Food & Drink

The Best Lunch Spot in 18 Denver 'Hoods

Ruth Tobias Published On 08/27/2015 Published On 08/27/2015

Maybe don’t answer this out loud, but come on, how much does lunch with your co-workers suck? This one’s on a diet, that one’s a cheapskate, another one’s got the palate of a toddler, and by the time you finally reach an agreement, it’s too late for anything but drive-thru burgers anyway. Enough’s enough. Follow this guide to your best bets for lunch in 18 Denver neighborhoods big and small -- from hotspots to hidden treasures -- and you can eat like a boss instead of whatever you’ve been doing...

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Athmar Park

Hong Kong Barbecue (address and info)
What you’re getting: “Roast product,” for starters

Federal Boulevard cuts through a patchwork of neighborhoods known for their Mexican, Vietnamese, and Chinese holes in the wall. This is one of the holiest -- and is for meat worshippers, we mean that in every sense of the word. The display case filled with glistening roast ducks, pig heads, and so on stands as a shrine to the cult of the carnivore, and the mixed-meat sampler’s an appetizer that eats like a meal. Balance it out with fried rice and water spinach in spicy pickled tofu sauce, which tastes even funkier than it sounds (in a good way).

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Baker

Gozo (address and info)
What you’re getting: Seasonal pasta

The atmosphere: sunny yet sophisticated. The Mediterranean-inspired menu: earthy yet clean. The wine list: on the leaner, food-friendlier, lower-alcohol side. If Gozo were a person, you’d be trying to date it. Pastas are especially luscious, whether tossed with butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and brown butter or preserved lemon, spinach, and bread crumbs.

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Berkeley

El Chingon Mexican Bistro (address and info)
What you’re getting: Especial del día

Radiating modern warmth in a century-old casa, this family-run, chef-driven charmer turns out tostadas de carnitas and smothered burritos with panache, but daily specials are what set it apart. From grilled shark tacos, to chorizo with curtido and chile aioli, to killer tortitas de carne (basically flattened meatballs), you’ll always find something new to brag about to your lame dollar menu-eating officemates later.

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CBD (Central Business District)

Los Cabos II (address and info)
What you’re getting: Aji de gallina

To be clear, this classic dish of chicken simmered with potatoes in a velvety sauce of Parmesan, ground walnuts, and yellow chiles is what you’re getting the first time you visit this way-underrated Peruvian place. The second time you’re getting parihuela -- a tomatoey seafood stew like cioppino, only spicier. The third time, follow some ceviche with a steak-and-veggie stir fry called lomo saltado. And the fourth? Fine, go for the buffet. But don’t say we didn’t warn you when you split your pants in front of everyone back at the office.

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Central Platte Valley

Carbon Beverage Café (address and info)
What you’re getting: Pizza in a cup

Never heard of Central Platte Valley? It’s what the cool developers these days are calling the stretch of riverfront between North Union Station and LoHi. Never heard of Carbon? Well, don’t go around admitting it publicly, because the just-opened successor to Paris on the Platte is the next big thing, not to mention the most fun you can have on a workday without getting fired. Along the counter stands a row of taps filled with coffee, kombucha, wine, beer, and batched cocktails, all of which you can mix, match, and tailor with syrups, salts, herbs, and other flavorings to your heart’s content. The equally customizable menu ranges from the “pizza in a cup” with pepperoni and brioche holes inspired by The Jerk, to sandwiches built on donuts from Carbon’s pot-themed next-door sibling Habit Doughnut Dispensary -- aka your new late-night must-stop for the munchies.

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Congress Park (tie)

Dae Gee (address and info)
What you’re getting: You mean besides galbi and bulgogi, right?

This is a Korean barbecue joint, so yeah, you’re getting piles of meat with all the fixings. But you shouldn’t stop there -- the fried chicken dumplings, lacy savory pancakes with zucchini or mixed seafood, and tofu with kimchi deserve a place on your table too. Here’s where you should stop -- at home for a nap. Because if you eat all that, you’ve done enough good work for one day.

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Congress Park (tie)

Glaze (address and info)
What you’re getting: Something something cake

The bánh mì-esque Japanese BLT with juicy fried chicken and thick-cut bacon will rock both your socks off, as will the lobster roll, served upright in a cylindrical pretzel. And the sesame chicken over a matcha-infused waffle is an instant classic. But the cake takes the cake. After all, we included Glaze’s concentrically layered Baumküchen as part of your ideal last meal -- and for all you know, this could be it. Better make it count.

Ellen Jaskol/Thrillist

Golden Triangle

Charcoal Restaurant (address and info)
What you’re getting: Mousse

This low-key, grown-up gathering spot doesn’t get its due for consistently well-crafted contemporary cuisine. You’ll never meet a bread spread you don’t want to smear all over your body here, be it the super-smooth chicken liver pâté with grilled ciabatta, or the richly tangy whipped goat cheese in a jar, offered separately or as part of a smart mezze sampler, with hazelnut falafel, house pickles, and more. Either is plenty for lunch, but if you’re looking for trouble -- and you probably are -- get the Swedish meatballs or the excellent cheeseburger too.

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Jefferson Park

Chili Verde (address and info)
What you’re getting: Enchiladas, enfrijoladas -- basically anything smothered

Intense mole, creamy walnut-based nogada, smoky salsa morita, and of course green chile: this relatively upscale haven on downmarket Federal Boulevard specializes in the cookery of Puebla, considered Mexico’s gastronomic capital for its complex dishes featuring a diversity of sauces. Not that you have to know that with your brain to appreciate it all with your mouth, from the chips to the churros and everything in between.

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Lincoln Park

Jamaican Grill (address and info)
What you’re getting: Whole fried red snapper

Getting tired of El Taco de Mexico? Sounds like a neurological issue you should probably get checked out, but in the meantime, this laid-back Caribbean cafe nearby will cure all ills. In addition to smokin’ fried chicken, the kitchen fries up a mean plate of fish, crisp skinned and firm yet flaky even underneath a boatload of sauce that bites and kicks (but not too hard). Besides, truth be told, a little reggae and Red Stripe go a lot further toward soothing jangled workday nerves than do ranchera music and no booze.

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LoHi

Avanti F&B: A Collective Eatery (address and info)
What you’re getting: So. Many. Things.

Sure, LoHi’s home to dozens of worthy daytime destinations. But ignoring this eye-popping, jaw-dropping new gourmet food court would be like forgetting to invite your mom to your wedding: a mistake that can’t ever be fixed. With two stories, two full bars, and a sweet terrace overlooking the Downtown skyline, it’d be a hit if it didn’t serve food at all. Yet it’s home to seven different kitchens with major cred. There’s MiJo, featuring Japanese-style comfort food from two of the chefs at Bones. And Venezuelan eats from mobile masters Quiero Arepas. There’s Pinche Taqueria spinoff Poco Torteria, Bistro Barbès sibling Souk Shawarma, and an outpost of the beloved Brava! Pizzeria. You can get cricket-crusted raw tuna at Bixo and a “nose-to-tail” squash sampler at Farmer Girl... hey, you know who else would probably love this place? Your poor mom.

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RiNo

Biju’s Little Curry Shop (address and info)
What you’re getting: The coconut curry chicken bowl

Fuel Cafe. Cart-Driver. Osaka Ramen. Both Acorn and Comida at The Source. Etc., etc. You’d have to really suck at eating lunch to go wrong in RiNo. But this mod twist on India’s roadside cafes fulfills every noontime need you could possibly have: it’s quick. It’s cheap. It’s got great energy. It’s relatively healthful. And most importantly, the curried rice bowls burst with vibrant flavors, varied textures, and just enough heat to boost your metabolism from here to happy hour, when life starts again.

Four Friends Kitchen

Stapleton

Four Friends Kitchen (address and info)
What you’re getting: Green chile chicken cobbler

If this warm, colorful, Southern-influenced daytime destination were a movie, it’d be the feel-good hit of the year: you’d have to be one cold-blooded critic to hate on a place that pours you spiked sweet tea, and lets you play with an Etch A Sketch while you wait for your fried green tomatoes with jalapeño aioli, followed by the fabulous savory cobbler topped with cheese biscuits.
 

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Sun Valley

Tacos El Paisa (address and info)
What you’re getting: An umbrella drink

Since it’s technically situated within the no-man’s land between Sun Valley and Jefferson Park, the fact that this little Mexican joint feels like a place you can go to forget yourself is only fitting. Sip a margarita with a paper umbrella and catch up on your favorite telenovela (admit it, you have one) while you eat like you’ve been riding the rails, or something else strenuous, all morning: the tacos de lengua are surefire, and the bacon-wrapped camarones rellenos come doused in a sauce that will claw your throat to shreds, alongside all the rice, beans, and tortillas you need to bandage the burn. Plus: breakfast any time, including superb machaca con huevos (dried shredded beef and eggs).

