Tacos are taking over the kitchen at the Dive Inn (1380 South Broadway) later this week as Cluck Chicken moves next door to new digs. Mario Vargas, co-owner with Rick Rondeau of Taki Takos, says the taco joint, with its tiki-inspired style, will complement the Dive Inn’s beach vacation theme.
Vargas has been in the restaurant industry since 1992, beginning as a dishwasher and working his way toward running several ventures. He is starting Taki with a simple menu of tacos, appetizers and weekend breakfast burritos. But as the business grows, he plans to add more options.
“I love restaurants,” Vargas says, explaining how he started as a dishwasher at Benny's Restaurant & Cantina when he moved to Denver from Mexico City 28 years ago. “I [had] never worked in a restaurant before; the more you learn, the more you want to learn more.” Vargas adds that during his eighteen years at Benny's, he worked as chef, server and bartender, and eventually became general manager before leaving to start his own restaurant, Zocalo Restaurant & Bar, which ran from 2010 to 2014 at 12 East 11th Avenue.
At Zocalo, Vargas learned which dishes were especially popular with customers, and he says he’ll continue to serve the same carnitas tacos that were on that eatery's menu. The cooking technique and the flavorings he uses for the tacos comes from his days at Benny’s, when he would improvise his own meals during his lunch breaks.
Like Taki’s grilled steak and grilled chicken taco dishes ($9.50), the carnitas ($9) will be served as a trio with melted cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa verde. Vargas will also offer street-style tacos served with onions, cilantro and choice of salsa ($8.75); shrimp tacos served with pico de gallo, cabbage and chipotle sauce ($9.50); and fish tacos made with cabbage, radish, pico de gallo and chipotle sauce ($8).
Along with tacos, Taki’s will offer chips and salsa ($3), cheese or meat quesadillas ($6.95 to $8.50), taquitos ($8.75), and sliders ($9.25). And for weekend breakfasts, the restaurant will have smothered green chile breakfast burritos loaded with scrambled eggs, cheese and hash browns ($6.95).
Although it’s a hard time to open a restaurant, Vargas is counting on his experience in the industry to help him weather potential hard months. If need be, he says, he can run the entire kitchen himself, but he hopes there will be enough of a crowd to employ his two chefs, as well as a third employee to run food orders to customers.
Further, Vargas knows the Dive Inn's customers. He has been a regular himself, often stopping by on the way home from Zocalo. “I know a lot of people who go there, and they used to know my food,” he explains. “They’re asking me when I’m going to start.”
Taki Takos will start serving as soon as Vargas gets his final permit from the city. The menu will be served during dinner hours Monday through Thursday, for lunch and dinner on Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday.
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