"We're the biggest tequila bar in the city -- we should be winning margarita contests," saysLa Biblioteca bartender Ben Carrington of his double-win in the margarita category at Top Taco. The taco and margarita competition, which took place Thursday, June 26 at Sculpture Park, pitted area restaurants against each other to win both people's choice and judges' trophies; proceeds from the event benefitted the Colorado Restaurant Association's Education ProStart scholarship program.
Keep reading for more information on Carrington's winning margarita, and photos of the event --- including the tasty tacos... See also: Richard Sandoval's La Biblioteca opens
"I wanted to do something outside the box," Carrington says of his R.D.A., or Recommended Daily Allowance. Carrington's margarita won not only the popular vote cast by event attendees, but also the critical judges' vote.
Carrington combined Dulce Vida reposada tequila, a chile-spiced syrup and avocado puree to make his cocktail. His clever garnish took the drink to the next level: Tapioca pearls were boiled down with blueberry juice and sugar to create small, purple spheres. Those spheres rested at the bottom of the drink to create a surprising textural finish.
"There's a lot of great people that do tequila in the city, but we want to be the standout," Carrington says of La Biblioteca, the restaurant at 1610 Little Raven Street where he's a bartender. "We want to be the quintessential establishment to go to for tequila."
Carrington recently relocated here from Ohio. "I've bartended for a very long time," he notes. "Denver definitely has an understanding of the spirits world. I think I have an easy job because I focus on one spirit -- tequila. I have a ton of them, and I have to know a lot about all of them. "
Carrington admires Denver's close-knit bartending community. "If you go to places like Williams & Graham, they're trying to teach people," he says. "If you go to Squeaky Bean, Colt and Gray , Ste. Ellie, Green Russell -- they're all trying to teach people more about spirits. I've worked with a lot of these guys. I go see them all the time. It's great to have that camaraderie.
"Personally, I don't see Top Taco as a competition," Carrington adds. "I see it as everybody trying to elevate each other. That's what Denver is about. The first thing I did today when the competition was over, was go and get a margarita from Machete."
Keep reading to find out which tacos came out on top at Top Taco...
Two dozen restaurants participated in the taco competition, and a panel of judges, as well as votes cast by event guests, determined Top Taco's winners: Comida Cantina, for the Best Traditional Taco, and Machete for Most Creative Taco.
"I never won anything, so this is awesome," says Machete chef Jose Avila. "I'm speechless."
Avila grew up in Mexico, where he regularly ate roasted crickets -- a main ingredient in his winning taco recipe. His housemade hibiscus-corn tortilla was topped with avocado puree, roasted crickets, lime juice, roasted tomatillo salsa, salt and dried chipotle pepper.
Chef Rayme Rossello's griddled pork taco, served out of her pink food truck, was a taste of what guests can enjoy at Comida Cantina, her Mexican restaurant inside The Source.
"We do that every day at the Cantina," she says. "It's Tenderbelly pork shoulder, slow-cooked in Stella Artois. There are three cheeses in it: smoked gouda, cotija and asadero cheese. We griddle it and then we top it with out salsa verde and house-made crema."
Rossello was tired at the end of the competition, but happy. "I'm really pleased with my staff," she say. "It was a great experience, a great opportunity."
The best taco winners:
Most Creative Taco 1st Place: Machete 2nd Place: Los Chingones 3rd Place: Squeaky Bean
People's Choice 1st Place: Moontower Tacos 2nd Place: Comida 3rd Place: Zengo
Best Traditional Taco 1st Place: Pinche Tacos 2nd Place: Billy's Inn 3rd Place: Highland Tap and Burger
People's Choice 1st Place: Comida 2nd Place: Pinche Tacos 3rd Place: Billy's Inn Keep reading for the winning margarita recipes. Best Margarita 1st Place: La Biblioteca 2nd Place: Comida 3rd Place: Adelitas
People's Choice 1st Place: La Biblioteca 2nd Place: Machete 3rd Place: Adelitas
R.D.A. Ben Carrington of La Biblioteca Dulce Vida reposado tequila Chili-spiced syrup Avocado puree Blueberry-tapioca pearls
Spicy Pepi Sheree Browne of Adelitas Centenario plata tequila Triple Sec Jalapeno-agave syrup Prickly pear puree Cucumber puree
Spicy Rico Danielle Scott of Machete Jose Cuervo Tradicional tequila Jalapeño Agave Cilantro Lime juice
Rio Grande Margarita (Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant house margarita) Jose Cuervo Gold tequila Triple sec Rio Grande house-made margarita mix
Zi Marg John Pratt of Zi South Suavecito Silver tequila Triple sec Zi South house-made sweet and sour mix
Pineapple-Jalapeno Margarita Steve Mohler of Uno Mas Proximus blanco tequila Cointreau Agave Jalapeno-pineapple juice
Billy's Coin Megan Vickery of Billy's Inn Herradura silver tequila Triple sec Agave Lime juice
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Strawberry Margarita Snow Cono Brian Smith of Squeaky Bean Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila Country time lemonade Gum arabic Strawberries Crushed Ice