I was driving a lot last week, bouncing between pho restaurants all over town, trying to decide which one was going to be my lucky number. There was the new(ish) Pho 7, at 10009 East Hampden Avenue in Aurora (in the former home of Istanbul Grill), where I still haven't been; and Pho 79 (1080 South Havana in Aurora), where I go far too often. Pho Saigon at 2050 South Havana in Aurora (reviewed in January last year) now has a sister location at 8101 South Quebec in Englewood. And I've heard good things about Pho 88 (104th and Federal Boulevard), as well as Pho So 1 (1195 South Federal), which reportedly does a great bun bo Hue.
While I was out slurping soup, I noticed a number of other developments that had nothing to do with pho. For example, Nine75 North, at 2831 West 120th in Westminster, is gone. The spinoff of the original Nine75, at 975 Lincoln Street, was a risk for the Sullivan Restaurant Group, which gambled on whether or not the good people of the northern 'burbs would go for $22 fish and chips, homemade cotton candy and a somewhat dated small-plates menu. Apparently, they wouldn't.
I put in a call to see if anyone was still around to answer the phone, and ended up with a former manager who was clearing out the place. When I asked what had happened, he offered a well-rehearsed litany of sound bites — quickly, like he was skipping the punctuation. "Too slow," he said. "Tough economy downturn neighborhood high overhead."
Put like that, the failure almost reads like poetry.
In any event, the address is dark and just begging for another Bennigan's or Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag to take Nine75 North's spot.
North Denver is getting a new French restaurant: Brasserie Felix, which is opening in the former Simple Foods market at 3901 Tennyson Street. It's a good location, but all windows are currently covered with brown paper and no one is picking up the phone, so I can't tell you much more than that. Still, I don't think Denver can have too many French restaurants. Good thing, too, because the very French Indulge opened in January just a few blocks away, at 4140 West 38th Avenue, in the former home of Mikey's Italian Bistro.
I was also in the Southtowns last week, chasing down a vague tip about a Vietnamese place in Parker that does killer pho and banh xeo (kinda like a Vietnamese pizza — a rice-flour crepe covered, sometimes, in black-bean sauce, with sprouts, a little pork, maybe some grilled shrimp — and very tough to find in this town). I never did find that mystery restaurant, but I noticed that Indochine, a place I'd loved at 10920 South Parker Road, had disappeared. This was the first restaurant of Yume Tran and Jeff Nghiem, who went on to open, and then close, Sapa in Centennial. Sapa opened in the former home of T-Wa Terrace, Hai Bird's restaurant, and with its upscale dining room and broad-spectrum menu, live music and aspirations toward Inland Empire Asian yuppie chic, it was a great, if overly ambitious, concept. Today its former home is occupied by Asiana Bistro.
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Indochine seemed more suited to longtime survival, with a manageable dining room and abbreviated Viet/Thai menu overseen closely by Tran and Nghiem. And the good news is, it did survive — just in a different location. I found the new Indochine at 19751 East Main Street in Parker — in a beautiful little space right off the main drag.
Before leaving the 'burbs, I saw that the original location of Old School Burgers (formerly Goose Gossage's Burgers-N-Sports), at 18695 East Stage Run Road in Parker, has gone dark. The building is for lease and looks like it has been for a while now. But for those of you craving the good stuff — for legal reasons, I can't reveal what famous place Old School reminds me of, but let's just say it rhymes with Schmin-N-Schmout Burger — and are willing to drive a little, there are still two Old School locations operating: one at 901 West Hampden Avenue and a new one at 1764 South Havana Street in Aurora. There's even a third planned for 16260 East 40th Avenue in Aurora, according to the company website.
Thinking about burgers reminded me that two new high-end/fast-casual/DIY-style burger joints are coming to town. Five Guys Burgers and Fries will open soon at 2300 South Parker Road in Aurora, in what used to be a shitty Fazoli's franchise. Five Guys is a definite step up. It's a chain, yes, with locations spread across more than 25 states. But it's a Zagat-rated chain (no small accomplishment), one that's taken a whole bunch of best-burger awards on the East Coast, with a menu simple enough to fit on a three-by-five card: burgers, hot dogs, fries and nothing else
And then there's The Counter, shooting for an August 18 opening at Park Meadows. This is a concept out of California and appears to be an inappropriate spot for those who suffer from option paralysis. The menu is like a psychological profiling checklist, with four different burgers in three different sizes available on three different buns, with ten cheeses, 28 toppings, eighteen sauces, and everything from fried pickle chips to turkey chili available on the side. For control freaks, it's awesome; for someone who just wants a cheeseburger and fries, it's a nightmare. Though I have to say, I'd like to see what a beef burger with Danish blue cheese, dried cranberries, ginger-soy glaze and a fried egg might taste like.