There’s something nostalgic about a stroll through Denver’s bustling University neighborhood. As the sidewalks fill with University of Denver students getting settled in for the new school year, there’s an air of excitement and anticipation—that unmistakable “first day of school” feeling—even if you’re not a coed.

Named one of 5280’s Best Neighborhoods in 2015, University is more affordable than its popular neighbors, Platt Park and University Park, but no less interesting. The ‘hood’s businesses smartly cater to their audience, which means that there are plenty of inexpensive, fast-casual, and global culinary offerings to enjoy. Here, we explore the quirky and quaint places to eat and drink, even if you’re not rushing to grab a bite between classes.

The Boundaries: I-25 to the north, University Boulevard to the east, Dartmouth and Amherst avenues to the south, and Downing Street to the west.

The Vibe: It’s a college neighborhood, yes, but its location within a big city makes it feel less insulated. Expect lots of wandering students and professors. The surrounding residential communities boast a mix of rentals and owned homes that house a fair share of young couple and families, adding to the neighborhood’s mix. Prepare to wait for a table at a number of the local eateries, as this ‘hood is hopping, especially during the school year.

(Check out 5280‘s Neighborhood Guide series)

If you need to start your day right…

Try: Jelly U

No matter if you’re into savory or sweet breakfasts (or a mix of both), you’ll leave Jelly U satisfied. This popular morning hangout is often brimming with hungry patrons on the weekends, but once you nab a table, you’ll be treated to huge plates of pancakes, hashes, and classic scrambles that make the wait worth it. The breakfast sliders have been one of our favorites for years. And don’t even think about leaving without enjoying a biscuit with homemade jelly.

1700 E. Evans Ave.; 303-831-6301;

If you’re a student and your parents are in town…

Try: Asbury Provisions

Don’t be tricked into thinking that Asbury Provisions is a restaurant. Owners Chris Topham, Jason Ladd, and Kelsey Montague make it clear—this is a bar, with a highly curated beer and wine list, as well as craft cocktails, that just so happens to serve incredible food on the side. From their jarred snacks—hello house pickles—to their simply delicious sandwiches and small plates, Asbury doesn’t serve “bar food;” it’s a “foodie’s bar.”

2043 S. University Blvd.; 303-282-5485;

If you want to expand your palate…

Try: Jerusalem

Ask anyone what to do in University, and you’ll inevitably hear, “Eat at Jerusalem.” The Denver institution has been dishing up authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food for more than 35 years on the corner of Evans Avenue and South High Street. If you can, grab a spot on the covered patio and enjoy the combination platter, which includes various kabobs, gyros, hummus, baba ghanouj, fatouch, tabbouleh, falafel, and grape leaves. Bonus: Compared to many of the restaurants in this neighborhood, Jerusalem is remarkably healthy.

1890 E. Evans Ave.; 303-777-8828;

If it’s Saturday night and you’ve had one too many…

Try: Illegal Pete’s

OK, you don’t have to be a tipsy college student to enjoy one of this local favorite’s packed burritos, nachos, or tacos. Born for coeds—the eatery’s first location was on The Hill in Boulder, near the University of Colorado campus—Illegal Pete’s dishes out “Mission-Style” Mexican entrées that will leave you feeling full all day (bring your appetite). While this location has competition with the original Chipotle, which is located just two blocks away, we choose Pete’s for its varied menu options—who doesn’t love a burrito with meat and potatoes, smothered in green chile?—and salsa options that range from mild to xxx-hot.

1744 E. Evans Ave.; 720-974-2198;

If you need a place to study…

Try: La Belle Rosette

Cozy up to one of the community tables at this quaint espresso and wine bar just south of campus on University Boulevard, and dive into whatever you’re working on. The lattés are a solid mix of smooth and sweet, and if you’re hungry, nosh on one of their homemade treats, like muffins and scones, or order a panini at the lunch hour. If you stay long enough, you can fade into happy hour (Monday through Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m.), where you can enjoy half-priced cocktails, beer, and wine, as well as evening menu items. All in a day’s work.

2423 S. University Blvd.; 720-508-4469;

If you want a home-cooked meal…

Try: Pete’s University Park Café

Pete’s University Park Café looks like nothing more than your average corner diner. And in many ways, it is—but in the best of ways. This neighborhood establishment is a favorite among locals and DU students for its predictable, affordable menu fusing American and Greek dishes. Yes, the food is greasy, and when crowded the service can be slow, but there’s nothing like comfort food to make you feel at home.

2345 E. Evans Ave.; 303-733-7376;

If you’re not a college student…

Try: Atticus

Did someone say charcuterie? This eclectic spot wows with meat and cheese platters, which are the perfect accompaniment to its select wines, beers, and cocktails. The locally focused menu boasts plenty of house-made pastas, fresh veggies, and hearty entrées that cater to any tastes. But it’s the homey, welcoming vibe that makes Atticus a winner for those who are looking for a relaxing meal, sans tables full of coed patrons.

1135 E. Evans Ave.; 720-459-8273;

Erin Skarda
Erin Skarda
Erin is a Denver-based writer and the former digital editor for 5280.