But turn that frown sunnyside up! There are still some stalwarts working hard to deliver your diner fix, whether you’re eating in or taking out. Under current COVID-19 restrictions, dining room capacity is limited, as are hours (no 24/7 service for now), but you'll still find classic comfort food at any of the ten joints that follow.
1962 East Colfax Avenue
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 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. And here’s hoping your eponymous Kitchen can go back to serving folks 24 hours a day soon. For now, it's open for dine-in and takeout from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; find out more here.
Butcher Block Cafe
1701 38th Street (plus two other locations)
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, which had been doing takeout but has now opened its dining area at its standard hours, Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. andSaturdays and Sundays until 3 p.m. Be sure to order a cinnamon roll to start. You’re welcome.
1295 Cortez Street (plus a location in Broomfield)
“Taste the memories” is the slogan of Great Scott’s 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. Great Scott's is back to being a 24/7 establishment Thursday, Friday and Saturday; all other days it's open for dine-in, patio, takeout or delivery from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1100 South Santa Fe Drive
If vintage orange vinyl puts you in the mood for heavily buttered toast, generous cups of coffee, gloriously greasy eggs and bacon and some of the bomb-assiest green chile in the city, then Breakfast King has a booth for you. Despite priding itself on the doors being open 365 days a year, 24/7, pandemic hours run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for both dine-in and takeout options. Hail to the King, baby.
McCoy’s Family Restaurant
4855 Federal Boulevard
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 closing everything down. But the family favorite is back now, for both dine-in and takeout, 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 Best of Denver 2017 offering sit-down service from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Red Rooster Cafe
5761 Washington Street
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. Open for takeout starting at 6 a.m., dine-in from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Swift’s Breakfast House
930 Santa Fe Drive
Swift’s is the sort of no-nonsense, street-side diner that seems to invite you in to have a seat and eat hearty. If you were a fan of 20th Street Cafe, the folks at Swift’s seem to have taken a page from their handbook: This is good food, served with a smile and plenty of refills on your drinks. Open for dine-in (plan for a wait) or takeout from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Moonlight Diner & Bar
6250 Tower Road
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. It's open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for indoor dining, patio service or takeout.
Davies’ Chuck Wagon Diner
9495 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood
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 — but you can eat your fill from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, when it's open for limited seating in-house or takeout. 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.
1500 Curtis Street (plus two other locations)
Sam’s No.3 may have had its share of problems in this pandemic year, but it remains the go-to place for dependable grub downtown, where it's been feeding locals since 1927. The menu is huge, and you and your pickiest friends are sure to find something to order, remember…and return for. It's currently open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for limited seating, takeout and delivery through DoorDash.
Have a favorite diner we missed? Let us know at [email protected]