By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Edible Critic column, Sensi Magazine, 3/17) In the beginning – let’s call it 1977, Boulder was on nobody’s list of great places for food, dining or beer except some college students. There were zero breweries in the city, foodies hadn’t been invented yet, and food writers were ignoring the entire state of Colorado when making lists. But even back then it was clear that something tasty was brewing in the People’s Republic of Boulder.
Flash-forward to 2017 and “Boulder” is on everyone’s kombucha-moistened lips. Boulder is one of America’s “Foodiest” towns with a roster of hot eateries. A February New York Times feature noted that “among foodies, it is also known as the place where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”
Boulder remains the epicenter of the American craft beer renaissance and the best place in the state to dine if you are of the vegetarian, vegan or Paleo persuasion. Boulder has a constant supply of freshly opened eateries, first-class natural foods stores, farm dinners, a meadery, food tours, coffee roasters, hipster bars, cooking schools and, well, blah, blah, blah …
It is so tiresome. You don’t need another visitor’s bureau list of places already on everybody else’s lists. I should know because I have written many of those lists touting Boulder’s charms. You don’t need me to guide you to the Dark Horse, The Sink, Celestial Seasonings, most eateries near the Pearl Street Mall and the nationally acclaimed Boulder County Farmers Market. If you can’t find a place to sip a famous craft brew you just aren’t thirsty.
Rather than make you find all those lists, I’m passing along my roster of Boulder’s Top 10 (or so) culinary attractions. (See below)X.
What you need is a list of the foodie finds off the Yelp grid, the lesser-known and quirkier spots in unexpected corners of the city. The following restaurants counter the prevailing paradigm that Boulder is a hipper-than-thou, tri-athletic, lily white and incredibly expensive eating environment. You just have to poke around and you’ll stumble across the ones I frequent and recommend to friends.
Under-the-radar bistros have a tendency to get discovered and this list won’t help. I can’t guarantee that these places won’t be overrun by Instagramming hipsters soon, so you better hurry.
In a quiet café on the bridge over Boulder Creek between the two halves of the Boulder Public Library chef Matt Collier uses Boulder County ingredients breakfast and lunch. Must taste: Butternut squash, goat cheese and sauteed onion focaccia sandwich. seedsboulder.com
Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place
You will see a lot of shiny, happy yoga people in the bar and a menu showcasing fresh, sustainable comfort food from a local slaw sampler to a juicy, grass-fed ribeye steak with greens and mashers. Must taste: Shine Ahimsa Gluten Free Ale. shineboulder.com
Palestinian cook Manal Jarra pours her heart into the fresh hummus, parsley tabbouleh, dolmas and fresh pita loaves she crafts in this tiny café. Must taste: Walnut baklava with Arabic coffee. arabesqueboulder.com
It looks like it might be a hipster hangout, but James Lee’s comfortable, welcoming grownup bar is a showcase for unpretentious cocktail chemistry. Must taste: Charcuterie and cheese board. thebitterbar.com
28th and 30th Street Corridor
Just down the hill from Folsom Field tango music, authentic empanadas, steak sandwiches and alfajors (dulce de leche cookies) rule. Must-taste: Hongos emapanada filled with crimini, shitake and oyster mushrooms and garlic, served with chimichurri sauce. rinconargentinoboulder.com
Tiffins India Cafe
I love the homemade fare from iddlis (rice cakes) to vada (savory doughnuts) and chicken vindaloo. Must-taste: Masala dosa crepe filled with spicy mashed potatoes, cheese and onions. tiffinsrestaurant.com
A humble family café offers the best momos – chicken, beef or vegetable steamed dumplings, I’ve ever tasted. Must-taste: Jhasa shaptak (chicken cooked with chilies) and ting-mo (steamed bread). tibetkitchen.com
First-class brunch fare made with sustainably sourced ingredients at a location with plenty of free parking. Must taste: Blueberry, lemon and ricotta pancakes. tangerineboulder.com
Biju’s Little Curry Shop
It’s worth stopping in the busy Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street to sample these memorable bowls. Must taste: Extra hot vindaloo chicken bowl with herb yogurt and pepper slaw. littlecurryshop.com
Boulder can’t match the ethnic restaurant and shopping wealth of Denver and Aurora, but the intersection of 28th Street and Valmont Road brings together some authentically great world plates. On one corner is the strip mall home of Panaderia Sabor a Mexico Bakery, the source of orejas, the sweet crispy pastries. Next door is the merchandise-crammed Asian Food Market and the scallion pancake specialists, Jin Chan Zhang Restaurant. jinchanzhangboulder.com
Rayback Collective: Across the street from all that tastiness is Boulder’s only food truck gathering spot – well, besides every tasting room, with a 30-plus tap bar pouring local ales, mead, hard cider, kombucha and wine. therayback.com
Sancho’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant: One block away are great platos of chicharron tacos, al pastor tortas sandwiches and chile rellenos conveniently served across the hallway from Boulder’s DMV office. Must taste: Ceviche de Camarón. sanchosmexican.com
Also nearby are a Middle Eastern favorite (Ali Baba Grill), a good ramen joint (My Ramen & Izakaya), my spinach pie and zataar source (Mediterranean Market and Deli) and the pho and bahn mi specialist (Chez Thuy).
