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Pita and hummus topped with lamb Lucy Beaugard

Denver’s 26 Most Iconic Dishes

The foods and plates that define the Mile High City

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Every restaurant has its signatures; not every restaurant has an icon. But these 26 places do.

By definition of the word “iconic,” nothing on this map should come as a surprise; the only real criterion for inclusion is renown (or perhaps, in some cases, notoriety). In other words, the following dishes have all been around long enough — at least a few years, with one exception — to have made an impact on Denver’s dining scene, offering meaningful insight into where it’s been, where it’s at, and/or where it’s going. And anyone who eats their way through them automatically earns the badge of a local: congratulations.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Bison Indian taco at Tocabe

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3536 W 44th Ave
Denver, CO 80211
(720) 524-8282
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With a second location in Greenwood Village, this self-styled American Indian restaurant run by members of the Osage Nation has brought key Indigenous traditions to the Denver table, including fry bread. Get it topped with shredded bison, hominy, and elderberry vinaigrette for the complete experience.

Indian taco topped with bison meat Rachel Greiman

2. Mexican hamburger at The Original Chubby’s

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1231 W 38th Ave
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 455-9311
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The vibe is chaotic. The service is desultory at best. And the brand of Mexican food it serves is — well, not to everyone’s taste, especially if they’re not familiar with the Colorado style. But love it or hate it, there’s one thing Chubby’s always gets right, and that’s this burrito stuffed with a burger patty and refried beans, topped with cheese, and smothered in mouth-lacerating green chile.

Burger-stuffed burrito smothered in green chile Ruth Tobias

3. Pita and hummus at Safta

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3330 Brighton Blvd #201
Denver, CO 80216
(720) 408-2444
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On the one hand, Safta’s flawless hummus and pita bread represent the transformation of RiNo from an emerging district to a nationally known destination in 2018, when it drew an influx of outside talent (Uchi, Death & Co, and Shake Shack also opened in the neighborhood that year). On the other hand, they inspired a bit of an Israeli food trend around town — although no one but no one can make hummus quite like chef/owner Alon Shaya can, whether topped with curried cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, or lamb ragù.

Pita and hummus topped with lamb Lucy Beaugard

4. Chilled tofu at Hop Alley

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3500 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 379-8340
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Since its opening in 2015, Hop Alley has been instrumental in putting RiNo on the map, thanks in no small part to its chilled tofu. Though the modern Chinese hot spot is home to more than its share of groundbreaking dishes — including the Beijing duck roll and the bone-marrow fried rice — it’s this national attention-getting dish of tofu slices in sesame bang bang sauce with smashed cucumbers and peanuts that regularly steals the show.

Dish of chilled tofu with cucumbers in sesame sauce

5. Kale and apple salad at BriDer

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1644 Platte St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 455-3084
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Word of this salad has spread far and wide since its invention at Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth in 2010. First the togarashi-seasoned mixture of baby kale, shaved apple, candied almonds, and parmesan in lemon vinaigrette popped up at OAK’s now-closed RiNo follow-up, Acorn; then it made the menu at their fast-casual sibling, BriDer, gaining ever more followers along the way. Rarely has such a simple dish made such a splash.

Kale and apple salad with parmesan Jennifer Olson

6. The Massive Attack salad at Work & Class

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2500 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 292-0700
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That said, here’s another salad that positively blew up when it made its debut in 2014, and it holds its own to this day on a menu that’s otherwise famed for meat cookery (including the coriander-roasted lamb that also warrants a shout-out). Combining broccoli tempura, avocado, asparagus, cucumbers, and spinach with parmesan and preserved-lemon vinaigrette, it’s a testament to chef Dana Rodriguez’s playfulness — one that only grows more popular with every order.

Salad of avocado, tempura broccoli, and more Jennifer Olson

7. Johnny burger at My Brother's Bar

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2376 15th St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 455-9991
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Though it has gone by many different names under many different owners since 1973, this institution at the edge of LoHi remains Denver’s oldest continuously operating bar. And the Johnny burger (along with its simpler sibling, the JCB) is nearly as fabled as the place itself, loaded with Swiss, American, and jalapeño cream cheese as well as grilled onions.

Burger with Swiss, American, jalapeño cream cheese and grilled onions on sesame bun Ruth Tobias

8. Pineapple upside down pancakes at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

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2262 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 297-0700
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How has this breakfast joint managed to expand from the original Ballpark location to a sprawling six-state franchise over the course of 15 years, with eight other outlets in metro Denver alone — all of them thronged morning in and morning out? One word: pancakes. Actually, make it four: Pineapple upside-down pancakes. (For that matter, make it the signature flight of pancakes, which also includes the blueberry-danish and pumpkin–pecan pie flavors.)

