There are more than a few things I miss about my university days, but at the top of that list are college bars. Not the late-night meat markets, but the low-key dives that served good food at reasonable prices. I had all but forgotten how much I love a good campus lounge until my husband and I discovered the Pioneer near the University of Denver campus.

Just south of Knudson Hall on University Boulevard, the Pioneer is so unassuming you might miss it if you’re not paying attention. And that would be a shame because not only does the bar serve cold brews and stiff margaritas in a laid-back setting, but the kitchen also turns out crave-worthy Mexican.

I can’t visit without ordering the quesadilla de queso chiva. This hearty dish—which is a twist on the typical tortilla pie—comes with Haystack Mountain goat cheese, mushrooms, pineapple salsa, and a tangle of pickled onions for garnish. Or, order the chicken tinga tacos (shredded chicken and onions in chipotle sauce), the sloppy burrito with carnitas and chile verde, and the perfectly assembled chicken nachos with just the right amount of fiery jalapeños.

The menu is a draw for sure, but the unpretentious vibe and twentysomething crowd takes me back to my college days—which, to be honest, is almost as appealing as that goat cheese quesadilla. Almost. 2401 S. University Blvd., 720-536-4802,


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Guacamole: $5.50

Quesadilla de queso chiva: $6.99

Chicken tinga tacos: $7.99

Sloppy burrito with carnitas: $8.50

Mushroom and poblano enchiladas: $7

Chicken nachos: $11.50