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DENVER Challenged

Chicago has the Dog and the Deep Dish, Philly has the Cheesesteak, San Diego has the Fish Taco. Kansas City & Memphis fight over the BBQ. Miami has Cuban food, & Minneapolis has Vietnamese.

What is the Denver equivalent? The thing happening in the Denver food scene that's not happening elsewhere, or being copied in other places? I'm heading to Denver in about a week and looking for interesting (not necessarily expensive) food to eat for lunch or dinner.

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  1. I wouldn’t say that Denver has a great food identity but we do have some very good places to eat. Here are two of what I consider Denvers Best Places to Eat!!!

    Z Cuisine
    2239 W. 30th Avenue
    Denver, CO 80211
    (303) 477-1111

    Is excellent!!! It is a tiny 25ish seats that serves extremely fresh Bistro French fare. The menu changes almost every day.

    Lao Wang Noodle House
    945 S Federal Blvd Ste D
    Denver, CO 80219
    Phone: (303) 975-2497

    This place is dive. It is run by an older Chinese couple. They make hands down the best post stickers on this side of Hong Kong. The soup dumplings are also very good.

    1. Rocky Mountain Oysters. ;-)

      1. Jim, its probably because Denver is the 3rd or 4th best location to eat in Colorado. Boulder is easily the first, then either the Roaring Fork or Eagle (Vail) Valleys, then Denver. Its getting better, but I don't think it will every overcome the "chain" effect.

        1 Reply
        1. re: BlueOx

          I disagree with your assertion that Boulder has better eats than Denver (and I live there!). Where can you get a good cheeseburger? Name 3 mexican restaurants with good green chile. Show me where I can get tacos al pastor or barbacoa. Who serves cassoulet? Is there ban mi available in the city limits? Dim sum? Prime beef? While there are distinct restaurants you can point to and argue that they surpass their Denver counterparts, I don't believe Boulder holds a candle to Denver, chowwise.

        2. Two themes are going on here -- one about casual food associated with a particular place and the other about the food scene. Numerous threads suggest worthy places to go forlunch or dinner.

          As for foods associated with Colorado, there's the Denver omelet (also called the Western omelet and usually attributed to the women who cooked on westward-bound wagon trains) and the cheeseburger (which MIGHT have been invented at the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In in Denver). Rocky Mountain oysters?

          1. A similar thread appeared a few months back. Besides the RMO suggestion, "wild game" dishes are what I remember most.

            Now, I also credit The Fort with their peanunt butter stuffed jalapeños as an original Denver (OK, foothills) dish.


            1. A good bowl of green chili with chunks of pork is indigenous to two states; New Mexico and Colorado. Find a good bowl of green. I volunteer again that the Cherry Cricket serves up one of the better bowls of green, anywhere.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Veggo

                I cannot argue about the Cherry Cricket, but I do feel that one should add AZ (both Phoenix & Tucson) into that mix. Not saying that either has a "better" version, only good versions of that dish.


              2. Jim- as others have mentioned, our green chili (and items smothered in the same) is the food item that Colorado ex-pats long for the most. If you've never had it's basically a gravy with chunks of tender slow-cooked pork and livened up with green chilis (anaheim, poblano, etc...) and spiced with jalapeno, serrano or other hot chilis. The best bowl of green in Denver will be a long and contentious debate that I won't start. I would search this board for green chile and you'll find a thread with good names and places. Here's a thread from Westword's "Best of Denver" with the keyword search "chile":

                6 Replies
                1. re: e_bone

                  I think your asking what is Denver known for food wise? I would have to agree on the green chili. Or else steak. At least historically. Specific food items would have to be rocky mountain oysters or the Denver omlete.

                  I am a little confused by your second statement about what is "The thing happening in the Denver food scene that's not happening elsewhere, or being copied in other places." I would say nothing. Just as I would say for the most part no city can claim that? Do you have some examples of food that is not being copied elsewhere?