P17

Uptown

P17 (address and info)
What you’re getting: Bolognese

True, Mary Nguyen’s breezy little bistro is just one of several superlative spots in these parts. But you already knew to hit Masterpiece Deli or Olive & Finch (also owned by Nguyen) for sandwiches, Steuben’s for comfort food, Onefold for farmstand fare, and so on, whereas this transformation of Parallel 17 may come as a total surprise. While a few traces of its upscale Vietnamese past remain, its most memorable plates are all straight-up European, from salt cod fritters to pappardelle Bolognese. Don’t tell anybody we said this, but we even dig the mocktails.

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Washington Park

Fooducopia (address and info)
What you’re getting: Caprese panino

On one side, it’s a rustic-chic market stocking local, largely organic gourmet products. On the other, it’s a snug all-day cafe where the simple things in life shine, and you feel like a genius just for coming here to read a newspaper over an iced coffee and a toasted sandwich layered with tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, and a little reduced balsamic. Which you kind of are.

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Washington Park West

Chowder Room (address and info)
What you’re getting: Chowder, duh

One of our favorite spring arrivals just keeps getting better -- and while market specials like fried whole-belly clams and soft-shell crab piccata round out the menu with flair, its heart is in its stews, from classic Manhattan or New England chowders, to concoctions featuring mussels and saffron, cod and kale, tropical red curry with ahi tuna, even corned beef and cabbage. A snappy craft beer selection’s the icing on the, uh, seafood cake.

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Westwood

Suvipa Thai Food (address and info)
What you’re getting: Curry puffs

Literally across the street from Hong Kong Barbecue yet in a whole different neighborhood, this storefront café is equally modest in looks and mighty in the spirit of homestyle Asian cooking. The salads and curries practically sparkle; the gingered catfish exemplifies the balance between warm and cool elements; and the delicate, tender curry puffs, whether savory or sweet, are a pleasure that’s guilty only for being so ridiculously cheap.

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Ruth Tobias is a Denver-based writer who will gladly accept complaints from your co-workers at @Denveater.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Hong Kong Barbecue 1048 S Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80219 (Southwest)

This Athmar Park hole-in-the-wall has a display case full of roast ducks, pig heads, and other traditional Chinese and Asian fusion meats, which we wholeheartedly recommend. The spot is also great for vegetarians, if the case of meat isn't too much for your more PETA involved friends.

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2. Gozo 32 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209 (Southwest)

A Mediterranean restaurant with a relaxed fine dining feel, Gozo churns out delicious eats like grilled prawns over mashed cauliflower, and braised pork shoulder with preserved lemon and mustard greens.

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3. El Chingon 4326 Tennyson St, Denver, CO 80212 (Northwest)

Having moved El Chingon from Aravada to Northwest Denver, executive chefs David Lopez and Gloria Nunez haven't skipped a beat. Delicious carnitas, green chili, and specialty cocktails come from a kitchen that buys ingredients locally, so you can enjoy both the food and having supported local business.

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4. Los Cabos II 1525 Champa St, Denver, CO 80202 (Cbd)

This peaceful cafe serves Peruvian cuisine, and is complete with a near-life-sized stuffed llama (alpaca?). Not sure what to expect from Peruvian food? Expect a blend of Chinese Cantonese and Spanish flavors, with clear influence from the Peruvian highlands. We recommend the aji de gallina, and the parihuela, and the ceviche, and the lomo saltado, and...maybe just get the lunch buffet.

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5. Carbon Beverage Cafe 1553 Platte St, Denver, CO 80202 (Highland)

This hip spot in the hip Central Platte Valley area is the beverage & munchie half of the sibling pair of Habit/Carbon -- the other half (Habit Doughnut Dispensary) will fill all your late night, lack of doughnut related woes. Wander into Carbon to find taps on taps on taps -- of coffee, kombucha, wine, beer, and batch cocktails. All can be customized with additional syrups, salts, and herbs, and go great with munchie-satisfying snacks like pizza in a cup.

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6. Dae Gee 827 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80206 (Congress Park)

This Korean BBQ joint rocks just as hard as its Westminster sibling (harder, in fact, because it’s got a full bar). Marinated meat’s only half the story anyway — the rest is a sizzling, bubbling, thrilling saga starring textbook zucchini pancakes, bibimbap, sinus-clearing stews, and the best dubu kimchi in town, bar none.

