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25 Dishes We Love


Over the last 12 months, the restaurants of the North Metro area have taken us on a culinary thrill ride of epic proportions. We’ve produced a Top Chef and a Gayot Top 40 restaurant. We’ve seen national acclaim—with the Wall Street Journal calling Boulder the best small city for food in the country and Louisville’s “best place to live” ranking putting the spotlight on eateries like Waterloo and Empire. Restaurants throughout the community have continued to wow us with seasonality, locally grown produce and locally nourished protein; with flavor-focused, well-balanced dishes; and with continued style and swagger, even in disconcerting economic times.

While the dishes to follow are 25 of our favorites, they by no means embody all the amazing meals we’ve experienced in the last 12 months. It’s truly been a good year to be a foodie.

Larkburger, Boulder
Larkburger with cheese, Truffle and Parmesan Fries and Five Dollar Shake
We don’t go to Larkburger because it strives to be green and sustainable, although we applaud that approach. We go because we can’t stay away. The juicy 1/3-pound Black Angus burger, cooked to order, sits on a topnotch bun topped with Tillamook cheddar, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, a slice of red onion and a house-made sauce. The overflowing hand-cut, matchstick-thin Russets tossed with grated Parmesan, Italian parsley and truffle oil sound snooty but are simply the most craveable fries in town. The finale has to be a milkshake, just milk and lots of Breyers ice cream. —JL

Flavor of India, Longmont
Chicken Tikka Masala
Thick and rich, the tikka masala at Flavor of India is a complex melange of tomato, cream and spices. It’s a luscious sweet and spicy blend that feels more like a thick, nicely layered soup than a sauce—with large chunks of wonderfully cooked chicken lapping it up. —AC

Salt Bistro, Boulder
Dark Chocolate Caramel Salt Tart
Someone once told me that elegance is the combination of simplicity and beauty, and that certainly rings true with this dessert. While Bradford Heap’s new digs on Pearl Street are more cool, cozy and chic, the simple beauty of this dessert is pure elegance. A sliver of firm, rich dark chocolate layered with caramel is freckled with sea salt, creating a smart contrast of salty-sweet flavors. Pair it with the coffee cocoa nib ice cream and a swig of Roundhouse Corretto. —AC

Two Dog Diner, Longmont
Grilled Prawn & Pesto Omelet with Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese and Tomatoes
This dish appears on the table looking pretty much like every other omelet you’ve ever seen: a large folded sheet of golden egg paired with hearty fried potatoes. But once you dig inside, diners discover a treasure of pesto, creamy, tangy goat cheese, plump, juicy tomato and, the coup de gras, beautiful grilled prawns. It’s a synergic melding of flavors as you tear into this triumphantly good omelet that bleeds green onto your plate and leaves you feeling like breakfast is surely the most important meal of the day. —AC

Indulge Bakery, Lafayette
Birthday cake
It’s the little things in life, really, and while birthday cake may seem like a little thing to some—a remembrance, a kind gesture, a traditional necessity—when it’s done well, really well, it’s a masterpiece. Frankly, I’m all too happy to be in charge of providing goodies for birthdays at the office, because it’s a great excuse to order a cake from Indulge Bakery. Moist cake with a delicate crumb, just the right amount of luscious butter cream frosting and an abundance of flavors have made cake aficionados out of all of us and have made all our birthdays just that much more special. —LB

Magnolia, Lafayette

Polenta fries
Take a classic favorite; turn it on its head and spin it around. If you’re lucky, you’ll come up with something as delicious and brilliant as the polenta fries served alongside steaks and other dishes at Magnolia in Lafayette. These crispy sticks of fried gold call to mind the most perfect of French fries—crispy on the outside and soft in the center—but with the distinct corn flavor that comes with creamy, sweet polenta. When fusion is this tasty, it will always get our vote. —LB

