Last week the Girl came out for a long weekend. We haven’t explored a lot of Denver so her trip was a good excuse to spend a couple of days in town, check out the neighborhoods and explore some of the various food and drink joints that I’ve been hearing about. Below are the places we checked out and our impressions.
Lohi Steak Bar: in need of a late night meal we were pointed towards Lohi Steak Bar (3200 Tejon Street ) in Highlands Park, northwest of downtown Denver. The meat centric menu was surprisingly diverse with open faced steak sandwiches to portabello mushroom burgers. Our shrimp po’ boy and steak sandwhich were good. Not huge portions for the price, but a good late night meal. The best part about Lohi is the atmosphere; great bar setup, lots of attractive people and a fun setting. Lohi also plays host to one of the most attractive waitresses I’ve ever seen. Wow.
Café Calienté: we hit up this place in need of a quick lunch and a cup of coffee. Located in Highland Park’s 32nd Street (think lots of restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops and bars), Café Calienté (3701 W. 32nd Ave.) has a lot of good sandwich and quiche options and the coffee is decent too. The owner is excited about every person that comes in, making you feel like her most valued customer before you’ve even made it to the counter.
Crema: I had heard about this new coffee joint located on Larimer, north of Downtown (2862 Larimer) through some Denver restaurant magazines. As someone addicted to the Bean I was intent on checking this place out. When we pulled up my high hopes climbed a little bit higher; funky industrial type facade, wood centric interior with a minimalistic design. Very hipster, very cool. And the coffee?…not as good. In fact, you could say it burst my little bubble. We ordered Americanos which were slightly watery, not very strong and definitely not what I was hoping for. They were still good, but no where near Portland’s Stumptown offering. However, they do French press the coffee, a good indication of a shop serious about coffee. The most glaring issue at Crema is the service, which was incredibly weird; the guy behind the counter was trying to do eight things at once while the other barista was hanging out and talking. It was almost like they were unprepared for more than two people ordering at a time. Hopefully they get it together, Crema would be a great addition to the Colorado coffee scene.
Bitters Bar (at Happy Noodle House): For happy hour on Friday we ventured up to Boulder to check out Happy Noodle and the Bitters Bar (835 Walnut Street). This is my new favorite happy hour place in Boulder. Fun and innovative drinks, great happy hour food at minimal prices and a really cool and cozy bar setting. Wood paneling, a subdued Asian motif and necktie and vest rocking bartenders make this place feel like a Prohibition style speakeasy, classy-Japanese style.
Hi*Rise: for our last breakfast in Denver we were told to check out Snooze (2262 Larimer Street, and 2 other locations), a local Denver breakfast spot that is highly touted as an indication of Denver’s improving dining scene. Unfortunately, it’s so touted that there was a line out the door. A good sign, but not a good strategic move when trying to quench the girlfriend’s need for food. So instead we hit up Hi*Rise (2162 Larimer Street), an artisan bakery with a variety of breakfast and lunch options. My egg and cheese sandwich with chorizo on a jalepeno bagel was good, albeit not nearly spicy enough (why can’t restaurants stop dulling flavors to appeal to Americans who are used to the blandness of crappy manufactured food?). The Girl’s breakfast sandwich on a croissant was also good, but again kind of benign. However, it tasted like everything was extremely fresh. And that is the appeal of Hi*Rise; nothing innovative or too out of the box but everything is fresh and simple. Not somewhere I would take out of town guests, but a good stop for a lighter meal.
Pho 95: our last stop in Denver on our way out of town, Pho 95 (1002 South Federal) is a hole in the wall restaurant strategically located in a rundown strip mall in a rundown part of Denver. It also served up the best meal of the trip. Giant bowls of noodles, veggies and meat accompanied by a giant plate of fresh bean sprouts (mung beans), basil and limes. My veggie bowl and the Girl’s seafood bowl where both amazing and incredibly fresh tasting. We also tried out one of the best coffee drinks I’ve ever had: espresso dripped into a cup of condensed milk. Heart attack in a cup, and I loved every drop. Pho 95 was incredibly packed but the service was incredibly quick and efficient. You know a pho place is good when you are the only doofy white person in there. Definitely one of my new favorite restaurants in Colorado.
Having obsessed over the Northwest food scene for the last couple of years I was truly hesitant to embrace what Denver had to offer. But as we’re quickly finding about Colorado, the food scene here is good, and getting better all of the time. I’m not ready to abandon my loyalty to Portland as my favorite food city, but Denver is starting to make a strong case for mixed allegiances.