A Penny Earned Is Smartly Spent at These Denver Value Restaurants

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 Maria Empanadas, extraordinary value comes in the form of exceptional, authentic Argentinian empanadas priced just over $3 each. Denver Biscuit Company offers an appealing menu showcasing biscuits and comfort food, 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 coffee, Colorado craft brew and the laid-back atmosphere. This list is proof that Denver's food scene rocks. 


Capitol Hill

Nothing fancy here, just excellent gyros, falafels and other Middle Eastern food conveniently located on the corner of Grant and Colfax in Cap Hill. There's not much in the way of atmosphere but the service is prompt and friendly. If there's a downside, it's that there is no alcohol served here so you'll have to go elsewhere to wash your falafel down with a craft brew. That said, hummus fans will be happy, indeed. This may be the best in Denver. If you're looking for value, go for a sandwich and get appetizers for the table. Entrees are pricier but definitely hearty. The chicken shawarma sandwich is a must-try.

More than four months after a devastating fire, The Cherry Cricket reopened in April 2017 with a long line of grateful patrons on hand to celebrate. The 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 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 or grape jam.


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, burgers and breakfasts. Even Food Network celeb Guy Fieri stopped in to get the scoop. 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? Down-home and divey, Sam's is a Denver tradition.


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.

Biker Jim's is definitely the top dog of Denver's hot dog specialty restaurants and holds its own against many other types of restaurants, too. Like Maria Empanads, Biker Jim's specializes in one thing and does it really well. Sure, the word gourmet is thrown around a lot these days, used to describe every kind of food and eatery, some deserving and some not. But Biker Jim's gourmet dogs are exactly that. On the menu are dogs made with pheasant, rattlesnake, elk and duck confit, along with the more expected all beef varieties and two vegan options, spicy or herby. Some varieties have limited variety, but you can always find a dog worth eating here.

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.

Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

Chef Clint Wangsnes has taken fast-casual to a new level. At Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery the food is not just quick and relatively easy on the wallet, 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. Creative cocktails, wine and beer give parents a nice option for a night out with their kids. A neighborhood restaurant at heart, Chop Shop has a welcoming, laid-back feel. Nice touches, nice food, nice price.

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, burritos and other items from local vendors, just as the beer list highlights Colorado brews and the coffee selection showcases local roasters. Best of all, this place is all about community.

You'll find Denver Biscuit Company in a space that accommodates two restaurants and a popular bar under one roof. Denver Biscuit Company serves breakfast and biscuit sandwiches for lunch, while Fat Sully's offers pizza for lunch, dinner and late into the evening. Atomic Cowboy bar supports both restaurants morning through late night. But nothing says home cooking like biscuits, which are made from scratch here and appear on the menu in a variety of ways. Most decadent: The Franklin, a biscuit sandwich with buttermilk-fried chicken topped with melted cheese and belly bacon, all smothered in sausage or mushroom gravy, egg optional. FYI, we asked and this was the answer: "The secret to our biscuits is love...and tons and tons of butter."

On a busy corner of South Broadway, Maria Empanada is an oasis of deliciousness and charm. Empanadas come from the ovens morning to night, both sweet and savory. The menu also includes veggie-filled "tartas" made from an old family recipe, as well as Spanish tortillas made with organic eggs. There's a limited selection of wine and beer to pair with these Argentine delights. Nothing fancy here. The empanadas come in a basket that you take to the table yourself. The whole place opens up to the sidewalk and there are tables outside, though the traffic somewhat diminishes the appeal of sitting there. Nothing, however, diminishes the excellent empanadas and friendly ambience of the place.


Meet 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,...  More About Christine