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25 Things We Love About Denver and Boulder Right Now

(in no particular order)

1. The talent, tacos, and tequila of Taco Junky

Taco Junky

Taco Junky

Boulderites in the know are understandably excited about the city’s revitalization of the Hill. And while we might not have seen it coming, we’re certainly glad Taco Junky {303.443.2300} stepped up to elevate the cuisine in the neighborhood. Using the tortilla as a canvas, the TJ team is composing works like the Manolete with oxtail and puffed quinoa, and the B+OMEGA-3 with salmon and bok choy. It’s all made for pairing with a house-infused tequila (start with the Cucumber variety and go from there).

What we love most about this unassuming haunt on the Hill, however, is the awe-inspiring, generation-transcending mural lighting up the back wall. Two young artists collaborated on the piece, and deftly portrayed the cultural influence of young generations going all the way back to the ‘40s. Expect to find a dazzling Elvis, a little Pink Floyd, a touch of Mario Brothers, and a whirlwind of cultural icons. Between the tacos, tequila, and the artistic chef d’oeuvre, you’ll have plenty of reasons to make this a standby.

2. Arugula’s new menu

Are seasonal menus your bread and butter? Little did you know that changing things up quarterly is so passé—at least at Arugula Ristorante {303.443.5100} in Boulder. For Chef Alec Schuler, educated at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, freshness has always been key. Thus, his recent menu revamp—a new take on Italian offerings that allows his kitchen to bring in the freshest possible product for daily offerings. Schuler has switched from a quarterly menu with daily specials to a larger menu that changes twice a week, obviating the need for dishes du jour.

“The idea is to keep us nimble so we can more effectively utilize local, seasonal, and hard-to-obtain products,” Schuler says. Here are a few teasers: Beet, Cucumber, and Tatsoi Salad in a Sherry-tarragon vinaigrette; Butter-Poached Lobster and shrimp risotto with green garlic; and Grilled Colorado Lamb T-Bones with eggplant and lamb’s quarter.

3. Three times the Detroit pizza power

Blue Pan Pizza

Blue Pan Pizza

We’ve craved N.Y. slices, pans of Chicago deep-dish, and salivated over hand-tossed. You might ask yourself if there’s anything left to experience in the wide world of ‘za. So there is, you pizza-lover, you: Detroit-style pies. Baked in squares with thick, chewy crusts, this new Mile High addiction is getting a lot of attention.

At The Good Son {303.355.5445}, the oak wood fired Detroit Rock City variety embraces the best of the legendary metropolis, brimming with tangy tomato sauce, mozz, Parm, pepperoni, green peppers, olives, red onions, and mushrooms.

Jet’s Pizza {303.707.1100} has embraced the Michigonian magic while adding a twist—barbecue chicken or ranch on your pie, anyone?

Last (but certainly not least) of our current faves is Blue Pan Pizza {303.396.9254}. Recently opened in the Highlands, this soon-to-be famous pizza stop double-bakes their pies and sprinkles luscious cheese right to the very edge.

4. RESQWATER salve

When Thursday comes and the weekend’s near, there is nothing worse than a co-worker happy hour getting a little out of hand and having to forfeit your early morning run at Red Rocks. We will be the first to tell you that our lives have become much more productive ever since we discovered the cobalt blue bottles labeled RESQWATER anti-hangover drink. Packed with natural and organic ingredients including milk thistle, prickly pear fruit extract, B and C vitamins, as well as the powerful ingredient N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), RESQWATER is a salvation.

There is no doubt that when our relatives visit this summer, we’ll make sure that the altitude doesn’t get the best of them. Here is the only fine print: you should drink several bottles throughout the night, and a full bottle as the last drink before bed. When you do, you’ll rise and shine the next morning like the champion you are.

5. 4580 burgers

Here’s the deal with burgers: They’re everywhere, but not all are created equal. If we use the burgers at North End at 4580 {303.448.1500} as the benchmark for meaty greatness, then we’re off to a delicious start. A hefty half-pound of Green Ranch beef settles into a crispy rosemary kaiser bun, topped with show-stoppers like sweet caramelized onions, garlic aïoli, and bacon. Sub out the cheese if you’d like, toss on some mushrooms, or trust the masters of the kitchen to devise something for you—weekly burger specials are to- die-for. We recommend getting the works and a side of extra garlic aïoli to dip those impossibly crispy fries into.

