You'd think a chef with the pedigree of Matt Collier would balk at the thought of slinging tacos, but Collier, who was a sous chef at The Kitchen in Boulder for nearly four years, and whose culinary lineage also includes stints at Blackbird, the Drawing Room, Boka (a Michelin-starred restaurant), Publican and Avec, all in Chicago, ended his tenure in the Windy City at Big Star, a taqueria that's generated nationwide accolades.
And now Collier has been tapped as the executive chef of T|ACO, a honky-tonk taqueria that will open at 1175 Walnut Street in Boulder early next week, followed by a second T|ACO in the former 8 Rivers space in downtown Denver, which is slated to open by the end of June.
Both taquerias are the creative enterprises from the group who started H Burger Co, which lays claim to one location in downtown Denver, a smaller sibling calling Little H Burger Co in southeast Denver and a second H Burger Co, which will open on Thursday at 1710 Pearl Street, in the former Pinyon space in Boulder, which closed after a blowout bash last month.
And when the concept was first developed, Troy Guard, the exec chef/owner of TAG, TAG RAW BAR and Madison Street, had planned to be a partner in the venture. In fact, it was Guard who originally announced that he was opening the taquerias. But the partnership, says Josh Dinar, a partner in H Burger (and the publisher of Dining Out magazine), dissolved several weeks ago. "The short version is that Troy was originally going to be a partner but he just had too much on his plate to move forward," says Dinar, who adds that while Guard is no longer actively involved in the project, he's still a consultant.
But it's Collier who's behind the burners, although it was Guard who got him the gig. "I saw the ad for a taqueria, responded to it and Troy got in contact with me pretty quickly, and while he changed his mind about being a partner, everyone at H Burger wanted to move forward with me," explains Collier, who notes that he did a series of tastings, some with Guard, to solidify the position. The menu, he says, is a "collaboration between me and Troy, and we bounced ideas of each other to get the menu to where it is now."
A menu that's entrenched in tacos, ten to be exact (think lobster, tuna, chicken, pork belly and steak), along with ceviches, salads and several salsas, along with specials that will roll out after Collier and his crew work out the kinks. "When I started cooking Mexican food at Big Star," says Collier, "I dove head first into a lot of Mexican cookbooks, and along the way, I learned that I loved the depth of the cuisine."
His and Guard's menu, he adds, is steeped in traditional Mexican food -- not Tex-Mex and not southwestern. "No disrespect to Tex-Mex or southwestern food, but there's a lot of beauty in real Mexican food -- things like epazote, which makes food taste beautiful -- and with tacos, especially, it's all about the seasonings, marinades and sauces, which result in an explosion of tastes in every bite," says Collier.
The menu, he admits, isn't groundbreaking or "crazy", but Collier insists that while he's preparing "straightforward, easy street food," it's authentic. "The traditional stuff is just really good," he surmises, "and I don't want to do anything stuffy."
And his food, he continues, will benefit from a beverage lineup that includes tequila and mezcal flights. "We'll definitely have a lot of tequila and mezcal, and part of what we'll do here and in Denver is recommend wonderful flight pairings," he says.
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"I'm really excited to bring a nice, fun atmosphere to Boulder, and I want this to be the kind of place where people can come in and walk out saying that it's their favorite restaurant. I want people to come here for a few hours on their day off and have a good time," he concludes.
And when the Denver store is unveiled later this summer, Collier says he'll be there to open it. "I'll get it going, and then bounce back and forth and do time at both."
When the Boulder location unlocks its doors (likely Monday or Tuesday), the taqueria will start with dinner, but lunch should kick in within just a few days.