Frasca, Boulder
Tuna and gorgonzola risotto
Sitting in Frasca, you expect spectacular things. The service is superb, the wine list world-class and the ambience is chic enough to make a Monday night out feel über special. But it’s the continuously changing menu that makes this foodie bastion truly extraordinary—especially the risotto we sampled during a recent Monday night wine dinner. Made with rich gorgonzola cheese and tuna poached in olive oil, it’s an unusual, striking combination, to be sure, but it’s one that simply worked in the most delicious way possible. —LB

Proto’s, multiple locations
Atomica Pizza
It started with a single lunch but soon became a routine. My friend and I would head to Proto’s for lunch and would barely even have to look at the menu before we ordered: a glass of wine for each; a tomato mozzarella salad, eagerly shared; and a medium Atomica Pie. It starts with Proto’s Neapolitan-style crust, hand-tossed thin and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. From there, they add just the right amounts of garlic, oregano, red chili pepper flakes, sliced black olives and Italian sausage. Add in a healthy dose of gossip and before you know it, we’ve unashamedly finished the whole pizza. Repeat as often as possible for best results. —LB

14th St. Bar and Grill, Boulder

Grilled Chicken Breast pizza
I’m not a pizza purist. Some people believe the only true pizza is the thin crust and simple ingredients of Neopolitan-style pizza, or the deep-dish decadence of Chicago-style pizza, or the floppy-oversized slices of New York-style pizza. Me? I like it all. And if you want to go out on a limb and make a wood-fired pizza that features grilled chicken breast, bacon, creamy gorgonzola, little gems of roasted garlic, paper-thin slices of lemon and fresh basil, I say more power to you. And please, keep them coming. —LB

Colterra, Niwot
Olive oil, rosemary poached and grilled Wagyu steak with caramelized onion, porcini and cabernet risotto
There is an art to good food. Certainly cooking is a science, but the artistry comes in knowing which flavors will pair well, which will balance, which will enhance. No one flavor should overpower another. So, know that it’s no hyperbole when I say that Colterra’s Wagyu steak and caramelized onion, porcini and cabernet risotto deserves a place in a museum. The rich earthiness of the steak and porcini balanced beautifully with the sweetness of the caramelized onion and cabernet and the spicy herbal notes of rosemary floated above it all. Paired with an expertly chosen wine, this is the sort of meal that deserves to be savored, if not rhapsodized in verse and song. —LB

Suki Thai Noodle House, Boulder
Steak and Shrimp Noodle Bowl
In the Thai language, “yum” can mean “a salad” or simply “different ingredients thrown together.” In English, “yum” means the wonderful steak and shrimp noodle bowl at Suki Thai. We always start with tom yum broth infused with lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves. Next, we add a small salad’s-worth of fresh veggies including su choy, grape tomatoes and our fave, a slice of corn on the cob. The soup is crowned with rice noodles and the surf-‘n’-turf combo, and served with a red chile-based sauce for dipping tidbits. For extra zest, sprinkle on some Thai basil, blistering Thai chilies and lime from the condiment bar. We spell satisfaction as oodles of tasty, healthy food cooked in about five minutes that costs about $6. —JL

Brasserie Ten Ten, Boulder

Chips comme avant
The term “French nachos,” which is what the staff at Brasserie Ten Ten affectionately call their chips comme avant, seems like an oxymoron. But picture this: a towering mound of glistening, golden house-made potato chips generously smothered in a blue cheese cream sauce and topped with sun-dried tomatoes and green onions. Never in my experience has a mere nacho lived up to the decadence that makes one’s husband seriously consider licking the remaining sauce out of the bowl when the nachos were devoured. —LB

Lucile’s Creole Cafe, Longmont and Boulder

Eggs Jennifer
Floating on pillows of English muffin sit the simplest of flavors: spinach, tomato, avocado, perfectly poached eggs and a blanket of golden hollandaise. Eggs Jennifer has been a mainstay morning meal, but it still piques a genuine groan of delight each time I come face to face with this bountiful plate. A quick jab of knife to yolk sends streams of yellow into the hollandaise, creating a rich bath that soaks into the muffin and the blanched spinach. Of course, potatoes seasoned right accompany the duo, preferably with chicory coffee and a biscuit on the side. —AC

