Now that Denver has a pair of Shake Shacks and a Giordano’s, and In-N-Out Burger is actually, really, we’re-not-kidding coming to Colorado (though not until 2020, and the first outlet — supposedly of many — will be down in the Springs), fast-food fans are hungry for more. There are too many terribly delicious (and terrible for you, but whatever) national and regional chains that could add links in Denver — a reminder of home for transplants, and an introduction to the temptations of afar for those few Denver natives who’ve had to subsist on Quiznos, Noodles & Company, Smashburger and the traitorous Chipotle, among other options born right here.
Where do we yearn to drive-thru or dine-in, as we recall doing fondly in other parts of this great country? Here are ten fast-foodie suggestions.
This Texas-based burger place becomes a standby everywhere it lands — so far almost exclusively in the south and southwest states. Whataburger is known for having great (and huge) hamburgers and sandwiches of all types, relatively low prices when compared to those of similar chains, and an availability at most locations 24 hours a day. Whataburger, whatta opportunity.
Eegee's isn’t a huge chain — it’s almost exclusive to Tucson, though it’s making slow-but-sure forays into other Arizona cities. But the sheer emotional devotion that it's inspired can’t be denied. Sure, it’s a sandwich shop, and it’s a good one. And it’s a rare and blessed exception to the apparent unwritten rule that sandwich shops can’t serve fries as a side dish. Eegee’s offers cheese fries, ranch fries, cheesy bacon fries, buffalo ranch fries…you get the idea. But its main draws are the real-fruit slushes — pina colada, lemon or strawberry, with a flavor of the month to keep you coming back. Given that the 48-year-old company just got bought out by a NYC-based restaurant investment firm, the chances of Denver getting a taste of Eegee are better than ever before.
If you haven’t experienced the White Castle slider (mainly available in the Midwest and Northeast…and no, the ones stocked in the frozen section at your local grocery store don’t count), then nothing anyone can say in mere words can come close to replicating its sublime awesomeness. Because honestly, describing it sounds sort of gross: These sliders are small, square patties of meat pressed out with holes perforated through them so they cook quick and juicy. They’re not grilled, but steamed over a layer of raw onion, and then served on a soft, sweet roll that soaks up the brown-burger au jus. The result might not be pretty, but pretty ain’t the point. Down it in a couple of bites, and reach for another.
This Chicago-style chain of hot dogs and Italian beef is a phenomenon in the Midwest, where it’s been expanding at a precipitous rate in the last few years (and also in California, Arizona and Florida). But specifying that Portillo's is just about frankfurters and sandwiches is a little misleading — it does many more things, and does them well, everything from ribs to pastas to salads to Chicago tamales, which should not be compared to Mexican tamales in any way, but are delicacies in their own right. Portillo's would be a brilliant addition to the area around Coors Field, where hot dogs are already important and necessary. It’s a decision that Denverites would (I’m sorry for this) relish.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Why there are no Moe’s outposts in Denver is something of a mystery — it seems like a chain ready-made for the Colorado lifestyle (healthy, quick, spicy if you want it that way). It’s in forty other states, and Colorado has only two, tucked into the mountains (one in Glenwood Springs, the other up in Eagle County — neither of which is a drive you would make for a burrito). While yes, Denver has Chipotle and Qdoba and Illegal Pete’s, etc., there's still room for Moe’s Tex-Mex angle in the mile high market.
Steak ‘n Shake
“If it’s in sight, it must be right,” according to the old, semi-vague slogan of Midwest burger joint Steak ‘n Shake. But while there are two token outlets in the southern suburbs, fans want one right in sight in central Denver. That's right: Steak ‘n Shake burgers deserve to be enjoyed by more folks than just those in the southern ‘burbs. Takhomasak? We’d like to.
Tim Horton’s is a Canadian chain that’s spread into fourteen states, primarily in the northwest and down the Atlantic coast. It’s well-known for its coffee and doughnuts, and many people swear by its grilled cheese and other sandwiches. One of its most popular items are the doughnut holes known as Timbits, a name that sounds so Canadian it hurts. They’re delicious, come in a multitude of flavors, and could help feed the cravings of doughnut-loving Denver residents. Honey crullers? Yes, please.
Chicken can be a tough business to break into, what with the market dominance of the already-major players: KFC, Popeye’s, etc. Zaxby’s is doing it—primarily in the South, where it has around 800 locations. It carved its own path by not trying to be a chicken place so much as a chicken wing and tenders place, with plenty of sauces and chips and sides and all that, with an “indescribably good” southern flair. Sure, Denver has places to get wings, and lots of places have chicken fingers available on their menus—but no one specializes in the crispy craft quite like Zaxby’s.
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9. Bob Evans
Yes, the sausage guy started some restaurants. And they’re good, too, in that casual-dining, we-don’t-want-to-go-to-Denny’s-but-we-want-eggs sort of way. Bob Evans boasts good home-style cooking that almost half the states in the union can enjoy, right down to the inclusion of fried mush on the menu, which is a great but surprisingly rare cornmeal alternative to syrup-laden breakfast items like pancakes and waffles. And sure, the sausage is good. Honestly, everything at this place should come with a side of sausage, but the world (sadly) just isn’t that kind.
10. Shakey’s Pizza
Colorado, like most of the rest of the country, used to have Shakey’s Pizza, which was one of kids’ favorite places to go for decades in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1974, there were an estimated 500 locations nationwide, each one “serving fun at Shakey’s…also pizza.” Old movies were shown on the walls, people ate at communal picnic tables set end-to-end, pinball and video games were plentiful…it was the place of birthday parties and post-game celebrations and an easy family night out. And then they all closed, one by one, until their numbers were decimated, with only around 50 US locations still open, most of those in California. Shakey’s Pizza doesn’t need to just come back to Denver—it needs to come back to America.