Los Chingones Swaggers into Ballpark

By Ruth Tobias  |  December 3, 2013
Credit: Ruth Tobias

There’s no way to put it gently: the name of Troy Guard’s groovy new cantina, which opens tomorrow next door to his just-launched bakery-cafe Sugarmill, translates from Spanish as “The Badasses.” Or, as Guard adds helpfully, "The Bigshots or The Bosses."

And it fits. The sprawling Ballpark two-story is the architectural equivalent of a zoot suit: flamboyant down to the last detail. Bartops and tables propped on turquoise cinderblocks aren’t made of mere reclaimed wood: they’re made of reclaimed wood sourced entirely from the neighborhood. The Day of the Dead-inspired mural that lines the stairwell was painted by a Brooklyn-based artist, Yatika Starr Fields, over the course of five Red Bull-fueled nights. The 90-seat rooftop deck, whose doors will open on St. Patrick’s Day, boasts a downtown panorama and what will soon be a garden, growing herbs and peppers, while the motif of a coiled snake is incorporated throughout the whole space in startlingly sneaky fits and starts. And the menu, along with the cocktail list, strikes with equal sharpness.

The food is centered on street-style tacos: 11 in all, featuring everything from octopus and butternut squash to chicken skin and beef tongue. But they’re outnumbered by the array of antojitos, both classic and cheeky: three types of guacamole and two of fundido. There are pig-ear nachos beefed up (so to speak) even further by chorizo, as well as kampachi crudo with hibiscus-infused lime sauce - “something I’d eat every day,” says Guard. For the whitefish ceviche, the marinade gets its kick from so-called cactus water: “I’d never seen it done and I was curious, so I put cactus in the blender. It’s earthy, clean, really fresh.” It also happens to go wonderfully with mescal; all you have to do is ask for the “verbal special.”

Conversely, there’s “ceviche essence” in the pisco-based Panther Milk Shot, and numerous other funky flourishes fleck the drinks as well: Hot Tamale syrup, Pop Rocks, Tang. But the house margarita, made with a sour mix of orange and grapefruit as well as lime juices, is as excellent as it is simple, and of course there’s plenty of beer, particularly south-of-the-border lagers.

What there isn’t is a whiff of is the Asian influence on which Guard built his fusion-leaning LoDo flagship, TAG. “I get tired of everyone pigeonholing me,” he admits, but at the same time “I don’t want to take myself too seriously.” So, he figured, why not take the plunge into something new? And for Guard, who "grew up thinking Mexican food was, like, a taco-seasoning packet,” Los Chingones is just the thing. For us, who’ve come to expect the unexpected from Guard, it all makes sense.

2470 Larimer St.; 303-295-0686

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Executive sous chef Lou Ortiz, kitchen manager Cortland Collins and sous chef Juan Coronado

  • View from the 90-seat patio

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Indoor/outdoor upstairs bar

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Fresh tortilla chips with six salsas. A basket with the chunky pico de gallo-style house version is complimentary; also offered, from left to right, are chile pasilla (smoked poblano with lime juice and agave); guajillo chile, charred tomato and balsamic vinegar with roast garlic; ghost pepper and habanero (with which Collins hopes to "light your mouth on fire"); and tomatillo with champagne vinegar.

  • Chopped, fried Brussels sprouts in a lime-pasilla chile sauce with cotija cheese (left) and black-kale fundido (right), made with béchamel and four cheeses - Oaxaca, Chihuahua, white cheddar and Monterey Jack - then topped with guajillo-chile oil and pumpkin seeds. As Guard notes, "I don't like traditional fundido, because when it chills, it starts to congeal”; this is more like a dip. 

  • Griddled-cotija taco with pinto beans, corn-zucchini slaw, pinto beans and ancho chiles (left) and the not-to-be-missed lamb-neck taco with more corn-zucchini slaw and pico de gallo (right)