Chef and owner favorites across BOCO.
The dish is the heart of the meal. The soul of the evening. We may enjoy and appetizer and relish a sweet treat at the end, but this is why we’re out. I took my time, eating my way across the county, stopping in to food trucks and fine dining restaurants, to make sure I could tell you where to go, what to eat, and why the chefs and owners of these places thought this was the dish you needed to try. Are you ready?
1) Biscuits @Mike’s – The Brian Breakfast Sandwich (secret menu)
This is fried chicken with an over medium egg and honey. They have a secret menu, y’all, with a plan to put up a plaque with secret menu info, but it’s not up yet. Mike loves breakfasts, and his pandemic-era biscuit shop took off because it’s outside, delicious, and easy. “Keep it simple, stupid,” he said. “The Brian is the one sandwich that makes sure you come back.” People arrive at open (there was a line when I arrived) because they’re doing it right. True story: some egg yolk spilled on the bag and I licked it off. It’s that good. Make sure to grab a coffee, too. They’re putting some chains to shame.
2) Busaba – Pad Thai
“We make Pad Thai shrimp authentic style. It’s by far our number one seller, and it happens to be my favorite as well,” SP tells me. They don’t add the lime wedge or peanut sauce on the side or pour it over. They blend everything together, which makes for a deeper, more nuanced flavor. It’s evident. I’m not normally a fan of peanut sauce in my dishes, because it tends to be heavy and splotchy, resulting in either too little or too much of it in any bite. But SP tells me they’ve been in the business for 15 years and they’re serious about doing it right. The fact that reservations are essentially required, every day, is all the proof you need of that.
3) Button Rock Bakery & Kenny Lou’s Deli – I’m A Hot Mess Roll
Sushi rice in a wooden box, pressed, spicy tuna, thinly sliced lime, asparagus, a pinch more sushi rice, avocado, and tuna tartar on top dressed with chili lime aioli. Chef told me it’s a favorite in the kitchen because “it’s one of our top sellers. It’s a little more unique, because you don’t usually see these in sushi restaurants, since you don’t have that… there’s no nori (seaweed) so it’s a little more difficult to deal with. Really good flavors, the lime makes everything pop…” He’s not wrong. I absolutely destroyed my plate, absolutely surprised that they were making such well done sushi. The name is a throwback to COVID year; “everything was a hot mess,” chef said.
4) GQue BBQ – The Meltdown
Beef Brisket with cheese sauce & onion rings on top. This “signature sandwich” is mean. A healthy serving of brisket topped off with perfectly fried rings. I ate it straight, no sauce, and chased it with a beer. Fantastic. A side of fries nailed it down for me and left me full for the day. When I went to leave a staffer recommended a barbeque sauce to go, which I started to decline, but stopped and said, “you know, you know this food better than me. Let me get that sauce and I’ll try it at home.” At home I reheated as instructed and poured the sauce on. Holy my goodness, perfection. I’m not even a sauce fan usually.
5) The Sink – Chicken Pesto Burger
Sun-dried tomato pesto, with a 5-ounce red bird chicken breast (Red Bird chicken farm is in Englewood, CO), with a hatch chili poblano goat cheese (this is where I exclaimed “oh crap”), with sweet fries and house pickles. When asked why it’s a favorite chef says, “it’s just a great sandwich. Great chilis, it’s that time of year. Why not do something nice with them?” The poblano goat cheese is truly “nice.” Chef isn’t verbose but you can tell he knows and loves his food. I absolutely destroyed this. It’s actually much better, and higher class, than one might expect at an old dive on the Hill, filled with college kids and travelers. This is how a burger should be made.
6) Parma Trattoria – Pappardelle al Cinghiale
The Pappardelle al Cinghiale is fresh wide-ribbon pasta with wild boar ragu. A couple of things I can tell you before the first bite: I have never had wild boar and I’m absolutely excited for the plating. This is gorgeous and the scent is perfect. 100 percent love and skill went into this. It’s the casual Italian conversations in the corner that tell you you’re in an authentic place, not just a place with authentic recipes. The wild boar ragu makes sense, I’m told, because “it’s fall time and this is a dish that comes from the area of Tuscany, and so it goes really well with the weather.” You get the boar shoulder, the flavors meld. It’s (marinated for 2 days, braised for another 6 hours). Perfect.
7) West Side Tavern – Duck Duck & Grilled Salmon Mediterranean
Wes, at the West Side Tavern, is a character. He’s absolutely in love with his craft. 26 years in Vegas could do that to a guy. He’s excited to dish dishes. He can’t choose one. Duck Duck is on the menu seasonally and he’s clear that these two may not even be the best, or the favorite, but they’re perfect right now and “they’re pretty. They’re interesting, they’re different.” The Duck Duck is roasted breast & confit leg, parsnip purée, Gran Marnier sauce, seasonal vegetables. The salmon is orzo pasta, sun dried tomatoes, olives, capers, artichoke hearts, pistachio, garlic lemon butter, pesto. It was the first dish on my reviews that I took home and finished. *Duck not pictured.
