On May 12, Soy Kowboi debuted on the patio of Gold Point with a Burger Bash. Owner Blake Blacksberg had labored for roughly three weeks, during which time he tried 36 of the city’s burgers in anticipation of his grand entrance onto the Denver food scene. Though, this project has been much longer in the making. It perhaps began when the young cook entered the fine-dining ranks at 13, and while zigzagging both professionally and across the globe, has never since looked back.
Soi Kowboi is named after the tourist and expatriate-rich red light district in Bangkok. Blacksberg says his time in Vietnam and Cambodia has been fundamental in shaping his cooking style, though his globetrotting has taken him to 26 countries of which he’s lived in seven. Rich internationalism is evident in each bite, with a menu that changes weekly, driven mostly by whimsy. Blacksberg acts as chef and is joined by sous chef Luis Lara, who entered the mix about a month ago after departing from Safta. “The food that we do is Southeast Asian flavors on white trash vessels,” grinned Blacksberg. “We’re the new kids on the block.”
Blacksberg’s culinary journey has been anything but linear. He started at San Diego’s Sea and Smoke while barely just a teenager, continuing on the upscale track when he joined the line at Suda in Santa Cruz when he was 18. Then it was off to Medellin, where he dabbled in pre-Hispanic Latin American food at El Cielo. Next up was China, where he taught English for all of three weeks before skipping down to Bangkok when it became clear that Shanghai simply wasn’t his speed.
Cheap flights have played a big role in Blacksberg’s decision-making when it comes to where he’s wound up. Fate would next take him to Vietnam and then Cambodia where he helped a friend open two different hostel restaurants in both Sihanoukville and Kampot. As early as 2015, he was building menus and concepts from the ground up. “I was still young and figuring out my cooking style,” he said.
By the time 2017 rolled around, Blacksberg was back in San Diego working the line at Blind Lady Ale House doing pizza, bread and veggies — all hyper-local. “It showed me that you don’t have to do fine dining to do amazing food,” he recalled. The desire to learn has always overshadowed any pretensions that come with the title.
“Do you want to move out here and be the piercer for my shop?” was the question that brought him back to Vietnam in 2017, this time in Hoian. It wasn’t long before he had left the trade, citing a complete lack of experience. While doing a bit of bartending, teaching English and helping in hostel kitchens, he soaked up local styles, learning the ins and outs of Central Vietnamese cooking from his roommate’s wife’s family. Since then he’s worked at Pleasantry in Cincinnati, Austin’s own Kemuri Tatsu-Ya and the Bad Larry Burger Club as well as running the kitchen for Facebook’s Austin offices where he did complete daily overhauls of the menu. Since moving to Denver in April 2021, he worked at Cart-Driver, helming the fermentation program.
Soi Kowboi tastes as if it could only spring from the mind of a roving autodidact — one who’s spent his entire life cultivating an irreplaceable style. “23 hours a day I’m thinking about food,” said Blacksberg. This is that stoned, 2 a.m., hyper-seasonal, deluxe, low-brow, indiscriminate pastiche fare presented to deliberately disparage stuffy notions of class and refinement. Blacksberg makes a compelling case that oysters with trout roe and glizzies belong side by side on the table.
While the menu changes weekly — with impending collaborations with the likes of Brasserie Brixton and Split Lip — there are a few staples, all essential. Leading the charge is the curry and bread ($12) which sees a hot baguette from Harvest Moon Bakery being joined by Panang curry and cucumber salad, without a doubt a tear-and-dip affair. The Idiot Sandwich ($17) — with turkey, Jambon Paris, pepper jack, warm heirloom tomato jam, bacon, pickled onion, arugula and garlic scape aioli — is another item worth running to while it’s still available.
“I just make all my food to go well with Malort,” laughed Blacksberg.
Blacksberg seems aware of his role as part of a bubbling new guard of Denver chefs. A plan to open a brick and mortar in the next six months is just one of the visible glints that are clear in the chef’s eyes as he gazes toward a gourmet future he’ll surely be an important part of.
Soi Kowboi is located in Gold Point at 3126 Larimer St., Denver. It is open Wednesday – Friday from 4 p.m. – 1 a.m., Saturday from 2 p.m. – 1 a.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. – 10 p.m.