This year, the storied pageantry of deliciousness known as Top Taco returned, defying the ordinary, and dared to spill its saucy wares at a new spot: Westminster City Park.
The gist of Top Taco is simple: assemble an army of Denver’s finest taco makers armed with their best creations and potent tequila concoctions, throw in a motley crowd of discerning palates, and let the tortilla-wrapped showdown begin. The spoils of war? Coveted titles across four categories: Top Creative Taco, Top Traditional Taco, Top Vegetarian Taco, and Top Cocktail.
In the heat of the culinary fray, the flavors were bold and brave, fighting tooth and nail for supremacy. Tacos were not just devoured; they were celebrated. And then they were voted on. The people have spoken—the expert
Judges’ Choice: Top Cocktail Winners
Currently located in LoHi but closing its doors on Aug. 12 while looking for a new home with a smaller kitchen, the Fifth String is a concept by Chef Amos Watts bringing eclectic dishes, cocktails, and a robust wine list. The food is divine and the cocktails are tasty—award-winning, even, according to our judges. Their expert taste buds awarded accolades to The Fifth String’s margarita concoction made with Mijenta Tequila. The award-winning, additive-free sustainable tequila is distilled exclusively using fully mature Blue Webber agave from the highlands of Jalisco. The mineral-rich red clay soil lends itself to a unique terroir, which is slow-cooked to further develop Mijenta’s characteristic texture and notes.
Kalaka brought their own spirit to the party and poured one on. The beverage that earned the Berkeley kitchen second place in the Judge’s Choice category: a lychee jalapeño margarita made with Campo Bravo Blanco, fresh jalapeños, and lychee syrup. It proved to be the perfect concoction to wash down Kalaka’s Mole Taco—a nixtamal tortilla filled with chicken tinga and topped with house mole, queso fresco, Mexican crema, black sesame seeds, and cilantro. Cheers to that.
Out at Gaylord Rockies Resort, hit the Mountain Pass Sports Bar to indulge in a casual menu featuring burgers, sandwiches, salads, and draft beer. Catch a game on the 75-foot flat-panel TV, which some claim that it’s the largest indoor television screen in Colorado, and enjoy one of the award-winning cocktails. Like the one they poured at Top Taco, made with Severo Tequila—an ultra-premium handcrafted sipping spirit, distilled by one of only two remaining Mexican-owned heritage tequila distilleries, Casa Don Roberto. Along with having one of the first female master distillers on staff, Casa Don Roberto is a family operation that continues to follow the original 100-year-old recipe to create the exceptionally smooth tequila that fills Severo’s bottles. Such a premium tequila merits bold pairings—flavors that will intensify the experience, allowing you to taste the agave-forward spirit in all its glory. Severo Añejo, in particular, pairs perfectly with foods that balance its complex and aromatic flavor. Cristina Bautista, the corporate sommelier at Severo, recommends pairing Añejo with pulled pork, roasted turkey, or chocolate-based desserts. As for Severo Añejo Cristalino, Bautista suggests its best enjoyed with dishes that balance full flavors, incorporating citrus, butter, anis, or tomato to highlight the rich texture of the spirit.
People’s Choice: Top Cocktail Winners
Mama Lolita’s is a unique Mexican concept modeled from chef Joe Mazzocco’s upbringing in a close-knit Mexican household. The concept is approachable, elevated family-style Mexican food, shared apps, and small plates with a focus on community and bringing together people to enjoy the experience. And what brings people together quicker than tequila? Even better if that tequila is Lalo—a truly pure blanco tequila high in demand for its taste and purity. Don’t think of it like a special occasion tequila—it’s a tequila intended to make any occasion special. The brand recommends that you sip it neat or with a splash of soda to experience its truest flavor. At Top Taco, Mama Lolita’s margarita topped the list of the People’s Choice, taking home first prize with a blend of additive-free Lalo tequila, fresh lime juice, triple sec, and agave nectar. Stop by the restaurant and order it by name: the Laloita’s Margarita.
Mexican food that’s wild at heart. While traditional fare is at the core of the menu at Wild Taco Denver, the chefs let their imaginations run wild to create some concoctions that live up to the restaurant’s name. On the taco side of things, there’s the Ahi, with cucumber-wasabi, soy-sesame dressing, lettuce, and black sesame seeds, the Nopal that’s made with cactus, and the KFT—Korean fried tofu. As for wild cocktails, Wild Taco’s got you covered with the Beet Buck, a blend of Exotico Blanco, beet, apple, ginger, and seltzer; the Carrot Marg, with Exotico Reposado, gran gala, lime, and carrot; and the Jala-Piña Marg, with Exotico Blanco, Don Q coconut rum, pineapple, lime, and jalapeño. And for Top Taco, things got even wilder. The team poured a beverage they dubbed the Oaxaca Seoil—a blend of Dos Hombre mezcal, tepache, turmeric shrub, pineapple, yuzu, and ginger. It was different. It was delightful. It was a tantalizing blend that had your tastebuds searching for the seams between the flavors. And it’s no wonder it earned one of the festival’s top honors, taking home second place in the People’s Choice category for Top Cocktail.
3rd Place: My Neighbor Felix (Milagro Tequila)
Boulder: 901 Pearl St., Boulder
Just left of the main stage, the team at this leading local upscale Mexican restaurant group served up the creative taco that the people loved most of all—and we can see why. My Neighbor Felix prides itself on authentic recipes made using quality, fresh, local, natural ingredients whenever possible. That means organic Colorado grass-fed beef, local Colorado chicken, organic Colorado pork, and Colorado produce. The pan-Mexican fare at all the My Neighbor Felix locations is inspired from all seven regions of Mexico, all of which pair perfectly with the creative margaritas they were pouring at the festival. If you didn’t get a chance to try their taco (there were so many tacos!) or their Milagro Tequila-based beverage, don’t fret: there’s probably a My Neighbor Felix not too far from you. And happy hour is calling you to try any of the 10 margs on the menu. My fave: Felix’s Secret Key, which blends a double barrel-aged reposado with agave nectar, fresh orange and lime over a branded ice cube in a glass rimmed with habeñero crystals.