                  And is Minneapolis really known for their Vietnamese food? And I think several cities in mexico might disagree that San Diego is known for their fish tacos.

                  What I think Denver should be known for is "latin fusion" such as Zengo, Tamayo, and Tula. Just my two cents.

                  1. re: ColoradoFun

                    Tula is closing at the end of the year, per Penny Parker in the Rocky. Chef may re-locate to the mountains or re-open in a smaller space.

                    1. re: rlm

                      Man, that space (Tula's) is cursed. Maybe it's time to open something other than a restaurant there.

                      I also should add that Denver also has a large Vietnamese population, and, as a result, you can find terrific Vietnamese food here (i.e., Minneapolis isn't the only place for it).

                    2. re: ColoradoFun

                      First, I apologize for being unclear in my writing. The "being copied in other places" was not meant to be read as "not being copied in other places."

                      Minneapolis/St. Paul has a very large community of South Vietnamese ex-pats. I'm not sure why, but I believe it had something to do with the Lutheran church's social services programs from the 1970's. It's a really interesting cuisine.

                      As for Fish Tacos and cities in Mexico, I suppose you're right. But I was really limiting my thinking to cities in the USA. Once you open the borders food-wise, most of the USA is derivative of some other country.

                      I'll definitely check out Zengo Tamayo and Tula. I'll probably only have the chance to eat at one of them and I'll have my 9 yr old and 11 yr old in tow, so I might not get to any of them if they're upscale places. I don't like to bring my kids to high-end restaurants.

                    3. re: e_bone

                      I'm heading back to Denver on Sunday. I'll to find some green chili. Is this basically the same thing as New Mexico green chili? If so, is it Denver's or New Mexico's?

                      I'd love to find some good tacos Al Pastor...made slowly on the gyro-machine with the pineapple on the top...there used to be a place on Central in Minneapolis that did this, but they went out of business.

                      1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                        There are a few places on Federal Boulevard that have the read-deal al pastor. I don't recall names, but the last one I was at is just north of I-70 on the east side. I will try to get a few names for you.

                    4. Denver has great food. I would not agree that it's behind Boulder (I live there) and the Valley. The Vail Valley is pretty damn limited.

                      That being said, my opinion is that there is no iconic food associated with Denver as in your other examples. And, I'd take issue with Memphis & KC being the BBQ capitals - Austin and surroundings are my favorite but BBQ is iconic to all three locales. Vietnamese as a Minneapolis icon - not in my opinion. I doubt that most people think of it in the same way that they do Philly cheesesteak.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: IslayMan

                        Vail Valley limited? In my experience I've had far more great meals there than I've had in Denver and about the same as Boulder.

                        I do agree that Denver doesn't have something that says "Denver" to me and that includes green chile. I've not found one here that even comes close to what I have experienced in Santa Fe and Las Cruces but I haven't been to some of the favorites mentioned here so I'll have to try those.

                        I think one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the beer. This area has GREAT breweries. If Wynkoop Brewery still has there green chile beer that is something worth trying.

                        1. re: IslayMan


                          I think you're right that most people don't think of Vietnamese and Minneapolis the way they think if Philly and Cheese Steaks. But the number of places you can get good Vietnamese food in the Twin Cities is large. In the hundreds. And a Chowhound visiting Minneapolis would be missing a great and inexpensive way to eat if they didn't get to at least one of the Vietnamese restaurants.

                          1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                            Jim, Thanks for the education. I spend every Christmas in Minneapolis with my in-laws, most of whom think that going to Lee Ann Chin's is adventurous! Forget Vietnamese.

                            My opinion about green chile is that it is more represenative of the individual maker, rather than the region. Orlando's in Taos is probably my favorite and quite different than what you would get at Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe. Both are excellent. I like hot, so I really enjoy Efrain's (in Lafayette) chile verde. The original Chubby's is also on the top of my list.

