The Cherry Cricket reopens tomorrow, Tuesday, April 11, after a kitchen fire closed the place for 138 days (we've counted every one of them). The Cricket has served burgers in the Cherry Creek neighborhood for more than seventy years under a series of owners, from founder Mary Zimmerman to current owner Breckenridge-Wynkoop Holding, which will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Tuesday complete with champagne and cake. From there on out, you can get your Cricket fix from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
With the smell of sizzling hamburgers soon to enshroud Cherry Creek once again, and with spring sunshine warming patios of burger joints all over town, now is the perfect time to explore the evolution of burgers in Denver. Here are the ten most iconic burger spots in the metro area, in alphabetical order, all of which have shaped the scene — from decades-old classics to newfangled newcomers.
Bud's Cafe & Bar
5453 Manhart Street, Sedalia
Yes, Bud's is many miles south of the Denver city limits, but you really can't call yourself a Denver burger lover until you've made the pilgrimage to this roadhouse for a taste of old-school in its purest form. A single or a double, with or without cheese — those are the options. And forget about fries; a bag of chips is all you'll need — and all you'll get. Bud's has been slinging juicy, greasy burgers since 1948 — the same year burgers stopped getting any better, anywhere.
The Castle Bar & Grille
6657 South Broadway, Littleton
For years, the sign outside this South Broadway stalwart advertised "the best burgers in town." And while we might quibble with that — best in Littleton, maybe — we'll agree that the Castle's burgers are definitely among the best in the metro area, appreciated by residents of south Denver for more than thirty years — eight of those under current owners Tapp and Kara Smith. Stick with the basics, built with half-pound patties, or opt for your patties smothered with Denver originals, like jalapeño cream cheese or thick green chile.
321 East Colfax Avenue
We'll never know exactly how many deals have been brokered over burgers and beer at CityGrille, a favorite haunt of the politicos from the Colorado State Capitol who stop in for lunch and dinner, but we know we've eaten our fair share — and hoisted a few pints, too — since the place opened in 1998. The prime location on Colfax Avenue means there's never a boring moment, but despite the built-in entertainment from people-watching, the burgers are still the big draw.
The Cherry Cricket
2641 East Second Avenue
Stick with the classic Cricket burger, complete with green chiles, or take your toppings chances with a spin of the burger wheel; no matter what you order, the taste of Denver restaurant history will make each bite a little better. When the Cricket reopens this week, it will unveil the Fire Belly Burger, topped with pork belly, strawberry-habanero cream cheese, fried onions and grilled jalapeños on a sesame Kaiser bun. One dollar of every Fire Belly sold in April will be donated to the Denver firehouses that helped douse the November kitchen fire.
Crave Real Burgers
1550 Blake Street, 303-534-5878
3982 Limelight Avenue, Castle Rock, 303-814-2829
9344 Dorchester Street, Highlands Ranch, 720-344-3006
The first Crave opened in 2010, not long ago by iconic-burger standards. But founder Jeff Richard wasn't content by stuffing mere meat and cheese between two buns; he changed the Denver burger game by piling on ludicrous toppings to towering heights, creating combinations that have won burger battles and attracted national media attention. The beef patty itself maintains its integrity, but even the buns get messed with in the Fatty Melt, made with two grilled-cheese sandwiches, and the infamous Luther, which sandwiches beef, bacon, a fried egg, cheese and onion between two glazed doughnuts. The burger was never the same again.
Keep reading for five more iconic burgers.
2192 South Colorado Boulevard
Quite the opposite of Crave, Crown is low-key and laid-back, hanging out on Colorado Boulevard in an inconspicuous spot for the past three decades. The quarter-pound or half-pound stacks are still a great deal, and if you're looking to get a little crazy, you can go big with the Royal, robed with sliced pastrami.
Grandpa's Burger Haven
23 South Federal Boulevard
Grandpa's Burger Haven, which opened in 1953, is a hole-in-the-wall in the truest sense, a spot where you shout your order through an actual hole in the wall. Originally, this was all there was to Grandpa's — just a little white-and-chrome box with a kitchen inside and a window facing the street. Today there's a kind of enclosed solarium where customers can stand out of the wind and rain while they wait — but there are still no tables, no waiters or waitresses, no plates, and orders are written on the white bags that eventually hold your old-school, very good burgers. There was a time when all hamburger stands were like this; now, almost no hamburger stands are. That's why Grandpa's is such a treasure.
My Brother's Bar
2376 15th Street
There's so much history inside this signless Denver institution — the spirit of Neal Cassady, the steady guidance of the Karagas brothers who bought the place, already close to a century old, in 1970 — that the food seems almost incidental. But sink your teeth into a JCB or a Johnny Burger and all that melts away...or combines into a nostalgic swirl of memories, flavors and aromas. Denverites may worry that things will change under the new ownership, but the place is in good hands; the Newman family that purchased the bar has been part of My Brother's Bar for more than thirty years.
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1890 South Pearl Street (and other locations)
In 2009, Denver was in the midst of the Great Recession; people just wanted simple comfort in a neighborhood setting — but they also wanted something new to distract them from the collapse of the housing market. That's when Park Burger entered the scene, along with food trucks and pop-up restaurants, to give an inexpensive alternative to high-end dining while still providing more amenities than the old-school burger joints. Boozy shakes, sweet-potato fries and runny yolks were the new accoutrements that made Park Burger a success. Today the place is so iconic that it's hard to believe that we ate our first Park Burger less than a decade ago.
Smashburger, founded by Tom Ryan in 2007, isn't much older than Park Burger, but took a slightly different route to iconic status since the original opened on South Colorado Boulevard. Using the counter-service model to deliver something a little more refined than fast-food fare, the company now runs some twenty locations in metro Denver and outposts in ten countries around the world. A decade after it was founded, Smashburger stands as a symbol of how Coloradans like to dine: fast and casual.