Chef-Driven Highlands Ranch Restaurant Still Focuses on New Mexican Flavors, Community After 13 Years

We’re coming from New Mexico and bringing our flavors with us. We’re also bringing our hospitality — we really put our arms around people. It’s kind of a lost art these days.

 

Old Blinking Light started serving its chef-driven, Taos-inspired cuisine in 2005. And in those 13 years, hundreds of new establishments have popped up around the Highlands Ranch Town Center restaurant.

But General Manager and part-owner Earl Gonzales says it’s still just about what happens inside his four walls. And that means hospitality and New Mexican spice.

“Our No. 1 goal has always been to be the neighborhood Highlands Ranch restaurant.” Earl says. “We’re coming from New Mexico and bringing our flavors with us. We’re also bringing our hospitality — we really put our arms around people. It’s kind of a lost art these days.”

Earl says it’s not just remembering a face but remembering what a customer ate and drank the last time. It’s a conversation. “Because that one person who comes into our restaurant can turn into two, and that two people can turn into four. That’s what we’ve done — focused on one person at a time.

“Watching people enjoy themselves at my restaurant makes me happy.”

OBL rotates the menu seasonally but keeps their most popular dishes on yearround, including the King Ranch Casserole with Green Chile and Cheese Stacked Enchiladas and the New Mexico Red Chile Crusted Salmon. 

Earl helped open OBL in 2005 with business parters Nathaniel Troy and Nathaniel Troy Jr. from Taos, who also own Lambert’s of Taos Restaurant, a longtime popular establishment there. 

In the early days, Earl says, they learned how to play with the spices for a suburban Colorado clientele. “We had to change things up a little bit, tone down the heat. But we have stayed true to who we are, New Mexican,” Earl says. 

Prep is a discipline at OBL. Even on a random week day, you’ll find the bartender getting ready for the day by juicing dozens of lemons and limes and making the simple syrups for the signature margaritas. Chefs are working on the red and green chile sauces.

“Every day we’re throwing a party, and 400 people are coming,” Earl says. “That’s our contract with our guests, to provide good food and drinks, no matter what.”

Even after all these years, you’ll be lucky to find an empty bar seat Thursdays through the weekend. And you’ll see Earl saying hello to the patrons all throughout the house, many of whom consider themselves regulars.

Earl says he’s been around good food all his life, growing up with a grandfather who always had something going in the kitchen, from his red chile in a pot or the meat frying on the stove. “I can still smell that kitchen today,” Earl says.

“I’m so grateful and blessed. We’ve been able to be so consistent and be able to be here for 13 years. We don’t feel it as competition,” Earl says about all the new restaurant options in Highlands Ranch. “The more quality restaurants, the better for Highlands Ranch. If we take care of our four walls, we know it’s going to do well.”

Earl says he plans to keep running Old Blinking Light the only way he knows how: By caring for others.

“The staff is everything,” says Earl, referring to everyone from wait staff to head Chef Juan De La Torre. “When I say we put our arms around people, that goes for our staff as well. They know they are loved and taken care of here. And they transcend that to our guests. It’s who we are. It’s just the harmony and culture of our restaurant.”