Not every bite of delicious new food came from high-end eateries and chef's tasting menus this year. We found great food at hole-in-the-wall lunch stops, food trucks, weekend smokehouses and walk-up counters all over town. Here's our list of the best new cheap eats of 2018.
BBQ Supply Co./The Budlong Hot Chicken
2180 South Delaware Street
BBQ Supply Co. and Budlong Hot Chicken are actually two separate entities, but they have one thing in common: chef/owner Jared Leonard, who brought his meat-smoking and chicken-frying skills from Chicago to Denver last spring. You'll find Leonard's mouthwatering brisket, ribs, pulled pork and other slow-cooked wonders every Saturday and Sunday in an inconspicuous little joint across the street from the Evans light-rail station. The Budlong is a food truck that provisions itself out of the same location before hitting the streets like a guided missile, delivering a payload of spicy, crunchy fried-chicken sandwiches to a neighborhood near you.
6830 South Yosemite Street, Centennial
There's nothing fancy about this fast-casual joint in the southern suburbs, but that's exactly the point. Chef/owner Afred Rojas has compiled an edible encyclopedia of street food from Latin America, going from Mexico to Argentina, with stops in Peru, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela along the way. Sample empanadas from two countries, dig into hefty tortas, Cuban sandwiches or an Argentinian choripan (a grilled sausage sub), or go nuts with a nachos-style plate of salchipapas — a mound of fries loaded with cheese, guacamole, salsas and hot dog slices. You won't have to face off with an expert mixologist or share an overwrought small plate with your ten closest friends here; expect only big, flavorful portions without the typical sticker shock.
Famous Original J's Pizza
715 East 26th Avenue
Five Points is one of Denver's best neighborhoods for scouting out something uncommon, whether great soul food or Caribbean cuisine. There's nothing too unusual about pizza, but the setup at Famous Original J's definitely connects modern Denver to Welton Street's past. The pizzeria is nothing more than a walk-up window serving New York-style slices and whole pies, as well as thick-crust, rectangular "grandma" pizza. Josh Pollack, the founder of Rosenberg's Deli next door, took over the space after it had been vacant for years. The previous tenant was Zona's Tamales, which served tamales and pig ear sandwiches from the corner eatery for more than forty years before shutting down in 2010. Pollock continues the street-food tradition, but if you're looking to take a load off, you can grab a seat on one of the picnic benches on a patio shared with the 715 Club; a floppy slice of pizza and a cold beer make for a cheap night out in Five Points.
Ginginbunbun Sammies on the Go
4004 West 38th Avenue
Benjamin Runde, Melanie Hardin and Stephanie Caldwell opened their tiny sandwich shop in March next door to a Buddy Boy dispensary, making a kind of one-two punch of pot and craveable snacks. The goofy name is based on nicknames Runde and his girlfriend used for each other, and while it may be nonsensical, the sandwiches are definitely serious. There are a couple of stools inside, but Gingingbunbun is mostly a takeout operation, covering an international array of grilled street sandwiches, with stops in Mumbai, Argentina, Korea, Cuba and the Caribbean, plus regional American specialties — all under $9. Sides, salads and soups follow a similar globe-trotting theme.
3201 Walnut Street
How can a gathering place with no kitchen or food of its own serve some of the best inexpensive grub in town? In the case of Improper City, which has an impressive bar serving beer, wine, cocktails and espresso drinks inside, the solution is an expansive food-truck patio just outside. There you'll find barbecue with an international flair from Gypsy Q, Puerto Rican eats from Areyto, South American fare from La Rola Urban Colombian, and even an occasional Sunday brunch from the Basted Egg. Those are just a few of the mobile kitchens that roll through Improper City, so there will almost always be something new and fun to choose from.
