Food & Drink

The Thrillist Awards: Denver's Best New Food & Drink of 2015

Published On 12/29/2015 Published On 12/29/2015
Poco Torteria (edited)

How many restaurants and bars do you think opened in Denver this year? We'd say three or four a week, but getting that right might just be harder than when we tried to guess the number of jellybeans in a 20 gallon drum at our 3rd grade school carnival. From a groundbreaking gourmet food court to an Art Deco-era supper club, these 25 really stood out from the rest and proved themselves as the best -- and yes, that absolutely includes best new brewery.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new barbecue

Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que

Address and Info

University

Denver's low-and-slow smokehouse scene suddenly soared high and fast this year. But one pitmaster in particular really made us sit up and take notice (before lying back down in a groaning food coma): Coy Webb. Be it his signature lamb and bison cuts, daily specials such as luscious rib tips, or the brisket that's in his Texan blood (and on this insane sandwich), he's the guy we'd give our blue ribbon to. In fact, we just did.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new bar food

Occidental Bar

Address and Info

LoHi

Remember playing old arcade games in your dad’s basement, listening to Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü mixtapes, and sneaking swigs from the bottle of applejack in the wet bar? Welcome back. Only this time your dad is none other than bartender extraordinaire Sean Kenyon, and he's keeping the party going with bulletproof fried-chicken thighs, chili fries, and onion rings whose crunch is even louder than the playlist.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new beer bar

First Draft

Address and Info

RiNo

If we picked any place other than the one with 40 taps you can pull yourself -- like Ninkasi coffee milk stout, New Belgium blackberry barleywine, or Eddyline black lager -- we'd be pulling your tap. Uhh, wait. Leg. The pub grub's not half-bad either.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new bistro

Cafe Marmotte

Address and Info

Country Club

This low-key, low-lit little white-cloth rendezvous is whipping up some of the most accomplished dishes we've had all year. The only reason not to come here is you'll be forced to use corny adjectives like "scrumptious" or "delectable," because they're the only ones that fully convey the truth.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new breakfast

Onefold

Address and Info

Uptown

How. Many times. Do we need. To say it. OK, then, once more with feeling -- go get you some all-organic chorizo-green chile breakfast burritos, bacon fried rice, or confit-duck congee to wash down with a Vietnamese iced coffee right now.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new burger

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

Address and Info

Ballpark

Iron-rich and a little gamey, ostrich packs a surprising punch. But the patty's just the lead jab in a flurry of ingredients that makes Ophelia's signature Brothel Burger such a knockout. Miso-glazed bacon, caramelized onions splashed with ponzu, pickled daikon and carrot, and gochujang-spiked barbecue sauce all deliver sweet-salty, fermented blows that the pretzel bun softens just enough to keep you coming back for more. Innumerable burgers are delicious; this one's also memorable.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new chef to watch

Victor Mena, Viand

Address and Info

Central Business District

Hear us now and believe us later: in the most inauspicious of downtown venues (the former La Fondue), a chef with a humble soul but an impressive résumé that includes Rioja and Root Down is quietly sticking every landing. Head-turners so far include the house-made burrata with walnut pesto and house-made pretzel bread, seared scallops atop zucchini cakes, and pistachio-studded avocado-lime pie.

Courtesy of Union Lodge No. 1

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By contrast, you'll never forget you're in the thick of the post-millennium at this den of cool, which is simultaneously edgy and suave. There isn't an ingredient the bartenders here won't experiment with, be it hip-to-be-square Blue Curaçao and cream Sherry or future fads like cilantro syrup and Douglas fir eau de vie. Meanwhile, smart wines and killer snacks make Fausto the complete package. (Remember ABC: Always Be ordering Crudo.)