8) Jax Fish House – Seared Ahi Tuna
I checked and this isn’t even on the current menu posted to the website. You may just have to know it exists and ask for it. You may also have to know the season because this won’t last and is probably already gone if you’re reading this. I’m told by the GMs that it’s his favorite and “also the only thing I can think of to eat when it’s 90+ degrees and this hot outside… It’s a little bit of a different cut and a little bit of a different prep, but the tomato broth [gorgeous] is like a chilled room temp presentation on the braided tomato broth so it really hits with that great hot summery feel.” We agree, and we loved every bite. Throw it somewhere in the middle of an oyster, some fried calamari, and a couple of perfectly crafted cocktails, and boom. We’re in love. We’re not sure how Jax is so good at so many things, but we’re grateful for it.
9) Eat! Food & Drink – Chicken and Waffles
Chef Adam Ramirez is self-trained, with 36 years of experience crafting goodness. He tells me, “I care about my food.” Brittany, the GM, tells me, “our chicken and waffles, we do it a little unique.” She’s not playing. The waffles come with jalapeños. I don’t mean slices. I mean, cooked into the waffles, chopped up into the batter. It makes for a fun green speckled waffle and also for a pop of flavor you don’t expect in waffles. The chicken is bone-IN fried chicken, with a honey touch. Sweet and sour, savory, exactly what you want (or what I want) from this dish. The whole experience was pleasantly surprising. No jokes about hot food for white folk, but there were three items on my table with jalapeños, and two bottles of hot sauce. Go hard or go get a glass of milk.
10) Spruce Farm & Fish – Sea Scallops and Corn Nage
If you’re like me, you just Googled “nage.” It’s cool, I get it. This is high-level eating. Pan-seared jumbo sea scallops, corn nage, butternut squash succotash. Let’s learn together. “A traditional nage is a broth flavored with white wine, vegetables, and herbs, in which seafood is poached.” In the original French, a la nage translates to “while swimming.” Not only was my corn swimming, perfectly matched to the pan-seared scallops, but so were my tastebuds. This was one of the experiences – in a hotel that’s 112 years old – that helped me learn new things about my palate, opened me up, and refined me. This wasn’t pretentious, though. It was perfect.
11) Longmont Public House – Steak Frites
Exceptional. Let me be clear: I usually get steak frites at another restaurant in Boulder, but I often feel the quality of the meat (or maybe the cooking process) isn’t the quality I want. This one came out fantastic. Excellent quality steak, a stunning presentation (see my photo next page for proof), and seamless flavor profile. For clarity, this is a 10 oz. Prime CAB N.Y. Strip steak dressed with Chimichuri, Balsamic reduction, and butter. Nothing over- or underwhelmed. I’m not 100 percent sure of the seasoning on the truffle fries (a bit sharp for me, which I blamed on the lemon aioli) but tamed excellently with the dipping sauce. Jerome is the owner, and a genius, and he’s created a wondrous little place in Longmont.
12) Fringe Pizza – Eggplant Parmesan Pizza
Let’s talk TJ. That’s the GM on site when I visited. She’s a blast and wonderful and made my experience the absolute best. They make their Neapolitan dough daily, fresh, so you’re biting into great grandma’s pizza. You get “this lovely, crispy eggplant on top” and, to add to your already stunning experience, they serve the pie whole – not sliced – and give you a pair of scissors because “the dough will almost immediately start to lose its integrity when you start slicing it into bits. We want you to be able to refresh it in your oven at a really high temp. Also, we think it’s fun if – [and she really said this] – you want to cut it into shapes of animal crackers.” What a riot, and what a fantastic crew, pizza, space, and tap selection. Side note that TJ was super happy to see a customer there with his family. He had moved on his own to prepare the space and had been sharing about missing his daughters. It was a lovely story to share.
13) INJOY Tavern – (Chorizo) Mussels – Shareables
While we were seeking dishes, they served us a shareables item (which we guess is a bit more than an appetizer but not a full dish). Color us surprised because this half serving was massive. Coupled with crab cakes and backed by the genius of the bar manager’s drink pairing, Till The Money Runs Out (watch for it on the fall menu and check our drinks article), we’re in fuc*ing love. The mussels are steamed and tossed w/ Spanish chorizo, red bell pepper, tomato, red wine, cream, and bread. I have to admit, I asked for a lesson in eating because I haven’t eaten mussels since my teen years (it wasn’t good then). Why has no one smacked me and walked me into INJOY for this miracle of seafood? They literally taught my palate new tricks.
14) Martino’s Pizza – Saucy Pie
In Colorado, the pizza conversation tends to vacillate between Chicago and New York styles. If I had to pick, I’d go with New York because I don’t want to eat 3” of sauce on my pizza. Don’t come for me Chicago. I used to live there, and I love y’all. This pie is on Chicago thin crust, with an inversion of toppings. Its garlic-infused olive oil crust with mozzarella cheese baked into the crust, topped with Martino’s natural Italian Sausage™ and savory red sauce, parmesan, and fresh basil. I had no idea that I was a fan of Chicago thin crust until this pizza. It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s a perfect middle ground between deep dish and the number one selection of rats in New York subways. Yeah, I said it.
15) Great Harvest Bread CO – Turkey Avocado Sandwich
This is our only major franchise on the list. Today there are more than 200 Great Harvest franchises located across the US. This sandwich is a classic. Sliced turkey breast, aged provolone, thinly-sliced red onion, crisp green leaf lettuce, and fresh tomato slices with salt and pepper and chunky avocado spread on freshly baked Asiago Sourdough bread. Staff say it’s a customer favorite and “as a sandwich maker, it’s one of the easiest to make.” I took pics and left to DV8, where I finished a half-awaiting opening. The bartender there, Alexandria, told me it looked incredible. I shared the other half with her.
16) Dry Storage – Detroit Style Square Pie, Duck
I learned more here than anywhere else. With multiple restaurants under his belt (The Wolf’s Tailor, Basta, Brutø & Bøh), Kelly Whitaker’s skills are highly honed. You enter an apartment building, cross a gorgeous patio, and you walk into an unexpected elegance of a bakery that defies limits and definitions. High-level dining in an unpretentious space, an incredibly knowledgeable and well trained staff, and some of the best offerings you’re going to find anywhere. This was literally the best duck I have ever sunk teeth into. I audibly moaned and Kelly laughed. The square pie Detroit style was a miracle. Kelly said the best pizza in Boulder is at a bakery. He may be correct. It was the impossible thinly sliced dry tuna on top, reacting to the heat, literally dancing on the pie and as you bit into it, for me. *Duck not pictured.
17) Outworld Brewing Company – Sausage & Pretzel Board, Hot Wings
The hot wings were tossed in a lemon ginger glaze and let me be clear that I had to ask for more napkins… because I was totally digging into this half-Bavarian, half-community cookout combo that killed. Chef Matt Green is bringing his own twist, and passion, from the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts (he’s been at Outworld a month) and the goodness is showing. Not to mention, the drive may be a bit long for some folks, to the Eastern side of Longmont, but it’s a drive that’s always worth it because the space is immaculate and interesting and strange and fun and always piques the imagination. Of course, no trip to Outworld for me would be complete without a glass of Galactic Borracho, their truly perfect Mexican lager.
18) Burns Pub & Restaurant – The Reuben
“First of all, it starts off with our house-brined corned beef,” Johnny tells me. “It’s a 12-day brine on the corned beef, then it’s cooked down another 6 to 10 hours. It’s cooked in Guinness Whiskey, cinnamon – you can taste the cinnamon – and then house-made Thousand Island. Locally sourced rye bread, and served with sauerkraut and Swiss.” I was scared, folks. I tasted sauerkraut before and it was a big no. Apparently, this combination of flavors was gifted to the world by a supernatural force. Johnny’s team is executing perfectly. He tells me that lots of New Yorkers that visit say, “I’m a Reuben fanatic and this is the best one I’ve ever had.” It’s only my first but I’m officially a fan.
19) Mike O’Shay’s Restaurant & Ale House – Tomahawk Pork Chop
The Tomahawk Pork Chop with Irish whiskey glaze and maple carrots on a bed of impossibly fluffy mashed potatoes is decadent and it’s almost bewildering. New GM Lonnie Bell has 26 years of experience in Vegas and is bringing precision decisions, handshakes, and charm to this 40-year-old local fave mom-and-pop spot. How do you maintain Colorado roots but make it elegant? I couldn’t tell you, but owner Rueben Verplank has mastered it and Lonnie is pushing plates that would make your grandma – and the local power mover – smile with satisfaction. I was also lucky to try out their egg roll skin wrapped and deep fried chile rellenos (unbelievable!) and chase it with an Oktoberfest offering. Yes, they have Weihenstephan on tap as well as local Wibbyfest.
20) Lulu’s BBQ – Sampler Platter – Tofu, Brisket, St. Louis Ribs
Kevin Harrington brought us Texas Hill Country style BBQ. I’m assuming that’s why my sampler plate came with St. Louis style ribs, brisket, and BBQ tofu. Regardless, it was fire. This was the first place I was licking sauce off my own hands (they make their own in-house with the goal of bottling their mild sauce for stores). With a beautiful location off Main Street in Louisville and a gorgeous patio space, there’s no reason not to get messy and enjoy the house-smoked goodness. I topped off my meal with a Texas Slushie (trust me, try it). Layer on the cheeky humor with tag lines like “You may beat our prices, but you’ll never beat our meat” and you have a winner.
21) You Call It – What’s your favorite?
I can tell you all day about places I’ve been and foods I’ve loved. But Yellow Scene can’t be everywhere, all the time, and know all the intricacies of every menu (a lot of them have secret menus). Do you have a local favorite restaurant, or a local favorite dish, that you want to see featured? Email it to email@example.com and we’ll forward it to our regular cuisine writer, Deborah Cameron, for her to get out and explore so we can share the love. In the meantime, happy eating. Always indulge yourself. We don’t live in a foodie paradise for nothing.