Turley’s, Boulder

Multigrain Sourdough Pancakes
It seems odd, even to me, that pancakes should be one of the dishes that stood out so prominently they deserved a spot on this list. A pancake is a pancake is a pancake, right? Wrong. With your first bite, you know these beauties aren’t your average Bisquick-simple confection. A complex flavor aided by a perfect lightness belied by the multigrain moniker take this ubiquitous breakfast staple a step above the average. Be sure to ask for the pure maple syrup to go with; no corn syrup fakery should sully these breakfast gems. —LB

Chez Thuy, Boulder
Soft shell crab
I had never eaten soft shell crab before my visit to Chez Thuy, and I wasn’t wholly expecting to like it. I’m not generally a fan of eating fish or crustaceans in their whole and unaltered state (I’m from the South, and somehow, the idea of biting off the heads of crawfish never appealed). But this particular delicacy changed my mind. Should you have similar qualms, let me assure you that this gorgeous, deep-fried crab is more akin to eating the finest, sweetest crabmeat that happens to be formed in the shape of a crab. Cast aside your misgivings and dive right in; the crab is fine. —LB

Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace, Boulder

Coconut Fried Bananas with Vanilla Anglais
I like to think of this pretty little dish as a sweet appetizer for your breakfast. When ripe bananas are battered in a coconutty concoction, fried and dipped in a delicate, creamy vanilla sauce, they become the most wonderful way to start the morning. It’s sweet (but not too sweet), memorable and delicious. Both light and rich, exotic and comfortable, this dish has a beautiful blend of flavors and textures that just makes you smile. Plus, during brunch happy hour, Saturday–Sunday, 9:30–11:30, an order of coconut fried bananas is just $2. —AC

Zamparelli’s Italian Bistro, Lafayette

Turkey club
Our art director is a woman who knows what she likes. She has “the usual” at most of the restaurants we frequent, and at Zamparelli’s, nine times out of 10 her usual is the turkey club. A seemingly humble cold sandwich—anywhere else perhaps—but something about the club at Z’s puts all others to shame. Maybe it’s the tender ciabatta bread, the fresh arugula, the flavorful roasted turkey or the Neuske’s bacon. Maybe. But most probably, it’s the basil aioli that’s won us all over. Consider us willing converts to the cold sandwich, at least in this instance. —LB

Tortuga’s, Longmont
Shrimp and Crawfish Etouffee
The good times roll across the taste buds nightly at this Longmont landmark. Chef Pete McLaughlin’s etouffee is just the way we like it, loaded with toothsome crustaceans over long grain rice and awash in a classic sauce built with roux and mirepoix and jacked up with pepper. We guarantee it will leave a lingering warmth, not a fire, on your palate. Tabasco’s available for those who insist. To us, a soul-feeding supper consists of this Creole dish—or the equally good jambalaya—with the complimentary Southern cornbread and butter and a house mojito. —JL

The Med, Boulder
The Med is an iconic Boulder restaurant. We all know that. And the large, beautiful bowl of smiling mussels is an establishment within this Republic establishment: happy hour stand-bys that are served gleefully lounging in a white wine broth, smelling of garlic and the ocean, or a spicy, smoky tomato sauce. But each time I sit down in the soft glow of The Med’s dining room or patio, I come face to face with these mussels like it was our first encounter. With bread to soak up the broth, each bite is bright and flavorful, garlic-laced, lovely and oh so very new. —AC

