Basalt restaurant ‘gets back to basics’ as taqueria

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Ana Tapia, assistant manager, Alejandro Reyes, executive chef, Vilma Salinas, cook, and Alma Guzman, manager, take a break Thursday at Cocina del Valle in Basalt.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Cocina Del Valle

305 Gold River Ct., #100, Basalt


A Mexican restaurant is hoping that lightning strikes twice in Basalt.

Cocina del Valle, a restaurant that opened in April, closed for a while this fall, reworked its business plan and reopened in December as more of a full-fledged taqueria.

“We said ‘let’s get back to basics,’” said Jon Fox-Rubin, executive director of the Manaus Fund, a nonprofit organization that played a role in the restaurant’s creation.

The reconstituted Cocina del Valle follows the pattern set by Taqueria el Nopal, a popular restaurant that was located in a ramshackle building torn down in 2014. The taqueria never reopened in Basalt.

Cocina del Valle wanted to fill that niche when it opened a sit-down restaurant with a wait staff last spring. The feedback from customers was that while the food was good, the service and speed at which food was delivered was “mediocre,” Fox-Rubin said.

So the menu was streamlined and placed on a colorful chalkboard behind the restaurant’s service counter. Customers order at the counter and the kitchen focuses on getting good food out quickly.

The new model reduced the staff from about 20 to eight, according to manager Alma Guzman. That is a key to the restaurant’s survival, Fox-Rubin said.

“Financially, it wasn’t going to make it long-term,” he said.

Cocina has another major advantage for matching the Taqueria el Nopal’s success. Alejandro Reyes, a tireless chef who helped put the taqueria on the culinary map, is now executive chef at Cocina del Valle. He was part of the team from the start at cocina, but now he has more control of the kitchen. That will help with consistency of food, Fox-Rubin said.

The restaurant features good food at affordable prices. Burritos are $10. Tacos are $2.50 to $2.75. Tortas are $10. Beers are $4. There is a daily special, a salsa table will soon be established and they will carry both hot food to go and frozen dishes. They are asking their customers for advice on how to stock their freezer.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant is closed Mondays.

Cocina del Valle has an interesting history. The Manaus Fund’s Valley Settlement Project provided financial backing and expertise to help 12 Latinos form a cooperative, which first started a catering business in 2014, then opened the restaurant on Two Rivers Road in Basalt.

The staff members, other than Reyes, are alumni of the Valley Settlement Project’s parent mentor program. They each volunteered at least 250 hours in midvalley elementary schools to assist teachers who were working with immigrant students, Fox-Rubin said. The volunteerism also helped them improve their English language skills.

Acquaintances from that group found they shared an interest in running a business revolving around food. George Stranahan, founder of the Manaus Fund, helped them pursue their dream.

“A vision of George’s is that to settle in the community, you need engagement,” Fox-Rubin said. That makes people feel they belong, motivates them to learn and teaches them they can make a difference, he said.

Guzman said nine members remain involved in the cooperative. All of them work at the restaurant in some capacity — serving or cooking.

Fox-Rubin said the Manaus Fund has raised funds from a number of philanthropists and injected Cocina del Valle with working capital through a “mission-related loan” that will get repaid only once the business succeeds.