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new coffeehouse

Black Eye Coffee Shop

Address and Info

Capitol Hill

And by "coffeehouse," we mean "bar." The crew at this sunny, vintage-meets-industrial gathering spot gives you every opportunity to spike your bean juice with booze and vice-versa from sunup to way past sundown: think bourbon pour overs, mixed flights, and cocktails featuring housemade coffee bitters or gommes. Of course, you can also eat your way to caffeination and/or inebriation, thanks to a kitchen that turns out dishes like espresso-rubbed roast beef sandwiches, beer-infused Welsh rarebit, and donuts with coffee ice cream and whiskey caramel.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new comeback

Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen & Cafe

Address and Info

Sloan Lake

When the pizzeria that baker Seth Rubin used to work out of sent him packing at the end of last year, we were sad, because who else was going to make us biscuits flavored with everything from spiced lentils and cornbread stuffing to cheddar-apple pie and local brews? (Yes, we could try to do it ourselves. But no.) But now we're happy, because he's back in a kitchen of his very own, rustling up Chapel Hill-style fried-chicken sandwiches, biscuit cinnamon rolls, and Friday specials infused with, say, Bull & Bush Ghoul Fuel or Renegade Redacted IPA (among other brews you might find on our list of 12 Denver Beers You Need to Drink Before You Die).

Courtesy of OTOTO

Best new date-night spot

OTOTO

Address and Info

Platt Park

Except for maybe actual tightrope-walking, there's no tougher balancing act than picking the right place for a first date. It should be buzzing and lively yet cozy and intimate and neither too expensive nor too cheap; the menu should promise shared adventure without undue risk. The Kizaki brothers' rustic-chic izakaya checks all those boxes neatly. Let the sake flow, keep the lobster wontons and Wagyu skewers coming, and relax -- the hard part's over.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new deli

Il Porcellino Salumi

Address and Info

Berkeley

Rabbit rillettes. Scrapple. Finocchino. Pork-green chile head cheese. If we did nothing but list the cold cuts the founders of this cheery salumeria make in-house, we'll have done our job in convincing you it's the real deal. But because we like you personally, we're gonna go ahead and add on the sly that they also make sandwiches, soups, salads, and sides to make you wish even more food categories started with "S." The Reuben-inspired bison pastrami on rye is mwah.

Spangalang Brewery

Best new brewery

Spangalang Brewery

Address and Info

Five Points

A jazz-themed taproom in the former Welton Street DMV run by a trio of Great Divide alums: now that's Five Points! But as neighborhood-oriented as this April arrival may be, it's already making waves throughout and beyond the city. Though we'll go ahead and call beers like the tart cherry-rosewater sour Pure Funk and saffron-spiced Tripel Risotto Milanese strokes of genius, you don't have to take it from us; ask the GABF judges who awarded Spangalang's Belgian-style session ale Sugarfoot a gold right out of the shoot -- or the local experts who are participating in our upcoming survey of 2015 brewery openings. Better stay tuned.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new dive bar

Globe Hall

Address and Info

Globeville

Not only does the barbecue run a damn close second to Roaming Buffalo's -- get a load of that hardcore, custom-built smoker out back -- but the old-school vibe of the century-old Croatian/Slovenian meeting lodge-turned-tavern (with its wood-paneled walls, quaint bric-a-brac like Japanese lacquerware and faux sarcophagi, and chill live-music lineup) makes it feel exactly like the place your grandparents probably first hooked up (sorry for the imagery).

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new desserts

The Inventing Room

Address and Info

Ballpark

As the leading keeper of the molecular-gastronomy flame in these parts, Ian Kleinman would have been well within his rights to open some kind of haute temple to avant-garde cuisine that cost and confused us all dearly. Instead he brought us this steampunky dessert lab, where you're greeted with a free(zing!) bag of chocolate-cinnamon nitro popcorn while you wait for your exploding whipped-cream sundae, Lemonhead-candy space foam, or coconut sorbet with pomegranate bubbles. It might feel like just so much kung-fu treachery if the tricks weren't also mouthwatering treats -- but they are.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new gastropub

Rebel Restaurant

Address and Info

RiNo

There were 21 slots on our list of Denver's Best Restaurants Right Now. If there had been only five -- maybe even three -- this total outlier would have made the cut. That's how striking the kitchen's manic creativity and ability to execute has proven. It's a paradigm shift: if you never thought to yourself, "Boy, I could really go for some fried-tripe poutine in foie gras gravy or a lamb's-head flatbread or turnip four ways tonight" before, you will after a meal here.

