Bartaco

Food: Three stars

Service: Three stars

Ambience: Three stars

Price: $-$$

Address: 1048 Pearl St., Suite 101, Boulder

Contact: 719-249-8226, bartaco.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-late Monday-Sunday

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Moderate, making it a good spot for an energetic date or even a fun family meal where you don't have to be too self-conscious if your relatives are a touch lively.

Bartaco, which opened this summer, unsurprisingly features both a variety of libations as well as an impressive selection of tacos. Boasting a rustic but modern setting on West Pearl, the Boulder branch is the first Colorado location for an outfit that has 15 locations, mostly on the East Coast. It's a bustling spot with a high-energy vibe, and certainly does little to detract from Boulder's reputation as a hip college town.

Menu offerings are divvied up into starters, tacos, things that are "not tacos" (their phrasing, not mine), sides and rice bowls. While the expansive cocktail menu, showcasing many beverages crafted with fresh squeezed citrus juices, implies an adult focus, there's also an expansive and reasonably priced kid's menu. One highlight is the $6.50 small tray for one small fry, consisting of a quesadilla, a taco, corn wheels and a fruit skewer.


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The first item arriving at the table during a weeknight dinner was a $5 small starter of chips and guacamole. In this instance, the chips were a stack of whole hot and crisp corn tortillas that one could break into their preferred size for dipping. The guacamole had a fresh taste profile, accented by citrus and chile, and the optimum ripeness of the avocado was evident. However, the telltale cold temperature indicated this had been held in a refrigerator for a while, which didn't allow the flavor to fully bloom.

Bartaco manager Mike Gleason.
Bartaco manager Mike Gleason. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)
Additionally, some diners might also want to amp up the spiciness of this selection. Fortunately, each table has a selection of three house hot sauces.

At the meal's start, our server told us that the street-style tacos consisted of a few bites each and that his recommendation would be to order three or more apiece. It seemed this wasn't the first time he made this suggestion as there was a hint of the airline safety talk in his delivery, but nevertheless, this was useful advice.

Tacos here cost either $2.50 or $3.50 apiece, and the carb-averse can swap out the tortilla for Bibb lettuce for a mere 25 cents. From the more reasonably priced choices, we selected both Baja fish and cauliflower tacos. The fish taco might be the best example I've had locally, featuring a marvelously crisp and flavorful, but not greasy, batter, which encased moist and tender white fish. The cauliflower consisted of crumbled florets cooked to a pleasing crisp tender texture, enlivened by a red salsa, making for a surprisingly hefty meatless choice.

The comparatively high rolling $3.50 tacos generally hit the mark. A duck taco featured full bodied flavor without gaminess, although it was a tad dry, as is often the case with this ingredient when used as taco filling. Pork belly fared better with a nice mix of decadently moist and plump bits, offset by touches of crispness and a sauce with flavors reminiscent of hoisin.

A sesame ribeye was a successful experiment in cross-cultural fusion, likely inspired by L.A.'s Korean tacos. This choice consisted of thin marinated ribeye slices paired with kimchi. My favorite was the fried oyster, which consisted of chunks of fresh and mellow tasting shellfish. There was little additional adornment, a good thing, given the quality of this filling. I could all too easily see myself asking staff to keep these coming to the table until I passed out.

From the not taco category, a $9.50 half rotisserie chicken was an exercise in successful simplicity. This dish consisted of a finely browned and seasoned bird spotlighting a tender breast, lending itself well to seasoning with hot sauce and pairing with a tortilla. A $6.50 Bibb lettuce wedge was another appealingly straightforward choice, presenting impressively crisp greens with radish slices and a tangy, ranch-inspired dressing.

After stuffing ourselves with tacos and other items, my dining companion and I shared a $5 spiced chocolate pudding topped with crunchy hazelnut, a flavor that wasn't as pronounced as we expected. Smooth chocolate, tending more towards milk than dark, made for a comfortingly homemade-style treat, with a pleasing but not overpowering hint of chile spice.

Bartaco distinguishes itself from other taco spots with above average ingredients and preparation. It's obvious the kitchen's paying attention to flavor, and not piling on different ingredients just because it can. Simplicity is best when there are good ingredients, and this approach was apparent in most of the dishes, most notably the oyster and fish tacos, and the chicken. Bartaco's a spot worth checking out for a more elevated take on casual fare.