Lists

Twenty Diners to Visit Now That Breakfast King Is Gone

Always start with a cinnamon roll at the Butcher Block Cafe in RiNo.
Always start with a cinnamon roll at the Butcher Block Cafe in RiNo. Mark Antonation
This pandemic has been tough on classic diners and other greasy spoons: We've lost the Denver Diner, the 20th Street Cafe and Tom's Diner, among others. Then 2022 started off with another big hit when the Breakfast King shuttered on January 3 — a loss we'll lament for a long time.

The King was open for nearly fifty years on Santa Fe and Mississippi and was one of Denver's few remaining options for 24/7 eats (though it had cut its hours during the pandemic). Now, with the exception of Pete's Kitchen and Great Scotts Eatery, which are open 24 hours on weekends, that scene is dominated by chains.

Just days after the Breakfast King news broke, rumors began circulating that another longtime diner staple, Swift's Breakfast House, at 930 Santa Fe Drive, has also closed for good. The news has yet to be confirmed, and Swift's Kitchen (which is under the same ownership), at 4300 West Colfax Avenue, remains open.

But whether or not Swift's on Santa Fe is indeed history, here are still some stalwarts working hard to deliver your diner fix, even if you can't visit them at 3 a.m. Order up!

Apple Ridge Cafe
3690 Kipling Street, Wheat Ridge
303-423-6800
Open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday though Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
A little story about the Apple Ridge: It’s an old-school workhorse diner, just the thing when you’re coming back from a family funeral and need some belly-fillin’ comfort. That was the first time — definitely not the last — that I experienced the Apple Ridge Cafe, dressed in my Sunday best, white button-down shirt and sport coat and all. I had my jacket hung on the back of my chair and I ordered a burger and fries. The burger was tall and juicy, the sort your grandmother might fry up for you. The fries were crispy. They begged for ketchup, so I obliged…and found that some wag had loosened the cap as a gag. Ketchup splurted everywhere — all over my shirt, on my pants, a little on my fries, which was something. Everyone laughed, including me — what else can you do? — and the waitress came over and smiled and said, “Wow, you really like ketchup.” Then she comped the burger and helped me clean up and gave me a slice of pie to take with me, laughing all the time. It turned a bad day into one I like to remember. And that’s maybe the finest thing about diners: the memories. Well, that and the burgers and pie.

Breakfast Inn
6135 East Evans Avenue
303-757-7491
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Since 1976, Breakfast Inn has been a south Denver staple serving up comfort food for breakfast and lunch. Inside, a model train loops through the dining rooms as heaping plates of hot food come out of the kitchen. If you're missing Breakfast King's chicken-fried steak, this spot's rendition — served with two eggs, hash browns and your choice of pancakes, biscuits and gravy or tortillas — is a solid option.
click to enlarge The best diners have diner counters. - COURTESY OF THE BREAKFAST QUEEN
The best diners have diner counters.
Courtesy of the Breakfast Queen
The Breakfast Queen
3460 South Broadway, Englewood
303-761-9800
Open daily, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Breakfast Queen has been delighting the residents of South Broadway for more than fifteen years, with no end in sight, thank goodness. Owners George and Kosta Vasilias just moved the location a couple of doors down from where it had been, and they invite everyone to come in and enjoy the new space, but with the same familiar menu — especially the rellenos and eggs, a house specialty smothered in some of the best green chile around. That's saying something; luckily, George and Kosta have the chops to back it up.

Butcher Block Cafe
1701 38th Street (plus two other locations)
Open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

You want old-school? We’ve got your old-school right here. There are other places in booming RiNo where you can go if you want fancy-schmancy decor — but if you want solid, gut-filling food, you go to the Butcher Block. Be sure to order a cinnamon roll to start. You’re welcome.
Good eatin' at Chef Zorba's. - MARK ANTONATION
Good eatin' at Chef Zorba's.
Mark Antonation
Chef Zorba’s
2626 East 12th Avenue
303-321-0091
Open daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Chef Zorba’s has been faithfully serving the folks in Congress Park since 1979, and while it’s been as hard-hit by the pandemic as every other diner on this list, the restaurant has admirably worked to stay in service to the community nonetheless. “One of the ways we’ve kept the dollars flowing from customers to payroll,” says owner Karen LuKanic, “is to provide free meals to local senior citizens through our Give-A-Meal program.” Lucky senior citizens, right? If you prefer your delicious Greek-American fare with a solid side of homespun philanthropy (and a new walk-up window), Zorba’s is the place for you, too.

