– By Jeffrey Steen | Managing Editor
So you’re a taco junky, eh? We might have just the fix for you.
Not two months ago—on February 22, 2015 to be exact—Boulder’s University Hill welcomed a new neighbor: Taco Junky. Owners Evey and Mike Caravello recently set roots down in Boulder after living in Chicago and decided that what the U District really needed was a casual taco spot that served college students and Boulder natives alike. While at first blush, TJ may sound like nothing more than just another fast food fix, it’s got some seriously potent surprises up its proverbial sleeve.
Toula Georgakopoulos—the curly-haired, bright-smiled, and gregarious GM—sums up the concept in one simple phrase: old meets new. “We’re not a Mexican restaurant,” she stresses. “But we use the classic tortilla as a way to combine global flavors in a few small bites.” Sure enough, the menu spans nine different tacos (rotating seasonally) that showcase everything from coconut guacamole (yes, that’s a thing) to piquant kimchee. There are myriad salsas and guacamole to start the meal, too—like the charred tomato-chipotle Quemando salsa and the inventive bacon and lentil BLT guacamole. They’re all dished up with piping hot, salty tortilla chips made fresh every morning.
Recommended Dinner Line-Up
1. Order a sampler of salsas and guacamoles. Keep in the middle of the table for noshing in between bites of taco and sips of marg.
2. Get a plate of three mercilessly delicious tacos. We recommend the bison and fennel-laden Tatonka (which Georgakopoulos calls “comfort food in a taco”), the spicy fish and kimchee GGS taco, and the adventurous Manolete taco with beef tongue and puffed quinoa.
3. Pair tacos with a flight of tequilas. Use the Cucumber variety as a control, and supplement with one sweet (like Apple Cinnamon) and one spicy (like Pineapple-Habanero).
4. After sampling tequilas, pick one for your margarita. Sip, sip some more, then order another.
5. Finish the meal with a Chai-tini, or an Apple Empanada. Or both.
It turns out that’s part of TJ’s MO: “Everything’s made fresh in-house,” Georgakopoulos says with a grin. “Even our margaritas sports fresh lime juice instead of packaged sours and mixers.” And boy, what a treat the house cocktails are—everything from a hand-crafted Old Fashioned to sultry-sweet Chaitini elevated with Absolut vodka.
“But the real fun happens with our tequila flights,” Georgakopoulos says. Eight different infused tequilas, all made in-house, perch atop the highest shelf on the back bar, melding flavors like strawberry and mint or apple and cinnamon. Guests often try out the tequilas, then pick one for a margarita. The top pick at the moment is the Pineapple-Habanero variety, which packs a serious punch that slowly mellows into the sweet citrus of pineapple. And the selection changes seasonally, just like the tacos.
“We’ll be using some local fruits and ingredients to craft the next batch,” Georgakopoulos says. One flavor at bat for the summer: Mango-Lime. “Our flights have been hugely popular. People will come in and start asking for more than one in a margarita—mixes like Cucumber and Blueberry. They’re getting very creative.”
Naturally, there are beers on the docket, too, as well as wines and the usual compliment of non-alcohol beverages.
For those with an unrelenting sweet tooth, dessert offers a sweet denouement: Pot de Crème, Apple Empanadas, and hush puppy-esque Infused Tequila Nugs, plated with fresh strawberries and cocoa bean sauce.
If the food weren’t enough to draw in debutantes and longtime taco devotees alike, there are regular events and specials to court all manner passers-by. Taco Tuesday’s deeply-discounted taco combos, for example, have inspired a bit of a craze across campus. If Facebook is any indication, the obsession has led some to get tattoos honoring the weekly event. Friday night also has its share of regulars, most who come for the taco-and-tequila pairing deals. Then there are the brunch lovers who can’t stay away from dishes like Sun of a Biscuit with gravy-smothered potatoes, three eggs, and a tower of bacon. When you pair that with TJ’s quesadilla-topped Lucky 7 Bloody Mary, what else could you want?
When asked what’s next for the restaurant, Georgakopoulos smiles and shrugs. “Anything’s possible. We’re looking at pairing dinners at various local farms right now, but mostly, we’re just trying to get settled. It’s been a crazy six weeks since opening!”
All we can say is: May the tequila and taco-spiked craze continue!