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Denver / Boulder Itinerary (Draft)

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Thank you very much to everyone who made suggestions on my other post. As I have already said, the advice was very generous.

Based on what was said, and my own perferences, I think I will do Tamayo (which I understand is New Mexican) for dinner the first evening, then Yazoo BBQ for lunch the next day. The final evening in Denver will be either Fruition or Limon; I have not quite decided yet.

I am in Denver on Monday and Tuesday, so I assume I will have no difficulty getting a table or a spot at the bar at these places. Is this correct?

While in Lousiville, I will hit Efrains in Lafayette and Frasca in Boulder on Sunday evening. Will a spot at Frasca been tough to get? If so, any suggestions?

As for a side trip, I will arrive at the airport at 10:15 a.m., pick up my Dodge Charger rental, and head to Estes Park and on to Rocky Mountain National Park and back to Denver. Any good spots for lunch along this route?

Have I made any mistakes here, either in terms of picking someplace that isn't great, or missing something that is outstanding? Since I am only there for a short time, I really want the best of the best in terms of good food. Thanks!

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  1. Considering that you're only going to be in Denver for a short time, there are far, far better choices than Tamayo, which is modern Mexican -- not New Mexican. Rioja, Vesta Dipping Grill, Mizuna and Luca D'Italia are far superior to Tamayo. Go to Rioja, sit at the chef's counter, and make an evening out if it, or saddle up to the bar at Vesta and work your way through executive chef Matty Selby's 30 different dipping sauces.

    If you're hankering for New Mexican, have lunch at the original Jack-n-Grill (on Federal and 29th), Denver's top spot for New Mexican green and red chile. There's also a second outpost of Jack-n-Grill about 10 miles west of DIA, so that would be a good stop on your way from Denver to Estes Park. In Lyons, just outside Estes, there's Cilanto Mary's, a kitschy, but excellent, Mexican spot (no libations, however).

    Both Fruition and Limon are terrific choices, and while you may get a walk-in seat at Limon, you will most definitely want to book at Frution, which is perpetually packed. If I had to choose between the two, I'd definitely go with Fruition.

    Frasca, unfortunately, is closed on Monday evenings, which may force you to reconsider your chow itenerary altogether. The Monday night, multi-course dinners at Frasca are extraordinary, but very difficult to book. You can try snagging a counter seat at the bar or salumi counter, but that means arriving before the doors open at 5:30 or after 9pm -- and even then, you may not get in. Still, it's certainly worth the effort.

    www.gastronaughty.typepad.com

    5 Replies
    1. re: gastronaughty

      I think gastronaughty meant to say that Frasca is closed on Sunday evenings (not Mondays).

      Frasca’s walk-ins are “feast or famine.” I’ve seen the seats all filled at the 5:30 opening and others already lined up waiting for the first turn (which is usually around 7:30 or 8:00). I’ve also been the only person sitting at the bar before (such as last Monday night for the Joseph Phelps wine dinner when the bar and salumi bar didn’t fill up until around 6:30). The upcoming Monday wine dinners (typically $35 unless it’s a guest chef night, with optional wine flights available for an additional charge) are Vie Di Romans on April 2nd, Aleks Simcic on April 16th, Roncus on April 23rd, and Elisabetta Geppetti of Le Pupille on April 30th. The April 9th guest is still up in the air.

      Last week, they still had some tables available for the Monday night wine dinners in May (so they’re not that difficult to book, although people in this area aren’t as accustomed to reserving a table a month out). There seems to be an erroneous perception that it’s impossible to eat there. I’ve met foodies at other wine dinners and events who haven’t even attempted to book at Frasca since they unfortunately heard it’s like locating the Ark of the Covenant (and some weren’t even aware of the many walk-in seats available on a first-come, first-served basis every night). Weekend reservations are obviously trickier since more people go out then.

      Other than Frasca, I would also go with Fruition over any of the other choices. They are closed on Mondays. Open Table shows they still have prime slots available even next week, but I would call them now or get a reservation through Open Table. It’s a small, newly-opened place and is getting great press and word-of-mouth (for good reason—the food is wonderful).

      Oh, by “new-Mex” (little “n”), I meant Nuevo Mexican-style and not “New Mexican” (as in the state). Sorry. [Sandoval’s website is modernmexican.com.] Neither Tamayo nor Jack-n-Grill would be in my top 10 of “must hit” places if I only had a few meals to spare. I like multiple places of their ilk equally (same thing with the BBQ joints), but I’m not sure if any would stand out for a visitor from out of town. However, the Jack-n-Grill right off of Peña on the way out of DIA may be convenient (turn right on 40th and it’s a short way down the road on the right-hand side past the Uno). Watch out for all the speed traps on Peña leaving the airport (especially during nice weather)! I like the green chile better at Efrain’s and it’s closer to Louisville, but if you ask 10 different people on this one you might get 10 different answers (including a few who will tell you finding good green chile in Colorado as opposed to New Mexico is impossible). Wherever you go, be careful when combining lethal green chile and refried beans (grin). I’ve never been to Cilantro Mary’s, but if anyone would know it’s gastronaughty since she’s a “pro.”