Finn's Manor

Best new hangout

Finn's Manor

Address and Info

Northwest, Five Points

With its eye-popping, brain-numbing line-up of house-infused shots, bartender's calls, and single-batch punches as well as seasonal libations, Finn's is easily among Denver's best new cocktail bars. With 16 ever-rotating taps emphasizing geeky finds from Belgium, France, or Ooooklahoma, Finn’s is also among Denver's best new beer bars, oh, and they offer a sprawling patio that doubles as a food-truck pod.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new happy hour

Cho77

Address and Info

Baker

It's not the longest. It's not the cheapest. But what with $1 sake shots and $3 sake bombs (among other drink specials), plus $2 off small plates like garlicky fried frog's legs, intricate red-chili dumplings, and bao with fried chicken or pork belly, damned if happy hour at Lon Symensma's ace Asian Fusion haunt isn't the coolest.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new late-night munchies

Carbon Beverage Cafe (address and info) and Habit Doughnut Dispensary (address and info)
Central Platte Valley
Because if you're gonna build a cafe and donut shop on the twin pillars of hip-hop and weed culture, you sure as hell had better be serving up the likes of Wu Tang Tots with hemp ketchup, Faux McMuffins with caramelized Spam, clove-caramel brioche doughnuts topped with candy cigarettes, and "the best pizza in a cup ever" (Google it) through the wee hours.  

Souk Shawarma

Best new lunch

Avanti F&B: A Collective Eatery

Address and Info

Highland, Northwest

If seven different vendors hawking everything from arepas to udon bowls plus two full bars with 20 taps plus one instant legend of a deck overlooking downtown doesn't equal a noontime no-brainer to you, then you need to check your math.

Courtesy of Nocturne

Best new nightclub

Nocturne

Address and Info

Northwest, Five Points

This supper club is classy. Not, like, Trump-casino classy, but like, get-all-dolled-up-with-your-dame-and-come-beat-your-feet-to-the-tunes-of-a-hepcat-jazz-combo-circa-1940 kind of classy. A soak-up-the-Art-Deco-aura-over-flutes-of-bubbly-and-oysters-with-caviar kind of classy. You know, the old-school stuff.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new trattoria

Bar Dough

Address and Info

LoHi

Winning as the pies from the gorgeous imported oven at Bar Dough may be, Denver's inundated with good pizza. What makes this slick, casually contemporary Italian newcomer special is pretty much everything else. From the revelatory insalata brassica with pecorino and pumpkin seeds in brown butter to chicken liver fettunta and hand-extruded bigoli, Max MacKissock is showing everyone in town what "sprezzatura" means. (It means effortless panache, OK?) The bar is on point, too, featuring classic aperitivi, a breezy Boot-spanning wine selection, and all the great beer you'd expect from a sibling of Highland Tap & Burger.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new pizza

Blue Pan

Address and Info

West Highland

Hey, the Motor City invented the automobile. That it might also engineer one hell of a pizza shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Run by a championship-winning pizzaiolo, this little slice of Highlands Square showcases Detroit-style pies in all their lasagna-esque, crunchy cheese-crusted, sweet pepperoni-peppered, gut-busting glory. In addition to local booze, you can even get a Motown beer or soda to wash it all down. Climate change being what it is, Michigan wine may not be far behind. (We're actually not joking).

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Best new sandwich

Royal Rooster

Address and Info

LoHi

Maybe we're jumping the gun a little here: Justin Brunson only just launched his weekday lunch pop-up in the bar at Old Major. But if falling in love at first bite with a pile of fried chicken, jambon, Swiss cheese, and mayo on a soft sesame bun is wrong, we don't want to be right. Nor can we help adoring its saucy Korean cousin with kimchi. Guess we're just helpless romantics when it comes to chicken sandwiches and canned beer.

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Ruth Tobias is already planning for the Best of 2016. Check her progress on Twitter @Denveater.

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1. Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que 2387 S Downing St, Denver, CO 80210 (University)

Considering Coy Webb’s roots, you’d expect glorious brisket at this craft BBQ spot; what you might not expect, however, is to get that brisket sliced and layered with tender chopped pork, spears of zesty jalapeño-cheddar sausage, smoked Gouda, and pickled peppers, all on a soft honey-wheat bun. You might also be surprised by Webb’s Colorado pride, but pulled lamb shoulder, bison short ribs, and thick-cut house potato chips flavored with green chile might finally put Denver on the national barbecue map.

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2. The Occidental 1950 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211

This punk-themed bar comes from the duo behind Williams & Graham, recently named best cocktail bar in America by the Spirited Awards. Expect 15 craft cocktails along with ten draft taps, and bites served up by the State Fare food truck.

