If you aren’t familiar with Pete’s collection of restaurants, you've either been living under a rock or are a newbie to town, so let us educate you on this little chunk of Denver dining history. With a reign over most of the small cafes and diners on Colfax Avenue and beyond (a few have since been retired), Pete Contos has been humbly building a restaurant empire since his arrival from Greece in the 1950s. Six spots remain today, and while none of them are the kind of restaurant you take the crew to on a big night out on the town (in fact, you’ve probably driven by most of them without so much as a sideways glance), you may have stopped at one or two for late-night, post-bar meals or early-morning, hole-in-the-wall breakfasts in the ‘hood without making brunch a big scene.
Whether or not you’ve paid Pete’s places a visit, the man deserves respect. He’s been a pillar of the community as a member of the Colorado Restaurant Association for over 45 years, winner of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Award in the '90s, and CRA Foodservice Hall of Fame inductee in the 2006.
Craving breakfast for dinner after an already nostalgic trip to Lakeside, we decided to pay Pete’s Kitchen — one of the OG spots in the lineup — a visit.
Upon first glance, Pete’s Kitchen looks like any other no-name diner. You could even go so far as to call it the quintessential greasy spoon. There are counter seats, seat-yourself booths crammed on top of each other (seriously, you can feel the person behind you moving), spotty service and a dodgy crowd. At surface level, it’s pretty unmemorable, but look around and you’ll begin to see the history and character of the place. Every square inch of wall space is covered in old photos of famous guests and awards. Lots of awards. Primarily for the best late night dining — they are one of the rare gems in Denver open 24/7 — but also for the Greek cooking and a bevv of other accolades from almost every publication in town.
Pete’s is the kind of place you go to sober up — or rather, sop up the alcohol — so the fact that there's no alcohol shouldn’t bother you too much. It’s all coffee and Coke products for your morning or nighttime caffeine buzz.
You have to know what you’re getting at Pete’s to set expectations: time-tested, affordable, greasy grub. I skimmed past most of the lengthy menu, knowing I wanted some form of a Greek breakfast, and landed on the all-day-breakfast section and its chicken-and-egg combination plate. When it arrived, the hash browns were calling to me: glorious, crispy scalloped potatoes I immediately doused in salt and Pete's housemade hot sauces (green, obviously). Perfectly runny yolks helped blend Greece and America on the plate and also gave the well-seasoned but slightly dry (despite its shimmery appearance) chicken the sauce it needed. I stole some veggies from my friend’s Greek salad (which even came with a stuffed grape leaf), being sure to use the tzatziki generously, to make mini kebab sandwiches out of the warm pita, a substitute in place of toast on the side.
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Pleased with the authenticity of the menu thus far, we had to have a cup of avgolemono soup for the true test. The soup is a delicacy I haven’t had since visiting Greece last year, and Pete's version was rich and creamy, just as we’d hoped, with just a hint of lemon. A much cheaper and more local alternative than a trip across the pond.