Best Pop-Up
Molly Martin
AJ Shreffler knows good hoagies. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, he was raised on old-school deli fare, and after moving to Denver, he began hosting secret hoagie pop-ups while working as a chef at Bar Dough. During the indoor-dining shutdown, the restaurant started slinging Shreffler’s hoagies as the Jabroni & Sons pop-up – but now Shreffler has struck out on his own and is working to open a Little Arthur’s Hoagies brick and mortar, one pop-up at a time. Pre-sales run out in minutes, and fans have been known to wait hours in line to get their hands on these massive creations. Whether it’s a classic cheesesteak or one of Little Arthur’s many other creations, these hoagies are 100 percent legit. littlearthur.com
Zaidy's Deli
Jeff Fierberg

When Beth Ginsberg and her partner bought the 35-year-old Zaidy's and resurrected it in the Virginia Vale neighborhood in 2021, they brought along most of the menu, including the Jewish deli's classic Reuben. For $16.50, you get a huge sandwich laden with corned beef, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, all grilled together on homemade seeded rye bread. It's the perfect balance of tangy, sweet, meaty and cheesy; get the dish with a side of potato salad, chips or fries laced with Zaidy's own secret spice mix. Although at first glance this sandwich may look like enough for two meals, after a couple of bites, you'll know the whole thing will be devoured in one sitting.

Lunchboxx
Molly Martin

The first new spot at Denver Central Market since its debut five years ago, Lunchboxx opened in August 2021 with a slew of (mostly) healthy options that are ideal for lunch breaks. Among the offerings from chef Zach Spott (who also runs GreenSeed at the market and was formerly chef at now-closed LoDo cocktail bar Brass Tacks) is a must-eat sandwich with craggy, crunchy buttermilk fried chicken glazed with gochujang honey. It's served on a sesame brioche bun and gets a hit of brightness from cherry pepper slaw and chile lime mayo for a balanced yet flavor-packed experience.

Music City Hot Chicken
Kevin Kirshner

Sure, hot chicken is everywhere right now. But back in 2016, when the original Music City Hot Chicken opened in Fort Collins, there were no other restaurants specializing in this regional dish from Nashville. Even though the competition has heated up, MCHC's big, juicy sandwiches, crispy tenders, vegan versions, stellar sides and varying heat levels (including a green chile-spiked option) make this the hottest ticket in town — especially since it opened a Denver outpost inside TRVE Brewing in 2021.

The Wing Hut
Molly Martin

This small, family-owned spot has been specializing in wings for two decades, and the experience shows. The wings are on the smaller side, but with tender meat, a nice, crisp bite and a whopping 46 killer sauce and dry-rub options, size really doesn't matter. Not sure where to start? The garlic parmesan is a customer favorite, while the hot honey mustard offers a sweet and tangy experience with a kick. Orders are placed at the counter, and you can go half-and-half on flavors when getting wings by the pound — an essential move if you're looking for variety. Wing Hut also has a lineup of Cajun items, including po'boys, gumbo and fried okra, but our favorite wing side remains the classic curly fries.

King of Wings
Linnea Covington

The slow-cooked, grilled wings at King of Wings definitely live up to the name of the place, but the business itself has had a rough go. Two friends with no prior restaurant experience started it as a food truck before opening a brick-and-mortar location in June 2020, in the midst of pandemic uncertainty. Then, as it was gaining momentum, a December kitchen fire forced King of Wings to close. The restaurant is planning a comeback, but in the meantime, owners Eddie Renshaw and Evan Pierce have let other small businesses hold pop-ups in the space.

Blazing Chicken Shack II
Molly Martin

This soul-food spot is a hidden gem tucked a block off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The outside may not look particularly welcoming, with its caged-in windows and barred door, but you'll find a comforting vibe (and a bar) inside, along with a menu full of comfort-food classics including — as the name suggests — chicken. And, oh, what glorious chicken it is, fried to order and seasoned to perfection, with a thin but crispy coating giving way to moist meat underneath. Pair it with sides like mac and cheese or slow-cooked collards with shreds of ham hock for a home-style Southern feast with plenty of friendly hospitality thrown in.

Street Feud
Molly Martin

Chef Merlin Verrier has experience in Michelin-star fine dining, but when it came time to open his own concept, he opted to create a funky, vibrant spot that specializes in the world's street food. Street Feud got its start at Avanti and later moved into Number Thirty Eight in RiNo, but in late 2021, Verrier finally found the right spot to open his own place, covering the walls in DIY collages and street art. Like a mixtape, the menu is loaded with hits, but the French fries stand out thanks to an extra coating of potato starch that makes them extra crispy (while remaining gluten-free) — even when you opt for toppings like braised lamb and curry aioli or crispy pork belly, kimchi and cheese sauce.

Best Corn(flake) Dog
Molly Martin

There are a lot of reasons to visit Ginger Pig. With no background in the food industry (and prior careers in both sportscasting and law), Natascha Hess started the business as a food truck with the guidance of mentor and Top Chef alum Carrie Baird. In 2020, Hess debuted her brick-and-mortar location, where she cooks food inspired by her time living in China, including menu hits like arancini-like Bangkok Balls, sous-vide char siu and the Korean cornflake dog — real street food-style snacking. A Nathan's all-beef frank (the top dog of hot dog brands) is coated in a yeasty dough, crispy panko breadcrumbs and cornflakes. Served on a stick with a drizzle of ketchup and mustard plus sesame seeds and scallions, it may not be traditional, but it sure is fun to eat.

Split Lip
Molly Martin

How many pickles is too many pickles? At Split Lip, which has found a home inside Number Thirty Eight in RiNo, the limit does not exist. This venture started as a series of pandemic pop-ups from longtime hospitality pros who've now turned to creating a menu of crave-worthy, hyper-regional dishes full-time. While Split Lip offers several burger options, the Mississippi Slug Burger was the OG fan favorite from its pop-up days and remains a lesson in cheeseburger perfection, dressed simply with American cheese, "sawse" and, yes, a fuck-ton of housemade pickles on a soft sesame seed bun.

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