By Eric Elkins –
Sometimes the best dish you’ll have when traveling is the one for which you paid the least amount of cash. It might come from a street food vendor who just happens to be open at the moment you pass by, or a tiny local restaurant right next to your hotel. Or it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve just left your third bar, and you’re looking for something delicious to soak up that last cocktail before you head back to the hotel. These spots might be inexpensive, but the ingredients are fresh, probably locally sourced, and you won’t be hungry when you’re done.
From quick-serve to a seated dinner, Colorado’s Mexican restaurants are where you can fill up on hearty comfort food for just a few bucks. One quick rundown couldn’t do justice to the number of spots where you can indulge in the perfect carne asada (ask any local and you’ll get a different answer), but these are a few local faves:
- El Corazon — This downtown stalwart has served many a famished family over the years. Their mole is particularly special.
- El Taco de Mexico – Family-owned like many on this list, and an essential stop when visiting the galleries of the Santa Fe Arts District.
- Little Anita’s – A regional chain, arguably best-known for their breakfast burrito.
- Los Carboncito’s — People will drive out of their way for the lengua.
- Mexico City Lounge – Tacos, tacos, tacos!
- Torta Grill — The fresh bread and hot and melty insides make these tortas unforgettable.
Quick and Messy
Sometimes, you just need a slab o’ meat between slices of bread to get you through. These spots have that and more.
- Ballpark Vienna Beef — The perfect stop on your way to or from a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field. Grab the Chicago Dog + Italian Beef special for heart-stopping goodness.
- Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs — Surprise yourself with a rattlesnake & pheasant dog or Alaskan reindeer, or just go for the Angus all-beef. Whatever you do, order crispy onions on top.
- Crown Burger – Believe it or not, you can get four BLTs or perfectly greasy burgers for just $10.
- Illegal Pete’s — Legendary, enormous burritos nearly bursting with fresh ingredients, open all day and late into the night.
- Masterpiece Deli — A LoHi sandwich staple from master chef Justin Brunson. Sure, you could go with the healthy and delicious seared tuna on an English muffin, but the Reuben special is the real winner.
Fast and Healthy
Sometimes you crave a nutritious, still-delicious, and inexpensive meal, but need more than a salad to get you through.
- Biju’s Little Curry Shop — Inspired by southern Indian cuisine, with scratch-made dishes that’ll warm your soul. Order some chili lime tots to go with your curry bowl.
- Kokoro — Japanese fast food couldn’t be more delicious. Try the beef curry, opt for “sobaghetti” or tempura udon, or just fill up on tasty gyoza. This family-friendly restaurant has been serving up healthy bowls of happiness in Denver for more than 30 years.
- Ohana Kitchen — The OG of poke spots in Denver, this little oasis of Hawaiian delight is not to be missed.
- Maria Empanada – When owner Lorena Cantarovici started baking out of her garage, she probably had no idea her pockets of Argentinian goodness would become a Denver institution. Now she has five locations and more on the way.
A sit-down meal doesn’t have to max out your credit card. But it might just fill your belly.
- 20th Street Café — The classic downtown fixture isn’t fancy in the least, but that doesn’t mean you should skip out on their breakfast fried rice.
- Bonnie Brae Tavern – Founded in 1934, this neighborhood spot is probably best known for Mike’s Cheeseburger Pizza, with ground beef, mozzarella (or American cheese), pickles, and onions.
- Dead Battery Club — Enjoy affordable cocktails and a range of fresh baked buns while you kick back in this stylish little spot.
- Interstate Kitchen and Bar — Settle in for one of the best burgers (Angus or vegan!), or their eight-hour roast beef sandwich with horseradish cream. Don’t miss the best French fries in Denver.
Right to your Door
Sometimes, you just want to eat in the comfort of your pjs, and have hot food other than pizza delivered when you want it, pants optional.
- Boney’s BBQ — Get extra saucy, knowing you can jump right in the shower once you’ve put away all the brisket and burnt ends!
- Daikon — Order yourself a fresh and fabulous banh mi sandwich on a fresh baguette.
- Melita’s Greek Café — Old school charm and gyros for all!
- Peter’s Chinese – Small and mighty, this place has the best scallion pancakes and perfect sesame chicken. Peter himself may be the one to answer the phone when you call and order.
- Shish Kabob Grill – Located just on the edge of downtown, with big platters of Middle Eastern comfort food. Don’t forget to order extra hummus.
Just need an inexpensive bowl of carb comfort? They’re easy to find all over Denver.
- Menya — Whether you visit the noodle bar on the 16th Street Mall or their ramen and poke spot a quick walk over the Millennium Bridge, you’ll be quite sated by the outcome.
- Sakura House — A classic Japanese noodle house in Sakura Square, which is our own mini Japantown.
- What the Pho — Easy downtown access to hot bowls with lots of broth and noodles.
- Zoe Ma Ma — Union Station’s quick-serve Chinese spot serves up a duck noodle wanton soup on Fridays and Saturdays, and their noodle soups are everything.
Bar Food and Late Night
Just finished a fun night at the theatre or live music downtown? Get fed until the wee hours so you don’t wake up hungry and hungover.
- Brass Tacks — Not only does this friendly bar serve Vietnamese-inspired family-style grub (Viet-Cajun Shrimp Boil, anyone?), but their baba ganoush and burgers are quality.
- Denver Ted’s – Nothing like a late-night cheesesteak to set you up for a good sleep.
- Famous Original J’s Pizza — Josh Pollack, the genie behind Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen opened this New York-style haven at the back of the 715 Club in Five Points. Slices so fresh, thin, and hot, you can fold them in half.
- My Brother’s Bar — The oldest bar in Denver was a regular hangout for Neal Cassady and the Beat Generation. Get yourself a Jalapeño Cream Cheese Burger (JCB) and a fries and rings combo to share until way late.
- Pony Up — If you’re downtown and all you crave is a French dip sandwich, stop here and select from a menu full of variations, and order a cocktail from some of the sweetest bartenders in the city.
- Sputnik – An old-school bar with unexpected dishes and a killer vegan menu. This is where you go after a night of live music along South Broadway, or when you want a PBR and something tasty for lunch.
- There – The kitchen is open late and the steamed buns are delicious.
A stop for food on the way to the resorts (or a break from the fancy) doesn’t have to empty your wallet if you know where to look.
- Moe’s Original Bar B Que – Delicious and affordable at any of their locations, but the one in Vail is right near the gondola at Lionshead, which means a beer and brisket are close at hand.
Local Joe’s Pizza – Another Vail go-to. Nothing too fancy here, just kick-ass pies served late (and even delivered!).
- Loaded Joe’s — Avon’s secret weapon just down the way from Beaver Creek serves up lamb and eggs for breakfast and live music for dinner.
- Blue Coyote — You’ll want to “Gnar to the ‘yote” for margs and tacos after a day on the mountain. Right in Beaver Creek.
- Fatbelly Burgers — Stop by this Carbondale gem on the way to Aspen for grass-fed goodness that’s locally sourced and always on point.