Travel Guide: Denver

My opportunities for travel are most often business-related, meaning I fly into a place, take a cab to my hotel, spend the majority of my days in a conference room or convention center, then limp exhaustedly out to dinner, alone or in a large group, at the best place I can find without too much hassle.

I get to eat at really great places in this vein – don’t get me wrong – but it’s not the most relaxed way to experience a city. But recently, I went to visit Big Hungry Jill for a long weekend in her newest city, Denver. I’ve somehow never been to Colorado, and getting to see it as a tourist and in the company of a resident rather than as a business traveler was an absolute treat. Here’s where you need to eat when you go there.

Denver Biscuit Company is run and patronized by very, very cool people. They are cooler than me, and it’s probable they will be cooler than you. Ignore the intimidation factor, and order yourself a giant, bacon-topped cinnamon roll made from biscuit dough along with the spicy bloody mary. Carbs and vodka can make me feel better about almost anything, including what a dork I am.

This roll was luscious with sugary icing, just a wee bit smoky from the bacon shards decorating the top, and ooey gooey on the inside while also somehow being flaky. The biscuit dough make it less yeasty than your typical cinnamon roll, but it was still tender and buttery on the inside.

You could opt next (oh yeah, you’ll already be full. Order more food anyway – you’re on vacation!) for the biscuits and gravy or the shrimp and grits, depending on your gluttony inclinations. Both were delicious, but I’m going to give the slight edge to the biscuits and gravy because the savory, creamy gravy was well-seasoned and not too rich, but still in great supply. We found the shrimp factor and the sauce factor to be a bit lacking in the shrimp and grits.

Next up, Uno Mas Taqueria on South Pearl not only has a great back patio for Happy Hour, but free chips and salsa to go with your skinny margarita. The green one is fiery, and the red ones are excellent.

Moving right on down the street, we had our best meal of the trip at Ototo Raw Bar and Robata Grill. We enjoyed the Happy Hour menu here, as well, and really made the best of our limited time at this gorgeous respite. The very best dish was called Kinpira, lightly sautéed julienned burdock root and carrot dressed in sesame oil and soy sauce. This was simple, but absolutely wonderful – the root vegetable providing earthy texture and flavor that was kissed beautifully by the sesame oil and sweetened by the carrot.

The honey miso eggplant was clearly crafted by angels. The mixture of the earthy, salty, fermented miso flavor with the sweet honey and the slightly bitter, soft eggplant was genius.

The grilled squid was no slouch, and I dish I liked better than I expected to. I like grilled octopus and I like fried squid preparations, but I don’t wholly love either. This managed to become smoky on the grill, and was cooked perfectly so that it was tender but with just a slight crunch. The seaweed and sesame sprinkled on top and the soy and sake liquid underneath complimented the creamy flavor of the fish really well.

The grilled pork belly didn’t disappoint, either. The star of this dish was the yuzu-kosho sauce served with the lightly grilled, fatty pork. It was brightly citrusy with the punch of fermented chiles that elevated this from a bacon dish to an exotic wonder from another land. The sauce cut right through the richness of the meat and anything than can out sing pork belly is a star in my book.

After all that Happy Hour-ing, you’re going to want dim sum the next morning. We sure did. We had a procession of awesome Chinese specialties here, and I can’t possibly describe them all, except one: rolled-up rice noodles stir fried with jalapenos, soy, and garlic that knocked my socks off. I have no idea what they are called, since we picked them off a steam cart, but you have to get them in your life. And I need to learn to make them at home, because you all know Upstate NY is a dim sum wasteland.

Star Kitchen is very authentic and absolutely worth the drive out of the more touristy areas to seek it out.

A you need to know about if you’re heading to Denver is Avanti, which is unlike any other eatery I’ve ever visited. This place is essentially a co-op of different restaurants, and it is BRILLIANT. The base building has a couple bars on different levels, plus indoor and outdoor seating options (and lots of them), with vendors occupying stalls selling schawarma, burgers, sushi, pizza, pasta, and arepas.
I had to go for the arepas, and my pabellon from Quiero Arepas was massive and delectable. The mix of savory black beans, sweet plantains, rich braised beef and salty cheese was in perfect balance. I was sad not to be able to sample the pork and guacamole version, but honestly, this thing was big enough for three people. There was no way.

Avanti is also exceedingly cool in that very Denver/rich hipster way, but a little bit lower on the intimidation scale. Everyone is just doing their own thing here, and to grab a bite to eat and a drink and cop a squat outside on the deck on a nice day is pretty much Heaven. The variety keeps it interesting, too. I think this concept could be a great idea for Armory Square in Syracuse or anywhere where people want to pre-game – it provides lots of options for large groups so everyone can find something they like, and then sit all together and talk and enjoy.

One more brunch for my Hungries, because I know you love it. Maddie’s, in the Rosedale neighborhood, has a cool mix of Jewish deli foods with Mexican specialties and southern-tinged dishes. We started with a flight of pancakes. Hey! I don’t want you to read right over that – you can order a FLIGHT OF PANCAKES for the table at Maddies, like, to start your breakfast. Yeah, I know. I know! Life is amazing.

We got a trio of tiny blueberry, banana walnut, and cinnamon sugar pancakes to share between the three of us, and were pretty proud of our accomplishment. These were sweet and tender. Not as fluffy as I may would have liked, but absolutely delicious nonetheless.

For my main, I ordered Maddie’s BYOBOWL of green chile, bacon, home fries, sautéed peppers and onions, cheddar cheese and two SSU eggs with a side of challah toast. It’s going to be tough to describe how much I loved it. Should I write a sonnet? Because green chile is my jam, you guys. It’s spicy, but not too; it’s savory, but not salty. The bacon leant the salt, and the eggs and cheese brought the richness, while the vegetables rounded everything else and prevented total gut-bomb status. I want to start making myself this dish on the weekends because I am in love with it.

You can also get an Israeli breakfast with hummus, eggs, and salad at Maddie’s, and if that doesn’t sound scrumptious, I don’t know what does. Do you think they would build a second location in Endicott?

All in all, my visit to Denver was a gastronomic feat. Jill and I gallivanted around Red Rocks and green parks, we shopped and watched too many episodes of Drunk History and renewed our evergreen friendship in all the most important ways – and many of those ways are laughing over really great food. What a gorgeous city and a terrific trip! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger! 


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