We uncover more than 60 supersecret restaurants, vistas, hikes, attractions, and quirky, only-in-Colorado experiences you probably don't know about—but should.
These delicious dishes and drinks don’t appear on local menus, but you shouldn’t let that keep you from ordering them.
Little black book of cocktails at Gaetano’s
The Smaldone crime family might be long gone from Gaetano’s, but the intrigue of this mob-linked restaurant remains. Find it today behind the bar in the “little black book” of cocktails, a collection of handwritten recipes from staff and patrons past and present. Ask politely and the barkeep might let you page through and order something special, like the “Thoroughbred of Sin” (a citrusy rye and chartreuse concoction served with a mint sprig). Just remember: Skimpy tippers still sleep with the fishes.
3760 Tejon St., 303-455-9852, gaetanositalian.com
The Precious at Los Chingones, $10
We’ve barely had time to try all of the regular dishes at this new Ballpark hot spot, let alone venture off menu. But when we heard about the Precious, we made a special trip armed with an appetite and an elastic waistband. Consider them necessary weapons for facing down a pork tamale wrapped in a burrito, then deep fried and doused with green tomatillo sauce. One dish to rule them all, indeed.
2461 Larimer St., Suite 102, 303-295-0686, loschingonesmexican.com
Cafe Brazil’s Secret Rum List
Six dozen plus rums seems like enough to satisfy any palate, but the owners of Cafe Brazil don’t want to leave anyone thirsty. In addition to the 80 rums from around the world listed on the Berkeley restaurant and bar’s website, Cafe Brazil maintains a rotating selection of a few hard-to-find bottles. Ask your server about this curated (and unprinted) list. But don’t you dare order any of them with Coke.
4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877, cafebrazildenver.com
Chicken curry roti at Caribbean Bakery, $8
Trinidad native Lance Huggins has made Caribbean food for about 20 years at this hidden-in-plain-sight Colfax spot. It’s easy to miss, though. Caribbean Bakery doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page, or even a printed menu. Fortunately, all you need to know is this: Order the roti, a tortillalike bread served with a heaping mound of curry chicken, potatoes, and veggies. Be prepared for a wait, though. Huggins makes his roti to order, meticulously rolling, rerolling, and frying the dough. The upside: You’ve got plenty of time to bend his knowledgeable ear about the best upcoming local reggae shows.
2934 E. Colfax Ave., 303-284-7960
The KGB at D Bar, $12
The fact that Uptown’s dessert destination D Bar even has a dinner menu is still a secret to many, so you’ll feel like a real insider when you order chef-owner Keegan Gerhard’s namesake Kobe beef burger. All our server revealed was that it comes between two savory waffles—as if we needed to hear more. But in case you require more convincing: bacon, white cheddar, aïoli, and greens round out the mouthwatering sandwich.
1475 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-4710, dbardenver.com; Editor's Note: D Bar's old location is currently closed. They will reopen this summer at One City Block, 444 E 19th Ave.
5280.com Exclusive: More Secret Eats
Rosemary Tagliatelle at Panzano, $19
This beloved pasta dish—rosemary tagliatelle sautéed with dried cranberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese in a lemon emulsion—hasn’t been on Panzano’s menu for three years. But people still order it, and so can you. “We stock the ingredients,” says executive chef Elise Wiggins, “so we’re happy to make it.” 909 17th St., 303-296-3525, panzano-denver.com
Sushi aburi at Sushi Den, $8
Waaaaay down Sushi Den’s menu, under “signature rolls,” you’ll find a menu item called aburi albacore, which means white tuna that’s flash seared (aburi). That’s just one option, though. Those in the know ask the sushi chef to divulge which fresh fish merits the aburi treatment—and then devour his recommendation. 1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826, sushiden.net
The Toasty Christo at the Lobby American Grille, $12
With brunch served all day long at the Lobby, how’s a hungry Denverite to choose between a sweet breakfast treat and a more savory entrée? Avoid the dilemma by going off menu with the Toasty Christo. Ham, bacon, and cheddar and Muenster cheeses make this a real meal on the inside while the French toast bookends add a touch of sugary goodness. After a swim in the deep fryer, the sandwich is topped with berry jam and powdered sugar and served with a side of salty tater tots—fried up with finely diced peppers, garlic, and onions—making this a no-compromise order at any time of day. 2191 Arapahoe St., 303-997-9911, thelobbydenver.com
CONVERT PIT STOPS
Fuel up on the road at these tasty undiscovered places.