      I took my spoiled (in a foodie sense) Bay Area friends to Frasca, Rioja, The Kitchen, Super Star Asian, and the Boulder location of Jax (the latter mainly because it was on the way back from skiing at Eldora and we knew one friend would enjoy their blackened catfish skillet dish). Frasca and Rioja were their favorites. In fact, those seem to be the two places all of our guests have enjoyed the most, for whatever that’s worth.

      I found that Limon was easy to walk into recently during happy hour. I’m not sure what time they usually get grooving though (and I was there not only early in the evening but early in the week).

      1. re: rlm

        Well, while Tamayo is definitly not "New Mexican" I have enjoyed some great Mexican meals their. Personally I think Tamayo and Tula in Cherry Creek north are two of the better "upscale" Mexican places in Denver and compare well with any of the restaurants mentioned above. I am not sure why the criticism? I found it a little hard to compare to some of the other restraunts mentioned above as they are pretty different so it may depend on the type of food you are looking for, atmosphere, and price. I also have to add that in my experience over the last couple of years that Luca and Vesta are not as good as they used to be. But thats probably a thread for a another time!

        I would also sugest that if you are in Boulder and can't get into Frasca there are a couple of other great places very close by (almost across the street)
        http://www.latelierboulder.com/
        http://www.mateorestaurant.com/index....

        1. re: ColoradoFun

          I've enjoyed many meals at Tamayo (used to work downtown and ate lunch there frequently) and have had good times at Zengo and La Sandia as well, but Sandoval's places seem to garner wildly varying reports (as does Tula). It definitely does depend on what one is "in the mood" for (god knows I have schizophrenic tastes).

          I've done "roving" meals before where we walk (or cab) between places and order an app to split with a drink at each, and this would be a great way to sample what Denver or Boulder has to offer and not be isolated to one style of cuisine. Takes some time and energy though (and a resilient liver).

          1. re: ColoradoFun

            I like Tamayo, but agree that it's not on my must hit list (for that matter, neither is Vesta even though its practically an institution).

        2. re: gastronaughty

          Thanks, Robin, I did mean to say that Frasca was shuttered on Sunday night -- not Monday.

        3. On the Rioja vs. Tamayo front, I am hearing that Rioja is a better restaurant all things considered. However, please factor in that I am coming from Canada, where we have a lot of good Italian, but little or no good Mexican (even in Toronto). Plus, I like the idea of eating Mexican food in in an area that has significant Mexican influences, which is a bit of a novelty to me.

          As such, is Rioja so much better than Tamayo that one should go with the Italian in any event? Is Tamayo the best choice for Mexican in the Denver area, or is there a better spot downtown? I am more interested in the food than the dinning room.

          Thank you very much for the great advice, especially the fact that Frasca is not open on Sunday.

          11 Replies
          1. re: BarnNB

            Forgive me for being sacreligious here but most of the Mexican food in Denver is Tex-Mex and pretty middle of the road. There are some hole in the wall taquerias scattered around with fresh tortillas and tolerable food, but nothing stands out for me. It's a miracle if you can find tacos al pastor anywhere. Tamayo is upscale Mexican with some regional specialties. They seem to be striving to be like Frontera Grill in Chicago but are a long ways away from that standard. However, I do like their food. If you're looking for something with a hit of Hispanic flavor I'd go to the other end of Larimer and eat at the Samba Room. They have Cuban and Central American specialties. Or, grab a car and go to Aji in Boulder which is even better.

            1. re: Mutt

              Samba Room's not bad, but it's an "e-brands" chain with other locations in Texas and Florida, so it's not unique to Denver.

              1. re: Mutt

                I must disagree that most of the Mexican food in Denver is Tex-Mex, and that "it's a miracle to find tacos al pastor."

                There are myriad places to find tacos al pastor, not to mention carnitas, barbacoa, adobada, asada, and the like.

                Tacos Y Salsas (at Federal and Kentucky)
                Tacos Jalisco
                El Meson
                Los Carboncitos
                Juarez
                El Original Sarape
                El Taco de Mexico
                Tacos Junior

                -- and that's just the beginning.

                1. re: gastronaughty

                  Good post! I also have to disagree with Mutt about the lack of Mexican food in Denver. I am not saying we are an LA, but in my experience we compare well with similiar cites like Phoenix, etc. And Samba Room instead of Tamayo?

                  Back to the orginal post - if ambience really doesn't matter then I would go for one of the places mentioned above. I like Tacos Jalisco or El Taco De Mexico. But if you are looking for more "nuevo" Mexican in a nice setting then I would still recommend Tula or Tamayo.

                  Gastro -Tacos Y Salsas sounds great but not sure on location? I thought most "state" streets run east-west - can't picture where Kentucky and Lousiana meet? What area of town?

                  1. re: ColoradoFun

                    Duh, I'm so having a dumbass day. I'm sorry -- Tacos Y Salsas is at Kentucky and Federal, on the southeast corner in a new small mall. It's open seven days a week, but try to go on a Saturday or Sunday around lunchtime. It's unbelievably chaotic and the music is pulsating, but the energy and verve is so infectious. Sit at the counter.

