Sarah and Sara – Besties in Boulder!

picture of Sarah and Sara

The Sara(h)s… about to show Boulder who’s boss…

Did somebody say Girls’ Weekend in Tropical Boulder? In March? Hells yeah. S&S are hitting the town, and I’m just sayin’… these are the places most loved by locals, so check ’em out. Have fun!

When money is no object

Black Cat
Frasca
L’Atelier
Pizzeria Locale

Most hoppin‘ & happenin’

The Med

For my favorite brunch

Brasserie Ten Ten

Vegetarian/vegan

Leaf

Best cocktails

Salt
Bitter Bar

Largest cocktails

Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace

Best sushi

Kasa Japanese Grill

Off Pearl Street, but not too far by cab or designated driver

Radda
Agave (happy hour in the upstairs bar from 7-10 p.m.)

All-day happy hour on Sunday

Aji Latin American Restaurant (food *and* drinks)

Boulder restaurant women seem to love most

Dushanbe Tea House

Cheese Importers – Artisan Cheese & Specialty Foods

the great wall of cheese, yeah

The Great Wall of “Cheese–Yeah”. Just one of many refrigerated, cheese-filled walls at Cheese Importers in Longmont

Cheese Importers' delectable olive/pepper/antipasto bar

also in Cheese Importers’ cooler is a delectable olive/pepper/antipasto bar… adding a sultry element to Longmont’s allure

Spanish cheese

I have yet to sample this particular Spanish “Capricho de Cabra”, but any cheese housed next to “Cockles from Spain” gets its own patch of real estate on the Unchained Eatery blog

spinach salad at Cheese Importers

Light spinach salad lunch at Cheese Importers’ European Cafe/Bistro was fantastic… the Cafe is conveniently attached to the cheese/specialty shop so you can refuel following what promises to be a spirited morning or afternoon of artisan cheese sampling.

Cheese Importers' Cafe counter

Cheese Importers’ Cafe counter made us feel as if we were in gay Par-ee… but alas… we were in Longmont.

French macarons

French macarons at Cheese Importers in Longmont. Dessert, anyone?

bought lots of cheese

We went a bit nuts on the cheese and chocolate purchasing… we followed it up with wine tasting at Boulder Creek Winery. I gotta say it was a good day.

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Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar

Fonseca 'bin 27' ruby porto, Taylor Fladgate 20-year tawny port, and Taylor Fladgate, 10-year tawny port... consumed right to left.

Fonseca ‘bin 27’ ruby porto, Taylor Fladgate 20-year tawny port, and Taylor Fladgate, 10-year tawny port… consumed right to left.

Who knew the best place to taste test port in Boulder was at a fish house? This isn’t the world’s best photo, but if you drink enough port, it won’t matter. Full review to come…

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Kasa Japanese Grill & Bar

Snow Beauty sake at Kasa in Boulder

Pair your unfiltered sake with the best sushi in Boulder at Kasa

My best advice for your visit to Kasa in Boulder: Trust the sushi chef.

Your first step in dining at Kasa should be to return the warm greeting you received upon walking through the front doors from Mimi – the most enthusiastic and charming host in the universe. She makes you feel as though you’re a long-lost friend who just happened to wander into her home. If you’re feeling down, Mimi will brighten your day with a smile and a boatload of friendliness, so at least stop by and say hi.

Back to the sushi chef… after Mimi guides you to the best table in the house, she’ll hand you the nightly sushi features, which have been painstakingly scribed in colorful Sharpie-esque markers on a large, white dinner plate.

Kasa Sushi specials plate

Kasa Sushi specials plate

So here’s what to order: Ask the chef. Ask the chef to prepare whatever he has featured for the night, and you can’t go wrong. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know better than a sushi chef when it comes to ordering sushi. Unless you happen to also be a sushi chef, you will lose. This also means I can only suggest you consider trying whatever sashimi Kasa has on offer when you dine. If the sushi chef agrees you should try it, then go for it. Do not take my word for it. I’m not a sushi chef, nor am I a regular chef. I sometimes make a pickle/olive/cheese plate for dinner, so what the hell do I know?

