Despite the name, La Biblioteca, the tequila bar next to Zengo and Riverfront Park, is not an ideal place for study. It's a sexy library of agave-based -- rather than paper-based -- knowledge, with more than 300 tequilas, mezcals and other liquors. The sort of people who drop hundreds of bills on esoteric tequilas might not be interested in the restaurant's happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. daily, but for me it was certainly an education.
I haven't been impressed by Owner Richard Sandoval's other forays into modern Mexican fusion, Zengo and Tamayo, which come off as overpriced and clunky compared to more humble locally owned restaurants. Formerly styled as Al Lado, La Biblioteca de Tequila is based on the lounge of the same name in New York, and the menus have a lot of similarities. But the happy hour selection is mostly new.
The food has the same Asian/Latin bent as Zengo -- unsurprising, since they share the same kitchen -- but I found the eats to be more satisfying than its sister restaurant, still serving food that was cutting-edge when MySpace was all the rage. Blistered shishito peppers ($5) were crispy and finished modestly with oil and sea salt, then served with a ramekin of lusty lemon togarashi aioli. Simplicity and sin in one dish. Then came Kobe beef chorizo tacos ($6), another one of Sandoval's delightful little anachronisms. The three POG-sized tacos were gobbled up quickly, but still made an impression with quality beef and a tangy Asian slaw.
My friend is a big sushi guy, so he tried a salmon belly roll ($7) which balanced crunchy tempura and asparagus with tangy goat cheese and spicy soy mustard. What could have been a fusion disaster turned out to be a success. Less interesting were a trio of dry adobo chicken buns ($5). I've neglected to mention that these treats were accompanied by some stellar margaritas ($5 each): a tangy tamarind-infused marg and a more traditional house variety, both thick, fizzy and balanced, hitting the sweet spot with citrus and tequila flavors.
La Biblioteca avoids the pitfalls of Denver's other Sandoval restaurants, at least at happy hour. The regular menu is pure madness: $12 for three tacos, $10 for guacamole, etc. Thankfully Margarita Mondays ($5 maragritas), Taco Tuesdays (Two buck tacos) and Wasabi Wednesdays (half off sushi rolls) make this library easier to check out than its dinner menu would suggest. Guess you can't always judge a book by its cover.