Davies Chuck Wagon Diner
9495 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood
Open daily 4:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Opened in 1957 — and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 — Davies’ feels old-school in a way that suggests that you may or may not be in a Quentin Tarantino film. You don’t come here for avocado toast; you come here to spread jelly on toast and then dip it in your gravy. It lost the 24/7 hours long before the pandemic — the sign just says "Open" these days. Back in the day, we awarded Davies Chuck Wagon Best Chicken-Fried Steak, praising its scratch-made gravy as "pure white death." But seriously, what a way to go.

George’s Cafe
6504 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada
303-467-1002
Open daily 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The George in this diner's name is George Karavasilis, who has operated the breakfast-and-lunch joint bearing his name since 2004. His impressively broad menu covers the bases from American to Greek to Mexican food, with breakfast, soups and salads, hearty lunches and desserts. We're talking brown gravy on a plate, gyros and pita, burritos and rellenos. “COVID-19 has brought home that family and friends are what life is all about," says Karavasilis. “George’s Cafe is more than just our livelihood; it’s the lives that come through the door every day to say hi and joke and share a story.” And definitely some great food, too.
click to enlarge Find favorites like smothered breakfast burritos at Great Scotts. - CASSANDRA STILTNER
Find favorites like smothered breakfast burritos at Great Scotts.
Cassandra Stiltner
Great Scotts Eatery
1295 Cortez Street (plus a location in Broomfield)
Open 24 hours Thursday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday

“Taste the memories” is the slogan of Great Scotts old-time diner, which specializes in dishes popular from the 1950s through the ’80s. But the kitchen's emphasis on eating local is fortunately all 2021, as it partners with local bakeries, coffee roasters and butchers to bring customers the best. It even landed on our list of 100 restaurants we can't live without in 2022, thanks to its status as one of only two locally owned spots where you can score 3 a.m. eats these days.

Javier’s Diner
3801 Tennyson Street, Denver
303-433-4005
Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. all week
If you’re craving Mexican diner eats, you have more than a few options, including a good number of Greek joints that also sideline in some pretty solid Mexican food. But it's possible that you can’t do better than Javier’s, in the Berkeley neighborhood at 38th and Tennyson. The family restaurant has been serving good classic Den-Mex dishes for a half-century running. Generation-spanning recipes and an outdoor patio, with some of the best chilaquiles in town? This is one of the holdouts of the old neighborhood — better known as the Northside — that we hope lives on in perpetuity.

Lookin’ Good Restaurant & Lounge

66 Sheridan Boulevard
303-936-6800
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Lookin’ Good is a blessed throwback to the times when neighborhoods had lounges, places to eat and drink and gather for some music or just merriment. The family-owned diner was established back in 1978, when eggs were eggs, everything came with gravy, and we just called Yacht Rock the Top 40. The Lookin’ Good even has a name that sounds very 1978. It’s the restaurant equivalent of watching an old Ronco commercial from the same year: nostalgic, happy, satisfying. Add to that list “delicious,” and you’ve got the Lookin’ Good. We'll be back to pick you up later.

McCoy’s Family Restaurant
4855 Federal Boulevard
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A mainstay in north Denver since 1988, this classic diner closed on January 6, 2020, for some upgrades to the kitchen and dining room, opening its doors again just as COVID was shutting everything down. But the family favorite is back now, though not with the usual 24/7 hours. Still, at a time when too many of our favorites have had to walk away, it fills our hearts with happiness — and our pancakes with syrup — to see the Best 24/7 Diner in the 2017 Best of Denver still standing.

Moonlight Diner & Bar
6250 Tower Road
Open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

Moonlight is the place to go before or after a flight out of Denver International Airport if you want a quick meal or even a drink (the “& Bar” in the title isn’t just for show). But the food is still the star at this ’50s-style boxcar diner, complete with neon and steel exteriors and turquoise seats at chrome-trim formica tables. They say you can tell a good place by the height of its sandwiches and the quality of its gravy — and based on that scale, Moonlight deserves a stop, and soon.
Kathleen and Nick Andurlakis have packed their diner with memories. - KATHLEEN ANDURLAKIS
Kathleen and Nick Andurlakis have packed their diner with memories.
Kathleen Andurlakis
Nick’s Cafe
777 ½ Simms Street, Golden
303-238-9670
Open 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Nick's is legendary for owner Nick Andurlakis's claimed connection to Elvis Presley and the King's favorite sandwich, but there’s lots more to love at this Greek-American diner overflowing with a hunka-hunka burnin’ love. You might come for the Fool’s Gold sandwich — that’s PB&J and bacon, naturally — prime Elvis bait offered at the long-gone Colorado Mine Company steakhouse, where Andurlakis got his start in the kitchen. But you’ll return for the rest of the menu, including gyros and delicious short-order fare galore. Fair warning: Nick’s is cash-only, so remember the old Elvis line: Bring your “money, honey, if you want to get along with me.”

