In 2005, a former repo man with a rather impressive rap sheet stemming from a reckless and wild youth plunked down a hot dog cart on the 16th Street Mall, in an area of downtown that already pimped plenty of wiener beaters, but this wasn't your average hot dog cart -- and the guy who started it, Jim Pittenger, definitely isn't your typical wiener slinger. Biker Jim, as he's known locally and nationally -- and on all those Food Network shows in which he's appeared -- was doing something outlandishly different, at least in the hot dog world: He was vending wild game sausages -- wild boar, rattlesnake, elk and reindeer -- and if that weren't enough to raise eyebrows, he was streaking them with ammo, namely cream cheese, that he shot out of caulking gun and then crowning the franks with onions lubricated in Coke. Now, more than eight years, three carts and a brick-and-mortar later, Biker Jim's Dogs was just ranked twelfth in Yelp's 100 Best Places to Eat in the United States list. And Pho 95, which has one location in Denver, and a second in Centennial, placed 71st on the list.
"It's an incredible honor," admits Pittenger. "The fact that we're even in the top 100 is amazing in and of itself, but to be ranked twelfth? What can I say, other than I'm totally flabbergasted." For the record, the French Laundry lagged way behind, coming in a distant 34th.
Still, while Pittenger has always been one of the most genuine -- and humble -- restaurateurs and hot dog hustlers in Denver, he realizes, too, that you don't become a national brand without doing something -- or in his case, lots of things -- right. "I'll admit that what we do, we do well, plus we have great customer service and I've put together a crew that feels the same kind of passion about food as I do," says Pittenger.
"From cheap eats to $$$$, food stands to Michelin stars, this list runs the gamut of dining experiences," reads the preamble to the Yelp list. "Leave it to Yelpers to be in-the-know on the spots you've heard buzz about (like the fabled Le Bernardin at #45 and Chicago's molecular gastronomy masterpiece Alinea at #7), and unearth hole-in-the-wall joints the locals would love to keep secret (a food stand serving only sweet potatoes at #54, or the hot dog cart with reindeer, elk and rattlesnake options in Denver at #12)."
In fact, Biker Jim's is the highest-rated restaurant on Yelp Denver, commanding more than 900 reviews between the cart and brick-and-mortar, the majority of which are four- and five-star rated. And while Yelp describes Biker Jim's as a joint that "locals would love to keep secret," it's way, way, way too late for that.
Biker Jim's is "a Denver staple," writes one Yelp reviewer from Somerville, California, who awards the hot dog cart five stars and then makes this declaration: "Orgasmically tasty sausage made from meats you've likely never tried, served smack in the middle of the 16th Street Mall by a friendly crew adorned in biker gear." And don't forgo, he continues, the "grilled onions and cream cheese, at least once, to experience greatness the way Biker Jim intended."
When Pittenger first planted his cart on the 16th Street Mall, his mission was to sell 100 dogs a day. Instead, he started out unleashing only forty to fifty, but just a few months later, he had reached his goal, and then that number nearly doubled. Now, Pittenger sells around 400 sausages a week -- and that's just from the three carts he owns.
Both Biker Jim's and Pho 95's ratings on the Yelp list were culled from a "wealth of rich data to see what the numbers told us about which places Yelpers really love," notes the official Yelp website. "Engineers on Yelp's data mining team used a technique based on the Wilson Score to compile a list of highly rated places to eat," it notes, adding that the "method takes into account both star rating and number of reviews to reveal which spots not only have top notch ratings, but also which are most popular in the Yelp community."
If you find yourself traveling across the country and want to know which restaurants are Yelp's "best," the list is on the next page.