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3. First Draft 1309 26th St, Denver, CO 80205

First Draft is Denver's first self-service beer hall, with 40 rotating taps of beer, cider and wine! So come by and pour one for yourself.

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4. Cafe Marmotte 290 S Downing St, Denver, CO 80209

Flickering lights on white linen in a low-key storefront. Steak tartare, sole meunière, coq au vin, and crème brûlée. A bottle of bubbly to start, and a sip of Sauternes to finish. These are the reasons that people fall in love in French bistros, and likely this stylish spot as well.

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5. Onefold 1429 E 18th Ave, Denver, CO 80218 (Uptown)

With all of 35 seats and no more than seven or eight items on the all-organic menu at any given time -- including free-range bone broth and a $9 breakfast burrito -- this here is one boutique coffee shop. That might sound like a bad thing. Oh, but it really, really isn’t. Take said burrito, which is wrapped in a handmade tortilla and contains potatoes fried in duck fat. Also cooked in duck fat: the eggs topping a giant pile of bacon-fried rice. Also topped with an egg: the luscious comfort that is congee with smoked ham, drizzled in chili oil. Also drizzled in chili oil -- you, when you try to stick your whole head in the bowl. It’s called getting what you pay for, and Onefold delivers.

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6. Ophelia's Electric Soapbox , Denver, CO 80202

Given a midcentury gas station, Justin Cucci built the retro, subtly roadside-themed Root Down; given an old mortuary, he designed Linger to put the “fun” in “funerary.” Then he got hold of a former-bordello-turned-porn-shop. So yeah, you bet this sprawling two-story restaurant, lounge, and music venue revels in every louche touch, from nudie posters to black-velvet curtains to bars constructed from pinball panels and Jäger bottles. (As for the “dildos in the window,” Cucci’s still considering -- fingers crossed.) There’ll be funk, country, and hip-hop acts to catch on the downstairs stage. Kung fu flicks to watch on the giant movie screen. Lip-synch battles to wage. But here’s the funniest part: amid all the shenanigans, the kitchen’s keeping it classy, what with delicately smoked bay scallops and miso-bacon ostrich burgers and porter-teriyaki duck wings to soak up your Sex Machines. (That’s the name of a cocktail. Or is it?)

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7. Viand American 1040 15th St, Denver, CO 80202

Formerly La Fondue, this refined American bistro has modern and seasonal fare crafted by chef Victor Mena. House-made burrata with walnut pesto and house-made pretzel bread are musts.

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8. Union Lodge No. 1 1543 Champa St, Denver, CO 80202 (Cbd)

Cobblers, crustas, blazers, fizzes, knickerbockers: you’ll definitely have some fun just pouring over the well-annotated menu at this urbane 34-seat spot in the CBD. Focusing on pre-Prohibition cocktails, Union Lodge is kind of place where bartenders are "mixologists" and the decor hearkens back to a vintage Americana vibe. The extensive menu got you reeling? Order a Ramos Gin Fizz, marvel at its foamy head, and know that you’re enjoying the drink the way it was intended to be served.

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9. Bar Fausto 3126 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

At this industrial hangout, the list of classic and original libations is well-curated and concise; the selection of wines by the glass, though tiny, makes a major impact with everything from Schiava and Spätburgunder, to Hungarian Bull’s Blood. Small plates like the daily oyster crudo and bruschetta topped with housemade ricotta also score.

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10. Black Eye Coffee Shop 3408 Navajo St, Denver, CO 80211 (Highland)

Step inside this inviting coffee shop featuring a bar created out of distressed wood and inhale the savory goodness of Boxcar Coffee Roasters beans served exclusively at this java temple.

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11. Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe 5126 W 29th Ave, Denver, CO 80212

Chapel Hill-style fried-chicken sandwiches shine and biscuit cinnamon rolls shine at this kitchen and cafe hybrid by baker Seth Rubin.

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12. OTOTO 1501 S. Pearl St., Denver, CO 80210 (Southwest)

Rocking red brick walls and garage door windows in the narrow former Den Deli space, Ototo's the lil bro restaurant to famed Sushi Den, its name a play on the Japanese words for "younger brother" and "fish", which itself is all selected by the owner's actual brother in a Japanese chum market, cause the dude's super pikey.

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13. il porcellino salumi 4334 W 41st Ave, Denver, CO 80212

This cheery salumeria serves sandwiches, soups, salads and sides like pork-green chile head cheese and scrapple that makes you actually excited about scrapple.

