Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Mark Antonation

7) Bubu 1430 Larimer Street 303-996-2685

Troy Guard opened the subterranean Bubu this summer in the former home of TAG|Raw Bar on a stretch of Larimer Square known for high-end dining, not fast food. Bubu's service may be fast, but the flavors and ingredients are definitely high-end. You can either build your own bowl from a list that encompasses Pacific Rim flavors with a few Southwestern accents, or choose from several house combos off a menu packed with tempting options. Guard's signature Hawaii Five-O, an homage to his home state, with hearts of palm, fennel, shiitakes, and a choice of protein -- grilled steak, poached chicken or shrimp, tofu and raw tuna or salmon -- is typical of the options. All of the bowls can be built on rice, rice noodles or a salad of mixed greens. Add bubu -- crunchy, spice rice puffs -- to any dish for a burst of flavor and texture.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Danielle Lirette

6) Cart-Driver 2500 Larimer Street 303-292-3553

Kelly Whitaker took his Basta concept from Boulder and a paired it down for this 26-seat shoebox of an eatery built inside a shipping container. Cart-Driver abandons the build-your-own option common at many other fast-casuals, choosing instead to offer a tightly-edited menu of topping combos for the wood-fired pizzas along with a small list of fresh oysters and other Italian bites -- like a tuna mousse served with house-made focaccia -- keep things interesting at happy hour and during late-night service, which runs until midnight daily. Unlike many other counter-service restaurants, you can keep your tab open at Cart-Driver, only paying once you've had a chance to sample your way through the menu or sip a couple of cocktails.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Danielle Lirette

5) Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery 4990 East Colfax Avenue 720-550-7665

Chef Clint Wangsnes is serving full-service food in a quick-service restaurant, putting out polished plates by employing sous-vide methods to slow cook meats -- and onions, for a rich French onion soup -- to add depth of flavor to dishes that only take a few minutes to plate and present to guests. Almost everything is served on wooden boards, from a 48-hour short rib with creamy whipped potatoes and hoisin demi-glace to crispy-fried tofu with quinoa, veggies and chimichurri. Batched cocktails on tap speed up the line too, but once seated, you won't want to hurry. Everything on the menu is worth slowing down for and lingering over each delicious bite.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Mark Antonation

4) Hopdoddy 1747 Wynkoop Street 303-446-2337

Hopdoddy got its start in Austin, Texas; this is only the second of its burger bars outside of the Lone Star State. With so many new burger joints popping up, Hopdoddy stands out with freshness and quality. Beef -- a chuck and brisket blend -- is ground fresh throughout the day, and all of the buns, even the fluffy and flavorful gluten-free variety, are baked in-house. If you're not feeling beefy, the menu also includes bison, lamb, chicken, turkey and tuna burgers, as well as a vegetarian black bean and corn patty. Hopdoddy makes sure the bar meets the same standards, since it's the first thing you pass before you even order your food. Limoncello and triple sec are house-made, and boozy milkshakes give an adult twist to the burger-and-shake combo.

Keep reading for three more of the best fast-casual restaurants of 2013.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Mark Antonation

3) Motomaki 1600 28th Street, Boulder 720-943-2030

There's something undeniably fun about the light and delicious offerings at Motomaki, from the folks who brought you Hapa Sushi. Motomaki specializes in big rolls, Japanese flavors and Hawaiian poke. Motomaki's rolls are considerably larger than standard sushi-bar maki, with an ample amount of rice and creative fillings wrapped in whole sheets of nori. The nacho tuna roll features spicy tuna, crunchy tempura asparagus, mango salsa, guacamole and sriracha aioli. Other options include a kalbi roll with Korean-style beef, a banh mi maki with char siu pork and jalapeño cilantro dressing, and a vegetarian teriyaki eggplant roll. Poke can be ordered with traditional diced Hawaiian-style tuna or or with salmon or hamachi.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Protein Bar

2) Protein Bar 1855 29th Street, Boulder 303-440-1028

Protein bar is another fast-casual import, this time from Chicago. The first opened in spring of this year in Boulder, but three others have cropped up in Denver since then. The healthy menu focuses on grilled "bar-ritos" stuffed with quinoa, chicken or tofu and a variety of veggies and sauces that trade in processed ingredients and fat for the latest superfoods -- think flax and chia seeds, kale, purple cabbage and Greek yogurt. Most options can be easily made vegan and even a hearty bowl of chili comes in chicken or vegetarian choices. It's a great lunch option for those busy days when you can't afford an afternoon letdown brought on by two-pound burritos or a pile of fries.

Ten Best New Fast-Casual Eateries in Metro Denver in 2014
Mark Antonation

1) Sunnyside Burger Bar 3759 Lipan Street 303-534-2367

Troy Guard scored two fast-casual eateries this year. While Bubu skews toward light and healthy bowls with Asian flair, Sunnyside Burger Bar delivers a comforting menu and an ambiance with neighborhood appeal. Burgers, as the sign says, are the name of the game here, in a relaxed setting with service that falls somewhere between fast-casual and full-on table service. Ordering is done in the standard fast-casual format: the line snakes past the bar where you can grab a beer -- perhaps from Diebolt Brewing just a few blocks away -- or cocktail before ordering from the big menu board, but servers patrol the dining room once you grab a table (numbered so you never have to tote your food around looking for a seat) in case you want to tack on to your order. Along with Guard's signature fried pickle chips, burger combos include healthy toppings like roasted beets, quinoa and kale to decidedly decadent fare like fried avocado slices and piles of potato chips. Retro touches likepimento cheese spread and green goddess dip give away Guard's fondness for the food of his childhood.




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