» Aspen’s only microbrewery serves just one thing: beer. The seven-year-old Aspen Brewing Company’s (aspenbrewingcompany.com) owners, however, encourage you to bring in your own picnic to wash down their 10 flavors, including a bourbon barrel-aged oatmeal stout. And you thought there was no such thing as a cheap meal in Aspen.
» Stop in, pre- or post-powder, to Clint’s Bakery & Deli (clintsbakery.com), a small, no-fuss split-level shop on Breckenridge’s Main Street that sells coffee, ice cream, breakfast, and lunch. Our go-tos: the Blue River (lox, cream cheese, red onion, and an egg) and croissant French toast.
» The only thing better than a meal made from farm-fresh ingredients is not having to cook it yourself. Enter James Ranch (jamesranch.net), a 450-acre high-altitude farm tucked just 11 miles outside of Durango that uses farm-grown veggies, beef, pork, eggs, and raw milk cheeses in belt-loosening feasts at its Harvest Grill & Greens food cart. (And you can take any of those fresh ingredients home with you thanks to the on-site market.)
» Visiting the Arkansas River Valley without taking time to lunch at Salida’s Boat House Cantina (719-539-5004)—a casual spot with a great view of the mighty Arkansas—isn’t just a missed opportunity, it’s a tragedy. Especially when you consider that Boat House’s made-to-order, hand-battered Best Chicken Strips Ever are easily the…wait for it…best we’ve ever had.
5280.com Exclusive: More Covert Pit Stops
Crested Butte’s the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin’s humble exterior belies a chic interior: a candlelit cocktail bar with a high swank factor and a varied drink menu. Order a Romeo Y Julieta for the unexpected flavor—and buzz—of tobacco or the Beesting margarita for a spicy take on the tequila-laced original, and take your libation outside to the hidden side patio.
The options at Ouray Brewery are limited, but whatever keg is pumping is well worth the mileage (try the red ale, when available). If the weather’s bad, hop onto one of the swings at the bar. If it’s a bluebird day, head to the rooftop patio for views of Main Street backdropped by the stunning San Juans.
The Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance are really more for your entertainment than for satisfying a craving: Trust us, introducing unsuspecting visitors to fried cow testicles never gets old. If your guests don’t catch on after seeing the protesting cows mural outside, well, that’s on them.
UNLOCKING FEDERAL FOR FOODIES
Federal Boulevard presents a treasure trove of culinary adventures. But where to start? We set aside the more obvious options in favor of lesser-known spots to create this guide to eating your way down Denver’s busy, bountiful street.
Taquería Mi Pueblo
Just about every region in the world has its own specialty chicken dish. The South has fried chicken. France has coq au vin. And in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, you’ll discover juicy, smoky, whole roasted chickens cooked to perfection with onions and jalapeños. Find an excellent example at this tiny spot a block away from Jefferson Park.
2300 W. Federal Blvd., 303-480-5332
When he moved to Denver in the ’80s, Hiep Thai took a page out of his mother’s cookbook (she’d owned a restaurant in Vietnam in the ’70s). Familial predisposition might explain why Viet’s chicken wings and goat hot pot stole the show during our taste tests. A crowd favorite, the crispy skinned, lightly seasoned wings could give Portland’s famed Pok Pok a serious run for its money.
333 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 125, 303-922-5774
Celestial Chinese Bakery
Don’t be scared off by the various pigs and birds roasting and curing throughout this shoebox-size eatery. There’s nothing we didn’t like from its menu of savory and sugary snacks, but the crunchy, then squishy, then sweet sesame balls with bean paste and swoon-worthy honey cookies particularly satisfied our sweet tooth.
