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Two Days in Denver Area - Suggestions??

I will be attending a conference in Louisville for one week in mid April. I plan to fly into Denver a day or two early to take in the sights and some good food.

Any recommendations for great restaurants, especially any authentic regional cuisine? I am coming from the east coast of Canada, so authentic Mexican or interesting southwestern food would be great. I like value for money, including really expensive meals that are transcendent. I don't care about the wine list.

I not sure what hotel I will be staying at, but I will likely rent a car, and am willing to drive. I will be traveling alone, so a place with a nice bar and friendly staff would a bonus, but food is the priority.

Also, are there any spots within an hour or two of Denver that might make a good side trip, either in terms of food or sight-seeing (i.e mountains, ranch country, etc.)? I apologize for any ignorance here, but I am just starting my research.

Thank for your advice - I can't wait to visit!

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  1. You should definately try Efrains in Louisville. This is regional Mexican cuisine anchored by excellent sauces. A few must trys are the Ribs w/ Green Chile and the Chili Colorado (red chili w/ pork). Louisville is close to Boulder, so I am sure many will recommend Frasca or The Kitchen. Frasca can be a tough reservation, but if you are solo they usually can seat you right when they open. As far as side trips go, I suggest a drive through Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park. Just avoid the Estes restaurants. Nothing there worth mentioning. There are interesting places to check out, though, in Lyons. If you are in Lyons I recommend visiting Lyons Pinball (correct name?). They have 30+ vintage machines to play.

    1. Louisville is about 20 minutes from Boulder, please do yourself a favor and sit at the salumi bar (no reservation needed, just be prepared to wait a little bit) at Frasca (at 13th and Pearl Street - I believe). I ate at Frasca in December and am still talking about it. Very friendly and warm front of the house, food it outstanding, well worth it.

      L'Atelier is just across the street from Frasco and is wonderful too. If you can get past eating solo it would well be worth it. Radek Cherny is a terrific chef and is definately French influenced.

      Denver has a wealth of great dining, but you ask about Mexican. There is a New Mexican food (as in the state and style) located at Colorado Blvd and Mexico Street right near the highway - I25) its a little hole in the wall dive called Little Anita's in a strip mall. There is Denver Mexican at Lime Cantina located in Downtown Denver on Larimer Square (which also houses Rioja - for Italian and Tomayo - for Mexican (I personally believe Lime is better) and you can finish off at Gelazzi for a nice gelato. Then you are downtown and explore the bar scene which can be fun.

      In Aurora you can find a place called La Cueva on Colfax near Dayton which is very very good.

      1. If you're in the mood for pizza, go to Virgilio's(at the west end of the shopping center just west of Wadsworth Blvd & south side of Alameda Ave.) It's rare to find pizza that good anywhere.

        My recs for Indian food are Jewel of India(in Westminster-north Denver) and India's(southeast-ish Denver).

        Can't agree with the Little Anita's suggestion. A point in its favor is that it does serve New Mexican food; working against that is that it's just not very good New Mexican food. It's a semi-fast food chain maybe a half step in quality above places like Chipotle or Qdoba(which aren't New Mex.) Go to Jack-n-Grill(on Federal Blvd around 25th Ave.) for good New Mexican food in Denver.

        Taqueria Patzcuaro(around the 2600 block of W. 32nd Ave.) has good Mexican food.

        New Saigon(also on Federal Blvd but quite a bit farther south) is a super Vietnamese restaurant.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chimayo Joe

          If you are in Louisville (my husband works there) and in the mood for Chinese food, Spice China on McCaslin Blvd. is excellent -- and is one of the few non-chain eateries in that fast-growing town. And yes, all those Boulder recommendations are on target. I also like Trattoria on Pearl and Black Cat Bistro, the former on and the latter just off the Pearl Street Mall. Contemporary Mexican at Tahona Tequila Bistro, on Pearl, west of the Pearl Street Mall. Seven Eurobar, next door, has a new chef and is going more Latin American. Aji, on Pearl east of the Mall, has very interesting Latin American cuisine. Also, excellent contemporary Mexican fare at Tamayo in downtown Denver and La Sandia at Northfield/Stapleton, between the airport and down Denver. Tamayo and La Sandia are under the same ownership.

        2. Sunday before the conference go to Estes Park, as jtc suggests. The road through Rocky Mountain National Park will probably not be open yet, but Estes Park is a worthwhile destination. Get a good map and go through Boulder. Have brunch at the Stanley Hotel. Old world charm, elegance and beauty such that you will forget you are alone, and may prefer it.
          Denver is not a real hub for mex or SWmex. Consider the Buckhorn Exchange, 10th and Osage. 114 years old, #1 liquor license, exotic game theme, comfortable piano bar on the mezzanine. You will remember it. Don't drive to Denver for just pizza or burritos.
          If perchance you are a sushi fan, Sushi Tazu at 300 Fillmore in Cherry Creek is one of my favorites anywhere. Finally, baseball season will have just begun, and Coors field has surprisingly good eats. Enjoy Denver!

          1. Thank you very much - I see a few restaurants being mentioned several times, which is always a good sign. I did some research on Frasca and it looks great!

            The thing in Louisville is a fairly intensive workshop, so I may be busy much of the time that I am there. I expect to have more time in Denver beforehand.

            Should be a good trip - from the looks of it, Coloradans are very friendly!

            1. Yes, everyone recommends Frasca. Last time I was there, the server described the salumi (some say salumi, I say salami!) as "brilliant." To me, that sums up the attitude. Claire is correct about Spice China in Louisville. There's also a great little Vietnamese place in old downtown Louisville - Tu Lien. You may have some people recommend the Blue Parrot in Louisville - stay far, far away. Having lived in Boulder for 38 years, I still can't figure out why this place has cult status. It is absolutely horrid! A holdover from a time when it was truly the only joint that passed for Italian food in Boulder county.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Mutt

                Why is it a problem to hear an artisanal product described as being “brilliant”? They’re not slopping Oscar Mayer Bologna on your plate from some giant factory farm, but beautifully hand-crafted products that take months to produce such as Fra’Mani from Paul Bertolli (former Chez Panisse chef). Jeffrey Steingarten has described Paul's salumi as “terrific” and “superb” in national publications, so why can’t Frasca staffers who love and appreciate food and wine describe their salumi selections as being “brilliant”? Particularly when most of them have actually been to the places where the Prosciutto that is sitting on your plate is crafted on their annual staff trips to Italy. They’re not saying it to be pretentious.

                1. re: Mutt

                  Mutt, you and I are in accord re the Blue Parrot. When I moved to CO from the Notheast (having lived in CT, MA,NY and NJ) with large Italian populations and good Italian food, people told me, "If you want good Italian food, go to Louisville." Some people were Blue Parrot fans. Others preferred (now closed) Colacci's. I tried both and my vote was: Neither of the above.

                  And Veggo, you are right that Trail Ridge Road through RMNP won't be open in mid-April. The goal is always to plow it out by Memorial Day.

                  1. re: ClaireWalter

                    Like Claire, I too heard the lies about the Blue Parrot when I first moved here. After my better half and I went for the first (and last) time several years ago, I had to wonder if it’s just a clever joke the natives play on us newbies and tourists.

                    Louisville is a bit of a culinary dead zone unless you worship at the temple of Carrabba’s and Chile’s. It was mentioned up-thread that there is an Efrain’s in Louisville, but I’m only aware of the ones in Longmont, on Public Road in Lafayette, and at 63rd & Arapahoe in Boulder. The costillas in green chile are indeed outstanding (and the place meets your “value for money” criteria). Spice China on McCaslin has reliable take-out, but it won’t rock your world. Definitely one of the best options in the area though. A former sushi chef at Sushi Tora and Sushi Sasa opened Sushi Yoshi right across Hwy 36 in Superior near the CostCo and Super Target, although the guy he had manning the sushi bar about a week ago was possibly the slowest in existence (I waited 40 minutes for take-out). There’s an “Asian fusion” place that just opened in an old Applebee’s location on McCaslin Road, but I haven’t ventured in yet. Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai is on South Boulder Road near a Safeway (order one of their curries Thai Hot). I’ll caution you that they sometimes don’t have sufficient staff to handle the traffic coming in, so you may not want to go at lunch if you have to get back to your conference in a timely manner. Don’t be fooled by any of the local chains you might not recognize like Old Santa Fe, 3 Margaritas, and Siamese Plate, as I’ve found them to be bland and boring (although they obviously have a following).

