It’s a fact: You don’t have to wipe out your entire paycheck to get a great meal in Denver. Sure, there are pricey fine-dining establishments well worth the splurge for special occasions. But you should be able to eat out any time you want to–and you can. Each of these 10 restaurants offers great food at an affordable price. As a group, they also cover all times of day and a variety of cuisines. Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery is the poster restaurant for the fast-casual concept. It’s affordable, comfortable, family-friendly and quick, but also chef-driven and you can get wine, beer and a Moscow Mule, too. At Tamales by La Casita, extraordinary value comes in the form of house-made tamales and other flavorful Mexican dishes priced in the $2-$6 range. Acme Burger & Brat Corporation offers a compact, appealing menu with value pricing in the lively setting of Union Station, while The Market at Larimer Square is a cornucopia of edible possibilities where patrons can mix, match and create the meal they want at the price they want. And guests at Denver Bicycle Café can enjoy locally made pastries and coffee while their bike is expertly tuned up. No bike? Go just to enjoy a Colorado craft brew and the laid-back atmosphere when the bar opens at 5 p.m. This list is just more proof that Denver's food scene rocks.
Saigon Bowl is just what its name implies, a Vietnamese restaurant with dozens of dishes, including a hefty list of rice noodle bowls and pho, a delicious spicy-fragrant soup with onions, herbs, peppers, lime and beef. There are dozens and dozens of dishes priced under $10, but if you want to splurge there are a few pricier entrees, too, including whole golden-fried striped bass with ginger-and-scallion sauce and fire-pot soups filled with fish, shellfish, beef, chicken and vegetables. Fish and shellfish lovers will have an especially hard time deciding what to order, but pork, chicken and even lamb are represented on the menu, too. Saigon Bowl also offers family dinners for two to six people. (303.935.2427)
Billy's Gourmet Hot Dogs
They're more than just hot dogs. Honest. They're above and beyond yet with everything you loved about them as a kid. You won't be sorry if you go in and try one, but chances are you will be surprised by how good Billy's dogs are. And if your companions aren't in the mood for hot dogs, Billy's menu includes "not dogs," too, from burgers and chicken to grilled salmon. Did we mention the nine types of fries, including a garlic pesto blue cheese version? In addition to the Larimer Street shop, Billy's has restaurants on East Colfax and South Broadway. ((303) 284-2714)
The Cherry Cricket
The Cherry Cricket offers a welcoming patch of down-to-earth unpretentiousness in a sea of super-swank establishments. The Cricket has been the happy black sheep of the Cherry Creek North neighborhood for decades with its old-school pub/sports bar atmosphere and a comforting combo of pub and Mexican food. While the menu has plenty of options, there's a reason Cherry Cricket's burgers have consistently been voted among the best in Denver. It could be the 30-plus topping choices--all the usual suspects including cheese, bacon, barbeque sauce and onions, along with a slew of out-there choices such as grilled pineapple, peanut butter, corned beef and raspberry jam. (303.322.7666)
Sam's No. 3
Sam's No. 3 is everything you love about Greek diners and diner food--with a whole lot of green-chile smothered Mexican breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes thrown in. The multiple-page menu can seem overwhelming. Not to worry. All you really need to know is that Denverites have been giving awards to Sam's No. 3 for years--especially for its Kickin' Green Chili, its burgers and its breakfasts. Even Food Network celeb Guy Fieri stopped in to get the scoop on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." If you can't already tell, this is not the place for dieting. Sure, there are vegetarian and gluten- and dairy-free options and fruit plates, but seriously, you can get those anywhere. On the other hand, where can you get a burrito filled with chorizo, tator tots and mac-and-cheese smothered in green chili? Or a Naked French Canadian Swiss Melt? Down-home and divey, Sam's is a Denver tradition. (303-534-1927)
Tamales by La Casita
For nearly four decades Paula Sandoval and her family have offered up exceptional, fresh-made tamales in north Denver, food that reflects what Sandoval calls New Mexican style. She describes her restaurant as "a clean, well-lighted place that speaks of comfort, home and friendship, a place to enjoy a good plate of food and don't forget to take tamales home!" Truth be told, this is the place in Denver for authentic, affordable, house-made tamales--green, red or vegetarian. So highly regarded are the Sandovals, they also have a factory that sells tamales wholesale to other restaurants. Of course, there are tacos, tostados, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, chili rellenos, burritos and smothered sopapillas on the menu, too. Tamales by La Casita has an outpost at Terminal C in Denver International Airport, so you can also get your tamale fix--and other regional goodies--coming or going from Denver. (303-477-2899)