6. Seeds Cafe

Seeds Cafe

Seeds Cafe

Boulder is often the root of culinary inventiveness, and Seeds Cafe {303.441.3100} is no exception. A collaboration between the City of Boulder and Boulder County Farmers’ Markets brought the café to fruition in April 2015. As Marketing Representative Katie Lazor explains, Seeds is a one-of-a-kind destination for local foods and food education. “Seeds was built to be a year-round concept offering a voice for local agriculture and an outlet for area farmers. In fact, the café has committed to serving mostly local product.

In addition, the café will be the location and impetus for educational campaigns and panels about various agricultural issues that affect Colorado.” All of that is well and good, but what’s to eat? The in-house baker has already earned himself renown with creations like local Carrot Muffins and Goat Cheese and Chive Scones. Bread for the sandwiches hails from Breadworks in north Boulder, while the coffee comes from Boulder’s own Silver Canyon. Rounding out the menu is a trove of panini, soups, salads, and sweets that bring together the best of Boulder County produce and ingredients. If you’re hungry—for a meal and an education—then Seeds Cafe is exactly what you’re looking for.

7. Shades of new at Cucina Colore

If you thought Cucina Colore {303.393.6917} was the picture of upbeat contemporary dining before, wait until you see the new digs. A complete overhaul of the space has created one of the most exciting new spots to dine in Cherry Creek—and that’s not even considering the fun additions to the already amazing menu. The outside may look the same—an artsy building buttressed by colorful flowers and patio dining shaded with bright blue umbrellas—but within you’ll find a fresh look. A stunning new bar beats at the heart of the interior with a marble bar top, chic black barstools, and wood touches. The dining space surrounds the bar with stylish banquettes, beautiful wood four-tops, dark-washed wood floors, an accent tile wall, and vibrant art and flowers throughout. But our favorite part of it all? The new wine wall—like a wine-lover’s dream art installation— showcasing all the bottles we can’t wait to try.

8. Happy Hour meals and steals

There are just too many good happy hour steals right now, but these five keep us coming back for more:

Chargrilled Colorado Lamb Burger @ The Kitchen Boulder {303.544.5973}
Community hour Monday-Friday 3-5pm

Horseradish Cream and Pickled Beet Pierogies @ linger {303.993.3120}
Happy hour Monday-Friday 4-6:30pm

Beef Empanada and Llapingachos @ Leña {720.550.7267}
Happy hour Monday-Friday 4-6pm

Tacos @ Central Bistro Bar {303.477.4582}
Happy hour Wednesday-Friday 4-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 2-6pm

Bison Meatballs with Spicy Marinara and Zucchini Noodles @ Zeal Food for Enthusiasts {720.708.6309}
Happy hour daily 4-5:30pm

9. Chef Elise Wiggins’ hog hunt

You’re crazy if you haven’t yet relished an Italian feast at the hands of celebrated Panzano Chef Elise Wiggins. While she has always embraced a “nose-to-tail” treatment of her porkly cuts, she’s decided to take the sourcing a step further. Come October 2015, Wiggins and her brother Garrett will head to Columbia, Louisiana where they’ll engage in feral hog hunting. Yep, you heard that right. It’s actually not as off-the-wall as it seems; Tuscan wild boar hunts are quite the to-do between October and January, so really, Wiggins is just bringing a little more authenticity to the table. And when she lands back in Denver, you can expect a recreation of traditional hog helpings in the Panzano {303.296.3525} kitchen. No worries— you won’t have to shoot your own hog.

10. Organic Sandwich Company’s bacon jam

OSC's Turkey Bacon Jam

Organic Sandwich Company

Needless to say, this savory-sweet Bacon Jam goes on anything. Really. Make a lot and freeze so you always have some on-hand. Or stop by OSC to enjoy it without the fuss.

