I did some traveling this summer, and I used each trip as an opportunity to eat my way through a city. Frequently, I'd note, with smug superiority, that we do certain things just as well -- or better -- in Denver. But there were also moments when I was gullet-deep in some delicious morsel and I couldn't help but wonder, why, exactly, don't we have this in Denver?
I love what's going on right now in the Denver restaurant scene, and I'd never suggest that what it needs is to rip off New York's delis or pizza or San Franciso's sourdough. But if you're contemplating opening something up any time soon in the Mile High City, here are five concepts worth considering:
5. A Burmese restaurant It took me about three bites of tea leaf salad at San Francisco's Burma Superstar to fall in love with Burmese cuisine, which had previously been completely foreign to me. And after samusa soup, curry noodles and pumpkin pork stew, I was totally hooked. Hey, I'd even take a little Burmese influence on a menu at this point. (By the way, while we're at this, I've noted before that a spot serving Lao food would be rad, too.)
4. A Czech restaurant and beer hall It's a simple concept: Czech beer on draft and a menu to go with it, served at long tables in a casual atmosphere. Why? Because beer halls are fun, and schnitzels, dumplings and kolaches are delicious. I'd also take a Czech-like menu with local Czech-like beers, or a little more Central and Eastern European food in general in Denver. You know, to balance out the Western part of the continent, which is well represented.
3. A place that serves a sexed-up gordita I haven't had many dishes in my life that made me turn around and immediately initiate a second order, but I ate a gordita this summer that had me calling for my server before I'd even finished the last bite. It was no traditional gordita, either -- it was a sexed-up version, with two corn tortilla rounds sandwiching a peppery and voluptuous beef filling plus queso fresco, beans and a tuft of cabbage. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life, but I couldn't help thinking that there's got to be a Denver chef who could do it even better.
2. A meatball shop There are only a couple of places I stop in to every time I'm in New York City, and one of them is the Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side. And every time I'm there, I wonder why there isn't an outpost or a similar concept in every city. All the restaurant does is serve meatballs: on sandwiches, over greens or naked (yes, naked balls). The shop pairs them with beer and sangria, and supplements them with ice cream sandwiches for dessert. And people practically have to sit in each other's laps because the place is so full all the time. This is obviously because meatballs are delicious. Admit it: A meatball and beer pretty much always sounds good. I wish it existed in Denver.
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1. A soba house After a lot of searching, I finally satisfied my craving for ramen at Sachi Sushi in Niwot and, in a non-traditional pinch, Bones in Denver. But that's just one type of Japanese noodle, and now I want another: the buckwheat variety. I visited a couple of soba shops this summer, partaking in cold versions, hot versions and dipped versions, a la noodle fondue. Brimming with pork, laced with ginger and chiles, or mixed with fermented soybeans, I couldn't get enough. And now that I'm back in the Rockies, I can barely find a joint that does soba at all, let alone the myriad types, so I'm hoping a chef steps up and opens a noodle joint. If the places I visited are any indication, it will be packed.
A tiki bar would have been on this list, too, but, happily, Denver has one of those in the works.
Know where one of these things exists within a 100-mile radius? Point us there.