Sky’s Gourmet Tacos owner Barbara J. “Sky” Burrell began cooking chicken tacos at home while she was pregnant. It wasn’t long before she began experimenting with other ingredients and developed enough recipes to fuel a restaurant. Sky said, “I wanted to do something I loved. I loved to cook and produce wonderful food. It was a spiritual thing that I go and do tacos. That was in my heart.”
Sky opened her eponymous restaurant on March 5, 1992, on a stretch of Pico previously known for auto body and custom furniture shops. Salmon colored walls feature a painting of elephants and a portrait of jazz bassist Charlie Burrell, Sky’s father and the first African-American in a major symphony. He recently retired from the Colorado Symphony at 83. Order from a window and they’ll bring the food to your table. There are four green plastic tables on the sidewalk and six wooden tables inside.
In addition to the chicken tacos and a full menu, Sky’s offers three unique dishes: shrimp tacos, lemonade and cheesecake, all unlike (and probably better than) any you’ve had before.
Sky’s favorite dish, an open-faced turkey chili burrito, is another winner. “We put the chili on the grill, which dries it, add cheese on the top and bottom, lettuce and sour cream. It has the flavor of old Mexico.”
The flavor of old Mexico is apparently pretty healthy. According to the menu, Sky’s avoids lard, oil, artificial additives and preservatives.
Buy Sky’s cheesecake either by the slice (“I’m being good”) or whole (“I’m sharing”). Cheesecake was an unlikely addition to the Sky’s menu, since she despises the dessert. Sky said, “I hate cheesecake, and I wanted a cheesecake that was creamy, that had the flavoring of South America, of Brazil. I didn’t want the tight, New York cheesecake. I worked to make it smooth and creamy.” Sky now has a variety of cheesecake that even she loves. As for how Sky settled on adding chunks of pineapple and caramel crunch, she said, “Things just hit me. You’re moved intuitively to do things.”
To drink, Sky’s sensational lemonade comes in a Mason jar with chipped ice. Sky said of her definitive version, “Everything here in my mind had to be defined. I didn’t want a lemonade made with powder. I wanted fresh lemons and sugar. I wanted everything to be defined. Did I get popped or what?” For a second option, she recently added Jamaica, a Mexican hibiscus flower drink, purple and less sweet.
With no formal training, and guided only by intuition, Sky hasn’t built her restaurant like other chef/owners. But that’s that beauty of Sky, and of Sky’s. Her freewheeling approach has led to unexpected food pairings and unimaginable flavor. Maybe more chefs should focus less on technique.
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