Far East Boulder: Deviant, Rowdy and Sweet
Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha
I don’t always drink kombucha, but when I do it’s at this taproom where they pour their tasty, probiotic Wild Sour Dry Hopped Kombucha Beer. rowdymermaid.com
Deviant Spirits Tasting Room
The smoothness of this vodka made from rice is truly quite remarkable. Must taste cocktail: The Deviant Russian. deviantspirits.com
Heifer and the Hen
Ian Clark, the talented chef behind BRU handbuilt ales & eats, opened an ice cream shop next door because he makes the best damn ice cream sandwiches ever. Must taste: Nitro cold brew espresso affogato. heiferandthehen.com
To the Far North
Avery Brewing Company Taproom
In a city chockablock with craft brewery brewpubs and tasting rooms the coolest one is in Boulder’s far northeast neighborhood, Gunbarrel. This new facility pours dark, serious Avery stouts unavailable elsewhere and serves up fine pub fare. Must taste: Friday special Lobster Pot Pie. averybrewing.com/taproom
Settembre Cellars Winery
Yes, Virginia, there really is first class Colorado wine being crafted in an industrial strip mall at the far northwest edge of Boulder. Luckily, the location is also home to a brewery, Upslope, and a tasting room for Bookcliff Vineyards. secure.settembrecellars.com
Flower Pepper Chinese Restaurant
You just don’t expect to find amazing, authentic Taiwanese Stewed Pork Belly being served in a sliver of an eatery shoehorned into a former hospital parking structure. Must taste: Soup dumplings! flowerpeppereats.com
Lucky’s Bake Shop
Pastry wizard Jennifer Bush produces a butter-drenched array of sweets but many customers commute miles just for her “paleo” honey walnut coffee cake and vegan/gluten-free tahini brownies. Must taste: Lemon Meringue Tart. luckysmarket.com/luckys-bakehouse_and_creamery
Up On The Hill
Café Aion: Chef Dakota Soifer dishes inspired, wine-friendly Spanish-influenced eats in a classic building in a neighborhood packed with sororities. Must taste: Four varieties of paella. cafeaion.com
Boulder’s Top Food Attractions
These are the restaurants recommended by critics and included on all those national foodie lists. These are the places you need to visit to taste cuisine from Boulder’s growing crew of notable chefs.
Basta: Chef Kelly Whitaker’s tiny, tucked-away eatery in East Boulder specializes in fare cooked in a wood-fired oven. bastaboulder.com
Blackbelly Market: This is “Top Chef” winner Hosea Rosenberg’s bastion of sustainable meat and earthy cuisine. In the a.m: Butcher’s Breakfast Burrito filled with smoked meats. blackbelly.com
Frasca Food and Wine: The top-rated restaurant in Colorado with exceptional service. Next door is Boulder’s top artisan pizza joint, Pizzeria Locale. frascafoodandwine.com
Oak at Fourteenth: Chef Steven Redzikowski produces brilliant New American fare including fantastic house doughnuts. oakatfourteenth.com
The Kitchen: The original location of Kimbal Musk’s sustainable cuisine concept now spreading across the country is next door to his less-pricey Next Door Eatery and the cocktail-centric The Kitchen Upstairs. thekitchenbistros.com
Black Cat Bistro: Farmer and chef Eric Skokan serves innovative, earthy dishes showcasing ingredients from his farm. Skokan’s bar, Bramble & Hare, is next door. blackcatboulder.com
Salt: Boulder-born chef Bradford Heap, a warrior for organic, sustainable, GMO-free food, serves classically prepared dishes with big flavors. saltthebistro.com
Jax Fish House: The best and noisiest fish and oyster bar in still Dave Query’s original Jax. Nearby are its sister eateries, Centro Mexican Kitchen and the West End Tavern (with a fine rooftop patio). jaxfishhouse.com/boulder
My list for visitors also always includes the cheese shop Cured, Chautauqua Dining Hall, Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, Flagstaff House Restaurant, Walnut Café, Zoe Ma Ma, Lucile’s Creole Café, The Peppercorn (for cookware and cookbooks), and the state’s best selection of cool kitchen implements at McGuckin Hardware.
John Lehndorff is the former food editor of the Boulder Daily Camera. He writes the Nibbles column for the Boulder Weekly and hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU.