There were plenty of splashy restaurant openings in Denver in 2017, but most of the time we can't drop a couple of Benjamins on dinner. To balance the big-time operators (and to keep our budget balanced) with something a little more affordable, we searched every strip mall, street stand and hidden corner of the city for food bursting with flavor that won't bust the bank in the process. Here are ten new spots we discovered in the past year where we found the best cheap eats of 2017.
6625 Leetsdale Drive
This tiny Colombian eatery in east Denver serves up a wide variety of appetizers as well as belt-busting platters. You can make a meal by mixing and matching arepas, pandebono (round, fluffy cheese buns), papas rellenos (stuffed potato croquettes), fried plantains and empanadas. Bring friends so you can sample your way through the menu, or opt for the bandeja paisa, a heaping plate of beans, rice, pork, beef and plantains that will keep you in leftovers for days.
571 East Colfax Avenue
The Bourbon Grill isn't new (in fact, it's been on East Colfax Avenue for more than a decade), but a move to a new sit-down restaurant from its original walk-up window brought the char-grilled chicken to a whole new demographic. Piles of rice, veggies, gooey macaroni and cheese and spicy-sweet chicken can be had for under $10 — and you can now sit down at a table inside to enjoy it all.
258 Santa Fe Drive
The pupusa is El Salvador's gift to the world. The tender disks of grilled cornmeal masa oozing with cheese and plumped with meat or vegetable fillings make a delightful and inexpensive midday meal. El Tazumal's pupusas have just the right balance of crisp and tender, with crunchy flakes adhered to the edges where the cheese has leaked out and caramelized on the grill. Just look for the bright yellow sign announcing "Pupusas" if you're driving north on Santa Fe from Alameda Avenue.
4850 East 39th Avenue
Hinman's Bakery opened a couple of years ago but added a retail counter and lunch hours last spring. When the weather's nice, you'll find an outdoor grill turning out cheesesteaks, burgers and other hot sandwiches. But for a tasty bargain, stop at the indoor counter for savory hand pies and croissants. Recent options have included butternut squash, green chile, and "biscuit and gravy" hand pies with all the good stuff (pork sausage included) on the inside. Flavors change with the season, so regular visits are a must.
1417 South Broadway
Colombian cooking experienced a surge in Denver in 2017, and nobody does it better than Jorge Aguirre, who opened La Chiva on South Broadway last summer after several years of serving empanadas, arepas and other specialties out of his food truck. The Chiva Picada sampler plate is a great way to enjoy sausage, fried plantain, marble-sized potatoes and yucca fries, but don't miss the lomito sandwich bursting with shredded pork or a set of empanadas filled with cheese, chicken, beef, pork or a veggie blend.
920 South Federal Boulevard
Dig into a Sonoran hot dog with a side of fries for lunch at Los Mangos and you won't need to eat again for the rest of the day. Piled high with bacon, beans, cheese, mayo, guacamole and a hot mess of other condiments, the border-style hot dog is as filling as it is delicious. Los Mangos does burgers with similarly outrageous fixings, and if for some reason your appetite isn't completely destroyed by either, shakes and colorful Mexican frozen concoctions are on order for dessert.
5380 West Mississippi Avenue, Lakewood
On the border of Lakewood and Denver, where tacos, burritos and tamales abound, $12-$15 doesn't seem like that much of a bargain for dinner. But that price will get you a fourteen-inch pie (bigger than standard individual pizzas) with fresh, quality ingredients cooked in chef/owner Zach Parini's 900-degree wood-burning oven. The pizzas are big enough for two, so order more than one for a little variety (we dig the Lawnmower Boy on the white pie side of the menu) and take the rest home for leftovers.
650 South Lipan Street
Overfilled tacos and Mexican burgers are served from a walk-up window on the side of a converted shipping container in the Athmar Park neighborhood. With several meats and vegetarian toppings to choose from, you have to stop by on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (the only days the taqueria is open) to sample all of the options. Be sure to ask for your tacos served "mamalon" style — which includes mounds of grilled nopales, onions, pineapple and squash for a small up-charge.
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TRU Colotexmex Bar-B-Que
599 West Littleton Boulevard, Littleton
Brisket is not cheap; you have to pay for quality, whether you're indulging at a sit-down barbecue joint or a roadside trailer. James Diaz makes sure you get the best for your buck with his Austin-style Tex-mex smoked brisket, so be sure to bring a few extra dollars on days when the beefy cut is offered. But on other days, mesquite-grilled fajitas served on housemade flour tortillas, sausage rolls, barbecue chicken thighs and other daily specials can be had for a bargain. The menu changes frequently, so check the TRU Facebook page to see what Diaz is smoking up before you swing by his setup in a Littleton liquor store parking lot.
2231 South Broadway
Even with so much poke coming to Denver last year, Turtle Boat stood out for its quality, originality and service. Fresh fish can get pricey, but you won't feel cash-strapped here, since options start as low as $8 and top out at $14. With several seafood (including Colorado striped bass) and three vegetarian (tofu, tempeh or a soy-free Turtle Boat original called "alma" made from an ancient-grain blend) choices, and a big selection of mix-ins, toppings and sauces, poke at Turtle Boat doesn't have to be a rare indulgence.