I have been to Tamayo once and it was uninspired, both the food and service. I have chosen not to go back and spend my money elsewhere. Benny's is better than this!
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
If someone at Visit Denver were to conduct a survey, I'll bet most tourists would say that they still consider Denver a steakhouse town. It isn't, as they'd surely concede after stops at the likes of Rioja, the Populist and ChoLon. But in 2001, when Tamayo flung open the doors of a modern Mexican restaurant dedicated to stylish cuisine rather than smothered burritos, Denver still fit that description. Tamayo, the second Mexican eatery in Richard Sandoval's now global empire of thirty restaurants, proved it was time for a change in this city, and quickly became a downtown hotspot.
As time went by and Manning replaced Tebow, who replaced Orton, Cutler, Plummer and Griese (remember him?), Denver kept changing. Last winter, a tired Tamayo finally did, too. Sandoval closed the restaurant for three weeks, pumping in a million dollars' worth of C-shaped booths, imported carved chairs, lighting and new art. Gone are the white tablecloths, not to mention many of the Spanish terms that confused diners and bogged down servers. More appetizers, soups, salads and entrees were added, along with tacos and traditional braises known as cazuelas; Tamayo also added a bottomless weekend brunch. According to general manager Miranda McFarlan, the change did more than freshen up the space; it brought Tamayo in line with sister restaurants like Maya in New York, which underwent a similar revamp last year. Menus at the restaurants overlap significantly, with prices almost as high in Denver as they are on the Upper East Side.
But you may not get what you pay for.
See also: A closer look at Tamayo
At one Friday lunch, when you'd expect a steady stream of ready-for-the-weekend workers, the place was empty and energy-less, as depleted as a wrinkled balloon from yesterday's party. The staff seemed listless, too, leaving dirty dishes on an adjacent table throughout our entire meal and failing to refill small water glasses. Our server left us at the table for ten minutes without menus, assuring us she'd "be right back," only to disappear for another ten minutes before bringing them.
Trying not to think about how our meter was gobbling quarters while we gobbled nothing, we focused on what promised to be a very tasty meal: a tostada sampler, the highlight of a three-month guacamole festival, with grasshoppers, citrus-chipotle salt and habanero salsa among the score of ingredients; al pastor tacos with pork marinated in flavorful adobo; and huitlacoche-wild-mushroom enchiladas under a fire-roasted poblano sauce. Bold, unique flavors all — except that's not how they came out. When, that is, they finally came out.
"We'd like to check on our guacamole," my friend said, as he flagged down our server. "Oh, that dish takes a long time to put together. I told the kitchen to bring out everything at once," she said. "I hope that's okay." But it wasn't; she should've asked first, and she knew it. She offered to keep the entrees hot under the lamps, but what we feared would happen did: By the time we'd enjoyed the tostadas — small, crisp discs topped with diced bits of strawberry, mango and kiwi on the Baja guacamole; beets, walnuts and orange on the Pacifico; and tuna tartare on the Sur (the kitchen was out of grasshoppers) — our second course had lost its luster.
Hardest hit were the caramelized plantains, a Latin American specialty that delivers as much sweetness as a packet of sugar dumped on the tongue. They're especially good for the chewy bits that appear after they hang out with butter in a hot pan. But ours had softened, and too much honey and too little chipotle butter left them as sugary as that packet. The tacos al pastor might have been better hot than at room temperature, but that wouldn't have intensified the sliced pork, which hardly whispered of achiote paste, cumin and cinnamon. Mexico City-style corn on the cob was also meek, dusted with cotija cheese and brown powder that I later learned was chiles, cumin and cloves, but the only flavor that came through was the sweetness of the corn. The best dish was the enchiladas, though the green poblano sauce was tamer than a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school.
On a subsequent visit, this time on a busy Saturday night, service also hampered the experience, but for the opposite reason. Food arrived too quickly, water glasses were filled with gymnastics-like maneuvers to reach under menus and around arms, and plates were delivered to the wrong person for all three courses. It would have been thoughtful of the maître d' to tell us about the rooftop terrace, in case we were out-of-towners who didn't know what a lovely spot it is for relaxing before or after a meal, and for the server to more thoroughly explain entrees and mention that chips and salsa were available for the asking, rather than leaving us to wonder why every table around us but ours got some.
With no heat-lamp issues this time, there was no excuse for the food's failures. Thick, brown and packed with pulled chicken, guacamole and tortilla strips, the tortilla soup looked like a cover photo but had all the punch of gravy. (I had a far better bowl, for just over half the price, at Marczyk Fine Foods the next day.) A trio of squash-blossom quesadillas, one of the new dishes on the menu, resembled empanadas, with masa standing in for flour tortillas — but mine were flat, sorry affairs, filled only with cheese and zucchini, not the promised squash blossoms. Garlic-cilantro lemon butter was supposed to melt over my mahi-mahi, but the fish left the kitchen without it, and pomegranate seeds and crema-and-truffle-oil mashed potatoes weren't enough to prop up the dry dish.
The tampiqueña carried hints of what Tamayo could do; the well-seasoned filet mignon was a pleasant change from a kitchen that seemed to have lost its salt shakers. So was the deeply flavored mole, for which chef de cuisine Arnold Rubio (who's been at Tamayo for thirteen years, the past seven in this position) takes three kinds of chiles, two types of chocolate, another twenty-some ingredients and three days to make. Ladled over a cheese enchilada, the mole is the poster child for the kind of complex, authentic Mexican cuisine for which Sandoval is known. It's almost worth risking poor service and the kinds of rowdy guests (read: bachelorette parties) attracted to Tamayo's lengthy tequila menu just to get more of that mole.
Almost. But right now, the million bucks put into Tamayo doesn't look like money well spent.
I have been to Tamayo once and it was uninspired, both the food and service. I have chosen not to go back and spend my money elsewhere. Benny's is better than this!
Reading through previous comments, I'd like to point out: a. that I am not saying Gretchen is a bad person, I just didn't enjoy this particular review... thought it was overly harsh on some points, b. I am not anonymous, a PR professional, (or Tamayo staff hahah), and c. I have enjoyed Tamayo very much and hope that they'll make their service more consistent and that Gretchen will give them another chance sometime soon.
I agree that not all Richard Sandoval establishments are created equal, however I disagree with the article. I appreciated 'TheJeff's' finesse in his comment, and felt inclined to speak up with another view. To say you've been to La Sandia recently does not say you've been to Tamayo...and of course we all love Yontz, Selby, and Jasinski, but modern mexican doesn't need an award-winning chef to make it worth the experience. We're talking about exceptional service, and to simplify--great mexican food with extra attention to presentation. Is Lola refined? Yes. Delicious and satisfying? I would argue no. But cuisine like many things is subjective, so I agree to disagree with 'thejeff'.
Although I can't say I'm a regular at Tamayo, we've dined three times
since the remodel (2 brunch, 1 dinner) and I have been impressed
each time. Granted, there were no complaints about the service during any of these visits, and that is an important part of the experience. For dinner, we had the carne asada and halibut - both were fantastic; cooked perfectly, well-seasoned, pulle sauce was delicious...At brunch we had the corn referred to in the review and thought it was delicious!
All of this said, I thought this article was poorly written. Sounds like Miss Gretchen had second-rate service the day she dined. That is a shame and many great restaurants have problems like this from time to time. Sounds like Tamayo could work on more consistency in service. I don't feel like her critiques on the food itself is warranted, she just seems upset about the service. Maybe she was just trying too hard to be funny, but it came off as amateur and discredits the review for me. Some comments just don't seem to fit - referring to the bachelorette crowd for example. We sat next to a pretty large and rambunctious bachelor party at Colt & Gray a couple weeks ago...does that mean anything? Again, I think the review just gets so far away from what one would need to know in a food review it just made it difficult to read - I found myself skipping lines. When reading food reviews I appreciate honesty and don't feel I have to agree with a critic, but I don't enjoy mean for meanness' sake and I didn't think this particular article was funny, interesting, or right.
