Happy Friday: Denver's ten best bar snacks

The bacon and cashew caramel corn at Colt & Gray (1553 Platte Street) is salty, sweet and addictive, leaving us hungry for more every time we finish our allotted cup. And the treat just earned a nod from Bon Appetit, which called it one of the best bar snacks in the country. Squeaky Bean, 3301 Tejon Street, was also tapped by the publication, which put it on a list of ten more places to enjoy bar food in the U.S. We think the Bean got the shout-out for its Shake n Bake sweetbreads, tender and savory with a crispy fried crust.

Just in time for happy hour, we've crafted a list of Denver's ten best bar snacks (not including the Bon Appetit winners). Cheers.

1. Frico caldo, Frasca Food and Wine,1738 Pearl Street, Boulder

Frasca's bar may have just a few seats, but it's worth getting there early to nab one (or a spot on the patio) so that you can suck down a glass of wine while devouring the frico caldo. For this delightful appetizer, crushed potatoes and gooey montasio cheese are pressed into a cast-iron grill pan,and fried until golden-brown and crispy, then cut into four triangles and topped with shallot vinaigrette.

2. Sweet potato fries, Root Down, 1600 West 33rd Avenue

Root Down's bar, located in a former garage that's been tricked out with vintage posters, old telephones and plush round booths, may be one of the coolest venues in which to enjoy a drink. And while marveling at the décor over that drink, we like to order the sweet potato fries, which are thin and crispy and served with a tangy lime dipping sauce that enhances our snacking pleasure.

3. Fried brussels sprouts leaves, Happy and Bitter Bar, 835 Walnut Street, Boulder

Sometime in the history of bars, owners realized that salt makes you thirsty, loosening your purse strings and enticing you to order another round. The fried brussels sprouts leaves at the Bitter Bar are, therefore, a perfect bar snack: airy, light, crispy -- and salty enough that you'll need at least a couple of rounds of cocktails from the Bitter Bar master mixologists to to wash these delightful vegetables down.

4. Garlic fries, the Kitchen [Upstairs], 1039 Pearl Street, Boulder

Whenever we sit down at the long wooden bar at the Kitchen [Upstairs] and order the garlic fries, we try to convince ourselves that we're just going to eat two and let our fellow revelers have the rest. Since these fat strips of potato come out crispy and hot and doused in garlic butter, though, that never, ever happens, and we load up on them like junkies finally getting a fix.

5. Mac and cheese wedges, Cherry Cricket, 2641 East Second Avenue

Sometimes we want fresh produce, high-quality meats and house-baked bread. And sometimes we want fat and starch rolled in more fat and starch and then dropped in the deep-fryer. When it's the latter we're craving, we find it at the Cherry Cricket, where elbow macaroni smothered in orange American cheese is battered and fried, then served with ranch dressing. They go great with a cold beer, a game of darts and Motown on the jukebox.

6. Street eats, Great Divide Brewing Co., 2201 Arapahoe Street

We're grateful that Great Divide, which brews some of our favorite beer in town, capitalized on the opportunity to bring street eats to its tasting room, enabling us to nosh on food stuffs from our favorite mobile vendors while taking down pint after pint of ale. And the vendors take turns serving the beer-drinking masses, so just about every time we go to the brewery's happy hour, we have a chance to try something new.

7. Chips and salsa, La Loma, 2527 West 26th Avenue

There are days when we think we could subsist on a diet of just frozen margaritas and chips and salsa, and when we start thinking like that, we grab a seat at the bar of La Loma, taking down the equivalent of tequila slushies while eating basket after basket of housemade corn chips dipped in spicy-chunky tomato and onion salsa with a liberal dose of cilantro. Salud.

8. Habañero honey fried corn, Steuben's, 523 East 17th Avenue

When we think of Steuben's, we usually think of things battered and fried and ideally doused in a lot of gravy. But when we sit at the bar for a cocktail, we often find ourselves gravitating toward a lighter option: roasted ears of corn coated in habañero rub and bits of salty cotija cheese. Served with honey butter, the snack is zippy, filling and fun to eat.

9. Flash-seared hiramasa with pop rocks, TAG, 1441 Larimer Street

When we're imbibing at the posh bar of this busy Larimer Square restaurant, we can't resist the tiny explosions of the pop rocks on this appetizer, which give the fish dish one of the most interesting mouth feels in town. The flash-seared hiramasa is served cool in the center and topped with ponzu, making it light and refreshing without taking away from its packed punch. Kind of like the cocktails we sip while eating it.

10. Formaggio and salumi, Osteria Marco, 1453 Larimer Street

A list of bar snacks wouldn't be complete without a meat and cheese board, and when we're craving charcuterie, we head straight for the subterranean digs of Osteria Marco, which specializes in house-cured meats and house-made cheeses. We're particularly partial to the sweet, creamy ricotta and rustic bresaola: thin slices of red-wine cured beef.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk