There's an Art to Eating on Santa Fe Drive

Pistol Whip opened this spring in a former tire shop on the corner of West Seventh Avenue and Santa Fe Drive.
Pistol Whip opened this spring in a former tire shop on the corner of West Seventh Avenue and Santa Fe Drive. Mark Antonation
While big-name restaurants keep opening in the RiNo Art District, from Safta to Shake Shack, new eateries in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe are few and far between...which makes Rocky Yama Sushi at 801 Santa Fe Drive such a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Smokin’ Yards BBQ, an offshoot of the popular Idaho Springs spot at 900 West First Avenue, was the only new spot to open in the area last year. This year’s big opening was the oddly-named Pistol Whip, at 698 Santa Fe Drive. Husband-and-wife owners John and Holly Slaughter created a 160-seat dining room and kitchen in a dilapidated former tire store on a corner lot they bought three years ago, right next door to their Tribe Tattoo shop. But while the New American restaurant is definitely open, the property is listed for sale for $3 million, and the original chef, Nicholas Lebas, is long gone.

Also gone is Interstate Kitchen & Bar, which brothers Andre and Aaron Lobato had opened in 2009 in the former Santa Fe Tequila Company, at 1001 Santa Fe Drive; it closed this past May. “It is a point of pride that we have achieved nearly a decade of service,” they announced on Facebook; the brothers attributed the closing to rising rents and increasing competition. Not on Santa Fe, though.

Arada Ethiopian Restaurant, at 750 Santa Fe, remains the most exotic eatery in the area. You can also grab a hot dog at Mile High Vienna Stand (300 Santa Fe), or Argentinian sandwiches at Carne (258 Santa Fe), which replaced El Tazumal this spring. And there are several places where you can grab a quick drink.

The real stalwarts of the area are a trio of long-lived Mexican spots: El Noa Noa, which has one of the best patios in town, at 722 Santa Fe; El Taco de Mexico, which has some of the best green chile and definitely the most entertaining kitchen workers in town, at 714 Santa Fe; and an outpost of Santiago’s at 571 Santa Fe that’s a must-stop for many commuters craving a breakfast burrito. And while the long-lived Swift Breakfast House at 930 Santa Fe is not a Mexican joint, it does boast that it serves the original Mexican hamburger invented fifty years ago at the now-defunct Joe’s Buffet just down the street.

While the Art District on Santa Fe is definitely known more for its galleries than its galleys, there’s also an art to staying open as a restaurant in this city’s crowded dining scene.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun