When hitting the true Mexican food carts in Southeast C. Springs, you pay around $1.50 a taco, ranging from chicharrón and tripe options to asada, lengua and pastor. White onions, cilantro and lime wedges suffice as garnish. Filling up for around $6 to $8 is easy.
By contrast, when you visit widely lauded boutique taquerias like Torchy's, Machete or Denver's hip spot formerly named Pinche Tacos, paying $3 to $4.50 per taco isn't uncommon. That's because of pricier proteins like pork belly, shrimp or lamb, plus more lavish garnishes like avocado cream and Cotija cheese crumbles. It's also because the marketplace is more than willing to pay the premium for the gourmet touches, especially alongside craft margaritas.
Newly opened T-Byrd's Tacos & Tequila falls in the swankier category, benefiting from the backing of Manitou Springs' Emerald Fields rec-marijuana dispensary co-owners Michael and Crystal Thompson. They put around $60K into taking over part of Hunan Springs' space and giving the nice new dining room a trendy orange and black color scheme, complete with Edison bulbs and TVs to keep it casual. The Thompsons hold restaurant experience and come from Texas, where inspiring upscale taco joints abound. Chef Cory Bugay hails most recently from Denver's Inverness Hotel, where he fed the Broncos prior to home games.
Beginning with bartender/manager Damien Kadamus' drinks: None of the margaritas ($6 to $12, averaging $8), served mostly in old-fashioned glasses versus stemware, taste particularly strong. But they're generally balanced well enough. The Peach of Mind cloys obscenely with Peach Schnapps and hits the nose like perfume. The Cucumbersome, served in a high ball glass, works a little better with a cucumber vodka infusion. The Smokey [sic] Sunrise needs to replace a mute añejo input with mezcal if it wants real fire's breath. T-Byrd's Margarita of Sauza, Triple Sec and house sweet and sour rates serviceable. Better is the frozen Sangria Swirl and still better is the terrific T-Burro: a Mexican Mule in a copper cup, made with Principal's Office's ginger beer, lime and Sauza. Top-shelf tequila subs or sips are available with flight options coming soon.
Pre-taco take-down, get the surf-n-turf tostadas (two for $10) instead of five pork belly wontons, which are good but high at $9. Smoked paprika crème leads on the beautifully seasoned shrimp tostada and caramelized onions assist the barbacoa. Both best their shrimp and braised beef counterparts in the taco form, garnished slightly differently. Keep a menu on hand to re-read descriptors, as some of the topping combos become a little muddy in terms of discerning ingredients. A few tacos arrive unpleasantly dripping with oil as well.
The fried Colorado trout wins our highest acclaim, set off by spicy pickled peppers. The pork belly underwhelms, lacking desired fat and tasting more like salty pulled pork, though an orange jalapeño slaw and green chili aid the flavor finish. Neither the pulled nor grilled chicken stand out, though chimichurri adds some flair on the latter. Fried onions highlight the carnitas, and the crispy pork isn't so much. Chipotle sour cream gives depth to a creamy fried avocado taco. All in all, they feel pricey for shy of perfection.
For dessert, strawberry tres leches strikes more of a strawberry shortcake pose with fairly dry sponge cake under macerated strawberries and a "sweet brandy cream" we couldn't distinguish from house whipped cream. More evidence T-Byrd's needs more time to mature, like a good tequila. But they show some promise early, hopefully enough to break the location's revolving-door curse.