OUCH! From my understanding the reviewer went 4 times and 2 out of the 4, had a bad experience. So the other 2 must have been good! Let's read those "reviews"! This reads like a public bashing. People's jobs are at stake when reviews like this come out. I have been to other mexican restaurants in Denver (LOLA) and their service was sub-par at best! The margaritas aren't that great either, got ice!!
As a server, I would NEVER tell my guests that their, "food is under the heat lamp", who says that?!
In my own opinion I think this is an attempt to assassinate the character of Chef Richard Sandoval. Don't know the guy but I saw him on Top Chef Masters, not his finest moment, but nonetheless did it for a good cause, charity.
To me this is a little more than convenient that this review came out after Chef Sandoval was eliminated from Top Chef Masters. Got John Wilkes Booth? (Gretchen/Westword is J.W.B, get it/)
Having just read Gretchen's latest review of Pizzeria Locale, it is painfully obvious that this "reviewer" simply does not like Tamayo, or from the reads of it, any of Richard Sandoval's restaurants. After reading her article, I truly felt confused as to where she was going with the ever-changing Denver with our Bronco quaterbacks, to Marczyk's over-priced soups. This was not only a sad excuse of what I thought was to be a review of one of my favorite restaurants, but rather just bad journalism.
I happen to love Tamayo, along with Zengo and several other wonderful restaurants throughout Denver, and it is very unfortunate that the Westword would allow such a poorly written article out of their press. I have never had a bad experience at Tamayo, rather find their new make-over briliant, along with their food and their service is certainly more attentive than any I have had at some other Larimer Square restaurants.
Didn't the Westword just write up Richard Sandoval, and some of his other Chefs, glorifying their food and expertise? Perhaps the Westword's writers like Gretchen Kurtz and Lori Midson should spend a little more time working together, rather than contradicting the other's work.
Shame on you Gretchen Kurtz, and the Westword for that matter.
I have never had a bad experience at Tamayo, it's been our favorite spot on larimer for years, there's certainly always room for improvement in any business, but to say that Tamayo isn't worth revisiting is simply unfounded @GretchenKurtz .
I'm posting to voice my support and love of tamayo, and Richard Sandoval's delicious food, but while I'm at it, Gretchen, your review is completely open ended, and not well written.
You've failed to mention any of their cocktails, or any of My favorite dishes, all you were focused on was your water glass, and the bachelorettes clearly having a better time than you......
Wow, looks like a lot of the PR flacks have shown up to comment. I have never had good service at any RS restaurant anywhere in the US. I had one good meal at La Sandia at Northfield when it first opened. Never had a good meal since that one either.
Even if TheJeff does not believe that people can make an opinion because is different than his here are my 2 cents....
This review seems to be very vindictive, its not objective and yes i don't give this reviewer much credibility from her 4 times she visited a restaurant...i do think Tamayo has the best Mexican Food in Denver, i'm from Mexico so i know what i'm taking about
This review sounds so personal and vindictive. Seriously, how could this restaurant have lasted so long if it was so bad? Tamayo is one of the best restaurants in Denver. I don't give this review or reviewer much credibility.
I didn't think anyone ever went back to Tamayo a second time.
Take away the location and this place would have closed 5 years ago. They serve some of the most unexciting, uninventive food around.
If you want to try upscale Mexican done right, go visit Paxia.
I think the review is spot-on. Sandoval's entire enterprise seems to have grown large and unwieldy, and quality has suffered as a result. When Tamayo first opened, I thought it was fantastic, but it's been on a downward slide for years. Chefs have changed, and the food quality, creativity, and service are simply sub-standard. The silly "maybe Taco Bell is more your speed" style comments here indicate people with very limited experience with quality "modern Mexican" or other elevated cuisine. There are many great dining establishments in Denver, but this particular cog in a chain of twenty-something restaurants is not among them.
