Hi fellow Scorpions. Looking forward to seeing you at the reunion. I’m the restaurant reviewer for the city magazine in Denver/Boulder, 5280, so I’ve put together a very limited list of places worth visiting if you have extra time or if you like to hunt down special places. Check menus online to see if they fit your budget—some are pricey.
Casual Chinese dinner: Q House. Run by ex chef of David Chang (momofuku) in NYC. Nothing wild, but very very solid and reliable Taiwanese-inflected food and American-style cocktails. Try the slow-cooked pork and rice and most other stuff on the menu. My review here
Fun brunch/lunch: Call. Fun little Scandi-influenced café with outdoor seats and very good sandwiches, spritzes, day-drinking cocktails. Try the egg sandwich. For a fancy multi course fixed price chef’s counter dinner, try Beckon, next door. My review here
Modern Israeli: Safta. Beard-winning NOLA chef Elon Shaya opened this last year and serves the best pita bread (house made to order) west of NYC, and delicious humus and other small dishes. No need to spend more on the big entrees. Great for a group. Good cocktails too. My review here
Excellent Modern American: Annette. This is a haul so you need a rental or shared Uber, but it’s one of the sweetest, finest restaurants in Denver, and you can walk around the big industrial-vibe retail and bar space at the same time in Aurora. Two Beard nominations. My review here.
Excellent American lunch: Mercantile in the fabulously restored Union Square train station. Counter ordering but table service, try the pastrami and… the cocktails (are you seeing a pattern here?). Also very good, fancy place for dinner with French inflections.
Pan-Latin-American food: Senor Bear. If you like the flavors from the Mexican border on south, they do fun stuff here, with a great bar and notably powerful slushie drinks.
Visit a food hall: there are bunch now but Denver Central Market is… central, and has several places to eat (including pizza) as well as a good coffee joint and a good bar. Avanti in the Highlands area is basically a collection of a dozen or so counter-order restaurants with communal tables and a good beer bar.
Barbecue: lots of smoked meats at Smōk in the Source (where Safta is) in several styles (Texas, North Carolina, Alabama), communal seating, also slushie cocktails. The sausage is very good, the ribs pretty good, the baked beans are top notch, the hushpuppies above average.
Pan-med tapas-style food in a wild-décor room with a great view of the city: El Five in the Highlands. Best to reserve unless you go early. Raucus and fun with a Middle Eastern-movie star poster theme. Review here
Hip Italian urban pizza/pasta restaurant: Bar Dough in the Highlands. Fun, bit loud.
Japanese (sushi and pretty much everything else): Uchi. Many options here, giant restaurant. If you want real flown-from-Tokyo (and expensive) sushi, go and sit at the bar, not just the sushi bar but the part of the bar backed with booze bottles. Order good sake from a long list and the daily specials. Or if you like a whole mixed bag of cooked and raw Japanese foods with a western twist, eat anywhere. Review here
Hip Japanese-inflected modern American food: The Wolf’s Tailor. If you can snag seats at the counter that’s the most fun for a couple or 3. Prefer a la carte to the fixed price menus. Review here.
Very good modern Italian for lunch: Tavernetta, near Union Square Station. Also good for dinner but I like the afternoon bar with its typical Italian snacks, or lunch. Plan to spend time here if you have a meal. Dress up a bit. Great pasta.
Tapas and gin and tonics and a view of the mountains, in Boulder: Corrida. If you’re going to Boulder, try the rooftop lounge here. If you have a large bank account, extend the meal to their dry-aged steaks and such. Review here.
Burgers and shakes: If you don’t have a Shake Shack in your town, try the new one in Denver. Lineups have not been long. The burgers are good and the frozen custard is fantastic, just the plain vanilla please—eggy and creamy and beyond rich.
For the beer lover: Falling Rock Tap house, downtown. Ya there are about 500 hip brewpubs in town but this place has more than 75 beers on tap and a list longer than the New York white pages. And zero pretension. If you like locally made ciders, try the tasting flight at Stem, very casual.
For the fancy cocktail person: If you really want to feel classy reserve at table at Cooper Lounge in the Union Square train station. It’s upstairs and feels like a throwback to the 40s, but it’s totally light and open with a view of the station. Or if you like more of a vintage, low-light place, but not a speakeasy, reserve a table at the upstairs room at Death & Co. Downstairs at Death & Co. serves the same cocktails in a big open room. Sit at the bar and talk to the bartender.
For the game lover: There are two shuffleboards in the middle of Union Square station. You get the free pucks to play at the terminal station bar window that faces the shuffleboards, which has good beer and you can carry the bear to the tables. You feel like you’re playing in a small version of Grand Central Station.
Steaks and such in Boulder: Blackbelly. Has their own butcher shop, probably the best on in Colorado, next door.
Maybe best pizzas in Colorado: Basta in Boulder. Bit hard to find in the middle of an apartment complex away from downtown but worth it. Also good in Denver: Pizzeria Locale. Also fun for crisp-crust pizza and spritzes: White Pie in Denver
Tacos and Mexican street food. Check out Eater’s list for some recs:
Fun old burger bar: My Brother’s Bar. Ok, the burgers are uneven but they come in fun little clear acrylic boxes like something you’d see in the 50s, and this bar was a hangout of some of the Beats and goes back to the mid 19th century and service is good and the vibe is fun. Plus it’s near the giant REI rec equipment store if you want to feel virtuous.