“Cheap” is a relative term these days when it comes to dining out; you can still get a burger or something that vaguely resembles tacos at a fast-food joint for a few bucks, but if you’re looking for quality from an independent, locally owned establishment, a decent lunch will probably hit two digits. For that price, you want filling, unique and delicious.
Here are five restaurants where the bang-to-buck ratio is high and the offerings are uncommon in the metro area. They’ve all opened within the past couple of months — perfect for avid food hunters seeking something new while sticking to a budget.
1930 South Havana Street, Aurora
Korean fried chicken is hard to find in Denver, but if you live near the frontier of Aurora, you’ll want to cross the road — Havana Street, in this case — to get to the chicken at this brand-new eatery. For less than $12, Angry Chicken will hand over a half-chicken coated in a crackly rice-flour crust along with a smattering of small sides. Choose from super-spicy sauces or milder seasonings like green onion, honey-garlic or even powdered cheese. Go bone-in or boneless, or choose oven-roasted if you’re looking to save a few calories. The Angry Chicken brand was born in Korea and appears to be the only dedicated KFC (and we don’t mean Kentucky) joint in the metro area, so it’s our go-to for fiery fowl in 2018.
8000 East Quincy Avenue
Downtown office workers should be familiar by now with the allure of the sizzling döner kabob coming from the Shondiz kiosk on the 16th Street Mall. After all, owner Mohammad Esmaeili has been slinging lamb and chicken döner — grilled meat sliced paper-thin from a vertical rotisserie — for nearly eight years downtown. But Esmaili just recently added a brick-and-mortar outpost of Shondiz in the Denver Tech Center, adding an inexpensive option for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Skewer yourself a döner or shawarma sandwich for about $9, or go with falafel for a little less — even the platters ring in at under $10 for the most part. Oh, and you read that right: Shondiz is also open for breakfast, serving classic Denver-style breakfast burritos for a five-spot.
7939 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
The price of a good bowl of ramen in Denver has inched up in recent years — to the point where a $10 bowl is a rarity rather than the norm. But at Sukiya, which just opened in December, a Hamilton will still get you about half of the noodle soups — shio, tonkotsu, chicken shoyu or vegetarian — on the menu. For only a buck more, the choices expand to spicy miso, tsukumen and kimchi ramen — and also a house special called Bloody Mary tonkotsu, a pork-and-tomato broth you’re not likely to find anywhere else in town.If you have a few extra dollars, make sure to order pork chasu buns ($6) or octopus takoyaki ($6).
TLV Tel Aviv Street Food
1701 Wewatta Street (inside Whole Foods Union Station)
Whole Foods isn’t an intuitive answer for where to find reasonably priced eats, but the new Union Station outpost of the upscale all-natural grocery chain boasts a few food counters where you can score a filling meal without breaking the bank. One such counter is TLV, operated by the family that also owns Etai’s Bakery Cafes around town and Izzio Artisan Bakery inside Denver Central Market. There you’ll find bulging pita sandwiches filled with succulent lamb, brisket or chicken shawarma — each loaded with flavor-packed sauces and fresh veggies. The most expensive — dubbed the Lamborghini (because it’s made with lamb) — rings in at $12, but sandwiches go as low as $10. Split an order of fries or crunchy falafel, and you can still keep it under $15 while walking away full.
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The Soul Kitchen & Bar
98 Wadsworth Boulevard, Lakewood
Kirk’s Soul Kitchen opened in Aurora six years ago, but the original owner sold the place, and the new owners have dropped the name Kirk while expanding into Lakewood with a second location — one that includes a full bar. Meatloaf, fried chicken and fish combos start at just under $10 and range up to nearly $15, depending on how many sides — okra, candied yams, collard greens and other Southern staples — you want with the type of protein you pick. Catfish is a house specialty, and you can get strips or fillets, with or without sides. Don’t let your eyes rest on the combos side of the menu for too long, though, or you’ll miss the best deals: seafood gumbo and shrimp étoufée for right around $10. Soul food is a rarity on Denver’s west side, so the Soul Kitchen is a welcome addition.
For more bargain dishes, see our list of the best new places for cheap eats that opened in 2017.