Denver has an exploding restaurant scene, and just maybe the pinnacle creation by which all else is judged is the simple taco. Well, in this case definitely not simple. From its’ start in 2015, this festival doubled in attendance this year.
At Top Taco 2016, over 50 restaurants vie for the Top Taco prize in categories such as vegetarian, creative and traditional. The whole event gets even more zest as most restaurants also enter the creative cocktail contest. And, of course, there is live salsa and mariachi music going to get you in the food mood.
Imagine over 5,000 people on ball fields meandering through tents that are dishing out never before seen or tasted creations. Then you wash it all down with something with tequila you have never imagined. Although it didn’t win the creative cocktail competition, my favorite was the habanero infused tequila lemonade. Now that was a hot and refreshing drink at the same time.
Revelers enter early for the VIP tasting, which gives them 60 minutes head start on the taco sampling with 11 exclusive restaurants. Then, for the next three hours, everyone mingles and tries the fare with one important feature. In this food festival, you get a vote. So, winners are assigned to categories by both judges and the attendees. And, the eateries try extra hard to explain the creation you are about to consume. No, there really isn’t a person who tries every taco, it’s more about what you just tried and what sounds good for the next round. And, the restaurants do an exceptional job of pairing the craft cocktail with their taco creation.
This is a stroll and dine, stroll and sample at its’ finest. And, it is definitely a tequila lovers dream, and just about every premium brand is represented and woven into some unusual combinations. Kachina produced the Controlled Burn Margarita, and my impression was it was a little more a forest fire than a controlled burn. However, downright tasty and this combination resulted in Kachina getting 3rd place in the creative cocktail category. Watermelon and lavender margaritas just to name a few.
Now, the tacos range from the somewhat expected to you will never see that again. Restaurants include such Denver notables Punchbowl Social, Rioja, Zengo, Lena, and Biju’s Little Curry. The surprise taco was the Biju’s madras eggplant taco with feta cheese that won vegetarian with both the judges and the sampling public. Margs Taco Bistro sported a cod taco with red cabbage that didn’t win but won over many of the attendees with the crunchy fish. And of course, massive amounts of bacon and other meats.
The tacos are definitely creative, and some the restaurants don’t typically place tacos on the menu, so this was a coordinated effort to put their best culinary foot forward for the Denver dining community. Lena put their taco foot forward with an impressive combination of mushrooms, squash, plantains and strawberry slaw. Their paired Arpia cocktail combined tequila, coconut aloe, lime, and plantain. Punch Bowl Social rolled out goat tacos with a spirited margarita.
On your next trip to Denver, you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants or bars in the competition. And, if you want to visit some of the winners, head to Dos Santos, Los Chigones, Lena, Kachina and Machete.