Pineapple upside down pancake Larimer Associates

9. Fried chicken at Welton Street Cafe

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2736 Welton St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 296-6602
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An anchor to keep the Five Points community grounded even as change happens all around it, this old soul food favorite makes the kind of fried chicken that can cure just about any ailment — from the sniffles to homesickness. No wonder the place is so cherished by its neighbors.

Plate of fried chicken with mashed potatoes

10. Bagels at Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen

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725 E 26th Ave
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 440-9880
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To produce a bagel Denver could be proud of, Joshua Pollack famously came up with a system to replicate the mineral content of New York City’s water. Now Rosenberg’s is a three-branch franchise serving up everything from basic breakfast sandwiches to specialty creations like the Heebster with whitefish salad, scallion cream cheese, and wasabi roe — but they all start with those chewy rings of goodness.

Bagel with lox and cream cheese Ruth Tobias

11. Elk jalapeño cheddar dog at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

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2148 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 746-9355
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Everyone around here knows the story of “Biker Jim” Pittenger, a former repo man from Alaska who turned a sausage-slinging street cart into a citywide fleet plus a brick-and-mortar outlet in Ballpark (with a little help from noted fan Anthony Bourdain). But the elk dog, along with the currently unavailable reindeer dog, is the item that really put the wheels in motion — ideally topped with the classic combo of cream cheese and caramelized onions.

12. Soup dumplings and Kaya toast at ChoLon

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1555 Blake St #101
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 353-5223
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Though xiao long bao come filled with everything from matzo balls to green chile these days, no one had seen anything like Lon Symensma's dumplings — delicate yet fit to burst with French onion soup and gruyère — when this eternal LoDo hot spot opened in 2010. And to this day, no one in these parts has seen anything like his Kaya toast, a Singaporean-inspired dish of coconut jam–slathered brioche with savory egg custard for dipping.

Singaporean-style kaya toast Ruth Tobias/Eater

13. Fresh bacon at Rioja

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1431 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 820-2282
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One of two dishes on this map that proved game-changers back when pork belly remained far beyond the U.S. mainstream (see also Fruition below), chef Jennifer Jasinski’s “fresh bacon” appetizer is scented with cardamom and set atop curried green garbanzo purée to exemplify the elegance for which Rioja is so well-known. (Granted, her artichoke tortelloni has drawn equal raves over its nearly 20 years in business.)

Pork belly atop garbanzo puree Ruth Tobias

14. Cake & Shake at D Bar Denver

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494 E 19th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 861-4710
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On the menu of Keegan Gerhard and Lisa Bailey’s chic bakery and café since day one, this instant classic has outlasted any number of elimination-diet trends over the past dozen or so years. After all, who can resist the rush of nostalgia and sugar delivered by a slice of three-layer chocolate cake, paired with a mini-milkshake or malt in a choice of three familiar flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry?

Slice of chocolate cake with chocolate shake D Bar

15. Steubie Snacks at Steuben's

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523 E 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 830-1001
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Defining Steubie Snacks as nuggets of deep-fried, braised pork shoulder rolled in powdered sugar is not the same as describing them: The ultimate munchies have an addictive je ne sais quoi that simply has to be sampled to be understood.

Deep-fried pork nuggets with powdered sugar Connor Green

16. The Franklin at Denver Biscuit Company

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3237 E Colfax Ave
Denver, CO 80206
(303) 377-7900
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Like Snooze (above), the Denver Biscuit Company started as one little daytime operation on East Colfax before expanding across the city on the strength of its namesake item. Now also in Baker, Berkeley, and Aurora, it’s never not packed to the rafters with people clamoring for biscuit sandwiches — above all the Franklin, featuring fried chicken, bacon, cheddar, and sausage or mushroom gravy plus an optional fried egg. Talk about a recipe for success — one that many have tried but few have managed to replicate.