Richard Sandoval may have popularized this style of cuisine, but he's certainly not doing it well anymore (a recent Sunday brunch at the Park Meadows La Sandia is one of the worst meals I've ever had period). I would love to see Sean Yontz (who commanded Tamayo at its best, Tambien at its best, and the dearly departed Chama at Belmar) open a great high-end Mexican joint. Right now, I'd say Lola is doing this type of cuisine better than anybody else in Denver. It's nothing particularly special, but at least food quality and service are consistent. For great "Modern Mexican," there's no beating Topolobampo in Chicago.
Um mm...what are you talking about, food critic?!? Tamayo is one of my favorite spots in Denver. Is it because Tamayo doesn't pay for advertising with you that you are so biased??? You always write bad things about them.
"I don't believe it! Tamayo has been amazing since my first visit 5 years ago, and it was amazing a month ago on my last visit. I'm not sure your facts are straight Westword!"
This review is so off it is not even worth the full read. I have never had a bad experience at Tamayo or any of its sister restaurants. I love the authentic, traditional, yet modern twist this restaurant offers on its plates and cocktails. Westword has been wrong before and I could only wish they admit it this time. Go back to Taco Bell and get the 2am quesadillas you are trying to compare Tamayos exquisit ones to. Seriously - I don't believe a word you wrote about this restaurant.
I am very surprised at this review. My husband and I, plus family and friends, have been to Tamayo's many times over the years and we have never had an unpleasant experience. The food and service have always been superior. We have especially enjoyed the addition of the brunch on weekends. This review does an injustice to this wonderful restaurant.
I've always thought this place overcharged and under-delivered. Doesn't sound like much has changed.
Was there a couple weeks ago for the first time. Horrible service. We ordered drinks and then didn't see anyone for 20 minutes. A shame since I work on the same block and the food was good, but I will not be returning.
@heartthewestword amen! I felt the contradictory nature of the westword was very concerning.
@jorgitoinDenver I absolutely welcome opinions that differ from mine, but I would take those opinions a lot more seriously if they came from people with any sort of history here other than telling us how awesome Tamayo is.
I have yet to hear the defender(s) elucidate just how this review is "vindictive," and the complaint that it's "not objective" is absurd. Of course it's not. Critical reviews are, by their very nature, the subjective opinions of the reviewer.
As best I can tell, Gretchen Kurtz is a professional restaurant critic who has written for a variety of publications. I'm not sure why these random people have decided that they "don't give her much credibility," or why they think anyone should care whether they do or not.
Out of curiosity, just how many times must one visit a restaurant to before coming to the conclusion that it is a waste of their time and money?
@parmaker You know who I don't give much credibility to? The seven people like yourself who are either anonymous or have never posted on a Voice site before who miraculously showed up to tell us how off-base they think this review is and how much they, their friends, and their families enjoy the food and service at Tamayo. How fortunate for the Tamayo management that a group of new anonymous posters suddenly arrived and came to their defense!
Bad restaurants find financial success all the time. Are you familiar with the phrase "Over a billion served?"
There was a time when Tamayo was indeed one of the best restaurants in town. Those days are long gone. I would suggest that you spend a week having dinner at Fruition, Bittersweet, Rioja, Mizuna, The Squeaky Bean, Old Major, and ChoLon, then tell me about how Tamayo belongs in their company.
@CONative You must be a PR flack. Or you are related to someone at the restaurant (or RS himself) if you actually get any decent service.
@Bagwhan You should have read the review WW did of Josephines years ago. To this day, the most scathing restaurant review I have ever read. Scathing, but spot on.
@Denver Dave True of every RS restaurant.
@Denver Dave True of ALL RS restaurants.
Also, TheJeff, I think you just named ALL of fine dining in Denver. You forgot Casa Bonita! That place has been tearing the ass out of Denver for years and years! Have you ever seen Rioja on South Park?! I don't think so my friend.
ps. Never talk to strangers.