Global Cuisine

Capitol Hill Has a New Destination for Tacos

Wild Taco offers some playful twists on traditional Mexican recipes.
Wild Taco offers some playful twists on traditional Mexican recipes. Tom Hellauer
Passersby on the pedestrian-only stretch of Seventh Avenue between Grant and Sherman streets have gotten a welcome surprise in recent weeks: a new restaurant serving traditional Mexican tacos with a flair for the eccentric. Wild Taco, at 215 East Seventh Avenue, is the latest offering from the Barbed Wire Reef (BWR) restaurant group. It opened a few days before Cinco de Mayo in the former Tacos Tequila Whiskey space — and is one of the more than forty eateries that will be serving food at Westword's Tacolandia event at Civic Center Park on June 4.

Owned and operated by the sibling pair of Rico and Flor Aragon, as well as Wild Taco partner Yoon Terry, the eatery is the group's second brick-and-mortar restaurant; BWR also has a small fleet of food trucks and two food stalls at Edgewater Public Market.

"[The Aragons] wanted to do [something] a little bit more traditional to their heart and their cuisine, so Mexican cuisine and tacos," Terry explains. "[Rico] was looking at this space and contacted me because my background is also in opening restaurants. He and I had been talking about doing a joint venture for quite some time, and just the opportunity happened."
click to enlarge The Wild Taco team opened its new brick and mortar on May 3. - TOM HELLAUER
The Wild Taco team opened its new brick and mortar on May 3.
Tom Hellauer
Terry and Rico met about twenty years ago — she was his manager when they both began their hospitality careers in Vail. Bringing Rico's younger sister, Flor, to the BWR team has proven worthwhile, as she now operates the locations in Edgewater Public Market. "We're dividing and conquering, for sure," Terry says. "I've been spending a lot of my time specifically [at Wild Taco]. Flor is still 100 percent responsible for the food stalls...and Rico has been spending a lot of time with the food trucks and the 38th Avenue brick-and-mortar Barbed Wire Reef restaurant."

"[Flor is] the only woman who has been able to drive all my food trucks and operate them," Rico adds with a smile. The family affair continues beyond ownership: Recipes from both the Aragons' mom and Terry's mother, who is originally from South Korea, appear on the menu at Wild Taco.

Rico and Flor, who are originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, incorporated their mother's chicken tinga recipe at Wild Taco and the other BWR locations — after getting her approval. "We made it like three, four times until she was like, 'Okay, this is good,'" Rico says. Although the tinga recipe was adapted after time spent in Mexico City, the barbacoa and birria tacos have a distinct Chihuahua parentage. Wild Taco head chef Mario Vazquez also grew up in Chihuahua.

While traditional dishes from Chihuahua and other Mexican states help carry the menu, the team wanted Wild Taco to have some unorthodox twists and flavors, much like the menu at the BWR locations, which serve a variety of exotic meats. Here, Korean flavors are also incorporated. "Tacos and tortillas are a vessel that you can really be creative and do other things with," Terry notes. "That's where this Wild Taco idea came from. Obviously we're traditional at our core, because that's what's going to bring people back — that comfort aspect. But we wanted to introduce some fun things that people wouldn't necessarily think about being from a taqueria."
click to enlarge The jala-piña, left, and the carrot mole margaritas were crafted with help from bar manager, Daniel Farias. - TOM HELLAUER
The jala-piña, left, and the carrot mole margaritas were crafted with help from bar manager, Daniel Farias.
Tom Hellauer
A vegan version of Terry's mother's kimchi recipe garnishes the bulgogi taco, which is made with a mirin marinade and incorporates soy, ginger and zucchini. The tofu taco also draws from Korean cuisine and "is a play on Korean fried chicken, but we're doing that with tofu," Terry explains. "So it's a crispy tofu, and we have a gochujang sauce that we're tossing that in, and it's served with some tamari onion."

The mixture of ideas and flavors comes naturally to the Wild Taco team. "I think Koreans in general, and I think Mexicans, too — while we're eating, we're thinking about our next meal. I mean, it's like we're eating lunch, and we're already talking like, 'What are we going to do for dinner?'" Terry jokes.

Tortilleria Cuauhtemoc, at 1550 South Federal Boulevard, provides fresh corn tortillas daily for Wild Taco. Rico connected with Cuauhtemoc through Barbed Wire's food truck operations. "I have tried so many tortillas from so many other vendors, and they're either too thick or too thin or they break," Rico explains. "These just hold up to our par and our standard. ... When I try a taco and I can be standing up and holding the taco like you're supposed to and it's not falling apart, that's a good tortilla."
Cuauhtemoc is also the name of their hometown in Chihuahua, Flor adds.

Creative cocktails like the carrot mole margarita and the jala-piña margarita were crafted with help from bar manager Daniel Farias; they add to the unorthodox tweaks to traditional recipes that help Wild Taco earn its name. Other notable twists include a shrimp po' boy taco and a churro waffle that will be served when Wild Taco starts offering brunch, likely in June.
click to enlarge Dozens of tin hearts made by a family friend of the Aragons adorn the wall above the counter. - TOM HELLAUER
Dozens of tin hearts made by a family friend of the Aragons adorn the wall above the counter.
Tom Hellauer
The friendly atmosphere at the restaurant is bolstered by two eye-catching art installations and an impressive large-scale mural from local artist A. Michel Velazquez. One installation includes dozens of tin hearts made by a family friend of the Aragons in Mexico; they adorn a pink wall above the counter. The other installation is a wall covered top to bottom in roses with a pink neon sign, inspired by Rico and Flor's mother, Rosa.

This summer, Wild Taco also plans to do a concert series, with DJs set to take the stage just outside of the eatery's massive garage doors around sunset. While the city has extended this stretch of Seventh Avenue's pedestrian-only designation through October, business owners on the street are submitting a proposal to make it permanent, according to Terry.

"We're not stopping here. We're looking to open more Wild Tacos in the future," she says. Lunch and brunch menus will be rolling out in the next month or two as Wild Taco seeks to expand its hours from dinner only. The group recently got a contract to provide desserts from its food truck concept Sweet Combforts at Broncos games, as well.

"Working with people with a good work ethic or the same kind of ethic that you have leads to things like this, where we are right now," Rico concludes.

Wild Taco is located at 215 East Seventh Avenue and is currently open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information about Wild Taco, visit wildtacodenver.com. Or catch Wild Taco at Tacolandia, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 4, in Civic Center Park; find out more here.
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Tom is a storyteller interested in food, climate change and other areas. His work has published in the San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other outlets.
Contact: Tom Hellauer