Do you have any idea how many fantastic dishes in Denver cost less than 10 bucks? Seriously, do you? Because we definitely do not -- but we know it's a lot. So we ruled out the all-too-obvious (hot dogs, burgers, pizza, street food, desserts, anything here or here) and narrowed the list down to these 16 true obsessions.
Sweet potato noodle bowl
Flower PepperAddress and Info
It’s listed on the blackboard of this newcomer’s order counter as “sour-and-spicy sweet-potato threads,” which is a pretty threadbare description of what it actually is: a hearty, head-clearing noodle soup that’s loaded with ground pork, dried chiles, bok choy, peanuts, and ginkgo nuts. Yet it’s so addictive that the real price is probably about $800... provided you count all the bowls you’ll be having in the future.
Amira BakeryAddress and Info
Sure, we said no pizza. But we didn’t say anything about manaeesh, pizza’s eastern Mediterranean cousin. This Lebanese counter joint covers its pies with everything from a rich, pine nut-sprinkled spread of fine-ground lamb and beef, to cream cheese-like lebni dusted with za’atar (a spice blend centered around thyme and sesame seeds). Then it puts a cherry on top by charging for a whole "pie" what most places would for a slice.
Asian CajunAddress and Info
Here’s what you get when you cross Vietnamese and Louisianan cuisine: a bowl of robust crawfish & sausage stew served with light, crispy wonton chips in what just might be the best culinary mash-up since Korean tacos. By the way, big spender, you’re also getting the wings.
One perfect loaf of bread
BabettesAddress and Info
If bread doesn’t sound like a meal at all, you haven’t been to this real-deal boulangerie in The Source. Be it a classic baguette, the staple pain naturel, or some healthy-nut situation made with millet or flaxseeds or purple sprouted barley, these are the crustiest, chewiest, densest, and most delicious loaves around. Pretty much all it needs to become your new favorite breakfast is a smear of high-quality butter, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Central Bistro & BarAddress and Info
Price: about $8
Central Bistro's penchant for turning out crave-worthy soups started with former exec chef Matt Selby's passion for this often underrated category of food. Though Selby has moved on, his former sous chef Jesse Vega is now heading up the kitchen and continuing to turn out soups that deserve to be the star of your next meal. Forget chicken noodle, and think Moroccan garbanzo with pea shoots and crispy chickpeas, or tomato and cucumber gazpacho spiced with serrano peppers and topped with crunchy marcona almonds.
Wontons in red chili oil
China JadeAddress and Info
Silky, oozing with crumbled pork, and bathed in just the right amount of hot oil, these babies rank highly in our book of local dumplings, second only to the potstickers at Lao Wang Noodle House -- and are more favorably priced.
Smoked chicken pastrami sandwich
Chop Shop Casual Urban EateryAddress and Info
Even among all the winning sandwiches in this town (see: here and here), Clint Wangsnes’ house-smoked chicken pastrami on grilled rye stands out as essential. Layered with Swiss cheese and a slaw that combines beans, corn, and spicy aioli, it’s complex enough that you could eat it on the regular without boredom, healthy enough that you could do it without guilt, and cheap enough that you could do it without checking your balance first. We hope.
Chile relleno burrito
El Taco De MexicoAddress and Info
Santa Fe Art District
Price: $9.25 (10.55 if you want to see it smothered in green chile, like above)
Bad news: the price for this icon-in-a-tortilla has nearly doubled in recent years, which means you can’t even get it smothered in green chile without breaking the $10 limit. But you also can’t beat a burrito that’s stuffed with a thing that is itself stuffed. So good news: it’s still worth the coinage.
At least two donuts
Glazed & ConfuzedAddress and Info
Of course, you won’t know exactly what you’re getting until you’re face-to-face with the freaky choices that earned this shop a spot on Thrillist’s list of Best Donut Shops in America. Could be an Insomniac flavored with Red Bull and Pop Rocks. Could be a Caramelized Miso covered in misoyaki glaze and crispy wonton strips. Could be a chipotle-drizzled Jalapeño Popper stuffed with chile-beer cream cheese. Could be all three, in which case you’ll get the day-long sugar high for cheap.
So many tacos
La Calle Taqueria y CarnitasAddress and Info
Price: $7.25-$8.50 for five
Not only do the crackerjacks at this little shack make some of the best tacos in a town full of great tacos, they do it for so little money that you could basically eat nose to tail (or at least cabeza to tripa) in one sitting, and still have enough change left for a soda. Or better yet, another taco.
White truffle egg salad sandwich
Masterpiece DelicatessenAddress and Info
“It is written, ‘He who makes the best egg salad shall rule over Heaven and Earth.’” So says the High Macha of Rashpur in Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, which means Justin Brunson would be king if, you know, movie dialogue were real.