Denver Bicycle Cafe
It's an odd combo and yet so right for Denver: A place where you can get your bike fixed, sip an espresso and enjoy a craft brew. What's not to love? Low-key Denver Bicycle Café is first and foremost a place where you can have a conversation with your friends or sit alone and commune with your laptop during the day. Eclectic music plays but doesn't assault your eardrums. While the menu is limited, it's comprised of baked goods, tamales, breakfast burritos and other items from local vendors, just as the beer list highlights Colorado brews. During the day, the café's baristas serve coffee and tea drinks in a variety of creative ways. If you want to bring your own food or order in from a neighborhood restaurant, you can do that, too. This place is all about community. (720.446.8029)
Acme Burger & Brat Corporation
Acme Burger & Brat Corporation is in a prime location inside Union Station in LoDo--the perfect setting for this food that's also of prime quality yet reasonably priced. The burgers are made with Niman Ranch prime beef, the fries are hand-cut Kennebec potatoes--all the rage on the culinary scene these days--and the buns are fresh-baked locally using Acme's own recipe. Add to that the fact that nowhere in Denver is the people watching better than in Union Station, where Amtrak passengers, locals and tourists mix and mingle in an ever-changing panorama, day and night. After dinner, grab dessert at Milkbox Ice Creamery, housed a couple of doors down in the carefully preserved former barbershop space. (720.460.3706)
The Market at Larimer Square
Stop by The Market at Larimer Square for a wide assortment of salads, sandwiches and sweets. The casual cafe draws a diverse crowd of locals and tourists (it's great for people-watching), and there's something for everyone. The drink menu boasts an extensive list of coffees and teas, perfect for sipping at one of the small tables or taking along with you. Pair it with a pastry or a rich slice of cake for the best effect. Outdoor dining is a good choice on one of Denver's many pleasant days. Best of all, when you finish eating you are in the heart of Larimer Square, where strolling and window-shopping are encouraged. (303-534-5140)
El Taco de Mexico
This is authentic Mexican cuisine with its roots in Mexico City and dishes featuring ingredients commonly used in Mexico but less so in the United States. Cheek meat, tongue and tripe are mainstays for the famous tacos, which are also offered with beef or fried or marinated pork. Cheek meat, tongue and milanesa, a breaded beef, appear in combo plates, and every kind of burrito is available, too. Although it has been winning awards for years for its tacos, green chile and chile rellenos, it's impossible to go wrong here if you like traditional Mexican food. While some aficionados recommend smothering pretty much everything in the deeply satisfying green chile--perhaps especially breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros, served all day starting at 7 a.m.--that may be an overstatement. Or not! Several kinds of chilaquiles are served, as are enchiladas, gorditas, flautas and quesadillas, among other items. (303-623-3926)
Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
Chef Clint Wangsnes has taken fast-casual to a new level. At Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery the food is not just quick and affordable, it's chef-driven and fresh. Dishes fall in the comfort-food arena but often with a healthy twist. Instead of traditional pastrami, Chop Shop makes its own smoked-chicken pastrami. Menu highlights include creative salads, and the crispy fried organic tofu is a winner, as is the sophisticated kid's menu. But meat-lovers are in for a treat. The 48-hour slow-cooked short ribs and shaved slow-roasted sirloin French Dip will have folks coming back. A neighborhood restaurant at heart, Chop Shop has a welcoming, laid-back feel. Yes, you have to order from the counter but the food is brought to your very pleasant table and many menu items arrive on hand-cut wood butcher blocks. Nice touches, nice food, nice price. (720.550.7665)
About Christine Loomis
Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York, Colorado and California. Today she divides time between the Denver and San Francisco areas.
Christine loves shoe shopping and fishing; walking anywhere; horseback riding (she was on the equestrian team at the University of Oregon); and discovering menus that include small-batch whiskeys, craft beer and lesser-known wines.
She would go anywhere in an RV and believes summer is best when it includes a rafting trip.
Read more about Christine Loomis here.