                    Seven Eurobar in Boulder is now called 7 on Pearl. Their new chef is Argentinian-born Diego Coconati (who was there working under the previous chef) and the new menu is described as being Latin/Asian fusion (kind of like Zengo in Denver) as opposed to the Italian/French influences in the previous tapas. I went for happy hour around the end of February (4:00-6:30 pm) for $4 appetizers and discounted drinks. Had the spicy Sriracha Marinated Beef Pinchos with Whipped Avocado Sauce and the Won-Ton “Poppers” (the ubiquitous jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and served up with a sweet and sour dipping sauce). Both were really tasty and had a nice kick. The place was deserted though (and they were packed on my previous trips), so I hope they get their groove back.

                    Check out happy hour at The Kitchen Upstairs too (nice views of the Flatirons if you sit by the window). It’s only open evenings starting at 4:00 Tues-Sat, whereas their sister restaurant next door is open every day (and serves fantastic breakfasts and weekend brunch).

                    We had the 5-course tasting menu at Black Cat Bistro and they brought us out additional ones (they’re the new kids in town and want to showcase what they can do). We didn’t even order the wine pairings and were stuffed anyway (cheese/nuts/quince, goat cheese tart, sea bass and mussels, pork belly, quail, duck, short ribs, and multiple desserts on a plate to share). All top-shelf (we particularly loved the quail, although it’s a maddening bird to eat). A few service issues, but I’m sure they’re working those out as their crew starts to gel.

                    L’Atelier is unfortunately only as good as whomever Radek has working in the kitchen at the time. Besides, it’s across the street from arguably one of the best restaurants in the country (Frasca Food & Wine), so make it a goal to nab a seat at the salumi bar or bar there.

                    Virgilio’s has great garlic knots and pizza, especially the Margherita, but you may not want to make a special trip to Lakewood.

                    Besides the Federal Blvd location, there’s also a Jack-N-Grill at 40th and Pena near the airport (both locations are cash-only). Order the corn-in-a-cup.

                    If I were going for “new-Mex,” I’d hit Tamayo in downtown Denver over La Sandia at Stapleton. La Sandia has a few of the same items like the table-side guacamole prep and tortilla soup, but it’s nestled in an un-sexy outdoor mall off of I-70 & I-270 near a Bass Pro Shop and the like. Tamayo is on Larimer within walking distance of some other great local places to check out like Rioja. Or if you want no-frills in the Highlands Area—hit Tacos Jalisco on 38th Avenue for some carnitas tacos and then pick up some tamales from La Casita on 44th. Or if you want no-frills downtown, hit La Popular on Lawrence for tamales and Mexico City Lounge for fried steak tacos. I believe the latter two places are only open during the day, but someone please correct me if I’m mistaken. (Note: La Casita, La Popular, and Mexico City could all be described as "dives," so if you're expensing meals they may not be what you're looking for.)

                    Fruition in Denver is the best new fine dining destination. Reserve a spot on Open Table now. The salmon in beurre blanc sauce will make you very happy if it’s still on the menu.

                    1. re: rlm

                      You're right about the Efrains location. I meant to type Lafayette, not Louisville. My bad.

                2. Very generous advice - thank you! My list of potential meals continues to grow.

                  I know this isn't the heart of BBQ country (i.e. Texas or Missouri), but is there any good 'Que to be had in these parts?

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: BarnNB

                    Yes. Yazoo Barbeque is terrific. They are downtown, on Broadway at Champa.

                    1. re: BarnNB

                      Caldonia's on Parker Road in Aurora. Good pork ribs, chicken. Big deck, beer selections.

                      1. re: BarnNB

                        If it's bbq you crave, I suggest The Rib House in the Prospect neighborhood of Longmont. Awesome ribs, hot links, etc. and alot closer to Louisville than the Denver/Aurora options.

                        1. re: BarnNB

                          Actually, I will be spending almost 2 full days in Denver before heading up to Louisville, and I expect to have more free time and mobility while in Denver. I think I will try Frasco and Efrains while in the Louisville / Boulder area, so I am actually a little light on restaurants in Denver proper. I will likely stay downtown.

                          1. re: BarnNB

                            Here are some of my favorites close to downtown in Denver:

                            Z Cuisine (French)
                            Aix (French)
                            Duo (Seasonal, local ingredients)
                            Parallel 17 (Vietnamese)
                            Limon (Peruvian)
                            Potager (Seasonal, local)
                            Fruition (brand new and awesome--they call it comfort food, but it is high end comfort food)
                            Steuben's (traditional comfort food)
                            Mezcal (Mexican)

                            1. re: Megiac

                              Oooh...Just thinking about the cassoulet maison at Z Cuisine makes me salivate.
                              Duo is now thankfully taking reservations for all-size parties.
                              The crispy duck with cilantro rice at Limon is incredible.
                              Steuben's has good grub (egg creams, lobster rolls, deviled eggs), although I must express a preference for nine75's "comfort" food (won-ton tuna tacos!).
                              Kind of cool that Steuben's, Parallel 17, and Limon are all so close to each other on 17th Avenue (so one could conceivably drop into each one to sample an app and fill up nicely).
                              BTW, BarnNB, Frasca is fine dining and Efrain's is around 10 bucks and kind of "divey," so you've got both ends of the spectrum there.
                              I like the pulled pork at Big Papa's BBQ on Evans (the newer one at C470 and Ken Caryl in the 'burbs just feels wrong).

                              1. re: rlm

                                I LOVE both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between, just so long as the food is tasty...

                                I checked the website for Frasco, and it looks terrific. I can't believe they have staff trips to Italy! That sounds like a passion for good food.

                                Thanks rlm!

                                1. re: BarnNB

                                  Frasca isn't the only Colorado restaurant that takes its staff to Italy. Denver's Barolo Grill closes for two weeks every summer to do the same thing.

                                  1. re: ClaireWalter

                                    I take my staff to Coors Field every year for baseball and Zaler's Kosher dogs. Does that count?

                          2. An interesting side trip - under 2 hours - might be up to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Pretty drive, mountains to the west, plains and ranchlands to the east, interesting towns on the way.

                            The Union Pacific Train Station in the center of Cheyenne (www.cheyennedepotmuseum.org/) has been restored and is a pleasure to visit. The Albany Restaurant next to the station offers up good taquitos and has a pleasant bar.

                            Jerry Saywell

                            1. Many good recommendations here and some great advice about places to avoid. A couple of extra recommendations: In Boulder, Radda is a new place worth checking out, owned by the fellow who owns the excellent Mateo (also across from Frasca, at 18th and Pearl, not 13th and Pearl as someone stated above). On Main Street in Louisville, we've had good meals at the Huckleberry Cafe, and the coffee at Vic's is excellent. Wouldn't go back to The Blue Parrot if you paid me (they serve spaghetti with Blue Parrot sauce at my daughter's school cafeteria and that's about the caliber of the food there -- 'nuff said about that). On your way to Estes Park, you may want to consider a stop in Allenspark and having a fine continental-style meal at the homey and rustic Fawn Brook Inn, if you haven't had your fine dining fix elsewhere by then. They serve the kind of food that takes days to prepare (the sauces are incredible) and I always look forward to going back.

                              1. I agree with much of what has been recommended here. Efrain's is great (I live 10 minutes from there, I don't get there often enough), Huckleberry is yummy for breakfast but that's all I've had there. In Denver I recently tried a new restaurant called Alto near Larimer Square and had a lovely meal. I can't wait to get to Limon, I've heard good things and they have lucama ice cream which I haven't had since I lived in Chile 15 years ago. I had the best posole I've had since living in NM at Milagro on 17th near Gaylord in Denver. While in Louisville if you need a quick bite but nothing fancy Old Chicago is a chain with fairly typical food but decent quality, a great selection of beers and I know most of the wait staff, bartenders and managers (family used to work there). That location is their flagship since corporate office are just down the street. Oh, and Taj Mahal has good indian at the corner of South Boulder rd and 95th in Louisville. In Boulder I really enjoy The Med.