Food News

Our Ten Most-Read Food Stories of 2021

A late night meal at Pete's Kitchen is an essential stop for Denver visitors.
A late night meal at Pete's Kitchen is an essential stop for Denver visitors. Danielle Lirette
Well, that was...a year. While news of restaurants opening brought moments of almost-normalcy (and lots of readers), many of this year's popular food stories hit on hot pandemic-related topics. The loss of one of Denver's few 24/7 diners struck a nerve, as did the impact that a viral TikTok video had on one longtime favorite.

From a change at Ball Canning that's left small breweries scrambling to the latest Casa Bonita developments and the MIA hot dogs at Home Depot, here are the most-read Westword food stories of 2021:
click to enlarge DENVER BEER CO.
Denver Beer Co.
"Changes at Ball Canning Could Destabilize the Craft Beer Industry"
An aluminum can shortage that has stymied craft breweries across the country for the past year took a turn for the worse in November when Ball Corporation unveiled new ordering restrictions, impacting small and mid-sized breweries especially hard.

click to enlarge Horror Bar reopened as Slashers in August. - MOLLY MARTIN
Horror Bar reopened as Slashers in August.
Molly Martin
"The Horror Show Over Horror Bar Accusations"
After meeting at a pop-up art show in the space behind bar/coffee shop/clothing store Bellwether in 2020, owner Josh Schmitz struck up a friendship with Nate Szklarski and agreed to let him put on his own month-long horror-themed pop-up. Following a successful run — and with Schmitz busy working on new Larimer Square concepts — the two decided to morph Bellwether, which had been open at 5126 East Colfax Avenue since 2016, into Horror Bar, with Szklarski at the helm.

When it debuted in March, Horror Bar proved popular almost instantly, with lines forming out the door. But in June, sexual-harassment accusations against Szklarski resulted in vandalism of the building and a lot of public backlash. As a result, Horror Bar shut down, Szklarski stepped away, and Schmitz's Handsome Boys Hospitality Group reopened the space as Slashers in August.

Awake owners Billy and Christy Wynne. - AWAKE
Awake owners Billy and Christy Wynne.
Awake
"Colorado's First Sober Bar Is Ready to Change Denver's Social Culture"
Colorado has a reputation for being boozy, but alcohol-free spirits, wines, beers and other beverages have been trending, and a new spot where you can enjoy them debuted in May. Awake's location started as a zero-proof bottle shop, but it's now a place to gather, socialize and toast with friends, minus the alcohol and plus a lot more clear memories. And the drinks aren’t boring, either, thanks to the growing number of booze-free spirits, wines and other beverages on the market. Cocktail staples like mimosas, Old Fashioneds, Negronis and more are all on offer, alongside a full list of N/A spirits, beer, cordials and aperitifs. Proving that alcohol can be a needless accessory, Awake even made our list of the 100 bars we can't live without in 2022.
click to enlarge KERSTEN JAEGER
Kersten Jaeger

"Hot Dog Stand Owners Told to Remove Equipment From Home Depot"
In September, Westword asked: "Where have all the Home Depot hot dogs gone?" After that story was published, a number of former vendors who'd been stationed at the home improvement chain reached out to share their experiences, reporting that they'd been told to remove their equipment following months of waiting for updates. Home Depot claims that the decision was made in order to make more room for products, but for those who made their living slinging dogs — and the customers who miss eating them — that explanation just doesn't cut the mustard.
click to enlarge Smothered burritos at El Taco de Mexico are a Denver must. - MOLLY MARTIN
Smothered burritos at El Taco de Mexico are a Denver must.
Molly Martin
"Ten Things Every Tourist in Denver Should Eat and Drink (and Five to Skip)"
As people began traveling again in 2021, we put together a guide to help visitors get a better understanding of the Mile High food scene. These aren't the best dishes or fanciest restaurants, but rather the staples that make dining in Denver unique (yes, green chile makes several appearances). And we also warned of five oft-mentioned "staples" (we're looking at you, Denver omelet) that are better left uneaten.
click to enlarge KENZIE BRUCE
Kenzie Bruce
"The Denver Diner Has Closed Its Doors on Colfax"
After holding down the southeast corner of Speer Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue for thirty years, the Denver Diner called it quits in January. The spot was a 24/7 haven for sobering up after the bar and holding early-morning meetings over eggs and bacon. But although it left its home at 740 West Colfax Avenue for good, the family-owned spot may make a comeback somewhere else. Could 2022 be the year it happens?
click to enlarge EVAN SEMÓN
Evan Semón
"Dana Rodriguez Will Be Executive Chef at Casa Bonita"
The Casa Bonita saga was full of ups and downs as fans of the iconic pink eatertainment palace wondered if it would ever reopen at all. But then came the news that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone bought the place, and the conversation shifted. What will they change? That remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure: The food's going to be better. The new owners hired Dana Rodriguez (owner of Work & Class and Super Mega Bien) as its executive chef. It was a full-circle move for Rodriguez, who was turned down for a job at Casa Bonita in 1998 because she didn't have enough experience — a plot that would make for a great South Park episode.
click to enlarge Michelle "Meesh" McGlone dreamed of opening Lucy's for four years. - MOLLY MARTIN
Michelle "Meesh" McGlone dreamed of opening Lucy's for four years.
Molly Martin
"First Look: Lucy's Burger Bar Brings a Minneapolis Specialty to Denver"
When Lucy's Burger Bar opened on August 20, there was a lot of buzz about this new spot that specializes in molten cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucys. While the burgers alone are reason enough to visit, owner Michelle "Meesh" McGlone's messaging around positivity, social justice and supporting other women-owned businesses makes this more than just a burger joint — and landed Lucy's on our list of the ten best new restaurants of 2021.
click to enlarge MARK ANTONATION
Mark Antonation
"Denver Biscuit Company Plans New Location — With a Drive-Thru"
Denver loves brunch — especially the Instagram-worthy, loaded biscuits served at Denver Biscuit Company. So when the restaurant announced in March that it would be opening a new location with a drive-thru inside a former Steak ’n Shake in Centennial, the news spread fast. At the time, the projected opening was September or October, but as is typical with restaurant openings, that date's been pushed back — so fast-food-style brunch outings are something we can now look forward to in 2022.
click to enlarge Domo owner Gaku Homma. - GIL ASAKAWA
Domo owner Gaku Homma.
Gil Asakawa
"Viral TikTok Video Creates Chaos, Leads to Changes at Domo"
Gaku Homma, the owner and head chef of Domo, the country-style Japanese restaurant in the middle of the city that’s served a loyal clientele for nearly three decades, got a rude awakening in July when a forty-second video showing scenes from the eatery with no narration went viral on TikTok. The next day, over 100 people were waiting at the door when the restaurant opened, Domo's Facebook page reported. The explosion of business took all the seating in the garden and backed up the kitchen, causing long waits all day. Within a few weeks, would-be customers were lining up from the restaurant's entrance at 1365 Osage Street all the way to Colfax Avenue and around the corner. As a result, Homma cut Domo's hours, opening just three days a week and opting to take an extended holiday break through January 6 in order to keep his staff safe as COVID cases spike once again. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin