The cute, pastel jewel box of a space that was once D Bar on East 17th Avenue has been stripped back to the rafters and is nearly ready to debut as the hip, urban Dos Santos Taqueria de Mexico, brought to us by brothers Kristopher and Jason Wallenta. The two hope to open their restaurant — Kristopher's third, but his first in Denver — in the coming month to give Uptown a taste of Mexican cuisine beyond just tacos.
The Wallenta brothers' mom is from Mexico City, and Mexican cooking is in their blood. After graduating Colorado State University, Kristopher went to the International Culinary Center in New York City before moving to Cozumel, where he opened his first restaurant, Kinta. Four years ago, Jason joined him at the island resort town, and they opened Kondesa together. Dos Santos marks their return to Denver, where they will offer a menu featuring tacos as well as other influences from around Mexico, including flavors of the Yucatan.
"Dos Santos will be a cool, fun, modern taqueria," Kristopher explains. "Taqueria is the word we're using, but it's a little limiting."
The menu will also include several varieties of aguachile (similar to ceviche, with seafood, lime juice, cilantro and tomatillo) and the chef plans to introduce a few dishes native to the Yucatan, where his other two restaurants are located. Cochinita pibil and lechon tacos will make appearances, along with tikin xic (fish cooked in a banana-leaf wrap). He notes that the regular menu will be small — thirteen or fourteen items — but that specials will be a big part of the eatery's offerings: "How can you do forty dishes and keep them all good and fresh?"
While Kristopher's training is in the kitchen, the Wallentas understand that a restaurant is about more than just food. "It's about the experience, decor and service too," he says.
To help achieve their goals, the Wallentas hired Fin Art, the company responsible for the look of some of Denver's top new restaurants and breweries (Stoic & Genuine, Old Major, Station 26 Brewing), to design the interior. They're also working with their dad, Ken Wallenta, who is a Denver contractor specializing in electronics, lighting control and acoustics.
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The Wallentas chose the Uptown location after beginning a search about three years ago. Jason and Ken knew the building owner, Tammy Cunningham (whose late husband, Noel Cunningham, ran the iconic Strings next door, whose space is now home to Humboldt), and she helped convince them that it was the perfect spot for their taqueria. Kristopher points to all the new restaurants on the strip — Olive & Finch, Humboldt, the District, Patxi's Pizza and even an upcoming craft brewery — and says of the neighborhood, "We've seen the growth going forward."
Updates to the restaurant space include wide, folding patio doors (they considered a garage door but lacked the ceiling space), higher ceilings throughout, exposed rafters and brick, and an open kitchen and a prominent bar. "We want to leave it raw and rustic and a little bit urban," Kristopher notes. The name Dos Santos (two saints) comes from Kristopher's love of the religious iconography of Mexico as well as a tongue-in-cheek nickname that their mother had for the two brothers while they were growing up.
Look for a late June or early July opening — the brothers say two to four weeks, depending on final permitting and construction — for Dos Santos.