No wi-fi, no cappuccino, no dress code and no service past 2:30 in the afternoon. That's what makes the 20th Street Cafe our favorite breakfast bar. But the prices -- which top out under the ten-dollar mark -- also make it the best place in Denver for breakfast on the cheap. The venerable cafe isn't fancy, and it doesn't have the most convenient parking in the world, but it does have a good chicken-fried steak, huge omelets, good diner-style coffee with fast refills and a menu that mixes up the best of classic Americana with an interesting take on the Colorado immigrant experience, including fried rice and noodle bowls that call to mind the Japanese war brides who once settled in the area.
Strong coffee, excellent corned beef hash, unrivaled cherry crepes and fresh-squeezed orange juice like neon rocket fuel: At seven o'clock in the morning, it doesn't get better than this. The Original Pancake House uses nothing but the best ingredients and the best products, and employs line cooks who know how to work fast and clean and how to execute a complicated and worldly menu with just the right notes of comfort and consolation. The space isn't much to look at, and service is brisk, to say the least -- but at breakfast, none of that matters as much as frequent refills and grub by the yard. The icing on the coffee cake? The Dutch Baby -- a gigantic baked pancake topped with butter, powdered sugar and lemon juice.
Come on, give us one good reason why some cheapjack McBreakfast thing bought from a creepy clown is your favorite way to start the day. Done? Good. Now ditch the drive-thru and get yourself down to Emogene for the breakfast sandwich -- a perfect blend of three scrambled eggs, muenster cheese, frisee and fleur de sel on brioche, all for just $4.25. It's a little more (but totally worth it) to add thick-cut smoked bacon and a cup of cafe au lait to your order, but trust us: One bite of this sandwich and you'll never talk to that stupid clown again.
Soup is good food -- especially for breakfast -- and there's no better place to start slurping than Pho 79. There are three local links in this short Vietnamese chain, and any of them is an ideal spot for an eye-opening bowl of hot pho and a cool glass of coffee that delivers like a fix of crystal meth. Our favorite outlet, though, is Aurora's Pho 79, which is cramped, bunkerish and full at nearly all hours with neighbors and wanderers, Vietnamese families and solo adventurers. At the start of each day, servers prepare dozens, maybe hundreds of coffee setups on sheet trays that are kept in a service area just off the kitchen, then devote the rest of their energy to making wonderful pho, the only other thing the restaurant serves, in all its variations, from squeaky meatball bo vien to the more esoteric tripe and tendon options.
Katherine's French Bakery
Courtesy Katherine's French Bakery & Cafe Facebook
Sure, we make fun of the French. We have to, because the French, unlike us Americans, really know how to live. Take breakfast, for example. Here, we're constantly bombarded by ads and doctors telling us to eat our twigs and berries and take our vitamins and make sure to balance our intake of carbs and proteins. Meanwhile, in Paris they just say merde to all that and go ahead and eat cake. Yeah, they call it pastry, but really it's cake. They eat chocolate-dipped croissants and drink tall cafes au lait and smoke their stinking cigarettes, and they laugh at everyone here in the States -- even though we can't hear them as we crunch miserably away on our Grape-Nuts. But at Katherine's, we all can eat like the French, enjoying huge almond croissants dusted with powdered sugar and big spiky things made of meringue, as well as coffee and even real meals -- quiche and omelets and sandwiches and salads. Life is hard and short enough without adding the cruelty of Grape-Nuts.
Prima Ristorante
Brunch at Prima runs from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and the very first item on the menu is "Unlimited Prosecco, $8." Seriously, eight bucks. Seriously, unlimited. You walk into this Kevin Taylor restaurant tucked into Hotel Teatro, you sit down (these days, probably only with a reservation), you open your menu, and you demand all the Prosecco you can drink. And when you're done, you hand over eight dollars (for the drinks, at least). That's it. No strings, no hidden charges, no thirty-dollar "glass-handling charge" or anything weird like that. This is the single-best booze deal in the city, and it happens to be offered at a restaurant where you can also get yellowfin tuna crudo, prosciutto with poached eggs and parmesan-roasted asparagus, and Tuaca-spiked French toast to soften the blow of all that bubbly wine.
The Bagel Store
Cassandra Kotnik
The Bagel Store sits in a quiet strip mall in the heart of Leetsdale's Little Russia, tucked away in the back tier next to a baby-supply store. It doesn't take plastic, is staffed by young guys who look like the Beastie Boys circa 1986, when License to Ill was first flying off the shelves, and has limited hours, from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the dot. But you'll want to go early, anyway, when you can look right through the doors to the huge bakery in the back and see vats of bagels steaming in their water and guys with big arms and flour in their hair working the dough. You can smell the place doing things right. And you can pick up not only a passable version of an East Coast egg bagel (glossy and yellow on the outside, with a thick-chewy skin and pillowy dough inside), but a half-dozen fantastic salt bagels for less than four bucks. The Bagel Store is as honest they come, and it goes to show that there's no regional specialty you can't find in Denver -- if you look hard enough.
Johnson's Corner
Samantha Baker
It's comforting to know that some things in the world never change. The sun will rise, the sun will set, and now and forever, Johnson's Corner will make the best cinnamon rolls known to man. Since 1952, this family-owned and -operated truck stop has been serving down-home, King of the Road cuisine to hungry truckers, travelers and wanderers of every description. And while a recent overhaul has rendered it nearly unrecognizable from the Johnson's Corner that generations of road people came to love, the cinnamon rolls -- first prepared by local celebrity Ida May in her home kitchen, and today whipped up from her original recipe by the hundreds every day -- have not changed a bit. They're still fat and sticky, topped with a glaze of sweet-sweet icing, and they still require a fork, a big appetite and several napkins to get through. Keep on rolling.
Frasca Food and Wine
Julia Vandenoever
Frasca's red-pepper jelly, which serves as a condiment on its cheese plates, is amazing. It has a haunting flavor -- sweet, peppery, sharp, astringent and salty all at the same time, tasting vaguely like the egg roll sauce at a good Chinese restaurant, a little like expensive port-wine jelly, and solidly of red bell peppers. Once you start eating it, it's difficult to stop; you want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, forever. As a kid, chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson ate it on everything from cheese to turkey. He later got the recipe from his grandmother, Betty Mackinnon, and the jelly appeared on the menu the day that Bobby Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson opened Frasca last year. And now you can eat it anytime, too, because Frasca sells Grandma's jelly, for $9.95 a jar. That may sound a little steep for nine ounces, but it's not. We'd pay double for just one spoonful.
Mezcal
Danielle Lirette
If your situation is dire, skip the menu and go straight to the bar at Mezcal for a tall glass of the house sangrita mix (a spicy tomato juice, used for making its bloody Mary and other such health-food drinks) and two cans of Pacifico off the short, sweet Mexican beer list. After that, you may actually be recovered enough to appreciate the good pancakes and the huevos divorciados, a rare red-and-green "Christmas" mix of chiles sure to tickle the fancy of any ex-pat New Mexican. There's something magic in that speed-pourer full of sangrita that Mezcal keeps behind the bar, and without it, lazy Sunday mornings in Denver would seem awfully bleak for those of us who haven't seen our own beds since Friday.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of