Ingredients

2 lbs bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c strong black coffee
1/2 c pure maple syrup
1/2 c coconut sugar
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Method

Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until bacon is slightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. Drain bacon grease (saving 1/4 cup for sautéing onions) into a heat- proof dish and place bacon on paper towels to drain.

Add reserved bacon grease to a skillet over medium heat and add onions. Stir occasionally until onions are caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add garlic, coffee, maple syrup, coconut sugar, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and simmer for 5 minutes. Add bacon and continue to simmer on low for 2-1/2 to 3 hours until mixture thickens. Transfer to a food processor and briefly pulse until coarsely chopped. Cool and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

11. Musical food pairings

Nocturne

Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club

A composed salad matched with a staccato jazz number. The wail of the saxophone paralleling a long strand of housemade fettuccini. Is it just us, or does food taste better when paired with music? While places like El Chapultepec and Appaloosa Grill have always afforded the opportunity to take in your dinner alongside live music, a trio of new musical restaurants recently graced Denver.

First came Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club {303.295-3333} in March, bringing fine eats paired with nightly live jazz to the already humming RiNo area.

Next up: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox {303.993.8023} took the stage in a former brothel/adult video library space in the Ballpark neighborhood. Owner Justin Cucci transformed the space into a “gastrobrothel” on the main floor and a subterranean entertainment lounge with a swanky Moroccan speakeasy feel below. A sunken stage with a backdrop of 500 transistor radios, a bar constructed from 4,000 Jäger bottles, and a top-of-the-line sound system will make this the spot to see burlesque shows, DJs, and more.

A hard act to follow, but a few weeks later, Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge {303.615.4000} opened in the former Le Grand space, gifting downtown with a prime spot to catch cross-genre internationally acclaimed musical acts while enjoying a Bordeaux cocktail, Baur’s special Kolsch beer, and great food. Encore, anyone?

12. Sweet Cow’s summer flavors

Ice cream lovers know Sweet Cow for its wide range of flavors, friendly service, and entirely housemade ice cream. And this summer, get ready to scream for more ice cream. In May, Owners Ross Cohen and Drew Honness opened their fourth shop in the South Boulder Table Mesa Shopping Center. Later this summer, their fifth spot will welcome customers to Old South Pearl in Denver, in the space right next to Park Burger. And in early 2016, Sweet Cow will moo-ve in to the Stanley Marketplace in Stapleton.

“It’s all about community for us,” Cohen says. Sweet Cow is actively involved in their neighborhoods, supporting locals through school fundraisers and donations. And if that weren’t enough, summer at Sweet Cow means bright new flavors like Honey Mint, made with muddled mint-infused milk and cream, strained and blended with Colorado honey. “It’s a wonderful flavor,” Cohen says. “The whole shop smells like mint when we make it.” Another winner is the Fresh Peach ice cream, made with Palisade peaches. And this summer, alcohol-infused sorbets will be available at each location, with flavors like Limoncello and Piña Colada.

13. The real plates of Hong Kong

Unless you’ve actually been to Hong Kong, you probably have no idea what the cuisine there is really like. Recently, however, Uncle Joe’s Hong Kong Bistro {720.330.8487} opened in a prime spot downtown right by the Convention Center at 14th and Champa in early 2015. In a beautiful setting with modern, artsy décor, Uncle Joe’s serves the true cuisine of Hong Kong. Chefs de Cuisine Ryan Baldwin and Guy Simsiman are dedicated to introducing Denverites to Hong Kong’s authentic flavors.

Whether you come for lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch, be sure to try Uncle Joe’s signature Cha Shao—extraordinary barbecue pork—on sliders, atop a salad, with fried rice, or starring in an entrée. Or get acquainted with Uncle Joe’s menu during happy hour (daily 3-6pm), when you can explore a medley of small plates and well drinks, beer, or house wine for just a few bucks.

14. Basta outdoes itself

In Italian, “basta” means enough. And we were certainly more than content with the original offerings at Basta {303.997.8775}, including a repertoire of incredible Italian dishes all prepared in a “wicked hot oven,” coupled with an amazing Italian wine selection. But for Chef/Owner Kelly Whitaker, this was not enough. He temporarily closed the restaurant for a few days in early June to revamp everything from the space to the bar program to the menu.

