Denver, Your Dining Sucks. Sincerely, a Real Foodie

denver food sucksI’ll let you in on a little secret. While I write for one of the biggest food publications in the Mile High, very little about the restaurants in Colorado impress me. I regard almost everything about my move to Denver as a life upgrade, but one thing they could seriously improve upon is their dining scene. Maybe I was spoiled by all the new restaurants in Chicago (usually in my own neighborhood, no less), or just used to the quick turnover, but it seemed like everyday there was a new spot to try. While there are a few standout chefs like Troy Guard who can seemingly do no wrong and have a new project every month or so, for the most part, Denver restaurants are rather uninspiring. My favorite Westword comment we ever got, “Denver, your food scene is seriously overrated.” Newsflash: you have to be rated to be overrated. Here’s my problem with Denver dining:

There’s a serious lack of diversity.

Food in Denver can typically be classified in three genres: Mexican/green chili, pho or farm to table, which all are done well, but that’s not enough to satisfy my international taste buds. Sure, there’s Federal Boulevard and Aurora, but where are all the ethnic hole in the walls in Denver proper? I need Korean BBQ, bahn mis, and better Greek than cheap pitas. It’s sad when the most diversity comes in the form of food trucks. And quite frankly, who has the time to be chasing those down?

Nothing is open late.

Granted I came from a city where you can get virtually anything delivered 24/7, but post-bar grub is hard to come by if it’s not on wheels. I desperately need the delivery options expanded, especially on Sunday nights where the old religious laws are still lingering in effect. Logging into GrubHub is depressing with only about 10 restaurant to choose from that include pizza, pizza or bad sushi.

Food deserts.

The only grocery store within 15 minutes of my house is the Un-Safeway, which is about as appetizing as it sounds. The Source was supposed to be a convenient, local market, but their prices don’t exactly make it a neighbor-friendly accessible stop. Trader Joe’s finally opened in D-town, but it’s all the way across town and the RiNo area is growing so much faster than demand can keep up.

While I believe all the urban development will eventually bring new restaurants and genres (hello, shabu shabu), most of what I’ve seen so far is the same old, same old. Kitschy names with ampersands, local, seasonal this and that. Denver restaurateurs, please prove me wrong, I’m dying for a good meal I can really write home about.

8 Comments

  1. Yes! This is great. I couldn’t agree more. After moving here from Seattle, I was like “huh??” about the food scene. I live in Berkeley and I swear if anothe burger/beer joint opens here I’ll scream. Where’s the diversity! I need some Indian. Or even just a pastry. And the coffee shops all close so early too! I miss going for an after dinner coffee…The worst is how when you try to talk to long-time Denverites about the food, they are so defensive. They think it’s the best ever.

    1. Omg yes I would kill for some better Indian places. Why is everything a sandwich or a burrito!!! It’s driving me crazy.

  2. I do think that Denver’s food scene is in the process of maturing, and certainly cannot compare to the likes of San Francisco or New York, and the early closings are incredibly obnoxious! But I do think that limiting Denver’s food scene to the border of the county is not fair, just like defining New York’s dining scene by Manhattan alone would be naive (sure you can get Korean BBQ in Manhattan, but if you *really* want Korean BBQ, you’ve got to go to Flushing). The good Korean and Indian food is in Aurora (and again I admit the kalbi on the coast kills it), but it’s there if you want it. Anywho, let’s hope for good things to come! Keep critiquing.

    1. I agree Aurora and even further north have some great spots (DaeGee Westminster was my go to before it opened within city limits). Boulder has a great hole-in-the-wall teahouse/Korean spot called A Cup of Peace. I appreciate the feedback and thanks for reading, just still hoping for some bah-mis and Turkish in my life (if you’ve never had it it’s delicious).

  3. A lot of complaining and maybe not enough exploring.

    I’m half Korean and although not in Denver Seoul Korean BBQ in Northglen is great. Dae Gee also has a location off Colorado Blvd, and they’re pretty good. There is a great Bahn Mi shop called Vinh Xuong Bakery which is in ‘Denver Proper’. And for Shabu Shabu there is Kobe An on 34th and Osage.

    You’re either just looking to complain because complaining and whining is cool, or you just aren’t looking hard enough.

    1. You say complaining, I say observation. I know they exist, my point was just they’re few and far between (Seoul Food on 8th/Washington is also good). Thanks for sharing the bah-mi spots, I’ll have to check those out. I have been to Shabu Shabu, it was tasty, but pricey for what it was.

  4. About eight months into a relocation from San Francisco, I will agree with you for the most part – especially about the diversity part. I guess I have kind of come to accept the lack of diversity – although I am experimenting more with areas like Aurora.

    I have had some excellent meals though, and altogether I really believe that the scene is improving. That said, plenty of new restaurants that open are trying so hard to be different – ie. 16 ingredients in every dish instead of serving a couple of top flight classics – that often I am a little let down. Of late, I was very impressed by the over all experience and food at The Plimoth – http://www.denveruncovered.com/the-plimoth-best-outing-since-san-francisco-period/ – and last weekend had a great time and superb meal at the new Osaka Ramen in RiNo. Also anxious to try Little Biju for curry.

    My bigger frustration is around places to shop for food. In the Bay Area we were so spoiled; not just by the quality of goods we could buy but also by the experiences these foodie shops offer. Here I have spent more time at Whole Foods than I ever did in SF, and the bakery scene needs a serious upgrade (Babette’s products are excellent but he is only one – and not the most charming guy around – and DETOUR is a breath of fresh air – http://www.denveruncovered.com/make-a-detour-to-detour-for-french-pastries/). I appreciate the effort and risk the people behind Marczyk’s are taking, but the prices are higher than SF. Like the store but always leave feeling a bit taken.

    Enough for now. Overall, I am happy to see so much energy and risk-taking in the new Denver food scene, but I do expect we will see plenty of turnover in the next year. Happy to have discovered your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’ve about had it with Denver dining. Not being able to find a good kitchen open past 10pm is frustrating. But I have much bigger frustrations with Denver restaurants, which in my experience, are universal and actually more rampant at the higher end establishments.
    I normally eat at the bar. When I order food, seldom does the bartender respond by placing a set up. When the food comes, a server or someone from the kitchen runs up behind you, drops off the food and then disappears- never checking to see if you have the basics. Your food sits until you can catch the eye of the bartender. Then you discover they never put out salt and pepper. So you ask for that. The. You find out they didn’t bring out the ketchup for the burger or fries. I’ve been served chicken wings without napkins.
    I dine often in downtown Chicago, and I will tell you that if any of this happened there the place would be out of business in 6 months. I never have these issues start Chicago establishment.

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