they’re not veggie tacos – they’re cheese tacos. Griddled, browned, perfectly toasted cheese tacos. I love them. God. I really love them. But this? This was something entirely different.
And before I risk boring you omnivores with my droolfest over their veggie taco, check this: Taco*Bar’s most popular taco so far? Duck Confit. I kid you not. We’re talking ample portions of duck cooked to perfection and served wrapped in a tortilla with goat cheese crema, lettuce, mango pico and an amazing habanero mango glaze <slurrrrp> topped with duck cracklins. What? Who does that? Taco*Bar. That’s who. And the carnitas are apparently melt-in-your-mouth perfect hog heaven. But… about those veggie tacos….
Phil Willoz, the head chef at Taco Bar, prides himself on trying to offer, when he can, more than one variety of vegetarian taco. The day I found him, he and his wife Katrina had a huitlacoche, rajas, corn concoction that was as delicious as it is unique (you tell me the last time you saw huitlacoche on the menu – for me, it was in the Yucatan!). I really enjoyed this taco. But it was the other taco on the plate that made me want to cry. Cry big, salty, taco-loving tears of joy. Squash, sweet peppers, queso asadero, and some pico. Seriously people – I took one bite of this guy and looked up at Phil, wild eyed, and asked “What did you do to this zucchini?” Chef’s secret, so I can’t repeat what he told me, but it may have changed my life – or at least taco nights at my house – forever. Add to that the INSANELY good mango habanero salsa (hot, but not eyes bleeding hot – just hot enough to make me really appreciate my beer), and I could not have been happier.
Of course, no taco this good comes out of a vacuum, so you’ll probably be only a little surprised to hear that Phil received official chef training at the Culinary School of the Rockies and then somehow managed to sharpen his mad skillz while working at TAG under the mentorship of friend Troy Guard. If you know Denver’s food scene, you know that ain’t no small potatoes, so to speak. It probably doesn’t hurt that Phil’s a native Texan and he and Katrina just moved back to Denver from some time spent living in Texas. Texas knows tacos. And that may be the last nice thing you hear me say about Texas. (Sorry Phil…. I lived there for 3 years. I speak of my own experience! It was mostly spent eating tacos til I forgot I was even in Texas. There may have also been tequila involved.)
Taco*Bar will be serving up some regular menu items (the pork carnitas aren’t going anywhere), but will also rotate in all sorts of mind-blowing taco goodness. From an email I received from Katrina, Phil’s “guiding philosophy is to treat the taco as an ‘edible plate’ that is not restricted to any one region or style of cuisine.” Sounds like a philosophy I can get behind!
These guys are brand new on the scene, so they haven’t hammered down a regular schedule yet, but this weekend you can catch them both Friday and Saturday at El Charrito (21st and Larimer) from 8pm until whenever, and then Saturday at the Highlands Farmers Market from 9a-1p.
You can find them every 1st and 3rd Saturday at the Highlands Farmers Market (tomorrow!). Usually you can catch them Sunday from 2-6p at Great Divide, but they’re skipping town for the holiday weekend after they wrap up their gig tomorrow night, so catch them there next week if you can’t get out today or tomorrow!
And of course, give them a like on Facebook to keep tabs on them at all times. Trust me on this one, people. You want these tacos.