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1. Da Poke Shack, Kailua-Kona, HI 2. Paseo, Seattle, WA 3. Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue, Kansas City, KS 4. The Cinnamon Snail, New York, NY 5. Porto's Bakery, Burbank, CA 6. Dametra Cafe, Carmel by the Sea, CA 7. Alinea, Chicago, IL 8. Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX 9. Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA 10. Joe's Falafel, Los Angeles, CA 11. Sushi Izakaya Gaku, Honolulu, HI 12. Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, Denver, CO 13. Oscar's Mexican Seafood, San Diego, CA 14. Coop's West Texas Barbeque, Lemon Grove, CA 15. Tacos El Gordo, Chula Vista, CA 16. Cheese Board Pizza, Berkeley, CA 17. Ricky's Fish Tacos, Los Angeles, CA 18. Ono Seafood, Honolulu, HI 19. Bogart's Smoke House, Saint Louis, MO 20. Bakery Nouveau, Seattle, WA 21. Baguette Cafe, Las Vegas, NV 22. Eleven Madison Park, New York, NY 23. T-Deli, San Diego, CA 24. Built to Grill, Portland, OR 25. Alforon, San Diego, CA 26. Daniel, New York, NY 27. Hot Doug's, Chicago, IL 28. Sal, Kris, & Charlie's Deli, Astoria, NY 29. Blues City Deli, Saint Louis, MO 30. The Kitchen Restaurant, Sacramento, CA 31. Cream Pan, Tustin, CA 32. Dave's Fresh Pasta, Somerville, MA 33. Café Besalu, Seattle, WA 34. The French Laundry, Yountville, CA 35. Turf N' Surf Po Boy, Austin, TX 36. Café Rolle, Sacramento, CA 37. Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, Downers Grove, IL 38. Yoshino Japanese Deli, Carlsbad, CA 39. Opal Thai Food, Haleiwa, HI 40. Lou's Cafe, San Francisco, CA 41. Marukame Udon, Honolulu, HI 42. Monell's Dining & Catering, Nashville, TN 43. Roxie Food Center, San Francisco, CA 44. Graham Avenue Meats And Deli, Brooklyn, NY 45. Le Bernardin, New York, NY 46. El Chato Taco Truck, Los Angeles, CA 47. Mr. Gyros, Seattle, WA 48. The Waffle Window, Portland, OR 49. Per Se, New York, NY 50. Geste Shrimp Truck, Kahului, HI 51. Frostbites Crepes & Frozen Delights, Cypress, CA 52. Sushi Ota, San Diego, CA 53. Arizmendi Bakery, San Francisco, CA 54. Sweet Potato Stall, Santa Clara, CA 55. Gramercy Tavern, New York, NY 56. Peter's Kettle Corn, Oakland, CA 57. Johnny Pacific, Winnetka, CA 58. El Chilango, Arlington, VA 59. Ike's Place, San Francisco, CA 60. Fishermen's Grill, Portland, ME 61. Sabroso! Mexican Grill, Garden Grove, CA 62. District Wine, Long Beach, CA 63. Chama Gaúcha Brazilian Steakhouse, Houston, TX 64. Bludso's BBQ, Compton, CA 65. Tiki Juice Bar, Anaheim, CA 66. Wally's Cafe, Emeryville, CA 67. Vinh Loi Tofu, Reseda, CA 68. Mama D's Italian Kitchen, Newport Beach, CA 69. Los Andes Restaurant, Providence, RI 70. Little Luca Sandwich Shop & Deli, South San Francisco, CA 71. Pho 95, Denver, CO 72. Garbo's Grill, Key West, FL 73. Ono Tacos, Lahaina, HI 74. Mattern Sausage & Deli, Orange, CA 75. The Market Grill, Monrovia, CA 76. Urasawa, Beverly Hills, CA 77. Dat Cajun Guy, Haleiwa, HI 78. Los Agaves, Santa Barbara, CA 79. Outlaws Cafe, Van Nuys, CA 80. Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken, Memphis, TN 81. Short Leash Dogs Food Truck, Phoenix, AZ 82. Pono Market, Kapaa, HI 83. Wafels & Dinges, New York, NY 84. Bell Street Farm, Los Alamos, CA 85. Uchiko, Austin, TX 86. Little Deli & Pizzeria, Austin, TX 87. Kokkari Estiatorio, San Francisco, CA 88. Kang Hodong Baekjeong, Los Angeles, CA 89. Komi, Washington, DC 90. Stuff I Eat, Inglewood, CA 91. Taste of Ethiopia, Pflugerville, TX 92. Hy Mart Sandwiches, North Hollywood, CA 93. The Codmother Fish and Chips, San Francisco, CA 94. Mastro's Steakhouse, Beverly Hills, CA 95. Sushi Sasabune, Honolulu, HI 96. Bern's Steak House, Tampa, FL 97. Postino Arcadia, Phoenix, AZ 98. Pappy's Smokehouse, Saint Louis, MO 99. Uchi, Austin, TX 100. Zia Gourmet Pizza, San Diego, CA