Chefs, sushi and otherwise, are proud of their craft. Sushi chefs in particular, however, typically have closer interaction with customers than other chef-y types. If you’re sitting at the sushi bar, they’re typically standing right in front of you, waiting for your face to light up in moderate-to-full-blown ecstasy as you indulge in the fruits of their talent. Cooking – or not cooking, in sushi’s case – is their artwork, so feel free to take their word for it when it’s time to order.

you'll want to hug a sushi chef after trusting said chef with your order at Kasa

you’ll want to hug a sushi chef after trusting said chef with your meal at Kasa in Boulder

chef's choice of sashimi at Kasa in Boulder

Kasa’s sushi chef, per usual, delivered sashimi perfection.

marmalade cocktail

Kasa’s refreshing orange marmalade cocktail… one is all you’ll need.

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Backcountry Pizza & Tap House

Backcountry bacon & cheese slice

Backcountry Pizza & Tap House does not skimp on the bacon

The story of Backcountry is pretty simple: pizza and beer. They have other edibles such as sandwiches, calzones, fried mac’n’cheese, salads, etc… but really, you go for the pizza and beer. Like most pizza joints these days, you can get gluten-free crust, and theirs is top notch. To be sure, the sandwiches and calzones are great as well, and you won’t leave hungry – everything on the menu is available in large or really large.

So… after you’ve decided you want pizza, the only real decision left is: do you want one of the 50 draft beers or 125-ish bottled beers? Good lord. It’s a beer geek’s dream.

Hofbrau Original at Backcountry in Boulder

Working lunch at Backcountry with a half liter of Hofbrau Original

My recommendation? Start small. Order a microbrew that won’t make your eyes googly right off the bat. Or split a new-to-you bomber with a few friends. Don’t go big right away. Work your way up after you’ve conquered half a cobb salad ($6) or a slice of cheese pizza ($2). Then make your move to the Pliny (Elder or Younger are both available frequently here). Or the 90 Minute. Or any of the 25 rotating taps…

This is one of my top, go-to places in Boulder – it’s a slam dunk for beer snobbery and cheap pizza… and they have a patio!

One last note: you really should try the fried mac’n’cheese. I know, I know… “heart attack”, “clogged arteries”… whatever. They’re friggin’ great, so dive in.

Words to live by - "Beer will change the world! I don't know how, but it will."

Wisdom donning the wall at Backcountry in Boulder

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Pizzeria Locale

 

Pizzeria Locale bartender

Treat yourself to the Charcuterie plate and a handsome bartender at Pizzeria Locale in Boulder.

Pizzeria Locale dough tossing

The artisans at Locale in Boulder toss the dough before your eyes at a sushi-style pizza bar.

Pizzeria Locale Mais

If Locale’s sweet corn & prosciutto pie were a presidential candidate, it would win the electoral college by a gigantic landslide.

Pizzeria Locale dough toss

The Locale flour is flyin’ everywhere – behind the protective glass, of course.

Pizzeria Locale Ripieno Calzone

The basil/ricotta/prosciutto Ripieno is Locale’s answer to calzone, and, as my mom would say: “It’s to die for.”

Pizzeria Locale Basil Margherita

Locale’s Margherita pizza is topped with Perfect and served with a side of Awesome.

When the goods are this good, it’s wise to be economical with words. I’ll just say this…

Several weeks ago while indulging at Pizzeria Locale in Boulder, my friend Ryan turned to me – in mid-bite of his sweet-corn prosciutto pie – and said:

“I think they must use a secret ingredient in their crust that makes it taste better than any other pizza in the entire universe.”

There you have it.

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Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant

If you’re craving vegan or vegetarian fare, Leaf should definitely be one of your top choices for a romance-y dinner in Boulder.

portobello mushroom steak at Leaf in Boulder

Jedi Mind Trick from Leaf in Boulder: this looks like a giant steak, but it’s actually a portobello mushroom

I recommend starting with the Raw Wrap (rainbow chard, pea shoots, mixed sprouts, carrots, basil almond pâté, cashew “ricotta”) and following it up with the Vegetable Wellington (mushroom, onion, tomato, spinach & fontina in puff pastry, bordelaise, twice baked potato, sautéed greens, endive) entree. There’s a fair chance you won’t be able to finish the Wellington because it’s huge and awesome. The puff pastry and accompanying sauce are incredible.

It turns out it’s probably just as well you don’t finish the Wellington as Leaf features a prix fixe option where you choose three of one small plate, one salad, one entree, and one dessert. It’s a great deal for a boatload of high quality food.

Leaf vegan blueberry cheesecake

We inhaled the Leaf vegan blueberry cheesecake in less than 90 seconds.

As an aside, Leaf is owned by Aji Latin American Restaurant, which has one of the best happy hours deals in town on Sundays because it lasts for six hours – food and drink. Go get some.

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant in Boulder

What Leaf has, Aji has, and vice versa

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Goodbye, Detroit… Hello, Denver. Now let’s eat.

Woodward Avenue and Detroit Tigers... meet downtown Denver and a bunch of sweet mountains... welcome!

Woodward Avenue and Detroit Tigers… meet downtown Denver and a bunch of sweet mountains… welcome!

You’ve said your temporary goodbyes to Union Street. You’re leaving behind, for the moment, Eminem, Kid Rock, Seger, Ted Nugent (hopefully forever), I-75, 696, 275 & 96 traffic nightmares. You won’t see any natural lakes for a while… Yes, you’re leaving Metro Detroit, but probably not for good. You’re seeking snow-capped peaks, roaming buffalo, a startling lack of trees, and… Peyton Manning? What? Whatever. You’re on vacation, and it’s time to indulge in some Rocky Mountain calories. So here’s where to go:

Denver:

Vesta Dipping Grill (slightly upscale, perfect for a night out in Lodo [lower downtown])

Steuben’s Food Service (best local, home-grown comfort food in Uptown… and yes – please do try the mac’n’cheese)

Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria (the only authentic Neapolitan restaurant in Colorado – this is thin crust pizza at its best… great beer/wine selection as well)

Root Down (there’s no better brunch in Denver; their happy hour is among the best as well)

D’Corazon Mexican Comfort Food (their mole sauce with thigh meat, rice, and beans is worth the DIA/DTW plane ticket… trust me)

My Brother’s Bar (the classiest dive in Denver… burgers, beer, patio, shade, classical music, and free parking… heavenly)

A note about restaurants with a view in Denver:
It seems that Denver restaurants with the best mountain views are unreasonably expensive, while the restaurants with the best city views have the best happy hours (see Root Down, Linger). If you’re hoping for a great mountain view and reasonable prices, it’s best to head to…

Boulder:

Click here for a complete list of the best restaurants to check out in Boulder.

Boulder restaurants with great mountain views include: West End (rooftop – beer, burgers), Brasserie Ten Ten (patio – contemporary French), and Southern Sun Pub & Brewery (patio – beer/pub food).

Golden:

Sadly, I could not get anyone to commit to any stellar eateries in Golden, Colorado. Is this really the case, people? Is Golden so devoid of solid restaurants that no locals can vouch for even one great place in the whole city? If so, this seems like a “golden” opportunity for restaurant entrepreneurs… or possibly other restaurant entrepreneurs… or still other restaurant entrepreneurs… hmmmm.

*Also: Huge thanks to my sister for her photo of the Detroit Tigers marquee. Nice one, Dan-yell-o! 🙂

D’Corazon Mexican Comfort Food

There’s one place to go in Denver if you’re craving mole sauce: D’Corazon.

D’Corazon offers any and all traditional Mexican dishes – a la carte or combo style – but the main reason to seek out The D is to experience their mastery of the mole sauce. It’s the perfect balance of spicy, sweet-chocolate-y, and savory. My favorte combination is the Mole Poblano, Traditional Style (below).