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14. Spangalang Brewery 2736 Welton St, Denver, CO 80205

This jazz-themed brewery is located in a former DMV and is just as neighborhood-friendly as widely acclaimed. Try the tart cherry rosewater sour Pure Funk or the saffron-spiced Triple Risotto Milanese.

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15. Globe Hall 4483 Logan St, Denver, CO 80216

This unpretentious saloon has a custom-built smoker out back that crafts some of the best barbecue in the city. There's live music as well, all hosted in a Croatian/Slovenian meeting-lodge-turned-tavern atmosphere.

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16. The Inventing Room 2020 Lawrence St, Denver, CO 80205

This casual dessert lab -- and Denver's leader in molecular gastronomy -- offers creative concoctions like freezing chocolate-cinnamon nitro popcorn, coconut sorbet with pomegranate bubbles, and Lemonhead-candy space foam.

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17. Rebel Restaurant 3763 Wynkoop St, Denver, CO 80216 (Five Points)

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.

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18. Finn's Manor 2927 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

Equal parts bar and landing strip for a rotating fleet of food trucks, Finn's Manor serves up signatures like house-made shot cocktails and boozy snow cones, as well as a geeked-out gamut of Belgian beers and farmhouse ciders. The vibe brings a bit of New Orleans cool to the Mile High with its bespoke, Bourbon-heavy bar creations. Options rotate but reflect the bartenders' playful approach to classic, speakeasy style libations.

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19. Cho77 42 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209 (Baker)

Cho77 is ChoLon for the cool kids. This spot from Lon Symensma is all about hawker stalls, snack carts, and beer shacks from Hanoi to Chiang Mai. We probably don’t have to tell you twice to get the fusion-inspired buffalo-chicken bao or the mashup of ramen and pasta carbonara, but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t insist on the only fruit plate you’ll ever love, tricked out with mint syrup and chili salt.

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20. 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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21. Habit Doughnut Dispensary 1553 Platte St, Denver, CO 80202 (Highland)

With its pink and white dispensary cross out front, one would hope that Habit Doughnut Dispensary be legit -- and it certainly is. These funky, one-of-a-kind donuts are nothing short of genius AND you get a FREE coffee with your pastry! Check out their honey brioche donut with espresso glaze, peanut butter drizzle, chocolate cookie crumble, and potato chips.

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22. Avanti F&B, a collective eatery 3200 Pecos St, Denver, CO 80211

This casual food court spot offers everything from MiJo’s kung pao wings, black bean-and-fried plantain masa cakes from Quiero Arepas, Brava’s pizza bianca, to daily specials from any of the other four stands. Pair any of those selections with beer cocktails from the bar.

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23. Nocturne 1330 27th St, Denver, CO 80205 (Five Points)

This supper club has a sleek, silvery Art Deco look; a live-jazz lineup; fancy cocktails, and chic nibbles like raw oysters with rose foam. Actual supper could have been an afterthought; instead the super-talented chef, Dustin Beckner, channels the improvisational spirit of jazz greats to create effortlessly elegant tasting menus that also happen to be a crazy good deal. It’s all pretty snazzy -- which is another way of saying it wouldn’t kill you to comb your hair and tuck in your shirt before you go.

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24. Bar Dough 2227 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211

This cozy neighborhood bar offers casual Italian fare, with wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas, plus creative cocktails and craft beers.

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25. Blue Pan 3930 W 32 Ave, Denver, CO 808212 (Highland)

Blue Pan pizzeria is turning out Detroit style, classic Italian, Chicago cracker thin, and New York style pizza. Each variety comes with multiple topping combos, plus they have a beer and wine list to go with whatever variety you choose. The specialty from award-winning pizzaiolo Jeff "Smoke" Smokevitch is the addictive Detroit-style pies which transform often-trashed crust into the cheesy, caramelized highlight of your pizza-eating experience.

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26. Royal Rooster 3316 Tejon St, Denver, CO 80211

Located inside existing restaurant Old Major, this chicken sandwich-and-canned beer pop-up spot is indefinitely drawing crowds with with hearty comfort variations like the fried chicken, jambon, Swiss cheese, and mayo on a soft sesame bun. The menu is limited to just four delectable sandwich options and a single salad, but for just $8, they might be your only chance to dine in the decidedly more upscale Old Major.

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