Denver has an abundance of dives -- some murky, some dark, some that smell funny, some that are just plain dangerous. There are joints, holes-in-the-wall and hellholes of every description in this town, but Tom's takes the prize, because depending on what day of the week and what hour of the day you arrive, Tom's can be any (or all) of these things. Squatting colorfully on one of the worst corners in the city, crime-wise, by day Tom's is a great place for watching the world go by while eating some decent diner grub. At night the menu compresses, and most of those street creatures come inside for coffee and a place to rest their legs, so the people-watching gets up-close and personal. There are holes in the windows that may (or may not) be from stray bullets, locks on the bathroom doors, great servers, better corned beef hash, bottomless cups of coffee, and more entertainment packed into one place than you could find in a twelve-hour marathon of Cops.
If you sometimes find yourself wandering the city's grayer quarters at odd hours, looking for a place to come down, sober up or just think those kinds of thoughts that come best in the middle of the night, then head straight for Pete's Kitchen. This year, everyone's favorite breakfast spot made the jump from being a weekend-only all-night destination to a 24/7 outpost for Denver's party boys, vampires and insomniacs. Which means you can now get a strong cup of bottomless coffee, a fix of avgolemono (Greek lemon, chicken and rice soup), a few slices off the meat stick or just a piece of homemade cherry pie whenever you want it. Add to this the warm glow that comes from spending the wee hours with the city's most motley crew of nightcrawlers, and we think you'll agree: Pete's is where it's at.


Breakfast King
Mark Antonation
People-watching is an important part of the diner experience. Second to coffee-drinking, it might be the most important part. And if people-watching were a sport, Breakfast King is where future Olympic hopefuls would come to train. The King attracts all sorts, from old farts to young fellas, from truckers to slummers to parents dragging their squalling toddlers behind. Everyone is ably tended to by waitresses (not servers, not waitrons, but old-fashioned waitresses who are good at their jobs and happy doing them) working off a menu that was already old when the King was new -- a time-capsule version of American cuisine, circa 1970, that's full of cheeseburgers and fries, Coney Island hot dogs, chiliette, biscuits and gravy, and ham with pineapple rings. The coffee is strong, the company easy, and no matter what hour you wander in, one thing is certain: It's good to be the King.
Americans now live in a 24-hour world. There's no more 9-to-5, no more forty-hour weeks, and the dinner hour has become a fluid concept as people try to balance B-shifts and night shifts and all the responsibilities of days over-full of everything. But some good has come out of all this hurry and stress: Restaurant hours keep extending later and later into the evening. For a very delicious example, Brasserie Rouge now offers a full dinner menu until 11 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Whether you're a long-shift worker, a late-night eater or just another one of the young and restless out on the town, Brasserie Rouge will serve you duck confit, steak frites and charcuterie plates long into the night, and do so in a great, crowded, noisy, smoky bar that, if not an actual slice of Parisian nightlife, is certainly the next best thing.
The crowd outside Zona's is a telltale sign that last call has been called. Shortly after 2 a.m., patrons line up -- rain, sleet or snow -- for a taste of the down-home cookin' that's served hot and fresh until 3 a.m. And what Zona's lacks in amenities -- there's no seating, for example, unless you park yourself on the hood of your car -- it more than makes up for in expansiveness. The late-night menu is the same as the daytime menu: fried chicken, smothered pork chops, pig's-ear sandwiches, steak, killer yams and turnip greens and, of course, tamales. A stop at Zona's sure beats another slice.


Pete's Kitchen
Danielle Lirette
If you sometimes find yourself wandering the city's grayer quarters at odd hours, looking for a place to come down, sober up or just think those kinds of thoughts that come best in the middle of the night, then head straight for Pete's Kitchen. This year, everyone's favorite breakfast spot made the jump from being a weekend-only all-night destination to a 24/7 outpost for Denver's party boys, vampires and insomniacs. Which means you can now get a strong cup of bottomless coffee, a fix of avgolemono (Greek lemon, chicken and rice soup), a few slices off the meat stick or just a piece of homemade cherry pie whenever you want it. Add to this the warm glow that comes from spending the wee hours with the city's most motley crew of nightcrawlers, and we think you'll agree: Pete's is where it's at.
Ahh, Johnny's... No one does breakfast quite like this half-boxcar, half-cafeteria diner right in the middle of Aurora's burgeoning Korea-town sector. The coffee is hot and strong, the food greasy as hell, the service non-existent because of the order-wait-and-pick-up style of delivering meals to the crowds that come through here on the weekends, but the kitchen is fast, and things work quickly at the counter, too, provided you bring cash. From the pure plastic Americana of the decor to the car-cult fixtures and fast-forward regulars cramming breakfast burritos, bacon sandwiches and scrambled eggs into their mouths with steam-shovel efficiency, there's no finer example of the all-American breakfast bar.
The crowd outside Zona's is a telltale sign that last call has been called. Shortly after 2 a.m., patrons line up -- rain, sleet or snow -- for a taste of the down-home cookin' that's served hot and fresh until 3 a.m. And what Zona's lacks in amenities -- there's no seating, for example, unless you park yourself on the hood of your car -- it more than makes up for in expansiveness. The late-night menu is the same as the daytime menu: fried chicken, smothered pork chops, pig's-ear sandwiches, steak, killer yams and turnip greens and, of course, tamales. A stop at Zona's sure beats another slice.
For starting your day in a powerful way, Dixons is the winner and still the chomp. There are plenty of reasons this restaurant deserves its loyal, early-morning following: an interesting menu that ranges from healthy cereal and fruit offerings to hearty skillets and eggs Benedict; cheery, accommodating servers who keep the coffee coming; a spacious dining room with tables where you can see and be seen, as well as more remote booths where you can do your business in relative privacy. But two recent developments further enhanced Dixons' already extraordinary drawing power. One was the temporary closure of Racines, its sibling restaurant that will reopen this spring on Sherman Street. The other was the election of Mayor John Hickenlooper, a denizen of LoDo (and a very, very small-percentage owner of Dixons) who need only stumble a block from his loft in order to call a breakfast meeting to order. Mayor, about that parking ticket...

Best Breakfast for the Discriminating Lumberjack

Java Moon

Paul Bunyan never had it as good as the grub dished up on the chow line at Java Moon. Jim Ilg's little coffeehouse and cafe tucked among the pawnshops of Broadway serves an order of biscuits and gravy hearty enough to fill you from toes to cowlick. Add to this big, smothered breakfast burritos, fruit smoothies (we all know Paul liked the occasional triple-berry smoothie) that are almost a meal in themselves, and a full roster of quality coffee, and Java Moon can keep you going all day. Don't let the name fool you: Sunrise is definitely Java Moon's best hour. The doors open at six but close by four, so if you're smart, you'll be like a lumberjack and come early, come hungry and leave happy.


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