Chef Kevin Morrison brings three important ingredients to the Valley
By Lynette Carrington
Kevin Morrison learned quickly that Valley residents love their tacos.
He brought his Denver-born concept, Tacos Tequila Whiskey, to Arcadia last year and, since then it has emerged as a fan favorite.
“We’re not a 99-cent or $2 taco,” Morrison says. “Everything is made from scratch. We use higher-end ingredients. Our lobster taco, which won best seafood taco at the 2017 Arizona Taco Festival, is an $8 taco, but it’s an amazing combination of flavor.”
The menu is based on what Morrison deems to be three important ingredients, and his success in Colorado.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey street tacos deliver on variety, with options of carnitas, asada, pescado, pork belly, barbacoa, vegan and pollo agave. Tacos feature quality meat, fresh veggies, cheeses and salsas piled atop a double layer soft taco shell. They start at around $3.
The difference between the Denver and Arcadia eateries is one small tweak on the menu. Morrison added salads here.
“We took one of our heavier dishes of braised chicken in a chipotle cream sauce off the menu and added the chicken molcajete salad with grilled chicken and kale,” he says. “We added three salads to this menu, but believe or not, the salads are not a huge hit. It’s all about the tacos.”
The menu will evolve through the spring.
“Coming into the warmer months, we’ll be playing a lot more with ceviche and agua chile, which is more of a crudo-style seafood dish,” Morrison says. “It’s similar to ceviche. With ceviche, the seafood will generally sit in the marinade for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the seafood used. Agua chile is dressed and made to order. We’ve had great success with it in Denver during summer.”
Also coming soon are dishes with Sonoran meats.
“We’ve teamed up with Arcadia Meat Market, which opened three doors down from us,” Morrison says. “We’ll be featuring a lot of different cuts of meat.
“We’ll be doing lamb neck barbacoa tacos wrapped in banana leaves and then smoked and roasted. We have a great kitchen manager in Phoenix, E.J. Martin. We brought him out to Denver for three months before we opened so he could train with us. He and I work closely in developing these new dishes and flavors and we’ll start introducing them soon.”
Stand-out cocktails include mules, the older-fashioned with Redemption rye, Plantation five-year rum or Hornitos black barrel añejo, house grapefruit bitters, cane sugar and fresh grapefruit zest, and seasonal sangria with Hanson’s boysenberry vodka, Citronge mango, pineapple juice, fresh orange juice, lime and white wine.
Evolution of TTW
Tacos Tequila Whiskey’s journey to Arizona is an interesting one.
Prior to opening in 2010, Morrison founded Red Tomato Specialty Produce, which served the independent upscale restaurant industry in Denver from 1995 to 2000, when he sold the company to his operations manager.
Kevin went co-founded the Spicy Pickle Sub Shop in 1999 and Spicy Pickle Franchising in 2003. In 2006 the concept won Nation’s Restaurant News “Hot Concept” award and went public in 2007.
Later that year, he formed Crumb Rustic Bakery, a wholesale bakery that serviced all of Colorado’s Spicy Pickle restaurants.
Morrison wanted to take the concept further.
“I pitched the idea of a food truck and our CEO laughed it off,” Morrison says.
“But, I opened the food truck in May 2010 and did farmers markets and went to lower Denver to nightclubs and bars and tried making it there. We did the best with farmers markets. Working late night with drunks is not fun.”
After the food truck’s second year, Denver Westword gave the enterprise its first best food truck prize. That snowballed into more business.
“I thought, ‘This thing is doable,’” he says. “We raised capital. I put a bunch of money in. My wife at the time put a bunch of money in and we had three investors. That’s how we opened the first brick and mortar.”
Colorado accolades, Arizona expectations
Tacos Tequila Whiskey was born out of the food truck concept—quality Mexican street food—but in a brick-and-mortar location.
Again, accolades are nothing new to Morison. In 2012, Bon Appetit named the restaurant among the top 50 best new eateries and it landed in Huffington Post’s list of the Top 10 best taco spots in the United States.
After proving the concept, Morrison expanded beyond Denver.
“We didn’t want to be looked at as a chain,” Morrison says.
“We were looking at growth. We had the staff and resources. I love this concept and it has legs. I met with my real estate broker and we started looking at demographics and analytics.”
Morrison was interested in 20 cities, narrowed it down to 10 contenders, and then visited three cities. Phoenix was chosen.
“I’m a big fan of just going with your gut,” Morrison says, no pun intended. “Something about Phoenix spoke to me. The main thing I loved was the restaurant scene and there are some really great chefs.”
“I knew there was a lot of competition and a lot of great taquerias in Phoenix. I did my research, came out here quite a bit and ate at a majority of them. We’re not for everybody, but there’s a big enough market that people appreciate what we’re doing.”
Tacos Tequila Whiskey, 3950 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602.603.9411, tacostequilawhiskey.com.