Happy Belly Tacos, the newest restaurant from chef proprietor, Mark Henry, made it’s debut on a select “Taco Tuesday” in September of 2018, as advertised, with his very own blend of fusion cuisine. Since the successful fall opening RMFR pays the chill taco shop numerous visits to taste test the bulk of the menu and circles back with Henry and executive chef, Troy Burke, to note brand new offerings, significant price alterations and to take the guessing game out of your next order.
“We’ve been able to cut back quite a bit on waste which translated into the menu costs so everything has come down and made it a little more approachable,” says Henry.
Simple changes include moving the salsa bar behind the counter opposed to the self serve approach in place to start which Henry says now makes it “a conversation piece” where the staff can guide customers choices and in turn minimize the amount of product being thrown away.
Despite price reductions Henry still adheres to quality sourcing and playful takes on combining cultures confirming that Happy Belly isn’t budging on their commitment to solid ingredients although they’re still occasionally “combatting gripes about cost.” He references a real need for consumer education and mentions certain local establishments catering to contestation that are subsequently “losing their ass” in the process.
“You can afford to sell a taco for $0.85 if you’re selling bricks of fucking heroin out the back,” says Henry in reference to the recent allegations against select Colorado Springs locations of Taco Star, Albertaco’s and Monica’s Taco Shop. “Set up a distribution center and we could drop our prices by 75-percent but we’re not doing that.”
What Henry and Burke are doing is taking a well appreciated style of food and making it their way continuously presenting funky specials such as lacto-fermented tomato burritos, Harissa meatballs and tikka chicken with future promises of bulgogi tacos, camarones and agua frescas on the horizon.
“We’re still here,” Henry assures us with a grin.
While a stream of creative consciousness via daily specials is sure to continue, there are staple items that are tried and true, like our go to order since day one, the calamari taco, with lightly breaded and flash fried strips of protein, a mix of red and green cabbage topped with Thai sweet chili sauce on a Raquelita’s flour tortilla. Or we highly recommend ordering off menu, ask for any taco “parilla” style which calls for the tortilla, layered with cheese to be cooked face down, so that it melts then recoagulates to create a chewy, textural presentation upon service.
On our most recent visit we incorporate some new must haves with the squash fajita taco, a filling veggie alternative with structured slivers of chayote, similar to a underripe pear in consistency, and the new chile relleno taco with roasted poblanos that pop earning the title of Henry’s “favorite offering.” He digs his with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of chopped onions.
“Before Troy and I ever talked about opening a taco shop we talked about chile rellenos because it’s probably my favorite thing on the planet to eat,” says Henry.
If you’re in the mood for something on the heartier side, the burritos will get. it. done. These big boys are full of your choice of meat or veg, rice, fries cut in house and burracho beans made with the scraps from the al pastor (roasted on a vertical spit with pineapple juice and chili paste), bacon, Avery Brewing Company El Gose and a little bit of Pabst Blue Ribbon. We are pleased to now have the option to add fajita vegetables, corn and pico which offers a little acid and added freshness to the knife and fork necessary “gut busters.” Or for a more manageable option, Happy Belly has the aptly named “half” that Henry says is more “user friendly.” Be sure to top if off with some of Burke’s hot sauce for a little extra flavor punch.
“We’ve made all the prices come down, we’ve added some items to the menu, we added delivery,” says Henry, who partners up with Grub Hub to deliver “anywhere they deem they can get within 15 minutes.”
Happy Belly seems to be sailing right along with little to no consistency issues since day one, quick service (10-15 minute ticket times tops) and apart from some price haggling, an overarching positive response to Henry and Burke’s unexpected, and unapologetic, vision of what damn good tacos should be.
“You go to Taco Bell and yeah you have fun and you eat tacos…you don’t feel great later,” says Henry. “You’re not going to get that here. We use really good product, the right techniques, the right equipment and we’re cooking everything fresh to order. You can’t walk in that kitchen and find a steamer holding fucking ground beef that we’re scooping with a slotted spoon and that’s some of the stuff that sets us apart. We can tell you what goes into every single thing we serve because we make every single thing that we serve.”
*Header image courtesy of Mark Henry