Cheap is a relative term these days, since you can easily drop $100 on drinks and snacks at Denver's trendier eateries — without ever cracking the supper menu. But a good lunch or dinner for $10 to $15 doesn't seem unreasonable, especially when the food is well made, unique and impeccably sourced. We've been scouting the scene for the past year in search of new joints where we can make a habit of stopping in for great eats without dropping a whole paycheck. Certainly, a new surge of food halls, including Broadway Market, Tributary Food Hall, Rosetta Hall and Edgewater Public Market, have contributed to the counter-service scene, and we recommend visiting all of them to find your favorites. But we looked beyond the convenient, all-in-one food courts to bring you this list of the best new cheap eats in Denver.
American Grind81 South Pennsylvania Street
American Grind moved out of Avanti Food & Beverage and into the sleepy Speer neighborhood last summer, giving the area a great burger joint turning out satisfying sandwiches without a lot of fuss. The menu is small but ticks all the boxes: burger, cheeseburger, fries, a few gussied-up sandwiches boasting toppings like Tender Belly bacon and jalapeño cream cheese, and a fantastic vegan burger. Don't say "burger," though; just call it a "burg" at American Grind. While priced a little above the standard fast-food burger, these are built with local ingredients, and everything — even the ketchup, mustard and mayo — is made in-house.
Chicken Rebel3618 Tejon Street
A transplant from San Diego, Chicken Rebel descended on Denver in 2017, regularly selling out of sandwiches at breweries and Finn's Manor before doing a four-month stint at Avanti Food & Beverage earlier in 2019. In November, owner Lydie Lovett opened her first full-on restaurant in LoHi. Chicken Rebel makes a variety of sandwiches, but the Nashville hot, called the Firebird, is a favorite. Slathered in a fiery sauce that resembles barbecue sauce, the hot chicken here doesn't have a traditional appearance, but the cayenne bite makes your mouth remember what the dish is all about.
Chinese Noodles12393 East Mississippi Avenue, Aurora
Slotted in alongside Aurora's Pacific Ocean Marketplace, Chinese Noodles makes no bones about what's being sold inside. But the kind of noodles you'll find, rice noodle soups of China's Guangxi province, are new to the metro area. Two signature bowls stand out: Luosi rice noodles and Guilin rice noodles. The first comes with a deep, dark broth made with beef bones and snails (you won't find escargot-like pieces in your bowl, though), along with wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pickled vegetables and crunchy peanuts. The second comes as a bowl of thick, chewy rice noodles coated in a small amount of clingy sauce and served with slices of brisket and pork belly, along with pickled green beans, peanuts and scallions. A side of mild broth is provided as a palate cleanser between bites; you can also add it to the bottom of your noodle bowl so that you can spoon up the last of the tasty bits.
Grabowski's3350 Brighton Boulevard
Chef Jared Leonard knows what people want when they're craving something specific. He's the man who brought the Budlong Hot Chicken, AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q and Hamburger Stan to Denver from his home town of Chicago. But his most craveable offering to date might be the square-cut, tavern-style pizzas served at Grabowski's, which opened at the Source in September. Loads of gooey cheese and tangy sauce make these pies messy finger food, and the reasonable prices mean you and your friends can load up without breaking the bank. Start with the Classic Chicago (this is is a thin-crust, though, not the standard Chicago-style casserole) for just $19 for a 16-inch pizza — enough food for three or four hungry adults.
Hank's Texas Barbecue5410 East Colfax Avenue
Texas barbecue starts with brisket, a pricey cut of beef once it's been slow-smoked for hours by a vigilant pit master. So you can drop a few bucks at Hank's if you're so inclined, but daily specials and sandwiches ring in at reasonable prices. Stop in on Fridays for smoked hamburgers and two-dollar Lone Star beers, or take a peek at the restaurant's Instagram page for other specials like smoked bologna sandwiches. Go early, though, because the meats by the pound often sell out well before dinner.