                    1. re: gastronaughty

                      Did Tacos y Salsas move or just open another branch? Wondering if the east Colfax location is still there.

                  2. re: gastronaughty

                    ms. naughty, thanks for the list, as I haven't been to all of these yet and I'm feeling up for a "taco crawl." Can you post the cross-streets for the others if you get a chance?

                  3. re: Mutt

                    Tex mex? I don't know about that. Tex mex makes me think of mild tasteless red sauces and too much cheese. While I would agree that the cheese gets piled on too heavily in this town, the availability of items like green chili, chili colorado, barbacoa, adovado, etc. offer good options. As far as pastor goes, I think theres at least 4 hole in the wall joints on Federal alone that have the real deal-pineapple and all!

                  4. re: BarnNB

                    Rioja is not actually Italian, but more general Meditteranean. That said, for more straight up Mexican food close to downtown, I'd recommend El Noa Noa.

                    1. re: BarnNB

                      If you want honest-to-Jesus Mexican food, go to Tacos Y Salsas on the southeast corner of Kentucky and Louisiana. It's a brilliant taqueria (the best in Denver, in my opinion), the salsa bar is extraordinary, the corn tortillas straight off the press, and the carnitas alone are worth the price of admission.

                      1. re: BarnNB

                        Rioja (Spanish leaning Mediteranean, not Italian) is so much better it's difficult to put into words. And I agree with the consensus here on the Mexican, very hit or miss, and mostly miss. I love mexican food but rarely eat it here - I wait for annual trips to Santa Fe and Austin to get my fill.

                        Mel's in Cherry Creek, one of the first really great places in town, is closing at the end of this month. Had my (snif) goodbye meal there last Saturday, and can heartily recommend...

                      2. Estes Park recommendations: Barn, NB, I found your earlier post about craving something transcendent. Rocky Mountain National Park and the trip to Estes will give you that, if you are not focused solely on food. Give yourself some time to enjoy the CO Rocky Mountains if you want to take advantage of your trip up to the real mountains. The town of Estes Park is pretty much of a tourist trap (she said, lovingly, with 40+ years history), but The Mountains Are the Thing.

                        Going up from Louisville/Boulder, at Lyons you will reach a fork in the road. If you take the right fork, you will go up Hwy. 36. La Chaumiere is a fine little French restaurant that I have not been eaten at in many years, but I believe it is still there. I do not know if they offer lunch, especially in April, which is still considered the “off-season.”

                        If you take the left fork out of Lyons, you will go up Hwy. 7, which will take you through Allenspark, a slightly longer but less traveled road to Estes Park that is well worth it. In addition to the fine (last I was there) Fawn Brook Inn mentioned by another poster, there is a lovely breakfast/lunch restaurant called Meadow Mountain Cafe. Not sure what their hours will be in April, but it is a favorite local hang-out. Pancakes, omelettes, green chile, house-made breads, and home fries to die for. Just don’t expect to rush. You might want to unwind from your conference and remind yourself to be on mountain time.

                        I’m unclear as to your timing going back to Denver, but I would also recommend taking the “Peak to Peak” highway which diverges off Hwy. 7 between Allenspark and Lyons through some gorgeous terrain through Nederland and eventually intersects I-70 to get you back to Denver. The Pioneer Inn in the heart of the small town of Nederland has been there forever. It’s a classic and much-loved dive with great buffalo burgers. The Sundance Café, a little farther south of Nederland (before you get to the new “casino towns,” with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant last time I was through and didn’t stop), is one of my favorites. I used to go the Sundance on my day off for the views, relaxation, and food. Hearty veggie dishes for breakfast then, elk jerk cabobs 10 years ago, another great dinner I treated friends to last summer. It’s Colorado mountain funky at its best, with mouth-watering views.

                        P.S. You mentioned that you are not interested in wine. But if you drink beer at all, you should try the local Fat Tire. It’s on tap at a lot of local joints, and I always bring some home if I'm not traveling by plane. Other great local brews available as well.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: intuitive eggplant

                          As far as I know, La Chaumiere is never open for lunch. And Peak-to-Peak Highway (From Estes Park, CO 7, then CO 72, then CO 119) feeds into US 6. Turn right (west) to reach I-70 in 2 or 3 miles or left (east) to reach Golden in about 13 or 14 miles. It is also possible to turn right in Blackhawk toward Central City (1 mile) and then take the newish Central City Parkway to I-70. Our favorite spot in Estes Park is Ed's Cantina, for no other reason than it's our favorite spot. Decent Mex food and a great streamside patio.

                          1. re: intuitive eggplant

                            Just popping in with some other beer recs if you're interested. While Fat Tire is good and a safe standby when nothing else is available I have to say there are far more interesting local brews available. My favorites are 90 Schilling, 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Mojo Rising (slightly different than Mojo and has 11% alcohol), Springboard (seasonal brew by same brewery as Fat Tire), SingleTrack Copper Ale, Avalanche and the list goes on. If you end up in any of the local breweries most will give you a taster or two or do a beer flight which I would definitely take advantage of.