Beers and Bites in Denver

My trip to Denver didn’t really include any food places that would knock your socks off, but there are a few dishes and some breweries (there are A LOT of breweries in Denver) that are worth checking out if you happen to be in that particular area.  However, I wouldn’t go out of your way to find any of these places if aren’t already close by.

La Biblioteca
1610 Little Raven St, #200
Denver, CO 80202

One of the appetizers at this bar pretty much made the night.  The Ahi Tuna Taco appetizer is phenomenal.  Because the bar is attached to the Zenga restaurant next door, the taco shell they use is made out of wonton.  The crunch from that, along with the guacamole, mango, sticky rice, and fresh tuna make this the single favorite dish I had in Denver.  Admittedly, it’s a little pricey ($13.50 for three pretty small tacos), but it’s something I had no problem getting over because the dish was that good.

Yum. Just yum.
Yum. Just yum.

Steuben’s Restaurant
523 E 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

This retro diner had one of the most eclectic crowds I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.  Sitting at tables around us were, and this isn’t an exaggeration, a fancy Great Gatsby dressed baby shower (I think?), three Amish looking people, two African American guys dressed like they were extras in Straight Outta Compton, Grandpa and Grandma Joe, and, of course, a slew of plaid wearing hipsters.  Wearing just t-shirts and jeans, I’d say we were the “normal” looking group, but I’d suffice to say that each one of those tables also thought that about themselves.

Along with the diverse crowd was a fun, neighborhoody vibe.  The music was loud, the food was good, but their beer selection needs work (there are no draft beers).  Their cocktail list however was extensive.  There’s an outdoor patio for the warmer days in Denver and our waitress was super efficient.  If I was going to suggest one thing to get on the menu, it’d be the gravy fries appetizer.  It’s essentially their version of poutine.  It’s not as good as Duckfat’s, but it’s right up there.

Denver Beer Company
1695 Platte St
Denver, CO 80202

In keeping with my recent tradition of going to local breweries, Denver Beer Company wins the prize for the most dog friendly of the breweries I’ve seen.  Beyond being able to play with other customers’ puppies (which truly is awesome), Denver Beer Company is a pretty run-of-the-mill brewery.  The place has the same feel as Allagash in Portland, ME and their beers, although very good, aren’t anything spectacular.

Illegal Pete’s
Several locations throughout the Denver area

This Mexican place looks like a group of BMX bikers and skateboarders got a hold of a Chipotle and made it their own.  Imagine a Chipotle, but with skateboarder stickers all over the place, tattooed employees, and a bar with 20 local beers on tap.  The setup is the same as Chipotle where you make your own burrito, but they do offer fish, and before they roll up your burrito they mix up all the ingredients in a bowl (so that you don’t get that annoying bite of only rice).  Outside there are picnic tables and a giant bocce court.   It’s open late night as well, so you can get your Mexican fix at 2 AM after a night of drinking.

Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 18th Street
Denver, CO 80202

My co-workers and I discovered this place because it was the answer to one of the team building scavenger hunts we had earlier that day.  Apparently it is Denver’s first craft brewery.  Located downtown, the brewery itself is actually pretty large; there’s a giant pool hall on the second floor which they say is Denver’s biggest.  We only were able to pop in for a drink and a quick pic with the Wynkoop gorilla (which sadly is on my co-worker’s phone), but the best beer of the trip goes to Wynkoop’s Cowtown Milk Stout — definitely worth a try if you like darker beers.

Cowtown Milk Stout
Cowtown Milk Stout

Panzano
909 17th Street
Denver, CO 80202

Unbeknownst to me before I got there, Panzano is actually the restaurant for the Hotel Monaco Denver downtown.  Since my company’s meeting was in that hotel, we had an informal dinner there the night we flew in.  I wasn’t really expecting that much thinking it was just the hotel restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised at how good my dish was.  The Ragu di Agnello (House made mafaldine pasta, lamb ragú, demi-glace, and Pecorino tartufo) was delicious.  Having just been in Italy a few months ago, this dish comes pretty damn close to what I had over there and I would definitely recommend it.

ragu
Ragu di Agnello

Quick Hits: Chaia

Chaia
3207 Grace Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Hours: M-W 11-8, Sat 10-8, Sun 11-6

When I first heard the idea of a vegetarian taco shop in Georgetown, my immediate reaction was one that any meat eating person would have: That doesn’t sound good.