333 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 128, 303-936-2339
Vinh Xuong Vietnamese Bakery
Bring plenty of cash to this pint-size strip mall bakery (they don’t accept credit cards) because once you bite into the crusty-on-the-outside, oh-so-soft-in-the-middle banh mi packed with pork, meatballs, or chicken, you won’t be able to stop at one. Just remember to save a few singles for dessert: sweet, but not saccharine, sesame flatbread and authentic moon cakes.
375 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 112, 303-922-4968
There are no rattling carts in sight at this dim sum paradise that anchors the Far East Center. But there are plenty of options. Choose from the paper dim sum menu, or page through the separate, enormous Chinese American menu, which includes a variety of hot pot dishes. Whichever you settle on, just be sure you include the fragrant shrimp dumplings in your order.
375 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 109, 303-935-0033
Few pull off the unexpected culinary combination of Vietnamese Cajun with as much aplomb as Vietnam Bay, home of the $50 Bay Special, a gargantuan platter of underwater treats such as hearty crab claws and sublimely seasoned crawdads. Equally appreciated: the spicy chicken wings and the tangy gumling, a savory marriage of gumbo and dumplings.
472 S. Federal Blvd., 720-328-3620
Torres Mexican Food
Although there are giant margarita goblets aplenty and an expansive menu that includes traditional dishes like menudo and campechana, you could be forgiven for momentarily forgetting this is a Mexican restaurant—at least, if you order the spicy-sweet chicken mole. This thick, rich dish mimics Indian cuisine as much as Mexican flavors. It’s light on the chocolate and heavier on a slow-burning heat—an unexpected (and delicious) flavor profile that left us scraping our plates clean.
1597 S. Federal Blvd., 303-934-8857, torresfood.com
If you’re south of Alameda Avenue and in search of a good banh mi, get yourself to Baker’s Palace. Order the number nine, a brilliant bit of grilled pork laid upon a perfectly crisped baguette and then topped with pickled onions and carrots and leafy greens. At less than $4 a sammie, give into the temptation to get one for now and one for later.
550 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-2279
San Antonio Fresh Mexican Bakery
Atkins devotees should avoid this bright bakery. In fact, anyone on a diet will want to drive right on past San Antonio’s 12 cases of perfectly golden, carb-tastic delights, including custard-filled crêpes; crunchy cinnamon-sugar crisps; fruit-filled croissants; and loaf after loaf of freshly made bread. We spent 15 minutes trying to choose one treat—and ended up with six. Fortunately, we could handle the bill: a whopping $4.
2007 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-0323
Tacos Junior’s al pastor wins the day at this tidy, cheerful shop not just because the staff will slice off a few piping hot pieces and snuggle them into a taco with a little Cotija cheese for you while you wait, but also because the succulent, spit-grilled meat pairs perfectly with the vast selection of bases: The tortillas, tostadas, fried masa huaraches, and bean-stuffed tlacoyos are all so delicious you can’t go wrong.
1951 S. Federal Blvd., 303-427-0121
5280.com Exclusive: More Federal for Foodies
El Camaron Loco
The “shrimp” in “Crazy Shrimp” doesn’t refer to the diminutive size of El Camaron Loco’s building—one of three Denver-area locations—but rather the plethora of shrimp options on the menu: 52 in total. The bright, cilantro-y shrimp ceviche proved our favorite, but we’ll certainly head back to sample seconds (and thirds and fourths) of the other 51. 775 Federal Blvd., 303-573-0862
Hong Kong Barbecue
Hong Kong Barbecue owners Sun and Jian Yu hail from the powerhouse island in the South China Sea. It’s a fact that becomes quickly evident when you bite into the eatery’s expertly roasted duck, which taste of the restaurants in Kowloon City and Causeway Bay. Assemble with the steamed fluffy buns, and let these succulent sammies melt in your mouth. We bet you can’t eat just one. 1048 S. Federal Blvd., 303-937-9088
Los Agaves Mexican Restaurant
Los Agaves’ proximity to Sports Authority Field has made it a game-day breakfast staple for years. But it’s the queso fundido that has us coming back for lunch and dinner. The bubbling, cheesy goodness, mixed with crispy bits of chorizo, practically cries out for a post-football-season pilgrimage. 1703 Federal Blvd., 303-433-1257