The Westword 2014 Food and Drink Bucket List: #15-6
Larimer Square has gone from tourist trap to a hot dining destination -- for locals.
What are the hundred things everyone should do in Colorado before they die? We posed that question to our writers and editors, and this week we'll be rolling out their answers across our blogs, with can't miss events/activities in music, the great outdoors, the arts and, of course, food.
Check back on January 16 for the full Denver Bucket list -- and in the meantime, post your own suggestions for our last five food and drink bucket-list items in the comments section below. See also: The Westword 2014 Food and Drink Bucket List: #25-a6
15. Join the crowds at Pete's Kitchen at 3 a.m.Of all Pete Contos's places, Pete's Kitchen -- an iconic East Colfax institution -- has the most character, the best insomniac street-theater vibe. While the venerable joint is open 24/7, the crowds really start coming when the bars close up; by 2 a.m., there's often a line stretching out the door and down the block. But no matter what time you go, dining at Pete's is never dull; you'll be sitting by bankers, beatniks, bikers and buggy-eyed drunks, all tucking into gigantic plates of comfort food.
14. Get called "hon" at Breakfast King at 4 a.m.For those who are feeling less social at the end of a night on the town, Breakfast King reigns supreme. For more than four decades, this has been the spot for Denver's night owls to land when they're in need of a feed. The crowd is a weird conglomeration of club kids and criminals, night-shift blue collars and just plain folks who've found themselves a little bit lost on the wrong side of midnight -- and they're all treated like regulars by the folksy waitresses.
13. Hit a Santiago's drive-thru for a breakfast burrito at 7 a.m. Colorado is lucky to have many homegrown Mexican chains -- but none have been as successful as Santiago's. And with good reason: This chain, which has twenty locations (and counting), many with drive-thrus, serves up an absolutely addictive green chile. In mild, medium and hot, it's tasty enough at any heat level to slurp up on its own -- but it's even better smothering a Santiago's breakfast burrito.
12. Try to chat with a knife-wielding kitchen worker at El Taco de Mexico"For truly amazing flavors, El Taco de Mexico is a must," wrote Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, shortly after he and his film crew touched down in the Mile High City last year to chow their way through some of the town's most iconic restaurants. El Taco de Mexico, he declared, was "Denver's quintessential taqueria," serving the "best menudo and tacos in the city." And some of our favorite enchiladas, all prepared by the busiest, knife-wielding lunch ladies you'll see in this city.
11.Have a martini in the Cruise Room. The Cruise Room could be the Denver dining scene's most iconic spot. It's located in the Oxford Hotel, so its marble floors echo with Denver history, stretching back to the late nineteenth century. But the bar itself was created in the '30s, as Prohibition ended, modeled after the lounge on the Queen Mary; it got a quick remodel a decade later when the German toast -- one of a dozen circling the walls of the bar -- was deemed politically incorrect. Today you'll find all kinds of passengers hopping aboard a stool in the Cruise Room, and while the menu is now full of trendy cocktails, a classic martini is really the only thing to order.
10. Drink the three-margarita limit at the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande got its start in 1986 in Fort Collins, where college students came to rely on the restaurant's incredibly strong margaritas, made from a secret recipe (and originally mixed in a big bucket in a garage) -- limit three per customer. While the homegrown chain has expanded, with Colorado spirits added to the bars and more sophisticated fare to the menus, those big margs remain the big draw -- and the recipe is still secret.
9. Get coffee at the Market and watch the action on Larimer Square. More than three decades ago, when the Market opened on Larimer Street, the block was a tourist trap filled with shops and restaurants that locals avoided unless they had guests in town looking for some old-timey culture. But today, Larimer Square is one of the hottest restaurant areas in town, and a seat in front of the Market is an ideal spot to watch the action.
8. Stop by Rioja and say hello to Jennifer Jasinski, Denver's James Beard Award-winning chef. Want to see how the restaurants in Larimer Square have changed? Stop by Rioja, one of the first chef-driven spots created in a groundbreaking partnership with the Larimer Group, and say hello to Jennifer Jasinski, who opened the place with partner Beth Gruitch a decade ago. The pair now have three restaurants, with a fourth coming in Union Station this summer -- and somehow, chef Jasinski still found time to compete on Top Chef Masters and win a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest -- the first such honor snagged by a Denver chef.
7. Try to get a reservation at Frasca Food and Wine. In 2005, Frasca won Best New Restaurant honors in the Best of Denver -- and since then, it's continued to rack up kudos on both a local and a national level. In the process, Frasca has set the standard for excellence for local operations and become the embodiment of what makes the Colorado restaurant scene -- and Colorado in general -- great. This is a state where people come to start over, to start fresh, to start something. Frasca's owners, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey -- both ex of the French Laundry -- did just that. They came to Colorado to do what they loved, and to do it on their terms. With Frasca, they not only created a restaurant that could easily rate among the best in any city, but confounded all expectations of what's meant by a "Colorado restaurant" -- raising the bar for everyone in the process.
6. Have a beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver's first brewpub. In 1988, the year the LoDo Historic District was born, the Wynkoop Brewing Company became Denver's first brewpub. Even though there are now dozens of brewpubs and tap rooms around town, the Wynkoop remains a favorite hangout -- and not just because Governor John Hickenlooper first started serving the public here when he was a lowly unemployed geologist (and not because Patty's Chile Beer is named after Westword's editor, either). This turn-of-the-last-century space oozes history as well as beer: Grab a brew or two and a seat at the bar, and look out at history being made all around LoDo. Come back on January 16 for the last #5-1 on the Food and Drink Bucket List.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.