D'Corazon's Traditional Style Chicken Mole in Denver

D’Corazon’s Traditional Style Chicken Mole topped with sesame seeds… Spicy goodness! Wash it down with a frozen mango margarita.

The great irony of D’Corazon is that it’s directly across the street from the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant on Blake in Lodo. There’s always a line out the door for the Rio, whereas it’s typically easy to find a table rather quickly at D’Corazon. And while the food at the Rio is occasionally decent, D’Corazon is the eatery of choice for quick, quality Mexican fare in Denver.

Further: there’s no question the Rio is the destination of choice if you’re looking to drink yourself into oblivion in a hurry. Rio margaritas are easy to drink – and easy to drink too much of before you realize how little time has passed. But if you’re in Lodo, and you’re hoping for stellar Mexican food, head east from the Rio – about 50 feet, and check out The D. It’s one of Denver’s lesser-known gems. Their $3 frozen mango margaritas are pretty tasty, too.

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100 Percent Mexicano – CLOSED

Boulder's best enchiladas @ 100% Mexicano

Best chicken enchiladas in Boulder at 100% Mexicano – $9. Oh yes.

UPDATE: Sadly, 100% Mexicano has closed… they’ll certainly be missed.

Without a doubt: This is the best Mexican food in Boulder. For all of you who’ve been patiently waiting for a replacement for our beloved Juanita’s, the search is over. In honor of this search finally concluding, I feel it necessary to enlist Survivor to really drive this point home:

What a tender offering. Thank you, Survivor.

So… several items to note about 100 Percent Mexicano:

– This is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had.

They even have an item made from pork throat on the menu. And I think we can all agree: it doesn’t get much more authentic than pork throat.

100 Percent Mexicano is perfect for your next night out in Boulder.

Allow me to plan your night for you:

  1. Between 5-6 p.m., drive to the strip mall where the DMV is in Boulder. Yes, that one. Yes, it’s in a strip mall at 28th & Iris.
  2. Are you still with me? Good. Park your car in the FREE parking lot (extremely rare in Boulder).
  3. Head toward the DMV, then happily stroll past their doors into 100 Percent Mexicano.
  4. Order a margarita or one of their authentic sippers, such as the Jamaican Flower Juice.
  5. Place your food order – my favorite is the chicken enchiladas with green sauce.
  6. Remove your jaw from the floor when you get the bill because it’s so cheap.
  7. Eat the free chips and awesome salsa they serve you.
  8. Prepare to eat the best meal you’ve had in ages.
  9. Savor your meal, then head to downtown Boulder after 7 p.m. By this point, you’re already fed, you’re not spending way too much money or standing in line for mediocre Rio food, you just had the best Mexican food in Boulder, AND parking is free because it’s after 7:00. Go do whatever you want now.

To be clear, 100 Percent Mexicano is several orders of magnitude better than Juanita’s. True, it doesn’t have the world’s most perfect atmosphere (read: strip mall), but it more than makes up for dim lighting and cheesy, sweaty drunk college kids with excellent food, smiling staff, free parking, a quaint outdoor patio, and a heap of value for the money. This place is a no-brainer, so enjoy!

Also, a note about 100%’s happy hour… check out Wednesday. This is some low-maintenance activity to get discounted quesadillas.

100% Mexicano Boulder - Loco Face happy hour

Make a crazy face for a cheap quesadilla? Sí!

 

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Rueben’s Burger Bistro

"The Spoke" burger at Rueben's in Boulder

“The Spoke” at Rueben’s in Boulder: crumbled bleu cheese, applewood smoked bacon, crispy onion straws, and a pinch of ground black pepper – which, incidentally, pairs perfectly with sweet potato fries and a 2-0 Red Wings’ playoff win over the Blackhawks.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 on draft in Boulder

Rueben’s in Boulder is one of a small handful of Colorado pubs offering the St. Bernardus Abt 12 on tap.