Next time you visit, you can look forward to a new open-air bar window to behold the cooks manning the wood-fired oven. The dishes prepared in that oven will now change more frequently and exhibit a new slant toward seasonal cooking. Planning a visit with a large group or your family? You can also now order family-style dishes in advance, like the Lasagna that appeared on the cover of 5280 magazine’s recent cookbook. And every slice of artisanal pizza and bite of wood-roasted chicken needs a drink to pair, so try one of the new bottle-aged, batched cocktails made in-house.

15. Hot and steamy at Jax LoDo

Jax

Jax

LoDo’s beloved seafood spot—the estimable Jax {303.292.5767}—recently underwent a big makeover, which included extending the bar to run the entire length of the space, moving the dining room up to surround the front of the bar, and bringing the kitchen into the spotlight behind the bar area.

The best thing about the latter change is the new hot and steamy show you can now catch nightly. Jax uses steamer pots made especially for the restaurant to cook a number of its signature dishes. Steam heating creates a consistent, gentle temperature that never overcooks delicate seafood, and always draws out big flavor. Each Steam Jacketed Ketel is manufactured just for Jax, and only two other restaurants in the country use them. Watch as the chefs tend to the pots, enjoy the sweet scent of seafood cooking, and then relish what emerges at the hands of new Chef Wade Kirwan: Steamed PEI Mussels, New England Clam Chowder, Langoustines and White Shrimp, and a Shrimp and Crawfish Gumbo. Entertainment, aromatherapy, and dinner all in one.

16. The slow-roasted bison with Thai barbecue sauce at The Avenue Grill

The Avenue Grill

The Avenue Grill

If you’ve never had this guest favorite dish at The Avenue Grill {303.861.2820}, then you better get yourself into this classic Uptown restaurant stat. Super tender and flavorful, the bison— sourced from River Ranch—is slow-roasted with ginger, star anise, and vegetables for four hours. Chef Andrew Lubatty serves it with Thai barbecue sauce and wasabi potatoes, and recommends pairing it with Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Cabernet Franc. You can also try making this at home with Avenue Grill’s recipe!

17. Blackbelly’s bigger, better butchery program

What’s not to love about Blackbelly {303.247.1000}? This Boulder gem is the brainchild of Chef/Owner Hosea Rosenberg, who is dedicated to keeping his product local and wholesome. From farm to fork, he is involved in every step of the food production process—
including the butchery. Recently, Rosenberg augmented his whole animal butchery program, offering 12-16 “Daily Butcher Cuts” on the dinner menu. You might try an 8oz leg of roasted Colorado Blackface Lamb, or a 13oz Beef Coulotte Steak (sirloin strip). Each night, the amount of each cut available is listed on the menu—and most nights, half the meat is gone before 7pm. Not a meat-lover? Then Blackbelly’s new dish, Golden Potato Gnocchi with local mushrooms, fiddleheads, and pistachio-nettle pesto, is just the thing.

18. La Loma’s tortilla machine

We knew we loved La Loma {303.433.8300}, one of Denver’s oldest family-owned Mexican restaurants. And we knew we loved their tortillas—soft, wholesome rounds of goodness piled with toppings like grilled peppers, caramelized onions, and marinated beef. But the real key is in their in-house tortilla conveyor belt— the apparatus behind La Loma’s authentic tortilla production. Step inside La Loma (meaning “the hill”) and get a first-hand look at the tortilla-making action through a glass viewing window.

Scratch-made, pre-portioned dough balls are pressed and slipped into the top of the conveyor, where they are flattened and carried around a central fire. As they rotate, the heat bakes the dough, puffing them up before they flatten again. This conveyor has been operating for nearly 35 years, churning out about 100 tortillas per hour. Try them with an order of signature fajitas—the restaurant’s best-selling dish.

19. Food Lab—Boulder’s Newest Cooking School

Want to learn to cook traditional Indian cuisine? Or maybe sit back with a glass of wine while you watch someone else do it? Sign up for a class at Food Lab {303.349.5553}. Opened recently on Boulder’s Pearl Street, Food Lab aims to enhance culinary skills and wine knowledge in a fun and accessible environment with hands-on classes and guided demonstrations by local chefs. How-tos include pasta- making, pickling and canning, and preparation techniques for various ethnic cuisines.