Istanbul Cafe & Bakery850 South Monaco Parkway
Head east to find delectable Turkish pastries both savory and sweet at this little bakery in a shopping center off Monaco and Leetsdale. Skip your boring morning bagel and sink your teeth into some açma, with a texture somewhere between a croissant and a bagel, or simit, somewhat like a circular pretzel coated in sesame seeds. Or go for lunch and enjoy meat- or cheese-filled borek — coiled buns made of flaky pastry. And Istanbul Cafe can't be surpassed when it comes to baklava, since you can choose from seven varieties of the nut-and-honey-filled bites. Relax at a cafe table with a strong Turkish coffee or tea to wash it all down.
Kealoha's BBQ500 16th Street
Vendors on the 16th Street Mall come and go with the frequency of the mall buses themselves, but the best kiosks tend to stick around as they gather loyal followings from the surrounding businesses. The 808 area code gives Kealoha's instant cred to draw Hawaiian transplants (of which there are many in Denver), but the barbecue ribs and chicken, both lacquered in lilikoi (passion fruit) barbecue sauce, the rich oxtail soup and the succulent laulau are proof of Kealoha's Hilo, Hawaii roots.
Little Beast Street Food2730 East Colfax Avenue
Juicy burgers, crispy fried tacos and a killer chicken sandwich are what makes Little Beast worth returning to for big-time flavors inside the tiny eatery. Lee Hernandez-Ball, Sung Choi and Tyler Ryen, all Table 6 alumni, launched their fast-food joint last July, and we immediately fell for the Korean fried-chicken sandwich loaded with housemade kimchi. They've since swapped out the chicken for fried shrimp, and the chicken sandwich now comes with collard greens and buttermilk dressing — giving us two new reasons to go. Everything on the menu rings in at under $10, so you can slot this one in as a regular lunch stop on Colfax.
Mistfit Snackbar at the Middleman3401 East Colfax Avenue
Rebel Restaurant was one of Denver's most adventurous and rewarding eateries during its three-year run in RiNo, and when it closed in August 2018, we didn't think we'd soon see the kind of inventive, delicious cooking put out by co-owners Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko anytime soon. But Porytko, who's been working at some of Denver's top kitchens and staging in Mexico over the last year or so, recently took over the shoebox kitchen at the Middleman, where he's turning out a mix-and-match menu of amped-up popcorn, fried bites and sandwiches to keep late-night drinkers fed and happy. The most expensive dish is a chicken-fried short rib sandwich (at $15), but most other selections ring in at well under $10, so you can double up, for example, with a kielbasa corn dog jacketed in buckwheat breading and a samosa-stuffed chile relleno.
Post Oak Barbecue4000 Tennyson Street
Follow the smell of oak smoke wafting over the Berkeley neighborhood to Post Oak, where pit master Nick Prince has been turning out brisket, ribs, pulled pork and spicy housemade sausage since last June. Even if you're not hungry enough to load up on meat by the pound, you can go a little lighter with brisket tacos, dry-rubbed wings and loaded baked potatoes (okay, "lighter" might not be the right word here). Don't leave without satisfying your sweet tooth with a mini pecan pie.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Ramen Star4044 Tejon Street
Ramen chef Takashi Tamai installed his very Japanese noodle bar in the Sunnyside neighborhood last April, turning out housemade noodles (a real rarity in Denver) and silky, luxurious broths in a minimalist setting. While tradition can be tasted in every spoonful, Tamai also shows the creative side of ramen with uncommon toppings. Ramen can often be overwhelmingly salty, but Ramen Star relies on layer upon layer of umami for flavor, so downing a bowl doesn't feel like being hit by a sodium bomb.
Tip Top Savory Pies105 North Public Road, Lafayette
New Zealand is a long, long flight from Denver, but fortunately, Lafayette is nearby (especially for Boulder County residents). Because this is the only place to find New Zealand-style meat pies, thanks to Christine Carr and Robert Morrow, who sell hand pies out of what looks like little more than a garden shed on Lafayette's main drag. Breakfast pies filled with eggs and green chile, bacon or sausage are a great way to start the day, or come by at lunch or dinner for meaty variations like beef Wellington, steak and ale, or curry chicken. Meatless options like cauliflower tikka masala or mushroom and ale are also for sale. Seating is limited inside, but you can always load up on refrigerated or frozen pies to bake up at home.