How many reasons do you need to go get a burger and a beer? I can think of seven thousand, but I know you’ve got stuff to do, so here are three reasons to go to Rueben’s:

Red Wings shirt

The Red Wings are not particularly popular in Colorado for some reason.

1. The Detroit Red Wings — There are two places in Boulder to watch the Red Wings play hockey. Reuben’s is one of them. Their bartender (Dan) loves the Red Wings. I hope he never quits so I don’t have to edit this post. And – Colorado is not the friendliest state in which to watch the Wings so it’s nice to have a home away from home, especially since you’re looking to load up on…

Pauwel Kwak Belgian Strong Pale Ale at Rueben's in Boulder

The famous Pauwel Kwak Belgian Strong Pale Ale in its lab-beaker-esque glass

2. Belgian Beer — If you’re in the mood for a tall, cold Coors, well… Reuben’s is probably not the place for you. But if you like potent, flavor-rich beers made in a country you’ve likely never visited, Rueben’s is your spot. Add to this the Paul Kwak Amber on draft, served in a funky glass that looks more like a lab experiment, and you’ll be in Hog Heaven. Or Burger Heaven, as it were, which is a great reason to order the…

3. Best Burger in Boulder — Simply put, I haven’t eaten a better burger in Colorado – although the Waterloo Icehouse potato/beef burger in Louisville comes close.

Rueben’s is great because the owner and staff know their beer. They have a good happy hour (aka “Halfy Hour” named for half-priced beer), and you can’t beat their food for an upscale burger joint. Also, they appear to have a talented artist on the payroll. Meet me up there sometime, because I’m pretty much guaranteed to be there once a week, usually with my friend Dave.*

*Two notes about Dave:

1. Some time ago, while eating dinner at Rueben’s bar, he dropped the quote of the night:

“This right here,” Dave said, pointing to his Trappist ale and Eddy Merckx burger, “this is perfection.”

I tend to agree.

2. As my great grandma would say, Bless Dave’s Heart for ordering and attempting to keep down a HORRIBLE gluten-free beer at a place known for its awesome Belgian beer. Way to take one for the gluten-intolerant team, Dave… even though you’re not on the team.

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My Brother’s Bar

My Brother’s Bar helps you avoid expensive and uncomfortable Denver parking-latrine garage scenarios thanks to their free parking lot…

My parents hate this place.

I happen to love it.

About every five years, my mom and step-dad come to visit me. They showed up in 2001, 2005, and 2010. I’m guessing I’ll see them with a Rocky Mountain background again in 2015 or so.

The first time they visited, we drove to Colorado Springs, Golden, Estes Park, Denver, Boulder, and a few other places I’m forgetting.

The second time they showed up, we went to fewer cities, but more restaurants. Notably, we went to The Med in Boulder and ordered 21 appetizers, which you can read about here.

Most recently (3rd visit), we went to Oskar Blues (Lyons), Radda, The Med, Le Peep, Mead Street, and… My Brother’s Bar (MBB).

Let me first report that I’m not sure the ‘rents hated MBB so much as they hated downtown Denver in general. We walked – in the hot sun – from Uptown to MBB, which is next door to REI… probably too long of a walk to begin with to go to a place that’s something of a dive, but that’s beside the point. I’m not sure if my mom and s’dad didn’t care for the walk, the “condiment caddy”, or the burgers, but… they were less than impressed. This was slightly disheartening as I really talked up MBB, but this had to happen at some point. Statistically speaking, I suppose they had to hate at least one of my favorite places. 😦

As mentioned: I love My Brother’s Bar – for several reasons:

  1. They have an assload of imported beers on tap, AND you can order by the pitcher.
  2. Their bison burgers kick ass. To add to the ass kicking, they even named their bison burger after CU’s mascot, Ralphie the Bison. Order the Ralphie Burger! (it’s not actually made of Ralphie… as far as you know…)
  3. MBB plays only the finest classical music, which makes it an even better choice for a dive, because you don’t know what to think when you’re sitting at a dive place that plays classical music, except that what you’re doing must be awesome. I think it’s the classiest dive in Denver.
  4. They have one of the best shaded patios in Denver. It’s one of my favorite places to spend Saturday afternoon to escape the hot Colorado sun.
  5. Unlike most Denver restaurants, MBB has its own parking lot that you do not have to pay for. Swish… score. Go there next weekend.

