Sam's No. 3, popular since opening in 1927, 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. Did we mention cheeseburgers? The multiple-page menu can seem overwhelming, but all you really need to know is that Denverites have been giving awards to Sam's No. 3 for years with good reason. Even 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, tater tots and mac-and-cheese smothered in green chili? Sam's may look average but don't be fooled. There are tasty, sophisticated cocktails and espresso drinks, too. Bottom line: Sam's No.3 is a glorious down-home and divey Denver tradition.
Recommended for Best Value because: Sam's No. 3 is a Denver tradition, especially for a well-priced breakfast.
Christine's expert tip: For a sense of the place, check out the fun sayings on the opening page of the Sam's No. 3 website.
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 burgers, including bison, have consistently been voted among the best in Denver. It could be the 35-plus topping choices--all the usual suspects such as cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and onions, along with a slew of out-there options including grilled pineapple, peanut butter, corned beef, Fritos and pork belly, not to mention delicious Ancho Apricot BBQ. The cobb salad is also a winner.
Recommended for Best Value because: It has withstood the test of time, sticking to its working-class roots in an increasingly uber upscale neighborhood, and the burgers still get raves.
Christine's expert tip: The Cricket is open until 2 a.m. seven days a week but if you want food, get there before midnight when the kitchen closes.
Chefs here have 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 bacon-wrapped meatloaf 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 prices.
Recommended for Best Value because: Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery is delicious proof that fast and casual can translate to excellent value and excellent food in an inviting atmosphere.
Christine's expert tip: Chop Shop now has locations in Lowry on Quebec and on S. Broadway, too.
Biker Jim's is a hot dog specialty restaurant, but it holds its own against many other types of restaurants, too. Like Maria Empanada, 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 many not. But Biker Jim's gourmet dogs are exactly that. The menu features dogs made with ostrich, rattlesnake, elk and wild boar, along with the more expected all-beef varieties and even a vegan option. There are highly unusual toppings to choose from it's safe to say you won't find anywhere else--Harissa roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam, scallions, cilantro and onions two ways, among them. Sides include charred tahini cauliflower as well as more expected choices.
Recommended for Best Value because: It's the top dog in Denver, the trifecta of must-go restaurants--one of a kind, good and affordable.
Christine's expert tip: Biker Jim's also has food trucks as well as outlets at Coors Field and Mile High Stadium.
Check out the wall on the left as you enter. It's ingeniously made of books, a cool nod to the building's past as a bookbindery. Today, the space is put to good use as a wine bar and Italian bistro. Postino is an ideal spot to linger over a nicely affordable meal, especially on a perfect Denver afternoon out on the patio. The food menu is targeted with a focus on shareable bruschetta, panini, artisan cheese boards, soups and salads. The dishes go beyond the ordinary combining unexpected flavor pairings such as bruschetta topped with prosciutto, fig and mascarpone or ricotta, dates and pistachios. Choose four for under $20 and pair it with wine. There's a nice selection of wines by the glass for $9 to $13. Beer lovers, not to worry: This wine bar has an excellent selection of Colorado craft brews, too.
Recommended for Best Value because: Postino combines excellent food, wine and one of Denver's best patios, all enjoyed at a very affordable price.
Christine's expert tip: Postino has branched out with additional locations: on Broadway and in the newly happening neighborhood at 9th and Colorado Blvd.
Dog Haus focuses on hot dogs and beer but also features sausages, burgers and chicken. By definition this menu is easy on the wallet, but that doesn't mean boring or low on options. There are more than a few surprises including the Soooo Cali dog with wild arugula, avocado, tomato, crispy fried onions and spicy basil aioli. Sausages come in several varieties and burgers include everything you'd want as a topper and more--way more, such as the burger loaded with smoked bacon or a burger topped with a fried egg. Vegetarians can dig into several plant-based options including a burger, slider, chicken and sausages. The hardest decision: Tater tots, slaw or onion rings on the side and a shake or local craft beer to wash it all down.
Recommended for Best Value because: Dog Haus Biergarten Northfield Stapleton is all about value yet delivers high quality and delicious variations on the budget-friendly hot dog
Christine's expert tip: Eat happily. All meat used is certified humanely raised, vegetarian-fed, with no added nitrates or nitrites and always hormone- and antibiotic-free.
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. "Our homemade food is cooked with love and care," states the website, and that's exactly how it tastes at this family owned and operated restaurant. 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 shawerma sandwich is a must-try, and don't skip dessert.
Recommended for Best Value because: This is the place on Cap Hill for excellent gyros, falafels and hummus in a low-key atmosphere at excellent prices.
Christine's expert tip: No alcohol served here but that's not a reason to pass it by. The food is more than enough to bring diners in.
Yes, Garibaldi Mexican Bistro is located in a gas station on South Broadway. Not one of those evolved gas-station-turned-retro-hip eateries. Nope, this is a working Conoco gas station so you can fill up yourself and your car in one stop. While the exterior and interior defy any logic in calling this place a bistro, the food tells a different story. This isn't Tex-Mex, though the familiar items are all there, from tacos and enchiladas to burritos and churros. But there's also a menu of dishes derived from the Aztec tradition, as well as specialties that don't appear on most Mexican menus in the United States. If you're a fan of cactus, and you should be, it's served in several variations, along with huaraches and quekas (highly recommended). You can order out, but you won't find friendlier service anywhere if you decide to eat in.
Recommended for Best Value because: Garibaldi Mexican Bistro offers excellent value, excellent service and delicious food with a few twists on the expected.
Christine's expert tip: The restaurant does a bustling take-out business for those who don't want to eat in a gas station.
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. from Biscuit French Toast and Biscuit Pot Pie to The Franklin, a biscuit sandwich with buttermilk-fried chicken topped with melted cheese and bacon, all smothered in sausage or mushroom gravy, egg optional. Some biscuit combos are drenched in maple syrup and/or house-made honey butter. FYI, we asked and this was the answer: "The secret to our biscuits is love...and tons and tons of butter."
Recommended for Best Value because: The name says it. Denver Biscuit Company excels at biscuits, fried chicken and just about anything else you could want with your biscuits.
Christine's expert tip: Denver Biscuit Company has additional locations on South Broadway, Tennyson and in Stanley Marketplace in Aurora.
On a busy corner of South Broadway, Maria Empanada is an oasis of deliciousness and charm. Empanadas come from the oven morning to night, ready for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are vegetarian and gluten-free empanadas along with traditional options. Each flavor has its own shape, which is also empanada tradition. It's a must to add one (or more) of the sauces, such as Argentinian chimichurri, and there's a limited selection of wine and beer as well as sangria to pair with these tasty baked delights. The all-day espresso and coffee bar is a nice touch and there's an expansive dessert menu, too. Nothing fancy here. The empanadas come in a basket you take to the table yourself, yet Maria Empanadas is the best of all worlds--a neighborhood gem offering great value, delicious food and a welcoming atmosphere.
Recommended for Best Value because: Maria Empanada offers true value, serving up superb, authentic empanadas in a nice atmosphere at a great price.
Christine's expert tip: In addition to the South Broadway location, you can find Maria Empanada in LoHi and at Stanley Marketplace