Chicken Kara Age
Osaka RamenAddress and Info
Yes, we’ve mentioned Jeff Osaka’s garlicky, gingery, Japanese-style fried chicken three times in two months. No, we’re not on his payroll. But come to think of it, you should probably pay us for the valuable service of reminding you to try it so often, because it’s one of the best bites we’ve had all year, at any price.
TocabeAddress and Info
The American-Indian answer to a calzone, this monster comes loaded with your choice of meats and beans, cheese, and veggies before it’s smothered in various salsas and sour cream. With one bite you’ll feel like a snake swallowing a hedgehog, but we guarantee you’ve got a happier ending in store.
The Carlin County
Lucile'sAddress and Info
Southwest Denver (& other locations)
For a true taste of the South, it doesn't get much better than Lucile's. While everyone seems to talk about the pillowy beignets, those in the know skip the sugary treat and concentrate on the real star here: the perfect, flaky biscuits. The Carlin County is a meal filling enough to require an after-brunch nap, but you'll be dreaming about eating more of Lucile's biscuits covered in thick sausage gravy with a side of red beans and grits.
½lb of chicken wings
GQue BBQAddress and Info
Denver's BBQ scene has been on a major upswing in the past year, but if you venture a little bit outside of the city limits, you'll find some of the best 'cue in the state, including this Westminster spot from competitive BBQ champ Jason Ganahl. While the ribs ($3/bone) or jalapeño cheddar sausages ($4/link) are a flavor-packed deal, we can't get get enough of the wings. They're available buffalo-style, but the dry-rub version, with a sprinkle of rub added before serving, adds a sweet note to the smoky meat for a wing like no other.
Pierogi of the day
Rebel RestaurantAddress and Info
One of the best new restaurants to hit the Denver dining scene last year, Rebel's cuisine is ever-changing and always exciting. From the "pig part of the day" to a whole animal head served on a platter, diners are sure to find an adventurous menu item available on any given day. The rotating pierogi are a great way to get a taste of Rebel's playful eats on the cheap. There's no boring potato & cheddar here; instead, expect decidedly non-traditional variations like foie gras and wild mushroom with dilly/dijon sour cream and blueberry compote, or a pierogi play on shrimp corn chowder sprinkled with crushed saltines.
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1. Amira Bakery4101 E Evans Ave, Denver
2. Asian Cajun2400 W Alameda Ave, Denver
3. China Jade375 S Federal Blvd, Denver
4. Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery4990 E Colfax Ave, Denver
5. El Taco De Mexico714 Santa Fe Dr, Denver
6. Flower Pepper2655 Broadway, Denver
7. Glazed & Confuzed5301 Leetsdale Dr, Denver
8. Masterpiece Delicatessen1575 Central St, Denver
9. La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas1565 W Alameda Ave, Denver
10. The Old Man4381 W 120th Ave, Broomfield
11. Osaka Ramen2611 Walnut St, Denver
12. Stout Street Social1400 Stout St, Denver
13. Tocabe3536 W 44th Ave, Denver
14. Lucile's Creole Cafe275 S Logan St, Denver
15. GQue BBQ5160 W 120th Ave Unit K, Westminster
16. Rebel Restaurant3763 Wynkoop St, Denver
Serving what most refer to as middle eastern pizza, Amira Bakery specializes in bready pies topped with middle eastern ingredients like from zaatar to fine-ground lamb. Though the restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside (for a long time, the signage was simply a vinyl banner), marble tables, red upholstered chairs, and a spacious, spotless place give diners all the reason to fill their tables with authentically prepared samplings of the shawarma, falafel, and mana-eesh pies of cheese, spinach, and lamb & beef.
Serving a culinary combo that makes Pizza Hut/Taco Bells look downright traditional, this Vietnamese/Cajun 70-seater has a "down-home Southern" look, and plates 10 different phos (like eye round steak/ well-done brisket and beef meatballs); Creole cuisine like fried seafood baskets of soft-shell crab, shrimp, catfish, or tilapia with fries; and even one fusion-y dish with crawfish in an Asian sauce, marking the first time anyone will confusingly call one a "crawdad-son".
Hailed by many locals as the best Chinese restaurant in Denver, this unassuming spot in an east Aurora strip mall slings authentic Szichuan style chinese food, that'll have your take-out making a run for it. The casual space is simply furnished, and while the menu might not look like your typical Americanized Chinese listing of Chicken dishes, rest assured that your umami-packed pick will be delicious. If you're having serious hesitations, consider the spicy boiled fish or mapo tofu, which the restaurant is known for.
This fast-casual spot operates on the idea of serving good food without the full service restaurant hooplah. Ingredients are seasonal and locally sourced, and put together to make variations on classic dishes like hoisin-tamarind ribs, bacon wrapped meatloaf, and a southwest chop salad.
This quintessential Mexican dive attracts everyone from local regulars, to out-of-town travelers to its diner-like space for the most authentic versions of all the Mexico City classics, like chilaquiles, tongue tacos, and smothered chile relleno burritos. There's not much more than few plastic booths indoors, but anything smothered in the fresh green chile is likely better enjoyed in the breezy outdoor patio.
