It's been a year and a half since chef/restaurateur Kevin Taylor opened Hickory & Ash at 8001 Arista Place, adjacent to the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield. Since then, he has also debuted Italian eatery Mila in downtown Denver, but now he's returning to Broomfield. Masa, a Mexican restaurant with both coastal and inland influences, will open at 8181 Arista Place on January 21.
Like Hickory & Ash, Masa is a family project, with Taylor's wife, Denise, and his son, Ryan, in on the overall concept, design and execution. Ryan is also a chef (he's been in professional kitchens since he was fifteen), and he'll be joined by executive chef/partner Frank Blea, who brings a wealth of knowledge of regional Mexican cuisine, as well as a love for Mexican street food.
"Masa is an authentic contemporary Mexican restaurant," Ryan Taylor explains. The menu backs up that assertion with a range of ingredients — from guajillo chiles and chayote to huitlacoche and epazote — that take dishes well beyond standard Den-Mex burritos and enchiladas.
Ryan says he has fond memories of family trips to Mexico when he was a kid, and also recalls the Oaxacan specialties his dad served at Cafe Iguana in Cherry Creek, an eatery that was so far ahead of the trends in the 1990s that Denver has yet to catch up (although Mila's new neighbor, Zocalito, makes a good case for the ascendancy of Oaxacan food).
You'll find a little of that Oaxacan flavor in chiles rellenos with cinnamon-tomato salsa and in chicken robed in red mole atop corn masa grits — an interesting use of masa, and apparently a healthy one, according to Blea, who points out that the nixtamalized corn used to make masa is more nutritious than standard cornmeal. But there's also tilapia Veracruz (a customary preparation relying on capers and olives for added flavor), a pork shoulder and chorizo molcajete reminiscent of Mexico City cantinas, and Baja-style bites like fried-fish tacos, ceviche and grilled mojo shrimp (served with a blue-corn tamal).
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Vegetarian options are also given careful consideration; of note are the butternut squash and chayote tacos, which benefit from a hit of smoked chiles. And desserts are far more than just an afterthought, especially the churros served with a thick, rich chocolate ganache that's an improvement over standard hot cocoa.
House cocktails draw from taqueria tradition, with hibiscus agua fresca, horchata and Squirt showing up, each spiked with mezcal or tequila and enhanced with chiles, mole bitters and even a rim of sal de chapulín (made with toasted grasshoppers). Blea's wife adds a handmade touch at the bar, where mezcal shots are served in her clay cups.
Masa is decorated with art and figurines gathered from the Taylors' decades of travel in Mexico, along with a few modern commissions. The dining room is bright and spacious, with high ceilings and stamped-tin lanterns, and wall murals add color above the open kitchen.
The restaurant will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. every day but Sunday, with weekday lunch service starting at 11 a.m. to be added beginning January 28. Visit the Masa website for more details.