The overarching story in 2020 dining news has been the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants and bars have been subjected to a roller-coaster ride of regulations, including complete dining-room shutdowns, 25- and 50-percent capacity restrictions, early last calls and, for bars without food, complete closures. Consequently, readers flocked to our lists of eateries offering takeout and delivery (which we initially rolled out on March 17, the first time dining rooms were ordered closed), and of places reopening their dining rooms once that was allowed starting May 26. We've since converted those lists to a complete pandemic-era restaurant guide that includes COVID-specific service details and safety protocols.
Other opening and closing news has also resonated with readers this year — especially the loss of Denver classics — as have lists of our favorite places to find burgers, green chile, breakfast and Chinese cuisine. Here are the ten most popular Westword food and drink stories of 2020:
Possibly Denver's most recognizable restaurant, thanks to South Park and decades of drawing families to its theme-park dining room, Casa Bonita closed on March 17 without ever reopening at partial capacity or offering takeout, delivery or outdoor dining. But that wasn't so surprising: The point of a visit to Casa Bonita has always been the overall experience, from Black Bart's Cave to the Acapulco-style cliff divers, and not the food. A note in the window states that the restaurant plans to reopen when restrictions are lifted, and Star Buffet, Casa Bonita's owner (which never returned our calls), has since reiterated that goal in interviews.
In late July, the Tavern League of Colorado sued Governor Jared Polis over the 10 p.m. last call in place at the time. The suit was unsuccessful, but one of the Tavern League's most active members, Chris Fuselier, the owner of Blake Street Tavern, had a surprising chance to talk to Governor Polis about the plight of bars and the need to maintain safety while keeping the survival of businesses in mind.
Punch Bowl Social's Central Park restaurant and entertainment complex, built from the bones of the former Stapleton International Airport control tower, closed at the beginning of the pandemic — and then announced in early June that it would not reopen. Restaurateur Robert Thompson founded Punch Bowl Social at 65 Broadway in 2012 before growing the company to multiple locations around the U.S., then getting a big investment from Cracker Barrel, then leaving altogether. The massive control tower complex remains vacant; perhaps it would make a great second location for Casa Bonita.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we served up a dozen of our favorites last spring. Unfortunately, the list is down to eleven, as the 20th Street Cafe closed early on in the pandemic. Ivy on 7th closed temporarily on November 20 because of the current ban on in-house customers, but Wendell's, which had closed in March, supposedly permanently, reopened under new ownership in October and is currently serving breakfast and lunch Friday through Sunday for takeout and patio seating.
We ran our annual list of Denver's best Chinese restaurants last January in part to coincide with the Lunar New Year and in part to combat negative stereotypes of Chinese eateries spreading because of a certain White House (soon-to-be-former) resident's insistence on calling COVID-19 the "China flu" and even the "kung flu." Since then, Chinese Noodles has closed, but the rest remain open for takeout and delivery.
In April, not much was happening inside Racines — or any other Denver restaurant. But owners Lee Goodfriend and David Racine were committed to reopening...at least for a while. Their goal was a long goodbye ending on January 21, 2021, since Goodfriend and Racine were selling the building. But come July, the two decided to shut things down permanently. "Why jeopardize our personal health, our staff, our customers?" Racine asked at the time. "We're making a wise decision."
Last February, the owner of the building where venerable red-sauce joint the Saucy Noodle has been serving up Italian cooking since 1964 applied for a certificate of demolition eligibility. But the application came as news to Erin Markham, the Saucy Noodle's owner. Unlike other situations where restaurant property owners have applied for demolition eligibility, such as Tom's Diner on East Colfax Avenue, the application was not disputed. Fortunately, the restaurant remains open for now, though its lease expires at the end of this year.
There's nothing hotter in Denver than green chile, so we served up our annual list of favorites in September, the height of the chile harvest season. Amazingly, all of our picks are still open, if only for takeout and delivery for now.
This was the first big blow of the pandemic for restaurants and bars; the announcement closed dining rooms beginning on March 17, instantly putting tens of thousands of restaurant workers out of jobs. Takeout and delivery were still allowed, and Governor Jared Polis created an executive order allowing for booze to go. The plan was to keep the restrictions in place until May 11, but the order was extended until May 26, when dining rooms were allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. That was lowered to 25 percent on October 27 — and then taken back down to zero on November 20.
Larimer Square has been undergoing many changes recently — and the entire block is now being sold to North Carolina-based Asana Partners. Back in March, Euclid Hall owners Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch were already contemplating the future of their beer hall, since the lease was set to expire in August of this year. But with a lockdown pending, they decided to close Euclid Hall, the third of their five Crafted Concepts eateries, which also includes Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia. Jasinski did leave open the possibility of reopening the restaurant in a new location at some point in the future.