First Look

First Look: Troy Guard's Mister Tuna Lands in River North

Tacos, burgers, Chinese food, steaks and desserts: Chef/restaurateur Troy Guard has covered a wide range of styles at his eateries over the past few years. But his newest venture, Mister Tuna, which opens this Friday, July 15, in the Industry building on Brighton Boulevard, is a little more difficult to categorize. A wood-fired rotisserie, a raw bar, handmade pasta and a station dedicated to all things pickled or preserved make for an eclectic menu that defies easy description. But Guard is happy to provide an overarching theme: "A neighborhood sanctuary is what I call it — a safe haven," he explains.

The inspiration for Mister Tuna comes from the chef's childhood on Oahu. So, yes, there's seafood, but that's just part of the program. "We cooked on a barbecue every single night," he recalls.

With that in mind, follow your nose from the entrance to the chef's counter at the far end of the long, narrow dining room, where a rotisserie — which could be turning pork, rabbit, lamb or beef — crackling with charcoal and oak fills the space with the aroma of burning wood. But once seated, your view of the open kitchen will tip you off to the variety lurking on the menu. Hand-rolled garganelli and gnocchi are prepped at the pasta station while raw fish is sliced — both thick and thin — for crudo, sushi or grilled fillets. Jars of pickled, fermented and preserved fruits and vegetables gleam from nearby shelves, promising salty, tangy tastes, like the subtle kimchi notes mixed into buttery wheat berries beneath a slab of corvina.

Mostly, Mister Tuna is an homage to Guard's childhood. The name itself comes from his father's nickname, and the floor-to-ceiling mural painted by artist Lui Ferreyra on the south wall of the dining room was inspired by 1970s photo of his mom. In the hallway to the restrooms, you'll see family photos of Guard's father posing with trophy fish and of a young Troy with his parents enjoying the outdoors, a major part of his upbringing. There are even a couple of pictures (one hidden in the swirls of the enormous murals) of the other Mister Tuna: the family parrot, still alive and as old as Guard himself (the chef and his father both bear lifelong scars from Mister Tuna's sharp beak).

The restaurant, which Guard refers to as a "neighborhood hangout," features design from Boss Architecture, funky bathrooms tagged with black and gold graffiti, and a small mezzanine decked out with a comfy couch and other swank lounge furniture accessible from a spiral staircase.

The long bar touts a cocktail program designed with simplicity and bright flavors by TAG beverage director Michael Cerretani and a wine list focused on European and California bottles — some seventy to eighty labels — selected by Nikki Guard.

Mister Tuna seats 115 guests, including forty on the patio out front. Beginning Friday, the space will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Beginning August 15, Guard will add breakfast and lunch, with breakfast available to-go only and featuring baked goods from Sugarmill as well as the flavors of whatever's on the grill from Mister Tuna's kitchen. That could mean charcoal-roasted lamb burritos with Los Chingones salsa, for example, or other creations inspired by what's on hand.

While there, check out the ghostly remains of the "Groceries" sign above the kitchen, a leftover from the building's long history as a distribution center; the wood panels beneath the bar that were once the building's garage doors; and the Japanese shou-sugi-ban wood (burned cedar) paneling in the hallway to the restrooms. And while gazing at the black-and-white mural, see if you can pick out the map of Hawaii hidden in the wave patterns. Keep reading for more photos of Mister Tuna.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation