Food News

If You Miss Certain Denver Restaurants, We Have Some Suggestions...

Inside Fox Run Cafe, a modern take on a diner.
Inside Fox Run Cafe, a modern take on a diner. Mark Antonation
The desire to lament the places we've lost is understandable — and Denver's dining scene has lost a lot of spots since the pandemic began, some of them longtime landmarks. But plenty of new eateries have also emerged.

Scrappy businesses that popped up at the onset of the pandemic have become permanent. Longtime industry pros who lost jobs when their employers shut down went on to start new ventures of their own, imbuing the concepts with a strong sense of passion and individuality. And first-time restaurant owners and established groups alike have gotten creative in offering food and drinks that appeal to guests who are hungry for new experiences.

So even as you mourn the closing of an old standby, why not try a spot that fills a somewhat similar place in the dining landscape? We have suggestions where you'll get not only a meal, but a taste of the future of food and drinks in Denver.
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Fox Run Cafe is on East Colfax, the same notorious street that once housed three now-shuttered favorites.
Mark Antonation
If you miss the Denver Diner, Tom's Diner and Annie's Cafe, try...

Fox Run Cafe
3550 East Colfax Avenue
It's true that Denver's classic diners are dwindling, and more will shutter in the coming years as property prices increase and longtime owners opt for retirement. But as a consolation prize, we have Fox Run Cafe, an excellent example of a modern take on a diner — and it's on Colfax, the same notorious street that once housed three now-shuttered favorites. It's also a great example of pandemic perseverance. The original opening date of January 2020 got pushed back because of permitting and inspection delays. Still, owner Lucien Reichert made the risky call to go forward with opening on March 18 of that year, one day after indoor dining was shut down across Colorado. Offering only a short menu of items to go, Fox Run Cafe introduced itself to the community — with just Reichert and two employees running the show. Now, though, the bright-red stools that line the white-and-teal counter are regularly filled with fans of Fox Run favorites like apple pie French toast, a daily quiche, lemon ricotta pancakes and the carnitas-stuffed breakfast sandwich. And unlike a lot of old-school diners, this spot serves booze.
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The beef tartare katsu sandwich from A5.
Molly Martin
If you miss LoHi SteakBar, try...

A5 Steakhouse
1600 15th Street

LoHi SteakBar, which closed in June after twelve years in business, was never a traditional steakhouse — and neither is A5. In a town once known mostly for steakhouses, few have opened in the past decade or so as the city tried to find its footing with a new food identity. But like LoHi SteakBar when it originally debuted, A5 makes the steakhouse concept fun again. Far from stuffy, it has retro vibes and a modern sourcing ethos — and damn good food. Its location was the longtime home of the Wazee Supper Club; when the Culinary Creative restaurant group (which includes Señor Bear, Bar Dough, Tap & Burger and more) took over the space in 2017, it became fancy French concept Morin. But fancy French food didn't pair well with the pandemic. Culinary Creative used the kitchen to prep meals for those in need while Morin remained shuttered, and ultimately decided that the space needed a fresh start. Instead of stubbornly sticking to its pre-COVID trajectory, it completely changed course, and the result is the steakhouse that Denver deserves. Here the martinis are strong and served with an extra pour in a small carafe kept on ice, and the oysters are flown in from Maine courtesy of our two-time Best Oysters winner Oyster Wulff. The beef tartare katsu sandwich is one of the most eye-catching (and tasty) bites in town, and the steaks, of course, are cooked to perfection.  
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The Crypt opened in January.
Molly Martin
If you miss Tooey's Off Colfax and Streets of London, try...

The Crypt
1618 East 17th Avenue
Tooey's and Streets had a few things in common: They both hosted live music, they were favorite industry hangs, and they had an edge. Tooey's met an extended demise, closing — many thought permanently — in 2020, then making a brief comeback only to actually shutter for good in November last year. Streets owner John Elliott passed away in November 2020 from COVID-19, leaving behind a decade-long Denver bar legacy. The Colfax staple shut down a few months later (it's now home to gay sports bar Tight End). But the spirit of these two spots lives on in a new form at the Crypt, which was opened by Priscilla Jerez in January. Jerez worked for more than a decade at Tooey's; the Crypt is her first foray into ownership — and in an age of craft cocktail bars and precious garnishes, it's exactly the kind of place Denver needs. Decorated with details inspired by death culture, it embodies all things metal and punk (and could even host shows of its own soon). Fueled by a mostly vegan menu, it also embraces a more modern take on inclusion while remaining weird in all the best ways.
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Noodles Express brings the heat.
Molly Martin

If you miss Blue Ocean/Little Chengdu, try...

Noodles Express
703 South Colorado Boulevard
A small strip-mall spot in the Tech Center was an unlikely place to find a man banging and stretching hand-pulled noodles at a small metal cart in the dining area night after night, but that's exactly what Jack Ning did. Until, that is, the strip mall was sold to developers. With demolition planned, Blue Ocean (as the outside sign said, while the inside displayed the name Little Chengdu) closed in May, leaving a thick noodle-shaped hole in Denver's already slim selection of Szechuan spots. But a bit farther north, near Glendale in the Belcaro shopping center, Noodles Express is a worthy option. It opened quietly in February 2020 — terrible timing, especially for a nondescript spot next to a King Soopers — and by February of this year, it was nearly ready to give up until an outpouring of public support gave the owners a boost. They were able to renegotiate its lease with the grocery store and continue to serve a menu that's unexpectedly brimming with Szechuan specialties. While there are no hand-pulled noodles, the chong qing chicken and spicy boiled fish are must-tries.
Pit Fiend is now open in the former Owlbear space.
Pit Fiend/Instagram

If you miss Owlbear, try...

Pit Fiend Barbecue
2826 Larimer Street
Denver's not known as a barbecue town, but the scene here has only gotten stronger in recent years — and Owlbear was a big driver of that momentum. Owner Karl Fallenius came with experience from Texas's most well-known joint, Franklin Barbecue. In 2015, he began selling Texas-style brisket and other specialties cooked outdoors over wood at Finn's Manor. Opening a brick-and-mortar location in RiNo came with its own set of challenges, but it finally debuted in May 2019...and then the pandemic hit less than a year later. Burned out and struggling with food costs, Fallenius decided to shut the place down in January, but some of his former crew stepped up to take the reins and reimagine the business. Inspired in large part by another Owlbear co-worker who passed away during its closing weekend, Michael Graunke, Juan Pablo Llano and Esteban Gallardo are forging a new path in Owlbear's former space. At Pit Fiend, the trio puts out creative specials like al pastor sausage, smoked duck and smoked brisket burgers alongside a few odes to Owlbear, including its mac and cheese. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin