"We just knew that you couldn't go find that food, and there's other people we've met over the time we've been here who are all coming from California, and it was always the same question," says Ryan Carrera, who moved to Denver from San Diego in 2018, six months after his brother Joshua.
The question? Where to find California-style Mexican food in Denver. Ryan and Joshua both have extensive restaurant experience, including stints at fine-dining spots like Sushi Den and the James Beard-nominated Trust in San Diego. In 2019, the brothers decided to go all in on making the food they missed from home, launching Carrera's Tacos as a catering business. "Right off the bat, we got really busy," Joshua recalls. "We were booking events just by posting on Instagram and Yelp."
He was still working a full-time job, but within a couple of months, the Carreras realized that their new venture was resonating with people. "We had another friend invest in us, and then we got the truck. After that, it was just to the races," Joshua recalls.
The truck soon became a staple outside of the Denver Tech Center apartment complex where the brothers live — and especially after COVID-19 hit. "During the pandemic, we'd open four days a week. That's where we got a lot more street presence," Joshua explains. "We were open all the time, and we were even making different food on Saturdays because we knew people couldn't go out." Along with tacos, they served handmade pasta, Thai, Chinese food and more to people in their neighborhood.
Carrera's queso tacos have extra-crispy bits of Oaxaca cheese.
In the summer of 2021, Carrera's Tacos was one of the first food trucks to regularly pop up at Pindustry, the massive bowling and games destination that debuted in Greenwood Village last June
. The Carreras developed a relationship with Pindustry owner Bob Koontz of commercial real estate company Kelmore Development, which has been developing the southeast part of town, and Arapahoe Road specifically, for over a decade.
When Koontz asked the brothers to do some consulting for Pindustry, the Carreras agreed, securing first dibs on an empty space next to the complex in the process — a space they'd originally inquired about years earlier. "That's all we really wanted this whole time," Joshua says of finally getting a permanent home for Carrera's Tacos that happens to be just five minutes from the brothers' actual home. "That's always a dream as a chef or owner," he adds.
They officially moved into the space at 7939 East Arapahoe Road in February, and in just a few months, the brothers have transformed it into a fun and vibrant restaurant that celebrated its grand opening on Saturday, April 23. "We've been in here doing everything. We had a couple friends and family fly out and help. We put the tile up ourselves, got the tables cut and done all on our own because we didn't have the money to do it otherwise," Joshua says.
The Carrera brothers' mom made hand-painted Frieda Kahlo potted succulents for the grand opening of her sons' restaurant.
The menu is an extension of what's offered on the food truck, including popular staples like the French fry-filled California burrito ($11), fully loaded street fries ($15) and queso tacos with extra-crispy griddled Oaxaca cheese ($4.25). Some specials from the truck are also now permanent menu items, including ceviche and aguachile. "These are staples from back home, but we do things a little more elevated because we come from that kind of background," Joshua notes. The most outrageous addition to the Carrera's Tacos lineup is the BBB, or Big Baller Burrito. "That's going to be with filet, lobster — it's going to be like a $50 burrito, wrapped in gold foil," he says.
While there are Chuy's and Torchy's Tacos outposts nearby, the Carreras aren't concerned. "It's different-style food, and people go there for what they go there for. Just like I think a lot of people will gravitate toward here because they're looking for what we've got on the menu," Ryan says.
Carrera's Tacos will also be open a lot later than other restaurants in the area. "Our goal is to be open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.," Joshua notes. "If we have customers that want to come in and we can be that restaurant that's open late at night, that has fun music.... We definitely want to set up some sort of industry night, too."
For now, though, Carrera's Tacos is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday as the team settles into the new space and gets a feel for the flow of business. "It's so much uncertainty. You never know if you're going to have ten people or a hundred people," Joshua says of opening a new restaurant — something he has experience with, though never before with his own restaurant.
"It's a little bit different," he admits. "But we're just ready to have a restaurant. We're ready to be open."
Carrera's Tacos is now open at 7939 East Arapahoe Road. For more information, visit carrerastacos.com.