Pete’s Kitchen
1962 East Colfax Avenue
Open 24 hours Friday through Sunday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday
That neon chef has been flipping virtual pancakes on Colfax Avenue for decades, and the kitchen of this classic diner has been flipping the real thing since 1942. Today, Pete’s Kitchen — named for Pete Contos, who passed away in 2019 — specializes in Greek diner food, and you can’t go wrong with feta cheese and gyros, whether in a pita or an omelet. But everything at Pete’s is great, from the chicken-fried steak to the souvlaki, from the pancake stack to the numerous ways you can enjoy a fantastic fried burger. Here’s to you, Pete: We miss you.

PJ’s Diner
1619 Coalton Road, Superior
720-304-8049
Reopening soon
Though PJ's wasn't directly damaged in the recent Boulder County fires, it's temporarily closed as the town of Superior navigates recovery. But as soon as it's able to reopen, plan on stopping by. Everything here is made from scratch, and you can tell from the moment your server brings you a griddle biscuit that you’re in for a treat. Because everything is made to order, the kitchen sometimes runs out of one option or another; a decadent dish called the Ranchers — hand-breaded chicken-fried steak with country gravy, hash browns and the aforementioned griddle biscuit — tends to disappear quickly. Luckily, everything else on the menu is just as amazing. PJ’s might not have been around long, but it deserves to be around for much longer.

Ranch House Cafe
7676 East Colfax Avenue
303-333-8328
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Chances are good that you’ve been meaning to check out the Ranch House for some time. You’ve definitely driven past it on East Colfax, one of those ubiquitous classic roadside diners along a busy thoroughfare that looks like it might just serve some delicious food belied by its more modest exterior. You’d be right in that: The Ranch House is worth pulling into for some great old-school diner food done right.

Red Rooster Cafe
5761 Washington Street
Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
There’s nothing fancy about the Red Rooster: It’s in a strip mall on the west side of Washington Street, in a largely industrial area on the north side of Denver. But that's part of its charm, because this joint is all about the food and the service, both of which will keep you coming back. The portions are generous and the dishes delicious. If you come for breakfast, don’t miss the relleno omelet: This is what all green chiles hope to be when they grow up.
Sam's No. 3 is back in business. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Sam's No. 3 is back in business.
Danielle Lirette
Sam's No.3
1500 Curtis Street (plus two other locations)
Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday
In 1969, Sam’s No. 3 — the flagship in a then-fifty-year-old restaurant empire — finally closed, but the Armatas family returned the diner to its original downtown block in 2004, along with additional locations in Aurora and Glendale. Along with the Coney Island favorites that made Sam’s popular in the 1920s, the voluminous, multi-page menu is fueled with diner-style American, Greek and Mexican dishes, including gigantic, green-chile-smothered breakfast burritos. Pair one with a Bloody Mary and make no plans other than a long nap.

Sunrise Sunset
1424 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Lakewood (plus two other locations)
Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This Lakewood original has been slinging the hash (and seriously: Try the corned-beef hash, because it will destroy you in the most delicious way possible) since 1984. Sunrise Sunset is its own little Denver-area chain, with three locations offering up some of the best in diner-food enjoyment. The trio's slogan, “Freshness is at the heart of every meal,” is a philosophy that can be tasted in every bite.

Swift's Kitchen
4300 West Colfax Avenue
Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday

Like Swift’s Breakfast House, Swift's Kitchen is the sort of no-nonsense, street-side diner that seems to invite you in to have a seat and eat heartily — and it also serves Pete's Coney Island red chili (named after a classic downtown restaurant that was demolished in 1990). If you were a fan of the 20th Street Cafe, the folks at Swift’s seem to have taken a page from that eatery's handbook: This is good food, served with a smile and plenty of refills on your drinks. 
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen