Required Eating: 8 Meals Not to Miss in Denver

These capital city places are putting their own twist on culinary classics.

Required Eating: 8 Meals Not to Miss in Denver

Banana leaf-wrapped lamb barbacoa anyone?

Courtesy of Super Mega Bien

The Mile High City food scene continues to impress: Consider that you can find pan-Latin dim sum, upscale Middle Eastern, ultra-bold Chinese, and some of the country’s best Mexican food within a short drive of one another. Here are eight of the best restaurants to hit in Denver.

1. El Taco de Mexico

Santa Fe Drive

Green chile is practically a religion in Colorado, and the best way to experience it is smothered over a potato, egg, and chorizo-filled breakfast burrito, preferably from El Taco de Mexico. Just don’t expect it to be green; Denver-style green chile tends to be orangey thanks to the addition of tomatoes, and thick like gravy from the flour.

While every Denverite has a favorite cart, hole in the wall, or neighborhood source for their breakfast burritos, most agree that El Taco de Mexico, a 37-year-old city legend, makes one of the best. If you stop in the brick and mortar during the p.m. hours and you’re not feeling breakfast, El Taco also makes incredible tacos, chile rellenos, and pozole.

2. Snooze

Various locations

When this breakfast temple opened its first location in the Ballpark neighborhood in 2006, it quickly inspired hours-long breakfast and brunch lines, sparking Denverites to ask themselves the burning question: Just how long is too long to wait for pancakes? 15 years and more than a dozen locations later, Snooze has solidified its place in Denver’s brunch lore. With locations across the state to thin out the crowds, these establishments are still worth the wait for their pineapple upside-down pancakes and creative spins on Benedicts.

Besides Snooze’s passion for breakfast, the brand also has a passion for working with like-minded companies that respect the earth, people, and animals. Snooze follows sustainable practices like composting and recycling waste coming out of restaurants and using sustainable materials when building new establishments. Their ranchers, farmers, and makers also have to meet specific guidelines to be “Snooze-approved.”

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Grab a dog at one of the multiple locations of Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs across Denver.

Courtesy of Biker Jim’s

3. Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs

LoDo

If Denver’s laidback cuisine had a mascot, it just might be Biker Jim. A former repo man from Alaska, Jim Pittenger started the business in 2005 with a single cart and a caulk gun (for pumping out cream cheese, and yes, you want cream cheese on your dog.) Honoring Colorado’s wild west roots with unconventional sausage meats, Biker Jim’s has grown to multiple locations throughout the city and has garnered some famous fans—Anthony Bourdain paid Pittenger a visit when he was in town and featured Jim’s on an episode of No Reservations.

The signature dog is the elk jalapeño cheddar, but consider trying the ostrich served desert style, with harissa-roasted cactus and Malaysian curry jam, or the apricot- and cranberry-specked wild boar sausage topped with tomatillo green chile salsa, sriracha lime mayo, and smoked bacon bits.

4. Comal Heritage Food Incubator

Globeville

The only thing better than Comal’s Mexican Coke-braised carnitas is its mission. The restaurant doubles as a social enterprise that educates and prepares immigrant and refugee women for food and beverage careers, and its earn-while-you-learn model has trained 24 entrepreneurs since the restaurant’s inception in 2016. Graduates from Comal’s program have launched four food businesses, including Mexican food truck Prieto’s Catering and Iraqi-Syrian mother-daughter owned Zaki Mediterranean Cuisine.

Depending on the day, this lunch-only spot in the Taxi development can serve anything ranging from long-simmered chicken tinga and queso fresco-crowned grilled veggies, using recipes from participants’ native countries like Mexico and Venezuela. Proceeds from its dishes go right back into the program, making for a truly delicious cycle.

5. Hop Alley

Five Points

This gritty, modern Chinese restaurant is fun. Like, cocktails served out of boba-style drink cups and tongue-numbing, Sichuan chili-laced fried chicken levels of fun. Equally enjoyable as the food and drink is the vibe; hip hop is always blasting and its simple and dark design draws adventurous diners for in-your-face flavored food.

Named for Denver’s 19th-century Chinatown, dubbed Hop Alley, chef and owner Tommy Lee has created a menu that stays true to the restaurant’s namesake. His deep respect for Chinese cuisine is evident in dishes like the crispy sweet and sour fried parsnips and smoked, shredded duck wrapped up in a scallion pancake with hoisin and cabbage.

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Dine on an innovative array of Latin dim sum at Super Mega Bien.

Courtesy of Super Mega Bien

6. Super Mega Bien

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Three words: Latin dim sum. James Beard finalist Dana Rodriguez’s pan-Latin restaurant rolls out dishes like the red curry-based Brazilian shrimp sopa, sweet potato masa fritters, chorizo-packed patatas bravas, and fiery Cholula BBQ-sauced meats (usually glossy hunks of pork, but you could find duck wings, too.)

With its brightly colored Charo posters on the wall and high-energy atmosphere, Super Mega Bien is always a good time. It also has a killer menu of family-style dishes like the banana leaf-wrapped lamb barbacoa—but you’re there to subject yourself to the delicious mercy of the cart. Grab one of four signature gin & tonics (or take a shot of Rodriguez’s own mezcal brand, Doña Loca), wait for the carts to whirl your way, and enjoy the experience.

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Safta serves up award-winning Israeli food.

Courtesy of Safta

7. Safta

RiNo

While Denver has plenty of homegrown culinary talent, James Beard Award-winning, Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya added something new to the city when he opened Safta in 2018. Shaya takes a fine-dining approach to Israeli cuisine, borrowing flavors and techniques from the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa—filling a pita-sized hole in Denver’s dining scene.

While it’s known for those pillowy, wood-fired pitas, you’ll want to save room to sample every nook and cranny of the expansive menu. From the simple flavors of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant in the lutenitsa dip to the pomegranate-braised lamb shank, Safta serves up one of Denver’s most pleasurable dining experiences.

8. Right Cream

RiNo

Right Cream isn’t your typical ice cream shop. For one, it doesn’t have a set menu or even set hours (go on a weekend afternoon or early evening to minimize your chance of being disappointed.) But owner David Right makes up for it with an incredible menu of ice cream flavors that change every week. His small-batch ice creams are chock-full of over-the-top mix-ins ranging from horchata spiced shortbread crumble to Fig Newton cookie toffee.

Rotating creations include sundaes loaded with the likes of vanilla bean ice cream, brown buttered pecans, rum and brandy-soaked apples, maple butterscotch sauce, and fresh sherry whipped cream. You could go for strawberry and malted lemon ice cream drizzled with pistachio streusel, lemon curd, whip, and lemonhead candies, or choose to grab a pint of whatever Right has left in the back freezer; his unique flavors and sundaes never disappoint.

>> Next: The AFAR Guide to Colorado

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