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Beer + Marketing = The Pursuit of Hoppiness

a local artist’s interpretation of what “Kwak” might mean… (from the wall at Rueben’s Burger Bistro)

Being a faux journalist, I can appreciate the creativity via prose, poetry, and irony that’s routinely required for naming a product. Below are a few dozen of the wittier beer names I’ve encountered in my searches on the Beer Advocate website, which, by the way, is the king of sites on which to research yuppie microbrews.

The disclaimer here is that a great name does not necessarily make popular or easy-to-acquire beer. I’ve seen just four of the following bottles (that I can recall) in stores. Regardless… kudos to whoever dreamed up these names…

The “pop culture” winners:

Rye of the Tiger (rye beer)
Yeastie Boys Digital IPA
The Audacity of Hops (Belgian IPA)
A Beer Named Sue (American black ale)
Eight Days O’ Wheat (American pale wheat ale)
Duck Duck Gooze (American wild ale)
Willy Vanilly (American pale wheat ale)

The “general silliness” winners:

Nut Hugger Brown (American brown ale)
Big Red Wibby (American amber / red ale)
Sweetwater Dank Tank Fresh Sticky Nugs (American amber / red ale)
Sour Bitch Lambic
Flying Mouflan* (American barleywine)
Fermentation without Representation (pumpkin ale)
Fatty Boombalatty Belgian Pale Ale (in honor of Chris Christie)
Ambergeddon (American amber / red ale)
Columbus Uncle Rusty (American amber / red ale)

*I have no idea what a mouflan is, but it appears to be something that you wouldn’t typically find in flight.

Honorable mention:

Aroma Coma IPA
Blunderbuss Barleywine
Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian IPA
Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp Belgian IPA
Fancy Pants (Flanders oud bruin)
Fat Tug IPA
Furry Black IPA
He’Brew Monumental Jewbelation (by Shmaltz Brewing – American brown ale)
Hopfather IPA
Hopgasm IPA
Hoppy Birthday (American pale ale)
Jacques Au Lantern Pumpkin Ale
Kwak (Belgian strong pale ale)
La Terrible (Belgian strong dark ale)
Matt (American strong ale)
Odell Cutthroat Porter
Old Aberration (American barleywine)
Pursuit of Hoppiness (American amber / red ale)
Red Card – for you soccer fans (American amber / red ale)
Shark Pants Belgian IPA
Son of a Peach (American pale wheat ale)
The Costanza (rye beer)
Thorny Goat (American black ale)
Three Sheets Barleywine
Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale

odell cutthroat porter

The Odell Cutthroat Porter is not a celebration of serial killing, but rather an ode to the Colorado state fish.

Only in Boulder

Ah yes… the Thinkers. Sometimes it’s good to have your own bus.

An example of the scenery you'll likely encounter on the way to your favorite Boulder restaurant.

An example of the scenery you’ll likely encounter en route to your favorite Boulder restaurant.

Denver’s Best Wiener?

Denver's best hot dog - Continental

Best hot dogs I’ve ever had. And please note: they come six to a package, but I wolfed down two before I had the chance to take a picture. They’re that good!

Just a quick note for those of you firing up the grill for the summer: these are the best hot dogs in town. And they’re literally *in* town – Continental Sausage is headquarted in north Denver, where they source beef, pork, and chicken from farmers who raise their animals on sustainable family farms without sub-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones. You really can taste the difference, so definitely put these delectable wieners on the list for your next bbq.

I’ll follow up with a full review of the Continental Deli (Cherry Creek) and Black Forest Deli (Arvada), where you can find the aforementioned wieners and some of the best deli sandwiches in Denver, but I wanted to get the word out on these stellar wieners in time for grilling season. Because who doesn’t like talking about wieners?

I can think of no one.