On Wednesday, after showing off the space to friends and family tonight and tomorrow night, chef and restaurateur Troy Guard, who owns TAG, TAG Raw Bar, Tag Burger Bar and Sugarmill, will open Los Chingones on Upper Larimer, directly next door to Sugarmill, a dessert bar. Los Chingones, a whimsical, two-story Mexican restaurant, the name of which translates to "badass," has been over a year in the making, and on Wednesday, when Guard unveils it to the public, jaws will drop.
The 5,000-square-foot restaurant, complete with a rooftop bar that overlooks the Denver skyline, was fashioned by Melissa Friday, the prolific designer behind Xan Creative, a firm that also put the pop in Snooze, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, Illegal Pete's, Vesta Dipping Grill, D Bar and several other restaurants, including Sugarmill. And they didn't miss a beat, creating a fascinating space that harmonizes urbanized industrial swagger with colonial Mexican influences.
Many of the furnishings, including the two community tables that squat in the bar -- and are bookended by concrete blocks painted turquoise -- were designed from reclaimed wood procured from neighborhood discards. Garage doors that open to the breeze bedeck both floors, which are connected by a long staircase flanked by color-jolted, muraled wall that took seven days to finish. And the mural's artist, a New Yorker, used brushes, rollers, spray cans -- and a vivid imagination -- to complete the piece, a spellbinding explosion of vivid Mexican hues, graphics, movement and shapes. "We knew that this would be a crucial piece that brought both floors of the restaurant together, and we took our time finding an artist who could do what we envisioned, and it turned out even better than I had hoped," says Friday. Los Chingones's signature logo -- a black cobra snake -- appears throughout the restaurant, too, in cutouts at the base of the booths, on the wall, and on the shelves, while muraled Day of the Dead tiles are strategically placed near the exhibition kitchen.
Two bars, one upstairs and one downstairs, pour libations, including two Colorado draft beers and two kegged wines. Nikki Guard, Troy's wife, designed the cocktail program, which is composed of a dozen tequila-based cocktails (which can also be order "Smoke-and-Mirrors-style with mezcal) and a formidable tequila selection, which she describes as "price-approachable."
And so, too, is Guard's menu, a focused and playful board of eleven tacos -- pork stomach, beef tongue, lamb neck, octopus and shrimp are among the proteins -- salads, ceviches, chicken leg enchiladas festooned with ribbons of kale, a toasted pumpkin seed-and-mushroom fundido, tamales, ceviche (the fish will change daily) and nachos topped with crumbled fragments of brined, braised and fried pig ears. "It's my interpretation of Mexican food, and it incorporates a lot of playful, creative twists, just like we do at TAG," says Guard, whose menu also trumpets six different salsas. "We're doing everything from mild to medium to hot to smoky to sweet," he adds, noting, too, that the first round of chips, which he serves with a "rooster" salsa, essentially pico di gallo, is on the house.
Guard, who's joined in the kitchen by former TAG alums Lou Ortiz, Juan Coronado and Cortland Collins, says, too, that he'll change the menu seasonally and develop nightly specials.
And come January, he'll incorporate lunch to the lineup, and in the spring, he'll add brunch as well as a rooftop garden, which will grow herbs and vegetables for use in all of the tacos. In the meantime, there's happy hour, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and features $2 tacos, taquitos and tostadas, as well as $2 "old-school dad" beers (think PBR, Schlitz, Olympia and Busch) and jell-o shots, and a $5 cocktail of the day.
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Los Chingones will open for dinner on Wednesday at 4 p.m.. Here's your first sneak peek at the space, the cocktails and the food.