After a three-month remodel that saw Boulder's outpost of the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant serving its time-honored Tex-Mex fare in a temporary location, the restaurant has reopened at 1101 Walnut Street looking better than ever.
The sunny space has been refreshed with new paint, floors and a living wall covered in plants, and the space feels larger, with an open kitchen and new bar with a back-lit tequila wall. The old Car & Truck Co. sign, a reminder of the building's past, has been moved across the dining room to a new spot near the stairwell. The bar once guarded the kitchen in the darkest part of the venue, but now it oversees the main floor, warmed by natural light streaming in from tall wrap-around windows.
The original Rio Grande opened in Fort Collins in 1986; the Boulder outpost opened in 1989 and moved to its current location in the 1990s. Co-founder Pat McGaughran became the sole proprietor when he bought out his partners, Andre and Stephen Mouton, in 1999.
When the trio, all from Texas, opened the first Rio Grande 33 years ago, they were so dedicated to the idea of locally grown black beans that they brought local farmer Lucy Stromquist samples of the beans they wanted her to grow for the restaurant.
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Even after three decades, black beans remain a staple, and while the inside of Boulder's Rio Grande has changed, the menu is still filled with customer favorites. So you'll still find solid Tex-Mex fare such as chile rellenos swimming in housemade green chile with a pile of black beans and rice; five regular tacos plus a daily special; freshly made guacamole; six different fajitas, and more. Don't pass up the appetizer of crispy jalapeños, which come sliced, fried and ready to dip into a poblano-ranch dressing. The nachos are a favorite, too, laden with black beans, jack cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapeños and either grilled chicken, steak, carnitas or portabello mushrooms.
The revamped Boulder location still has a killer rooftop patio, where you can eat, drink and take in the view. While up there, thumb through the tequila menu, which has more than seventy labels selected by the restaurant's own tequila ambassador plus eleven made-to-order margaritas.
The Rio Grande company now has six cantinas in Colorado; this one feels modern and airy thanks to the makeover, without taking away from what has made the Rio Grande a staple for generations of fans. Later this year the flagship Rio Grande, at 1525 Blake Street in Denver, is scheduled for its own renovation.
In the meantime, head to Boulder's Rio Grande tonight (Wednesday, April 17) for a grand-reopening party from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets, $25 each, are available at Eventbrite.