Sugarbeet, Longmont
Braised Beef Short Rib With Poblano Mole And Sweet Potato Gratin
Sugarbeet, a warm little sanctuary serving up refined plates, sits in perfect contrast with its cold and raw surroundings. On my plate is the short rib with poblano mole and sweet potato gratin. The short rib is perfectly charred on the outside, moist and fall-apart good on the inside. The thick, slightly sweet, deep-with-character mole balances out the fattiness of the rib and adds extra depth to the dish. But, truly, the star is the sweet potato gratin: a beautiful tower of sliced thin sweet potato layered with cream and butter and crumbles of cheese on top. The smoky, spicy flavor of chipotle soaks through the delicate, sweet meat of the potato, leaving me totally, 100 percent in awe. —AC

Sister’s Pantry, Planet Bluegrass or Boulder Farmers Market
Dumplings with spicy peanut sauce
It’s sunny and warm, but we find a piece of shade and carefully sit down, working hard at not spilling or dropping our delicious cargo. The grass is cool and pokey. We sit cross-legged, hunching over our little flimsy bowls. Music fills the riparian valley, and people are all around, dancing, lounging and conversing while they sip on organic beer in compostable cups. We take big bites of delicate, chewy dumplings from the Sister’s Pantry stand. The doughy pockets are swollen with veggies, chicken and basil; they are like plump purses, wading in a shallow pool of lime-cilantro vinaigrette and dashed with a spicy peanut sauce. The fresh, exotic, aromatic bowl of food is so satisfying that we forget the music and the people for a few calm moments. —AC

Terroir, Longmont
Roasted Pumpkin Salad
It’s almost unfair to describe this excellent salad here, because likely as not, by the time you read this, it won’t be on Terroir’s menu any more. Their offerings change weekly, allowing flavors to ebb and flow with the seasons. But we chose this dish because it’s indicative of the complex layering of ingredients and flavors that Terroir does so well—whatever the season. The salad is heaping with crisp, young greens lightly dressed in a house-made creamy balsamic vinaigrette. The beautiful foundation of greens is topped with chunks of earthy pumpkin, simply roasted, the piquant bite of blue cheese, and the rich sweetness of caramelized onions blending together to create a masterpiece of tastes. —LB

Empire, Louisville
Crispy Calamari Salad
Calamari’s become ubiquitous on appetizer menus but more often than not it’s forgettable, limp and doughy. Empire’s version is like another species entirely. Hot-from-the-fryer, lightly battered baby squid rings are tossed with fresh greens. The vinaigrette sparked with miso and balsamic vinegar is the ideal tart complement to the seafood. Don’t let Empire’s cool, casual lounge atmosphere fool you. Acclaimed owner/chef Jim Cohen rules the kitchen insisting on only the best ingredients and fine dining flavors. —JL

Cheese Importers, Longmont
Italian Panini
The panini is a marvelous invention. Buttered bread, filled with any number of sweet or savory lovelies and then grilled to hot, crispy, golden perfection on a press. It’s really the sandwich at its best: crispy, warm, dense and gooey with melted cheese. Our newest favorite? The Italian panini from the lovely little counter within the European market and fromage heaven of Cheese Importers. This panini is layered with tallegio ca d’ambros—a soft, ripened cow’s milk cheese—shaved prosciutto and a layer of fig jam that lends a sweetness (but not too sweet) that perfectly balances out the saltiness of the other ingredients. Bellissimo! —LB

Ice Cream Alchemy at Jax Fish House, Boulder
Fleur de Sel Caramel and Chocolate Malted Ice Cream
It may seem odd to choose a desert from a restaurant best known for fish—and believe us, the fish is divine—but we couldn’t help but be impressed by the unusual flavors of ice cream and sorbet on their menu. In particular, the fleur de sel caramel ice cream and the chocolate malted ice cream caught our attention. A little digging brought out the fact that the ice cream is provided by a Boulder company called Ice Cream Alchemy, whose menu of products reads like an ice cream lover’s bucket list. We hope to see flavors like Thai sweet chili, orange chevre, basil chocolate and sweet potato mascarpone gracing more dessert menus in the near future. —LB


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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