First look: T|ACO opens Friday in LoDo

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"It's Downtown Denver's Mexican alley," quips Whitney Olmstead. At the very least, the arrival of T|ACO, which opens in Denver (the original location sprouted in Boulder earlier this year) at 11 a.m. on Friday, will make the 1500 block of Blake Street a trifecta of Mexican restaurants, given that the Rio resides directly across the street from T|ACO and D'Corazon, another Mexican stalwart, sits just a few storefronts down.

See also:

- Photos: A first look at T|ACO, opening Wednesday in Boulder

But T|ACO, says Olmstead, who's the chief operating officer and an owner of H Burger Co, which boasts locations in Denver and Boulder, isn't a mimic of its neighbors. "The food we're doing is definitely different, with its emphasis on tacos, and the design is different, too," she insists. "It's kitschy, but it's also classy. Our designer, Robin Smith, was going for a fun and formal, rustic and authentic look, much like we have in Boulder."

Located at 1550 Blake Street, the 2,500-square-foot space, which used to be 8 Rivers (it now bears no resemblance to its prior tenant), is twice the size of the Boulder quarters, and the whimsical setting, a funky collection of cowhide chairs, handcrafted chestnut-hued leather booths and banquettes reminiscent of your favorite pair of cowboy boots, a stone bar surfaced with reclaimed beetle pine, and cream-and-black serape wallpaper, plays off the Boulder decor scheme with eye-catching results.

And the menu, a collaboration of consulting chef Troy Guard, who owns TAG, TAG Raw Bar and Madison Street (soon to be TAG Burger) and T|ACO executive chef Matt Collier, doesn't veer too far from the Boulder board, either. "We're adding a few new tacos -- a beef tongue and lamb -- and we'll have a few new dishes, like green mole chicken, sopapillas done two ways, chicken done two ways and some blue-plate specials, but for the most part, the menu is pretty much the same as in Boulder," says Collier, who also plans to start brunch service in early November and has hired Diego Ordaz, his former sous chef at T|ACO Boulder to oversee that kitchen, while he mans the burners in Denver.

The most monumental differences between the two restaurants, points out Olmstead, reside in the tequila selection and the addition of events. "We have a far more extensive tequila list here than in Boulder, with over fifty tequila brands and 100 tequilas, and there's a huge nightlife scene in Denver, so we're definitely going for a restaurant by day and a more bar-like atmosphere at night," says Olmstead.

T|ACO will also offer a late-night menu from 10 p.m. to midnight, as well as Taco Tuesday, when certain tacos are priced at $2 and beers and margaritas are similarly discounted, and on Thursday nights, Raz Gnat, who hosted pool parties at the Four Seasons, plans to pump up the volume with electronic international tunes, while Olmstead will feature high-end drink specials. "We're going to turn the music up, have a hip party atmosphere and serve drink specials using our higher-end tequilas," she says, adding, too, that Collier will do Bronco specials on Sunday game days.

I stopped in last week, while the hammers were still pounding, to get a look at the space, the photos of which are on the following pages. When it opens Friday, T|ACO will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, followed by Sunday brunch in coming weeks. For more info, call 303-623-0330.

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