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16 Chefs Share Their Secret Dinner Spots

The DO Chef Panel weighs in on hidden gems

We asked the DiningOut (DO) Chef Panel of over 70 chefs about the dinner spots they love, but no one knows about. Here are some of the best hidden gems and hole-in-the-walls in Denver, Boulder, and beyond to add to your list.

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“My favorites—but definitely no secret—are the dumplings at Zoe Ma Ma and the empanadas at Rincon Argentino. Lesser known: If you ever find yourself exploring beautiful Southwest Colorado, the San Juans, and Ouray County, Taco Del Gnar in Ridgeway is a good find.” —Tony Zarlenga, Cafe Brazil
Lao Wang

A diamond in the rough, Lao Wang is located in a strip mall on Federal

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“A few of my favorite lesser-known spots would have to be Lao Wang Noodle House, Buchi Cafe Cubano, La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas, and Brava! Pizzeria Della Strada [inside Avanti or the 16th Street Mall cart]—although it seems kind of hard to keep any good place a secret in this town.” —Josh Bonazza, Vita 

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Namiko’s Japanese Restaurant in Arvada for my regular fish fix.” —Brandon Biederman, Steuben’s/Ace
[Namiko’s has been serving sushi, tempura, and other Japanese cuisine for over 25 years. In addition to the amazing sashimi and sushi, try the udon, curry, and Hiyashi Chuka—cold Chinese noodles with veggies in a special sauce.]

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Julio’s Mexican Grill—this is now an actual restaurant, but it wasn’t long ago that the best kept sort-of-secret in the Fraser Valley was the sublime tamales from Julio at the Fraser Conoco. He now has an actual restaurant, but the tamales and memories live on. And griddled burgers and Colorado peach milkshakes keep me coming back to Empire Dairy King.” —Jamey Fader, Big Red F
[And if you want to cook dinner yourself, visit Fader’s “hidden gem of hidden gems,” Middle Park Meat Co., where you’ll find “the best bacon, smoked pork, smoked trout … and killer cuts of amazing beef, pork, bison, and game.]

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“Our favorite go to in Denver is D’Corazon. It’s downtown across from the Rio [Grande], but so many of our friends still ask me and my wife where it is and have never heard of it. It’s just old school margaritas and Mexican plates in a fun environment—not high-end Mexican, comfort Mexican. If you live in Boulder, you know Mateo, but people in Denver seem to leave it off their list of places to go to Boulder for. That’s a mistake. It has a great vibe and great simple food—not to mention the owner is fantastic. And I rarely leave my two-mile bubble, but the barbecue at Jabo’s Bar-Be-Q in Greenwood Village is really good. It’s a simple place with well-done barbecue, and has been here long before the recent explosion of barbecue places.” —Brian Midtbo, Blackbird/Atticus/Rosedale

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Sachi Sushi. This place is definitely a gem, and it’s well hidden in the far back corner of the Niwot Market with little advertising or signage. Not only does the chef make some awesome sushi and sushi bowls, but I like to go on Sundays for the Ramen! It’s truly authentic and delicious. He even puts the white and pink swirl fish cakes (a childhood snack) in the ramen, which disappointingly I have not seen at other ramen places.” —Leslie White, Zeal – Food for Enthusiasts

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Jorge’s Sombrero in Pueblo. Best Chile Rellenos!” —Elise Wiggins, Panzano
[Other must-tries here include the Tacos de Lengua, gigantic Jorge’s Burrito, sopapillas, Camarones a la Diabla, and Tex Mex standouts like the Smothere Hamburger.]

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“I usually eat out at odd hours. I don’t usually get out to eat lunch until after 2pm and dinner often way past 10pm. Breakfast is usually at an ungodly hour. Usually the only restaurants that stay open late are ethnic restaurants. The Asian restaurant row along the Federal corridor is a sure bet to find something open at this time. One of my favorite restaurants is Super Star Asian Cuisine at Alameda. Don’t just order off their regular American menu; ask for the special menu in Chinese and ask the wait staff to explain the menu to you. You will find exotic ingredients.” —Gene Tang, 1515 Restaurant 

 

PMG

A Beet Salad at PMG

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“In Boulder, my favorite spot is Amu. Even though it is right next to Sushi Zanmai, so many people don’t know about it. PMG in Boulder is one of my other favorite places for a great glass of wine and some seriously great Italian.” —Dakota Coburn, Centro

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JJ Chinese. It tastes like no home I’ve ever known, but it tastes unmistakably like a home I wish I would have found sooner.” —Sean Stengel, The Nickel
[Chef Kevin Ho—who spent two decades cooking in Guangzhou, China and Los Angeles—has run this dim sum seafood restaurant on Alameda since 2002. Try the legendary Chinese seafood dishes like Conch Soup or Salted Fish-Shredded Pork Hot Pot.]

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“The Smokin Yard’s BBQ in Idaho Springs. Best boiled peanuts and smoked meats. El Taco De Mexico on Santa Fe Drive for the tacos. And Hops & Pie in the Berkeley neighborhood for the awesome selection of beer and delicious pizza.” —Sam Pepper, Jax LoDo

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“El Paraiso on 46th and Harlan specializes in homemade Salvadorian, Cuban, South American, and Mexican cuisines. Meals are served at the table on a charcoal grill or in a soup caldron. Insider tip: Requesting songs from their live mariachi band takes the experience to another level.” —Jose Guerrero, ViewHouse

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Cafe Max and Chef Zorbas.” —Mark Reggianni, Café Marmotte
[Beyond the delicious food at Cafe Max—think small plates like charcuterie, Pear French Toast, and a Brie-Colby Jack sandwich with tomato soup—the virgin beverage list here is tops. Try The Spicy Nectar (spicy chai and mango juice), Organic Bitter Cocoa, or the cult-adored Mexican Classic Coke.]

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“There is this hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant called Funny Plus that serves a fried chicken wing dish that reminds me of some of my favorite late night drinking spots in Koreatown in Los Angeles. It’s great for beer and those awesome Korean-style chicken wings.” —Bradford Kim, Cherry Hills Sushi Co.
TOKIO

Ramen at TOKIO

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TOKIO—the delicious, authentic Japanese cuisine, understated atmosphere, and stellar happy hour deals make it the perfect late-night spot for Denver chefs.” —Nadine Donovan, Secret Sauce F and B

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“My favorites include El Taco de Mexico for a great Chile Relleno Burrito and Taste of Philly for a late night Cheesesteak.” —Frank Bonanno, Bonanno Concepts
[Bonanno has been known to seek out these legendary cheesesteaks on authentic Amoroso’s rolls for his staff after busy shifts. Keep it Original with grilled onions and American cheese.] 

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14 Chefs Share Secret Lunch Spots


The DiningOut (DO) Chef Panel serves as the voice of culinary talent in Denver, Boulder, and beyond. These 70-plus chefs answer our burning questions about the local dining scene, cooking, and food trends on a monthly basis.