4385 South Parker Road, Aurora
Talking to Genessee Elinoff, owner of Rosie's Diner (see review, page 54), I learned that Denver's connection with diners dates back to 1888, when one of the first diners ever built -- a simple lunch wagon, made for feeding mine workers and, believe it or not, newspaper reporters working the graveyard shift -- was shipped here from the East Coast. But for the next century-plus, the diner never quite took hold in the West the way the culture of the carhop, milkshake and muscle car did back East. Why? Because the West had its own thing going, a sort of Mexi-American bar-and-grill obsession that flourished here the way the greasy spoon and the all-night-diner craze did on the coasts. Emerald Isle is one of the inheritors of that tradition, the way Rosie's is a natural-born child of places like Davies Chuck Wagon. From the outside, Emerald Isle has a biker bar/roadhouse vibe and looks like the type of joint you might search out when you're looking to score two-fer well specials and a piece of rock-and-roll action in acid-washed jeans and beer-can bangs on a Tuesday night. It definitely looks more like a bar than any sort of restaurant. But inside, there's a total role reversal, with a pleasant dining room and bar, caricatures of regulars on the walls, friendly service and a huge, stilted patio that overlooks the sailboats on Cherry Creek Reservoir. The music is good (if Metallica and '90s alterna-metal is your thing), and the food is Americanized Mexican, with killer avocado-and-bacon cheeseburgers served with excellent fries and cold beers, simple tacos covered with bright-orange shredded cheese product, and smothered chimichangas that take up an entire plate. At lunch, the crowds are a strange demographic mix of neighbors and tourists, families and businessmen and bikers. On weekends, the place -- particularly the patio -- fills up fast. So while Denver can still boast a few operating diners and a diner history dating to the prehistoric era of high-traffic pre-fabs, we should also be proud of our roadhouses and Mexican-American cultural fusions. That's our take on this country's culinary history, and Emerald Isle is a great place to get a taste.