Best of Denver

The Ten Best Eateries That Started as Street Food

Translating street food to a restaurant can be tough, but vendors like El Coqui D'Aqui have made it work.
Translating street food to a restaurant can be tough, but vendors like El Coqui D'Aqui have made it work. Mark Antonation

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La Chiva serves Colombian cuisine on South Broadway.
Mark Antonation
La Chiva
1417 South Broadway
720-389-9847

Jorge Aguirre's La Chiva food truck can be found during food-truck season serving such Colombian street food as empanadas, lomito sandwiches and patacones. Aguirre has been plying the streets and rounding out food-truck rallies with great grub since 2014, and opened his first brick-and-mortar on South Broadway just over a year ago. With a bigger kitchen, La Chiva now serves Colombian entrees to go along with the street-style eats; don't miss the bandeja montañera, arroz con pollo or hearty daily soups.

Quiero Arepas
3200 Pecos Street
720-432-4205

Quiero Arepas ruled the streets of Denver as one of the best food trucks in town beginning in 2010, then took up business serving Venezuelan arepas inside Avanti Food & Beverage in 2015. Igor and Beckie Panasewicz have turned an obscure South American specialty into an icon of Denver street food by consistently turning out fresh, delicious and filling food for years. While Avanti's incubator model has seen many concepts come and go, Quiero Arepas has stayed on as a customer favorite and top seller at the LoHi food hall.

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Rolling Smoke's smokers aren't going anywhere; they're bolted to the concrete outside Stanley Marketplace.
Veronica Penney
Rolling Smoke BBQ
2501 Dallas Street, Aurora, 720-573-4142
7470 South University Boulevard, Centennial, 303-221-4093
We always tracked down the Rolling Smoke BBQ truck on days when it was on the streets, following the aroma of smoked meats to the right destination. But now we can simply head to Stanley Marketplace any day of the week for a taste of Oklahoma native Terry Walsh's excellent ’cue. The burnt ends are our favorite, but bring your appetite and $30; that's what it will take to land the pound-and-a-half sampler called the Whole Smoker, which comes with all available meats plus two sides. Rolling Smoke now has another permanent home on South University Boulevard to bring more barbecue to the south suburbs.

Pinche may not be Pinche anymore, but the tacos are just as good.
Mark Antonation
Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Three locations

Kevin Morrison started out peddling tacos from a mobile cart called Pinche Tacos at farmers' markets and on the 16th Street Mall, getting into hot water over the use of the word "pinche" in the name. In 2011, he launched his first brick-and-mortar just off East Colfax Avenue and soon added another in West Highland before changing the name to Tacos Tequila Whiskey. The taco empire keeps growing; we're just happy we don't have to eat standing up anymore so we can sit down and partake in Mexican food and margs any time.

Villagran's suegras (Spanish for "mother-in-law") are like quesadillas built with housemade corn tortillas.
Mark Antonation
Villagran Restaurante
1215 West Alameda Avenue
303-379-9927

Maria Garcia and Marco Angeles ran two Villa Real food trucks on Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue for years, saving money to open their own restaurant. The result is Villagran, which opened a year ago, not too far from where one of the food trucks once regularly parked. Inside, you'll find a full bar and plenty of ranch-style entrees (grilled meats are a specialty), plus the same wonderful tacos, suegras and other antojitos built on housemade corn tortillas. 
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation