Dining Out: Masa and Ash’Kara

Modern Mexican and Middle Eastern

Masa tacos
Photo by Rachel Adams

Masa

Modern Mexican

Walk into the warmly lit, contemporary cocina Masa in Broomfield, and you immediately know this is not your typical tacos-and-burritos kind of Mexican restaurant: Greeting you is a huge, kaleidoscopic piece of art, backlit for eye-popping effect (see below). On the left, whimsical Oaxacan figurines stand sentry over the tiled bar, and above the kitchen is a gorgeous agave-centric mural by Denver’s Mike Graves. Muy elegante.

The décor isn’t all that’s chic about this 3,200-square-foot restaurant, opened by the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group in late January for both lunch and dinner service. A partnership among Kevin; his wife, Denise; their son Ryan; and Frank Blea, who serves as executive chef, Masa aims to be pan-Mexican, serving contemporary fare with traditional flavors that span the entire country, where both Blea and the Taylors have traveled extensively.

The result is a playful menu that opens with refreshing antojitos (snacks) that include the usual guac, salsas, and chips but then go beyond, with a shrimp coctel ceviche; braised meatballs with pickled peppers and chile rojo; and a chicken tenga quesadilla. The salads andsoups—like a jicama salad with watermelon, cucumber, and radish as well as ablack bean soup with huitlacoche and epazota lime crema—will jump-start any meal on a refreshing note.

The small to mid-sized tacos have surprising taste alchemies that, by themselves, make Masa a worthy stop: butternut squash with grilled chayote and smoked pepper sasa; a fried tilapia with Arbol chile salsa and cabbage slaw; and a beef barbacoa with salsa verde. Take a gustatory break before diving into the platos principales, which include a very satisfying mole chicken with squash atop yummy corn masa grits; grilled Mojo shrimp with blue corn tamale; and a carne aside with charro beans and grilled onions. And ask your server to recommend drinks to pair with each of the dishes; besides tequilas and mezcals, there are specialty cocktails (like The Tarantula, with hibiscus agua fresca and Fidencio mezcal, or The Gringo, made with Koch Espadin mezcal, Clockwork Orange, horchata, and mole bitters) that can stand on their own. Top the meal off with a plate of churros and Mexican hot chocolate; an ancho chile chocolate tarta with horchata, passionfruit, and raspberry; or a tres leches cake with pineapple, coconut, and guava. Sweeeeet.

Masa (whose name means “corn,” the crop from which so many Mexican dishes emanate) may seem “out there” geographically for Denverites, but in reality it is just a stone’s throw from the 1st Bank Center in the master-planned community of Arista Broomfield, between Denver and Boulder, and just down the street from Hickory & Ash, another KTRG offering. Top off a concert with a meal here. It’s a performance all by itself. —Amanda Bonner

Masa
8181 Arista Pl., Suite 150, Broomfield

Ash'Kara dish
Photo by Rachel Adams

Ash’Kara

Motley Middle Eastern

Of all the jobs that might conceivably prepare someone to run a restaurant, reality TV star isn’t the first that comes to mind—but maybe it should be. Showmanship goes a long way in the food business, after all. An ability to deal with people goes even further.

Ben Higgins, a 29-year-old former “Bachelor” star, recently teamed up with chef Daniel Asher to create Ash’Kara, an Israeli-inspired LoHi restaurant that borrows widely from Middle Eastern, Maghrebi, and Mediterranean dishes. The self-proclaimed “unorthodox” eatery, whose name means “totally!” in Hebrew slang, emphasizes Asher’s trademark creative flair inside a cozy space that’s appropriately hip for the neighborhood.

Much of the menu consists of small plates to be shared. Predictables like the smoked paprika hummus ($10) are nice to start things off, but don’t fill up too much on them; you’ll want room for more inventive options like the tangy wood-roasted carrots ($10) with labneh and pistachio dukka, or the fried cauliflower with sherry vinegar syrup ($10). Multiple members of the staff will probably recommend the saganaki ($12) (on a recent night, our hostess, waiter, and even Higgins himself stopped by our table to sing its praises), and they’re right: The small cast iron of baked Kasseri cheese is too tempting to pass up. By far my favorite dish, though, was the lamb kofte with saffron yogurt and pomegranate molasses ($14), served in two tender cuts and spiced to perfection. —Andrew Weaver

Ash’Kara
2005 W 33rd Ave.