                        2. Wow, this is an interesting thread. First let me say that I am newbie to Chow and a first time poster...

                          I'll be brief. When did RMO become a Colorado thing? It has always been, in my limited 12 years in the region, more associated with Wyoming than CO. That could just be me. I'd have to say that it's the Denver Omelet like it or not. Granted it's not as enticing as when compared to other offerings on a nice breakfast menu these days. It really is on the same level as the cheese steak in terms of complexity in interest levels to me. I think we should love it and nurture is cause it's about all we've got that’s well known and isn't something that many people will shy away from(RMO). In thinking about this, I smell an opportunity for a local establishment to redefine it. Come on, farm fresh eggs, local hot house peppers and Haystack goat cheese. Could be a winner. You want a built in stream of business – open a place focused on that theme.

                          On the Boulder -v- Denver thing. I couldn’t disagree more with the assertion that Boulder has a better food scene than Boulder. B is so impacted with only ok food that it's suffering from a sort of diffusion. When the Bombay Bistro and L'Absynthe went in I couldn't believe my eyes. (anyone know how the Kevin Taylor place is doing these days?) Why in the world would anyone enter a market that can barely support the restaurants that were there. Boulder is extremely fickle in terms of what the population will go for. Unless you are a Kitchen or a Frasca. The poor sunflower is struggling due the recent slow food additions. I guess I need to remember that there are lots of different taste out there… I am excluding in my tally all the mid range crud (pasta Jay’s comes to mind, and all that stuff in the new Mall! Ugggg. – sans Laudisios of course) I moved to Denver last summer mainly for the diversity and breadth of arts, and culture – including food. Potager is my style by the way ( and the Den). It really does depend what level of dinning is in question, but for sheer volume of high quality places ( Barolo, Lola, Coral Room, and everything on and off Federal, etc.) with consistent patronage, Denver wins hands down. Can’t say much for the Vail valley since I don’t spend any time there. And, based on its exclusiveness and remote location it doesn’t seem very accessible to the average couple – a factor I would toss in when judging the overall quality of a food scene.

                          Ok, I’ll get off my soap box.  Sorry, I am a newbie, remember? Go easy on me 


                          1. Two notes:

                            1) There is a major food item that came out of Denver, that while copied everywhere, is definately part of the Denver food legacy.

                            Chipotle (and the giant burrito genre) - first restaurant on Evans by Denver Univ.

                            2) The Vietnamese food in Denver is top notch. While I won't necessarily try to rank it vs. other states (like Minn), I will say that it can't be beat in any of the locations I have tried it elsewhere.

                            Recently tried Da Lat Vietnamese - on Federal Blvd, and it was as authentic, and tasty as any of the dishes I ate in Vietnam, when I visited.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Booger

                              Not that I know the story of Chipotle.... Are you thinking that they started that craze, or just that the company was born here? I would have to say that growing up in Califormnia and having sorely missed Roberto's in SD, 360 Burritos and World Wraps out of SF that I lived on starting way back in the early 80s that the craze started around then. But I don't really know for sure.

                              1. re: sushigrade

                                Steve Elles who started and still runs Chipotle says he copied the idea from some of the inexpensive SF places he ate while living in SF (probably in the late 80's, early 90's). This is based on interviews he has given.

                                But given the success of Chipotle, Qdoba, Noodles, Boston Maket, Einsteins, Wahoos, etc., all of which started here or quickly moved here, I think Denver can at least have some claim to starting the fast casual, somewhat healthier, fast food alternative type places.

                                1. re: sushigrade

                                  The company Chipotle started here in Denver.

                                  1. re: RobynS

                                    As did Quiznos, although they are struggling with one of the highest failure rates in the industry.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Rightfully so in my opinion, although that's another thread altogether.

                                      1. re: RobynS

                                        Good points about the fast casual. Re quiznos ... a friend of a friend was just hired away from Starbucks to help resurrect their marketing efforts. Not that it will help if the food isn't that good. I'd take Q's over subway any day though.

                                        BTW - Steve just sold his interest in Chipotle in the last few months. At least that is what I heard through the grapevine.