The Denver Tech Center (and nearby blocks that tend to get lumped in under that moniker) is interlaced with shopping centers and strip malls that attract corporate crowds at lunch on weekdays, even if the area clears out by nightfall and becomes a ghost town on the weekends. Restaurants regularly come and go here, but a few have managed to cling like barnacles washed by the rising and falling economic tides. Although the Tech Center has never been known as a destination for international cuisine, poking into the cracks and crevices behind and between the dominant chain eateries reveals a smattering of Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian and Japanese storefronts, and a wave of new places only improves the options.
Here are three restaurants featuring regional and national cuisines that recently opened in Denver’s southern corporate zone and are worth the trip.
1) Pollo Lima
9614 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
Pollo Lima specializes in marinated and fire-roasted rotisserie chicken known as pollo a la brasa, a national treasure in Peru. Owner Jeanette Amayo, who moved to Colorado from Florida, explains that Peruvian rotisseries are very common in her home state and in the bigger cities along the East Coast, even if they’re a rarity in Denver. (Coincidentally, the metro area’s only other Peruvian chicken joint, La Polleria, has been turning birds not too far away at 7422 South University Boulevard since 2011.)
Amayo says the secret to Pollo Lima’s juicy, flavor-packed chicken with crackly, bronzed skin is a two-day marinade of never-frozen birds and a slow roast over a wood fire. The glass-fronted oven sits right behind the order counter, with a stack of split hardwood at the ready. The kitchen roasts a fresh batch of whole chickens several times a day so that cooked meat never sits too long.
The restaurant serves up a variety of South American sides with picnic-style appeal, including two kinds of beans, fried plantain and seasoned rice. And because cubicle jockeys prefer portable meals, there’s also a “Lima Chop” — a rice bowl topped with bite-sized pieces of roast chicken, beans and tomato — and chicken wraps stuffed with veggies and cheese. In another nod to the business world, Pollo Lima puts together big packages with whole chickens by the score and sides measured by the gallon.
While fans of Italian beef sandwiches and hot dogs may miss the address’s previous tenant, Chicago Mike’s, rotisserie chicken seems a more apt lunch choice for hustling, health-conscious types — and a more modern way of embracing international culinary styles than defaulting to burgers and fries.
2) Bawarchi Biryani Point
11001 East Arapahoe Place, Centennial
Bawarchi, a chain that got its start as a single restaurant in Hyderabad, India, opened early this month in the Tech Center. The concept is different from that of many Indian restaurants found throughout the metro area. The rice dish called biryani, Hyderabad’s calling card, is the basis of the menu here, with many hyper-regional variations and a supporting cast of snacks, sides and entrees, many of which have yet to make it into the standard Indian canon with which American diners are familiar.
In its first days, Bawarchi — a full-service, sit-down eatery — stuck with a small opening menu featuring four biryanis (vegetable, chicken, boneless chicken and goat), a similar number of dosas and a handful of other entrees. But after its grand opening on January 22, the choices were expanded to more than a dozen biryani styles, many using recipes and ingredients specific to certain South Indian cities and regions.
A powerful blast of spices greets guests as they come in from the parking lot, foretelling good things that await inside. The dining room is girdled in gleaming tile and decorated in shades of pumpkin and dark gray. Although biryani is clearly the way to go here, rice has never been at the top of my list of favorite dishes, so I scuttled out the door with a to-go order of rich and creamy malai kofta — springy vegetarian “meatballs” in a sauce tinted the same shade of orange as Bawarchi’s walls. I visited just before the full menu was installed, but with many additional options on the roster, a return visit is in order.
In Hyderabad, several chains battle for supremacy, with Paradise Biryani Pointe among Bawarchi’s main rivals. Luckily for those seeking the perfect balance of long-grain rice, buttery ghee and stewy toppings, a Paradise Biryani outlet opened last March — just a mile from Bawarchi at 9678 East Arapahoe Road, in the same shopping center that Pollo Lima calls home. Let the biryani wars begin!
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3) Burnt End BBQ
5332 DTC Boulevard, Greenwood Village
Meat slow-roasted over wood coals is universal (as customers of Pollo Lima will attest), but the many regional styles of barbecue that have evolved over the past two centuries are one of America’s true culinary legacies. And natives of Kansas City take barbecue as seriously as residents of Hyderabad take their biryani. So when a new KC-style barbecue joint opens, aficionados notice. Burnt End first stoked its fires at the end of September, just as a wave of new smokehouses was descending upon the city. The counter-service operation is the product of PB&J Restaurants, which also runs Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, just up the road in the Tech Center. So while this Burnt End is not an original, it is a Kansas City (or, more accurately, Overland Park, Kansas) import, and the executive chef goes by the name Smokey (Stephen “Smokey” Schwartz), so that’s a plus. And as his name suggests, Schwartz’s recipes and techniques result in good, smoky meat: This isn’t just oven barbecue.
While not quite in the same league as such KC legends as Arthur Bryant’s, Jack Stack (where Schwartz manned the pit for more than a decade) and Joe’s (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s), Burnt End delivers an accurate and solid representation of that city’s style, with sticky pork ribs and addictive chunks of the namesake burnt ends — charry bits of the brisket point. You’ll also find the rest of the brisket, as well as smoked turkey, sausage, chicken, pulled pork and house-cured ham.
See you in the Tech Center.