At Tacoparty, the food lab experiments are delectable
We love that the Grand Valley has such a vibrant agricultural scene. And to find a restaurant that is more excited about local food than we are — well, that is just wonderful. We’re talking about Tacoparty, the new-ish restaurant from Josh and Jodi Niernberg and the folks who brought you Bin 707 Foodbar.
If you have eaten at Tacoparty, you know that the food is imaginative and delicious, and probably not what you expected. But did you know how much of it is local? Or how they work to fully utilize the ingredients? Or how much they try different preparation techniques to maximize the quality of the ingredients to harmonize the dish?
The answer to those questions is “a whole lot.” That makes us happy.
We have been eating there since its first week, and it just keeps getting better. As the harvest changes, so does the menu. On our last trip, the corn dazzled us. They started like Mexican street corn (roasted, rolled in crema, Cotija cheese and seasoning) and then they let their imaginations go wild. The crema became a bonito infused aioli, then a bit of Palisade peach sauce for a sweet touch and puffed amaranth for crunch. Every bite was a tasty adventure.
Tacoparty is not a Mexican restaurant, though some of the dishes clearly have roots in Mexican cuisine. Much of the menu happens inside tortillas or in forms that sound Mexican, like tacos, guacamole, ceviche, empanadas and quesadillas. These are all done in a Colorado-centric way. There is always an amazing salad with unique ingredients, a soft serve ice cream unlike any you have ever tried before (often with light vegetable flavor but still dessert) and an innovative cocktail incorporating local fruits and veggies. And all of these items will change with the seasonal harvest. Tacoparty celebrates Colorado and the Southwest.
In many ways, this is a food lab. Josh and his team explore different prep techniques with the goal of maximizing taste and usage. They buy fruits and veggies locally. Pork comes from Kinikin Processing in Montrose. The team makes some of their own cheeses (like the ricotta salata) and buy others (like the Alpenbert from Moon Hill Dairy near Steamboat Springs). Every ingredient is honed and polished to make it shine.
For us, the idea that someone out there is watching out for us, getting highest quality foods that are sustainably, ethically and locally raised, is very exciting.
A lot of work goes into the preparation of the food before your order is even assembled. The pork undergoes a 12-hour “cure” and then roasted overnight. There are so many little toppings and surprises on each taco — whether a watermelon radish pico, electric shallots (purple and pickled), apricot mole, the green sauce, or house-made cheese.
And — this is the best part — they use everything they possibly can. The tops of beets, radishes, carrots, excess chard, and kale are used to make “fermented green purée” as well as the spring greens puree. It’s kind of a “whole plant” approach.
As an example, the Tacoparty Taco is topped with the scallion green and the whites are then puréed and used as the base of the sage and apricot marinade on the spit-roasted al pastor taco. The result, according to Niernberg, is “a taco made almost exclusively from Grand Valley ingredients, is unique and exclusive to the valley. It showcases not only produce but distribution, manufacturing, agriculture, technique and recipes unique to western Colorado, and helps our economy every step of the way.” This may sound fussy, but this attention to detail results in well-nuanced dishes that are fun to savor.
We’re not going to say that you couldn’t eat cheaper tacos at any old Casa McTaco-type place or even your neighborhood Mexican restaurant, but here you will get chef-made food from locally raised ingredients in a casual environment and not pay a lot more. That’s pretty darned amazing. And experiencing their passion for the Grand Valley? Priceless.