Denver isn't exactly a late-night city, but the town's insomniacs, night owls and procrastinating students still need a place to go to unwind, study or fuel up at any time of the day or night. Fortunately, there are still places where a cup of joe and a plate of eggs can be found while the rest of the city sleeps. There aren't many, though, so our list of the best all-night joints — presented in alphabetical order, with this year's Best 24/7 Restaurant in the number-one slot — only goes to nine (and one of those is technically 24/5). So we've included an extra that almost qualifies for 24/7, closing for just a few hours before dawn while still providing a haven of good eats well into the inky black night.
9) Breakfast King
300 West Mississippi Avenue
With all the construction around Santa Fe Drive and I-25, Breakfast King isn't quite the long-haul trucker magnet it once was, but plenty of regulars from nearby neighborhoods and industrial parks still keep the place busy. And new apartment complexes on nearby South Broadway mean a whole new generation is being introduced to the King's old-school menu. Although breakfast is the diner's calling card, full entrees, hot sandwiches (we dig the tuna melt) and goofy, retro mash-ups like the chiliette (egg noodles swimming in chili con carne) and the toro pot (a cheese- and chili-smothered burrito stuffed with ground beef and hash browns) give plenty of options for late-night or early-morning customers.
8) Denver Diner
740 West Colfax Avenue
The Denver Diner closed last fall after a kitchen fire, and many red-eyed denizens of Colfax feared that the place was gone for good when it didn't reopen quickly. But instead, this classic coffee-shop building was given a remodel that took an entire year, and this fall the joint returned to life with an all-new interior that keeps the '50s feel, but with a little more gleam than the faded decor that had been in place since 1990. There's nothing fancy about the food here — it's mostly standard greasy-spoon fare — but try the deep-fried green beans for something a little different.
7) Great Scotts Eatery
1295 Cortez Street
Great Scotts has stood sentinel on Highway 36 on the way to Boulder for decades, serving as a rallying point for classic-car enthusiasts and a respite for late-night travelers. This fall, the restaurant moved a block east into a new building sporting two-story fins like an oversized 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. While the exterior of the new space doesn't have the same mid-century charm as the original, the menu — with equal parts soda-fountain treats, diner classics and Den-Mex specials (like those inspired breakfast nachos) — still fills the tank day or night.
6) Pete's Kitchen
1962 East Colfax Avenue
Some folks still go to Pete's for the Greek, Mexican and American dishes that barely make sense to modern diners (exactly what is a hamburger steak, anyway — and who orders the rice pudding?); most of them show up after last call at neighboring bars to hang out and watch through the windows as Colfax slips into its prime hours and gets truly freaky. Still, you have to eat something as the temperature drops and the sky washes out like faded denim on the city's eastern edge. Breakfast burritos are the standard, but a gyros melt or a Greek omelet will soak up the booze just as easily and send you off to bed to dream of merry, neon-etched chefs endlessly flipping pancakes.
5) McCoys Restaurant
4855 Federal Boulevard
McCoys couldn't be better situated for all-hours dining; it looms over I-70 at Federal Boulevard like a garish cathedral where salvation comes in the form of chicken-fried steak and french fries. A seat on a swiveling padded chair at the counter might land you in a conversation with a bleary sales rep or a trucker grabbing a pre-dawn breakfast. But a booth might be more your thing, where you can spread out and make a feast of a French dip, made with the kitchen's own roast beef in a standard setup, or as the Alpine (with cheese and mushrooms), or choose a heartier entree that comes with its own mini-loaf of bread and a cup of whipped butter. Stick around long enough, and someone's sure to call you "Hon."
4) Tom's Diner
601 East Colfax Avenue
Are you sensing a pattern here? Many of the city's all-night diners are located on Colfax Avenue, the all-nightest of Denver drags. Tom's as a restaurant doesn't date back two decades, but the building itself dates to 1967 and was originally a White Spot designed by the Armet and Davis architecture firm. The menu is mostly standard all-American fare, too, but with slightly modern updates — if you consider eggs Benedict and panini sandwiches modern. But the composite stone floors, the moss-rock walls and the wide-angle windows are the real draw here — along with an eclectic mix of customers, from late-shift cops to the ne'er-do-wells who just might be their next arrests.
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3) Waffle House
8401 Pearl Street, Thornton
This is the only 24/7 chain on our list — and only because the corporate identity of the familiar joint consists primarily of a yellow and black block-letter sign that could just as easily read "Muffler House." Inside, it's just bare-bones decor and a menu of all things griddled and fried. That means waffles, of course, but also crispy hash brown disks given the same topping treatment usually reserved for omelets, hot dogs and burritos. Although the Aurora outpost could well be a shrine to former critic Jason Sheehan, who spent hours there drinking coffee and watching the passing parade, we like the Thornton outpost the best because it sits on just enough of a rise that you can watch the stars twinkle over the foothills as you scheme whatever dirty deeds folks scheme over 3 a.m. waffles.
2) Yellow Deli
908 Pearl Street, Boulder
Boulder's communal, hippie-throwback sandwich house isn't actually a 24/7 hangout. Instead, the owners keep it open 24/5 and reserve the remaining hours — between 3 p.m on Friday and noon on Sunday — to observe the Sabbath. Yellow Deli was founded in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the early 1970s by a Christian group called the Twelve Tribes. But you don't need to subscribe to that particular brand of religion to enjoy the rough-hewn, Hobbit-hole decor or the spot-on deli sandwiches, with classic Reubens and roast-beef stacks rubbing shoulders with veggie burgers and fresh juices. And each meal, day or night, is served with a side of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance."
1) Tacos Rapidos
2800 West Evans Avenue
When searching for sustenance at 3 a.m., certain rules apply: The food should be cheap, fast and filling. After all, the party's over and last call has come and gone, but you're still out and about, looking to extend the night. The Tacos Rapidos on West Evans Avenue fulfills all requirements, serving cheap and decidedly downscale Mexican (by way of San Diego) fare with no fancy pretensions — or even a dining room. Sure, the guacamole comes from a gun and the corn tortillas are a little too thick and leathery to be double-layered, but the tacos are so fat with shredded-pork carnitas, spicy barbacoa or surprisingly tender lengua that you'll barely notice. Deep-fried rolled tacos (don't look for flautas on the menu), carne asada fries or similarly souped-up super nachos will satisfy the worst of late-night cravings. And if you're up early or late enough to yearn for breakfast, the breakfast burritos come stuffed with more bacon or chorizo than scrambled eggs.
And one that comes pretty close to 24/7...
1890 East Evans Avenue
If you're a creature of the night but greasy diner fare makes you want to curl up in bed instead of hitting the streets, Jerusalem may be more your speed. The almost-all-hours hut on Evans Avenue near the University of Denver dishes spice-laden meats; rich hummus and baba ghanouj; crunchy falafel; and flaky, honey-kissed desserts. There's also a full roster of vegetarian offerings, and everything is available from 8 a.m. every morning to 4 a.m. the following morning (make that 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).