Three and a half years ago, I moved to Denver because I wanted to work in restaurants. This city's restaurant scene, I reasoned, was growing. It would afford opportunities to dig in and help build something, and when the city inevitably rose to culinary greatness, I could proudly say I was a part of it.
I couldn't be happier with the way things turned out: I've had unbelievable dining experiences here in Denver, and I'm definitely sad to be leaving this incomparable scene behind. For sappy nostalgia's sake, here, in no particular order, is a list of what I'll miss most in the Mile High City.
The bar at Colt & Gray Before I started reviewing restaurants for Westword, I'd drive from Boulder to Colt & Gray once a week, using one of my two nights off to post up at the bar whether I could get someone to join me or not. Colt & Gray is where I've met many of my best friends in Denver, celebrated countless occasions and learned more about alcoholic beverages than I ever dreamed possible, all while drinking and eating very, very well. It was a rare night when I went there and didn't stay until the bartenders shut the lights off and locked the doors, and it felt more like home to me than my apartment did.
Chubby's Until a few weeks ago, I'd never been to Chubby's in the daylight, which is somewhat remarkable given the fact that I've probably been here more than any other restaurant in Denver. Denverites are judged by their green chile loyalties, and my stake is firmly planted in the gravy-like version at Chubby's. The stuff has enough salt and heft to stave off an impending hangover and the precise amount of tongue-tickling heat to encourage binge-eating. I'm going to miss 2 a.m. cab-ride detours to this spot, where I downed smothered fries and grilled cheese sandwiches injected with that green.
Federal Boulevard Vietnamese joints If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone complain about the lack of good non-Mexican ethnic options in this town, I could probably live off my acquired riches, getting fat and happy on Indian samosas, Ethiopian wot and Korean barbecue. But while Denver has a few good options in most of those categories, the city is positively teeming with excellent Vietnamese, and every time I'm craving that cuisine, I am racked with indecision about where to go. For pho, I alternate between Pho 95 and Pho Duy. Cravings for less soupy fare sends me to New Saigon or Saigon Bowl. And Ba Le had a lockdown on my heart for banh mi sandwiches and other baked goods until New Saigon Bakery unlocked its doors. I'm certain there's plenty I'm leaving undiscovered, too, and that makes me sad.
Table 6 If I were going to open my own restaurant, the one in Denver I would most draw influence from is, without a doubt, Table 6: More than any other joint in town -- and more than most other eateries I've been to in my life -- this restaurant has created a world that I absolutely love to live in for the duration of a meal. The place is whimsical and warm but refined enough to justify celebrating every special occasion at one of those tables. I dig the quirky wine list, the inventive menu, owner Aaron Forman's irreverent presence and the team of servers who so clearly love their job. But most of all, I dig the restaurant's ability to make every single person feel like a much-loved VIP, whether that person is a first-timer or has been through the doors 100 times.
The Great Divide Tap Room An awesome side effect of being deeply involved in the restaurant scene in this town meant that I was also inextricably attached to the beer world, since Denver's breweries are booming and owning the industry at a national level. I'm going to miss all of the tap rooms, the bars with obscenely good kegs and the opportunity to drink the rare, local stuff that we totally take for granted because, hey, this is beer country. The place that most symbolizes all of that for me, though, is the Great Divide Tap Room, which I hit more often than I hit most bars, sitting on the patio with some rad one-off draft. I'm hoping I can at least coerce someone into sending me a shipment of Colette when it's available and the occasional bomber of Yeti to get me through my withdrawal.
Star Bar It's too easy for me to end up at Star Bar every night of the week: The drinks are reasonably priced, the bartenders and owner Justin Lloyd are awesome, and I'm bound to run into someone I know. That makes it the perfect place to stop for a nightcap -- which usually turns into one of those oh-shit-I'm-out-until-2-on-a-school-night situations. Plus, the more time I spend there, the more I find details to love: the tally the bar keeps of every time someone plays Journey on the jukebox, the kick-ass karaoke nights and the always-eclectic crowd. The place is also a home base for the geeky beer community -- with taps befitting of such an audience.
Masterpiece Delicatessen The second I moved into the LoHi neighborhood, I knew a full-blown addiction to Masterpiece Delicatessen was imminent. I didn't disappoint myself. I spent weekend mornings on that patio with a paper and a breakfast sandwich, and I wrote a lot of stories for Westword at the back counter, massive cup of coffee in hand. I always looked forward to the spot's specials -- especially the wintertime cassoulet -- and I dream about the braised beef brisket sandwich, dripping with tallegio and saddled with caramelized onions.
32nd Avenue between Tejon and Clay Speaking of living in LoHi, most visitors to the neighborhood descended upon the restaurants on 16th Street between the walking bridge up to where the street turned into Tejon, and rightfully so: They're some of the hottest spots in town, with great views, good food and cool cocktails. But I could spend a perfect day doing nothing but eating my way down 32nd Avenue, which was never quite as busy as the stuff down the hill. I'd breakfast on baked goods and a breakfast sandwich at Wooden Spoon. I'd gorge on multiple scoops of gelato -- loading up, especially, on the sea-salt caramel -- from Spuntino. I'd tackle a 'shroom luva's burger and a pint at Highland Tap and Burger. And I'd finish my night at Williams & Graham with a cocktail or three and a plate of gnocchi.
Pizzeria Basta I'd have a hard time picking my very favorite Boulder pizza -- I love a couple of different pies for different reasons -- but I can pick my favorite pizzeria without hesitation: Pizzeria Basta. I met Basta owner Kelly Whitaker when his restaurant space was just a shell, and I was immediately taken with his passion; I'd never met anyone who was so deeply in love with his craft. And then he opened the doors to his place and I learned he also makes one hell of a pizza, applying Italian technique and philosophy and sourcing local ingredients to make his wood-oven-charred pies. I love stopping in solo to hear about Whitaker's latest obsessions over a beer and a pizza, I love hitting Basta with my family after a day in Boulder, and I have great memories of the place as the site of an excellent first date.
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Frasca Food and Wine Yes, Frasca. Frasca will always have a particularly special place in my heart because it's where it all started for me. And by that I mean my life in restaurants, because I begged Bobby Stuckey for a job and he took pity on me, thereby setting me down the path by which I would become a full-fledged food geek rather than just an avid eater. Moreover, I took lessons from working for Stuckey that I'll carry into every job I ever have. For that opportunity alone, I'd salute the place. But the reason I'll miss it runs deeper: Frasca has brought an incredible food experience to this state, and it's been excellent to watch it grow, raise the bar and extend its influence. To witness things like that is why I moved back to Colorado in the first place. And beyond any of those sentiments, I'll miss the spot's chef-oriented events, which inevitably turn into some of the most fun -- and drunken -- parties I've attended in town.
Honorable mentions: The Bitter Bar, where I learned to drink real cocktails; The Squeaky Bean, which was my very favorite restaurant in Denver before it closed to relocate downtown; Steuben's, where I can be frequently found at the bar; and The Kitchen, which became my go-to lunch spot after it added a second location in Denver.