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7. Glaze 1160 Madison St, Denver, CO 80206 (Congress Park)

Glaze is first & foremost a bakery, serving mostly baum cakes: a multi-layer cake that evolved from baumkuchen , a German spit cake. It's cooked in an oven Glaze imported from Japan and topped with almost whatever you'd like. They even have a matcha green tea cake. If you're not into sweets, they also serve Japanese bao buns, tasting plates like fried tofu or scallops, and do brunch.

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8. Charcoal Restaurant 43 W 9th Ave, Denver, CO 80204 (Golden Triangle)

If you can't visualize European-inspired American food, go to Charcoal, where dishes like pan-roasted chicken and crab cakes on creamed corn will convince you of your favorite new niche cuisine. Almost everything here is prepped on the open kitchen's Colorado-made Bincho grills, which in laymen's terms means your dinner will be cooked quickly, with maximum flavor. The restaurant is located just a few minutes from the Denver Art Museum and boasts a modern space.

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9. Chili Verde 2311 Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80211 (Jefferson Park)

Not all Mexican food is the same, and this kinda-upscale, definitely-good, spot specializes in the Puebla style, which means lots of sauces with lots of flavors. If you were ever going to order a smothered burrito, this is the place to do it.

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10. Jamaican Grill 708 W. 8th Ave, Denver, CO 80204

This colorful little cafe-slash-Bob Marley shrine has some of Denver's best fried chicken. The friendly owners call their concoction "Jamaican barbie fried chicken," presumably alluding to the island’s style of barbecue rather than the Urban Dictionary definition of "Jamaican barbie," and certainly the copious topping will remind you of barbecue sauce: sweetish and slightly spicy. As for the breading beneath, it doesn’t get soggy because it’s thin as lacquer, glossy and crackling over tender meat that slips off the bone with satisfying ease.

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11. Biju's Little Curry Shop 1441 26th St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

This funky little dhaba-style joint is a whole other kind of feed zone, geared toward those who love to work up a sweat over some spicy Indian eats. Start with a bowl of nutty-sweet biryani covered in curried beef or chicken and lentils. Top it off with the killer chili-and-coconut condiment called samandhi, along with some toasted chickpeas. Wash it all down with an Epic IPA. Repeat.

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12. Four Friends Kitchen 2893 Roslyn St, Denver, CO 80238 (Stapleton)

What's not to like about a spot with Southern comfort food, spiked sweet tea, and Etch-a-Sketch to bring back all the childhood cancelled out by the spiked sweet tea thing? If you thought of anything, we promise that the better-than-great food (like fried green tomatoes with jalapeño aioli and green-chile chicken cobbler with cheese biscuits) will cancel it out, and you'll be left having to admit that you like this place.

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13. Tacos el Paisa 1920 N Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80204 (Sun Valley)

At this welcome taco spot tucked between Sun Valley and Jefferson Park, umbrella drinks actually come with umbrellas, tacos come with all the fixings, and the sauces come hot (like really hot). They run breakfast all day, like machaca con huevos, and since they have drinks too that's almost like brunch every. day.

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14. P17 1600 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80218 (Uptown)

By taking European fare and adding a few Asian dishes, Mary Nguyen built a bistro menu at her flagship restaurant P17. Don't be surprised when you find pork buns, spring rolls, lamb bolognese, and shrimp & grits on the same menu.

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15. Fooducopia 1939 E Kentucky Ave, Denver, CO 80209 (Wash Park)

Half local market, half comfy cafe, Fooducopia serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Wash Park. The menu has way more than you'd expect from a cafe, making it even more appealing. Breakfast includes four different takes on french toast, lunch has nine sandwiches plus salads, and dinner includes small plates, salads, entrees, & dessert.

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16. Chowder Room 560 South Broadway, Denver, CO 80209 (Baker)

This dead-ringer for a Cape Cod clam shack serves up all sorts of seafood, from crab cakes to barbecued shrimp -- but its forte is its namesake (because if it weren’t, that would be confusing). Both New England-style clam stew and red chowder with salmon, tuna, and halibut are always available, while the bowl du jour changes constantly.

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17. Suvipa Thai Food 1015 South Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80219 (Southwest)

This Westwood café's unassuming storefront may fool some people, but you're Thrillist educated now and know how ridiculous the homestyle Asian food inside is. Pro Tip: Try the curry puff and gingered catfish.

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