1155 South Havana Street, Aurora
Denver’s only Egyptian eatery opened its doors in February. Koshari (pronounced “CUSH-er-y”) is the national dish of Egypt and the star of the brief menu. It's comfort food made with lentils, macaroni noodles, chickpeas and white rice; at Koshari Time, a few spaghetti strands are intertwined in the mix as well. On top of the mountain of carb-heavy goods rests a ladle of garlicky tomato sauce (your choice of spicy or mild) and a tangle of curly fried onions. Order yours plain (and vegan-friendly) or with halal chicken or ground beef. Even if tickets to Cairo are not in your foreseeable future, sampling koshari in Aurora is the next best thing.
123 West 12th Avenue
The sandwich and salad scene in the Golden Triangle had become a little stagnant until Leven Deli showed up in July, with housemade pastrami, hefty sandwiches and an array of soups and other deli items to feed the neighborhood. While the pastrami, cured for days before being smoked, steals the show, lighter sandwiches like a chickpea salad served on fresh-baked flatbread or a silky salmon salad are great for those on the go. But on a sunny day, it's best to slow down and enjoy the bright, airy space with a glass of wine, a "Dip It, Spread It, Shmear It" platter, and an indulgent chocolate chip cookie.
3501 Wazee Street
Chef Cindhura Reddy has made a name for herself with her Italian cooking at Spuntino, which she runs with her husband, Elliot Strathmann. But Namkeen taps into her South Indian roots, offering a street-food lineup of spicy dishes not often found in Denver. A standout is the Chicken 65, a fire-engine-red dish deep with heat and spices. For something portable, try a kathi roll — somewhat like a burrito, but with a housemade roti wrapper filled with your choice from several curries. Basmati bowls, a soothing mango lassi and some sweet treats round out the menu at this unique counter-service eatery inside Zeppelin Station.
2236 South Colorado Boulevard
Pupusas Lover is owned by El Salvador native Claudia Quijada, who serves Salvadoran dishes the way she learned to make them from her own family. Of course, pupusas, the flat, corn masa pockets filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables, are a big part of Quijada's menu. They come stuffed with a number of traditional ingredients — cheese, chicharrón, loroco (a tropical flower bud) — as well as the bean, cheese and chicharrón mix known as revuelta. But there are plenty of other specialties to fall in love with, such as the enchiladas, which are completely different from their Mexican counterpart. More like a tostada, these are handmade corn tortillas tinted orange from achiote in the masa, and fried until they're slightly crisp and puffy before being topped with black beans, finely shredded chicken, hard-boiled egg, crumbled queso and mild salsa.
2400 Curtis Street
A person can't live on bread alone, but you might live a little longer if you fill your days with joy — in the form of sourdough bread, brioche buns and bagels from Rebel Bread, which opened in October in a bakery built into a former synagogue. Sweet and filling breakfast Danishes will keep you going throughout the day, and a bun topped with an egg yolk, Parmesan and crisped prosciutto makes a decadent weekend snack. Haul home a family-sized bagel (at $8, it feeds several) and your loved ones will love you even more.
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SHOW ME HOW
3090 Larimer Street
Enjoy a breakfast bagel sandwich, a stacked Reuben on rye or, for something less traditional, a Dr. Rosen's Feel Good Bowl (made with sweet potatoes, quinoa and a ton of other healthy ingredients), all under the watchful gaze of Natalie Portman, Larry David and Mila Kunis, whose portraits grace the walls of Rye Society in RiNo. The corner eatery treads a fine line between Jewish deli tradition and trendy modern tastes, but whether you're feeding your nostalgia or looking for something new, you won't want to miss the "#18 + 1," a griddled monster loaded with Carnegie Deli pastrami, coleslaw, Russian dressing and baby Swiss.
2603 South Parker Road, Aurora
The smell of baking bread hits you when you walk into this humble Aurora bakery; the Iraqi-style flatbreads, big and floppy, are likely the cause, since they're baked fresh daily in a clay oven in the center of the room. Grab a stack to take home, or choose pizza-like manakish for a quick and filling lunch. Also not to miss are the football-shaped samoon rolls, which are good enough to eat without adornment but also make a great base for a sandwich of your own design.