630 Sherman St. (Hwy. 62), Ridgway, 970/626-9715
Taco del Gnar, the name trips off the tongue. But that’s probably because even if you haven’t processed it yet, Gnar sort of rhymes with norte, and a taco del norte, a taco of the north, is something you might be able to envision: not Mexican, but New Mexican or Texican, but still potentially delicious.
So what exactly is a taco del gnar? Gnarly? Is that good? Yes, it is very good, but to begin, Taco del Gnar is a concept that has taken root in Ridgway in a prominent location on Sherman St. (Hwy. 162) near the center of town.
“Definitely not Mexican,” said chef/owner Curtis Blanton, whose concept this is.
A taco del gnar might be braised Korean short rib topped with kimchi ($3.99) or tempura rockfish with shredded cabbage, pico and feta. ($3.99), and there are several other surprises on the menu, and unusual specials (tempura avocado taco?), too.
Taco del Gnar is a proof of concept restaurant, which is to say it’s tight and clever and prepping itself for replication in other locations, possibly this summer in Telluride, Blanton said, and after that, who knows?
Not only is the food clever, a logical spin on the small plates and tapas and even the traditional three-bite tacos that people like eating these days – with a chef’s intelligence and training obviously behind it – but the place has a cool, airy, modern vibe that has already attracted, just a month after its opening, a sizable clientele.
Blanton knows exactly what to call it – “an urban style progressive taco shop” – and if the first Taco del Gnar is in non-urban Ridgway, future editions need not be so far from the beaten path.
Blanton is a classically trained chef with a background as both an executive chef and a sous chef in fine dining establishments in Dallas. He and his wife Chas and their young children followed their bliss, like so many others, to rural western Colorado, where Blanton put in time at There in Telluride and the Beaumont in Ouray while he hatched the plan for Taco del Gnar.
First, he said, he spent a lot of time asking his new Ridgway neighbors what niche he might fill in the town’s dining scene. To wit: Taco del Gnar is unpretentious, with counter service and a self-serve beverage station, like any respectable fast food restaurant, but the tacos have those chef’s flourishes, with many ingredients locally sourced and all house made.
A typical chef’s flourish is found, for example, at the bottom of a side order of home fries ($2.99), a pool of melted queso blanco. Another side, Charro Beans ($3.99), smoked ham hock beans garnished with pico and feta, is reminiscent of a cup of chili, only, again, this is not your standard issue Tex-Mex chili con carne, or even a variation on it.
You can snack on an individual taco and a side or two or make a meal out of the Gnar Taco Dinner, two tacos with both home fries and charro beans for just $9.99.
Tacos represent only half of the menu. The other half consists of Gnarly Eggs, breakfast served all day, and a little more traditional than the tacos despite the gnarly name. Choices range from those aforementioned home fries topped with a fried egg ($5.99), chilaquiles ($5.99) or a Gnarly Breakfast Burrito ($6.99). Add a side of slab bacon or chorizo for $1.99.
There are craft bears on tap and margaritas are made from fresh squeezed oranges and limes, suggesting that after dusk Taco del Gnar aspires to be more a family friendly hangout than fast food joint, with an open mic some nights and an upright piano sitting in the corner just waiting for someone to sit down and play it.
If you spot the guy with a handlebar mustache and black bowler, that is none other than Chef Blanton himself, his trademark look replicated as part of Taco del Gnar’s trademark/logo.
You should frequent Taco del Gnar now, and if the concept takes off as the next Great American franchise, you can say that you knew it when, and that you were a fan from the very start.
WHATTA CONCEPT: It turns out that a lot of savory items can be wrapped in a soft, warm, fresh corn tortilla and garnished with salsa or cheese. Cast off your tired old idea of what a taco was, is or must be. And is this fast food or not? It comes pretty fast, but it doesn’t taste fast.
ROADSIDE: Downtown Ridgway for easy access by locals, and on the highway linking Telluride and Ouray or Montrose and points east, the better to snag a hungry traveler. If you don’t live in Ridgway, plan your next commute to pass through at a mealtime.
Winter Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday