It's a Mall World

Denver's strip-mall restaurants explore new territories.

East of here, there are stretches of cracked parking lot where a man so inclined can get doughnuts, veal, biryani and a gun all in a single mile-long stretch. Or sushi, tacos, chicken wings and a mail-order bride. Or bastilla, Turkish coffee, kimchi, saag, cheeseburgers and his ass kicked for looking the wrong way at another fella's girl at last call.

Closer to town, at 942 South Monaco, the best bagels in the city are being made at a solidly Jewish shop (the Bagel Store) with zero visibility and Greeks just around the corner at the Monaco Inn. In the 2000 block of South Colorado, you can choose from Turkish, Persian, Lebanese and mixed-grill Middle Eastern cuisine in the space of a few hundred feet, and then -- if you're willing to hoof it a couple of blocks -- expand your options and get new-style sushi, fried chicken, cheesesteaks, cheeseburgers and kabobs until 4 a.m. at Ya Hala Grill, plus a venereal disease from an off-duty stripper prowling the area for a coffee place open all night.

At 1 Broadway, you can go from Italian coffee to Chicago-style pizza to Thai curry all in the same plaza, then walk a block and have Czech food at Sobo 151.

Location Info


Indigo Joe's Sports Pub & Restaurant

6120 Barnes Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80922

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Southern Colorado

Heading west, the plaza at 30th and Zuni (home to Zuni Kitchen, Taquería El Calle and a Korean convenience store) is a bellwether for a changing neighborhood, with Lola, Z Cuisine, Duo and Sushi Sasa just stumbling distance away. And along South Federal? More bubbling, seething Mexican and Southeast Asian weirdness is being concocted in the restaurants and cafes that spring up every 25 feet than can even be tracked. Last week, I stopped in at Ha Noi Pho (which opened in the former Pho Hoa space at 1036 South Federal, a couple doors down from Ba Le Sandwich, a block from Da Lat, and walking distance from New Saigon Market, where Asian and Mexican families and fry cooks all converge to buy everything from whole durian fruit to stew meat to Chiclets) and was served no fewer than five things I'd never before encountered in a Denver restaurant. I'd ordered bun bo Hue, a spicy noodle soup native to Hue City with a slick of chile oil floating on top, and received the traditional plate of condiments: the basil and lime, sliced jalapeño and bean sprouts. But tucked in amid the greenery were brown curls of shaved banana flower; little pigtail twists of some kind of root or tuber that even the owner couldn't identify; pointy Vietnamese coriander; flat, green, leafy fishscale mint that tasted like cardboard soaked with aquarium water, and a tiny smear of incredibly potent brown fish paste -- the base ingredient for all the fiery, vinegary fish sauces served everywhere else. The fish paste alone was like being offered a thimble of black-tar heroin rather than a scrip for codeine by your doctor, and when I dug into the soup, I found it packed with fat black cubes of gelatinous, coagulated pig's blood -- which is far less gamy than duck's blood and tastes much better than it sounds.

For one place to stump me (and the crowd of champion eaters I was dining with) so many times in one meal was impressive, and while I have no illusion that pig's blood or anchovy paste will be making an appearance on the menus at Prima, Luca d'Italia or Frasca anytime soon, those banana flowers just might.

Adaptability. Vigorous experimentation, ruthless Darwinian survival of the fittest and acclimatization to strange latitudes. Want to see where the newest and weirdest restaurant ideas are coming from? Then forget everything you thought you knew about strip malls and suburban dining and start really looking at those places forging inroads in your neighborhood.

Adapt, foodies, or be lost. Be brave. Get out there and make your own adventures. And while you're at it, how about doing a little legwork for yours truly? The biggest obstacle to finding out-of-the-way strip-mall gems is that most people only know the ones in their own neighborhoods. So if you've got a favorite -- a great single spot, a weird combination of places, a friggin' United Nations of restaurants hiding in your neck of the woods -- e-mail me at I promise to check out all suggestions, carefully weigh their merits, then act like I discovered all of them myself.

Leftovers: Word came last week from the Mezcal camp that the much-anticipated mobile taco delivery unit designed by Jesse Morreale and Sean Yontz is almost complete. This monster packs a six-burner stove and full ventilation hood, a six-foot-tall painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, tinted windows, chromed wheels, a giant Mezcal logo on the top so that people can see it coming from their high-rise offices downtown, and a portrait of a Mexican wrestler on the side. The only thing that's missing is a horn that plays "La Cucaracha" -- and Morreale is still trying to find one of those.

"I love it, man. It's so badass," Morreale insists. "And his name -- his name -- is ŒEl Mariachi.'"

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