A tiny counter order restaurant, Flower Pepper commands a strong following on the strength of its authentic Chinese dishes alone, whose breadth of flavors attempts to span the entire country. On the menu, you'll find everything from Beijing-aspiring cold noodles, to pork-stuffed dumplings from northern China. And though the white walls of this narrow seating area are void of any decorations, large portions and affordable prices make this spot worth the drive.
This Southeast spot is a testament to the sheer amount of flavor you can create using only all-natural, locally sourced ingredients. The offerings here are unlike anything else you’ll see in the Denver area: while the menu changes daily, expect eclectic tastes like jalapeño cerveza-cream cheese with chipotle drizzle, as well as mojito, caramelized miso, and more. Glazed & Confuzed is a pastry wonderland as seen through the eyes of Chef Josh Schwab, and while there’s ample seating available in the contemporary cafeteria-like space, we suggest getting there early -- it’s no secret that these are some of the best donuts in the state, and the queue can get quite long.
This Uptown spot has mastered the art of the sandwich. The freshness of the menu offerings here is unparalleled: from bacon to roast beef, all of the meats are cured in-house, along with all the accoutrements (aiolis, slaws, soups, even potato chips). Notorious egg salad gets a major come-up here, prepared fresh with hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, red onions, and capers, made decidedly decadent with white truffle oil and romaine on toasted locally-made bread. If there’s no available seating in the sleek, modern eatery, we suggest snagging a can of craft beer and heading outdoors to the patio, where ample sunlight and fresh air make for a great meal on the go.
This Southwest spot is pretty bare-bones beyond that of its bright orange hue, but don’t let the hole-in-the-wall ambience fool you: La Calle is the go-to spot for Mexican street food in the Denver area. It’s a veritable taco mecca: there’s fried tripe and lengua (cow tongue) for those with adventurous appetites, but the staples here -- carne asada, chorizo, al pastor -- are just as solid, especially when paired with any of the homemade salsas. The price point is insanely low given the high quality, so you can sample any and all of them to find your favorite without burning a hole in your pocket.
This place is the whole package in terms of BBQ joints: wood-paneled walls, vintage signs, beach volleyball courts, and classic meals. Ribs by the slab, brisket by the pound, and sides like tater tots, fried okra, spicy coleslaw, and pit-style baked beans.
Jeff Osaka’s urban, underground noodle bar has an Asian food-friendly wine list, izakaya-inspired small plates, and of course, ramen, all of which reflect the Chef/Owner’s painstaking R&D. The ramen menu is replete with lighter, chicken-based shio (salt) and shoyu (soy-flavored) broths; medium-textured miso broth made with chicken and pork; and bold, whole-hog tonkotsu broth -- each distinguished by its own mix of toppings, from braised pork shoulder to black-garlic oil. Don't fret, plant-eaters, there’s a meatless alternative, but you really don’t know what you're missing from the juxtaposition of velvety pork belly paired with a perfectly soft egg.
This bar, located in Downtown Denver, serves elevated bar food like a Bacon-Guacamole Burger and the Social Burger -- a beef patty with bourbon maple glaze, truffle aioli, jalapeno raspberry jam, romaine, and crispy onions. They also serve signature entrees (Green Chili Mac & Cheese sound good?) and sushi.
Using family recipes in a fast-casual setting, Tocabe is a Denver staple, beloved by locals for its modern approach to traditional Native American fare. The portions are gracious, the price point affordable; the counter service menu boasts favorites like shredded bison tacos on warm, thick fry-bread, dressed with your choice of cheese, beans, vegetables, and piquant house-made salsa. Combined with the white exposed brick walls, airy windows, and modern ceiling fixtures, this contemporary eatery is perfect for relaxed, hearty meal.
A Denver establishment for over 30 years, Lucile's has been serving up quality Cajun-style breakfasts throughout multiple locations in Colorado. The popular brunch spot is worth the wait for the beignets alone. Big, warm and properly coated in powdered sugar, these pair perfectly with a cup of the chicory coffee.
This Kansas City-style barbecue joint prepares just enough smoked meat for the day -- once that reserve is served, guests need wait until the next day to get their fill. While none of the sauce is meat, GQue has competed in and won barbecue competitions throughout the country, proving the raw high-quality of this slow-cooked meat.
With a name like Rebel, it’s no surprise that bold flavor and inventive presentation reign supreme at this Five Points restaurant. In lieu of your predictable New American fare, expect globally inspired creations like watermelon sashimi with daikon radish, wasabi aioli, and pickled jalapeño, as well as daily rotations like varied pierogies and the “pig part of the day,” a chef’s-choice selection of any part of a freshly butchered pig. The late night menu and formidable craft beer list make it a popular neighborhood dive, with an enclosed outdoor patio to attract the hipster masses.