Founder and Chef Casey Easton makes it her goal to provide an intimate and relaxed space where people can socialize and learn, or just sit back and enjoy a glass of wine while watching a local chef do her thing. Classes are inspirational and fun, ideal for both novice cooks and seasoned home chefs.

20. The Limerick room at The Irish Rover

The luck of the Irish fills the South Broadway spot Irish Rover {303.282.4643}, where the motto is “cead mile faitle”—one hundred thousand welcomes. Pop in here anytime for a pint and a plate of Fish and Chips, or even not-so-Irish specials like tacos. And if you’re planning a special event, ask about the Limerick Room. This hip spot is ideal for weddings, rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, and corporate events, with space for more than 100, in-house catering, HDTVs, and a DJ-ready PA system. Slainte!

21. Taco Tuesday at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

If it’s tacos you’re after, get yourself to Adelitas Cocina Y Cantina {303.778.1294}. Taco Tuesday is practically legendary at this Platte Park eatery, and for good reason—every Tuesday between 11am and midnight, tacos are offered at deep discounts—only a dollar or two for most.

That means you can try the Al Pastor (marinated, spit-grilled pork with pineapple, red onion, and cilantro) for just $1, or the Lengua (beef tongue simmered with garlic and basil), for only $2. Special $4 tacos appear weekly, like the Tequila and Lime-Marinated Shrimp Taco with pineapple and thinly sliced jicama. At Adelitas, the vibe is relaxed and comfortable, welcoming families and late-night taco lovers alike for eats inspired by the Michoacán region in Mexico. Plus, with two happy hours (daily from 3-6pm and 10pm to close) and plenty of drink specials, there’s even more to love.

22. The taste of the season at Colterra

We’ve long wondered what the seasons of spring or summer would taste like if they were to take the form of dishes. You can’t boil a season down to a one-note creation—Rhubarb Pie or Watermelon Gazpacho. It would need to be a medley of textures and flavors to capture all the many moving, blossoming parts of the season. At last, we’ve discovered seasons in a dish: the seasonal Vegetable Tasting at Colterra {303.652.0777} in Niwot. This past spring, a pillowy spring pea raviolo heralded the succession of veggies to come: roasted asparagus with Marcona almonds; a chickpea-mushroom fritter; and a mizuna-beet salad with raspberry vinaigrette. We can’t wait to see what summer and fall taste like this year.

23. “The Deal” on happy hour at Lola Mexican Fish House

We love a good deal. And “The Deal” at Lola {720.570.8686} during happy hour is one heck of a bargain. For $5, you can get two Chicken Tacos and a can of Tecate beer—the perfect way to unwind after a long day. The Chicken Tacos come topped in crunchy house slaw, spicy serrano aïoli, and creamy Cotija cheese. Add rice and beans for $2, and you’ve got yourself a light dinner. Still hungry? Share a Lola Guacamole for $7.

24. A FATEful morning

Are you in a brunch grind? Ordering the same old Benny and Bloody every time 10am Saturday rolls around? Don’t resign yourself to such a dreary fate. Instead, brunch at Boulder’s FATE Brewing Company {303.449.FATE} next weekend and discover all the wondrous possibilities for starting your day and curing your hangover. Here are three things that will help you redefine brunch:

Breakfast nachos: We don’t know why chips haven’t always been a mainstay of AM meals. Start the day with a crunch.
Brewer’s bread: Sweet meets savory with cinnamon roll brioche French toast with pork shoulder.
Cajun breakfast sandwich: Give slow mornings a kick in the pants with andouille sausage and Sriracha ranch with house-brined/ smoked turkey breast, fried eggs, and white cheddar on a challah bun.
Bonus: Kids eat free before noon! Distract them with food while you sip your Coffee IPA.

25. New and Noteworthy restaurants

New restaurants are opening all over the Mile High City. From a new spot to get your favorite Little Man scoop to religious tacos at Dos Santos, this summer is shaping up to be a delicious one.

Check out our run-down of restaurants new, noteworthy, and tasty this summer!

By DiningOut Staff