Where: 3350 Brighton Boulevard, Suite 150
When: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
For more info: Visit denverbellota.com
The place: When Acorn closed in September 2020, it left a big hole in the Denver dining scene. The restaurant that anchored the Source had been opened in 2013 by founders Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski; the wood-fired kitchen was surrounded by graffiti, steel beams and exposed brick. Acorn brought such new, daring dishes as foie gras doughnuts, but also offered more more simple, comforting favorites, like the tomato-braised meatballs and the kale and apple salad made popular at Dayton and Redzikowski's Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder.
After closing Acorn, though, Dayton made good on his promise to bring a new concept to the space quickly. By the end of last October, the team — which also includes Bill Espiricueta of Smok — had opened Bellota. The name is Spanish for "acorn"; the restaurant specializes in Mexican cuisine and is helmed by executive chef Manny Barella.
Barella grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. After starting law school, he switched gears, opting to pursue a culinary degree instead. Before joining Bellota, he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in the Napa Valley, at Boulder’s Frasca and the Denver location of Uchi. For Bellota, Barella took inspiration from the cuisine of northern Mexico to create a menu loaded with bold flavors and special touches.
Glancing at the menu, you might overlook this option; the only thing that seems to differentiate it from the other tacos on the list is that it's one of two served on a flour rather than corn tortilla. But along with Chihuahua cheese and onions, it's got two components that step up the decadence level: tomato cream, and the shrimp butter that Barella brushes on the outside of the tortilla before frying it golden-brown.
The butter is made using the shells of the shrimp inside the taco, and provides a savory shrimp-on-shrimp boost. "Why let all that flavor go to waste?" Barella asks.
Because the shrimp taco is so indulgent, you'd be smart to pair it with a carnitas taco. This version is loaded with pork that's slow-roasted (not boiled, which Barella says he sees too often) with another secret-ish addition: condensed milk, a traditional ingredient that helps caramelize the meat. The taco is topped off with a refreshing mix of onion, cilantro, lime and chile de arbol salsa.
At Bellota, even the guacamole gets an unexpected twist, here from a dusting of cilantro powder made from the stems that would otherwise be discarded. Other surprise touches: the charred tortilla aioli on the esquites (Mexican street corn) and the spicy, nutty salsa macha and creamy avocado pesto that elevate the ahi tuna tostada to new levels of complexity.
If hearing about the food doesn't have you heading to Bellota yet, know that it also serves one of the best palomas in town, along with a full cocktail list of creative concoctions. Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. every day that the restaurant is open and includes a rotating menu of tostadas along with $6 margaritas, $3 Mexican lagers and $5 wines on tap.
Whatever you drink, don't skip the shrimp tacos.