I was wrong.

Chaia’s tacos are in fact very good.  Using some interesting combinations of hearty vegetables, the tacos have a ton of flavor and you won’t be left feeling hungry afterwards.  There aren’t a whole lot of options, but the three that I tried were all quite good (all with corn tortillas).  I put them in order of my favorite here:

  • Creamy Kale + Potato with pepperjack, poblano crema, green sauce + pickled onions
  • Winter Squash with caramelized onion, ricotta salata, chipotle yogurt + mint
  • Mushroom with feta, red sauce + cilantro

Do I still think tacos with meat are better?  Yes.  However, my view of what typically makes good taco filling has been significantly altered and I can honestly say that I’ll be going back.

Bandolero

Bandolero
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
202.625.4488

Bar opens at 4pm Monday – Wednesday
Dinner service begins at 5pm.

MONDAY – TUESDAY
4pm – 10pm

WEDNESDAY
4pm – 11pm

THURSDAY – SATURDAY
12pm – 11pm
bar and until 12am

SUNDAY
12pm – 10pm

Mike Isabella has certainly been keeping himself busy.  The Top Chef contestant fame recently opened up a second restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area with the same small plate style offerings that he’s known for.  While Graffiato is his restaurant with small plate italian offerings, Bandolero is a mexican twist on the small plates – again not to be confused with tapas.  Similar in look and feel to Graffiato, the downstairs level of Bandolero has a loud bar and and open kitchen and the upstairs has a quieter dining room.  However, Bandolero promises to be far busier than Graffiato with its location right on M street in the heart of Georgetown, so be prepared to see a lot of the yuppie types drinking and dining there.

Because the restaurant just opened last month, the service was extremely attentive – but almost too attentive.  Our waitress, while very polite, friendly, and on top of everything, was almost suffocating with the amount of times she came over to check in on us.  My guess is this will tone down once Bandolero has been open for a while.  That was pretty much the only really negative thing I could say about the place.  The cocktail list is impressive and the margaritas are excellent.  The food was quite good, but priced in the same way that Graffiato prices its food – expensive, small portioned, but high quality.

Despite what our waitress said about each person usually getting 2 or 3 plates for their own – I was quite content with splitting 4 plates between two people (that being said, some of the small plates may be larger than others).  Here’s a quick review of what we tried:

El Mata Amigos Margarita – super tasty, but because they use seasonal fruits to make it the one you get might not be what we had, which was pickled pear.  In all honestly however, it tasted at first like a spiked watermelon sherbet cooler which was awesome on a humid 90 degree Washington, D.C. summer day.

Guacamole – very good, but probably not worth $13.  I’ve had similarly good guacamole at other restaurants, so while it was very good – it wasn’t standout.  They do give you a healthy portion to dip your chips and chicarrones (what I’m pretty sure were large pork rinds) in as well as a side of spicy salsa.

Crispy Mahi Mahi Taco – order comes with two fish tacos and the Mahi Mahi is crisp to perfection.  Sprinkle some lime juice on there and it makes for a really, really awesome fish stick taco (I try to say that without it sounding too sarcastically…though that’s what it was).

Suckling Pig Taco – the waitresses recommendation, order comes with three pork tacos with a healthy helping of shredded pork and pork skin on each.  You can taste a fair amount of spiciness from the habenero, and while I thought it was still a little dry for my palate – it’s worth giving it a try.

Alambres – my favorite dish of the meal, the order comes with four silver dollar sized spiced hangar steaks.  The meat was definitely spicy and it was matched well with the morsel of chimichurri sauce that accompanied each piece of meat.  The meat itself was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

So all in all Bandolero gives you a fun dining experience, but at a pretty penny.  Because of the location and the way the food is prepared, this is a pretty great place to take a date.  So, like Graffiato, I would only recommend going there if you have a special occasion and you’re not famished because while the food is good, you don’t want to regret not going to the Chipotle next door because you didn’t know what you were getting into at Bandolero.  Grade: B+

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