Biscuit loaded with fried chicken, bacon, cheddar, and gravy From The Hip Photo

17. Sugar steak at Bastien's Restaurant

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3503 E Colfax Ave
Denver, CO 80206
(303) 322-0363
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Owned and operated by the Bastien family for more than 80 years, this East Colfax steakhouse is celebrated for two things: Its fabulously retro architecture/interior design and its thick-cut, sugar-rubbed steaks. Served rare or medium-rare, they come with all the old-school trimmings: bread, salad or soup, seasonal veggies, and a choice of potato (but the twice-baked is the only way to go).

sugar steak with potato and vegetables Ruth Tobias

18. Chile-relleno burrito at El Taco De Mexico

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714 Santa Fe Dr
Denver, CO 80204
(303) 623-3926
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In recognition of the cult following it’s garnered since its inception in 1985, this Lincoln Park taqueria received an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation in 2020. One bite of its smothered chile-relleno burrito is all the evidence anyone needs to confirm the righteousness of the honor.

burrito stuffed with chile relleno Ruth Tobias

19. Lobster macaroni and cheese at Mizuna

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225 E 7th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 832-4778
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Mizuna celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, making chef/owner Frank Bonanno one of the sturdiest branches on the family tree of Denver chefs — and this mac and cheese is one of his most influential creations. Featuring mascarpone and chunks of butter-poached lobster meat, it’s still one of the most decadent dishes in town.

Dish of macaroni and cheese with lobster Rachel Greiman

20. New carbonara at Fruition Restaurant

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1313 E 6th Ave
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 831-1962
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Back in 2015, Eater documented the making of a pasta that had, in turn, made chef Alex Seidel a local household name when Fruition opened several years prior: New carbonara, combining fresh cavatelli with pork belly, egg yolk, pecorino, and peas. It hasn’t changed a bit since, counting among a number of dishes on this map that symbolize the turning point Denver took from so-called cowtown to culinary destination not so long ago.

Cavatelli carbonara Rachel Greiman

21. Torta di formaggio at Barolo Grill

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3030 E 6th Ave
Denver, CO 80206
(303) 393-1040
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To truly grasp the enduring reputation of this Northern Italian fixture in Country Club, a first-time guest needs to do three things: 1) order a bottle of the eponymous wine; 2) add shaved black truffles to at least one dish; and 3) get the torta di formaggio for dessert. A cheesecake featuring Piedmontese Castelmagno rather than cream cheese, it’s drizzled with lavender honey and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and edible flowers — and it’s the definitive finale to a meal at one of Denver’s longest-lived special-occasion destinations.

22. Mais pizza at Pizzeria Locale

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550 Broadway Blvd
Denver, CO 80203
(720) 740-4020
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Locale proved itself the chief arbiter of Neapolitan taste on the Front Range when its Boulder flagship began serving what might seem like an original creation but is actually a Naples staple: pizza topped with corn, ham, mozzarella, and cream, or in this case crème fraîche, plus a drizzle of garlic oil. Now that bold tradition has spread to its four fast-casual siblings in Denver (the other locations being in Highland, Central Park, and Hale).

Pizza with corn, ham, and mozzarella Pizzeria Locale

23. Bánh mì at Vinh Xuong Bakery

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2370 W Alameda Ave
Denver, CO 80223
(303) 922-0999
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An emblem of Denver’s vibrant Vietnamese community, the takeout-only flagship of this beloved bánh mì shop in the Little Saigon Business District gave many locals their first taste of the classic sandwich even before it was widely popular. The second branch, meanwhile, offers seating, a coffee bar, and other amenities just a few blocks away.

Bánh mì sandwich Feed Media

24. Barbacoa at El Borrego Negro

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3738 Morrison Rd
Denver, CO 80219
(720) 465-9605
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OK, maybe it’s more accurate to call this one an icon in the making. But there’s no question that tacos de barbacoa (or its variant, birria) con consomé are now a raging national trend — and there’s also no question that this Sunday-only takeout stand does it the way it was meant to be done, cooking the sheep meat in a pit overnight and selling it by the pound with all the fixings, plus horchata for washing it down, from 9 a.m. until it’s sold out. (Follow on Instagram for a look behind the scenes and purchasing details.)

Takeout barbacoa with tortillas, salsas, and consommé Ruth Tobias

25. Banana cream pie at Sushi Den

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1487 S Pearl St
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 777-0826
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Never mind some roadside diner — Denverites know that the very best place in town for a slice of banana cream pie just so happens to be a decades-old sushi bar on Old South Pearl. Enough said.

banana cream pie with fruit garnish Sushi Den

26. Historian’s Platter at The Fort

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19192 CO-8
Morrison, CO 80465
(303) 697-4771
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Sure, it’s touristy, but this Morrison property — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — actually does have something entertaining to say about the evolution of Colorado cuisine. Its signature appetizer platter includes not only Rocky Mountain oysters (yes, bull testicles) but also bison sausage and bison tongue, plus peanut butter–stuffed and pickled jalapeños, guacamole and chips, and two dipping sauces for good measure.

Platter of Rocky Mountain oysters, bison tongue, bison sausage, and other Western appetizers Meredith Hartung

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1. Bison Indian taco at Tocabe

3536 W 44th Ave, Denver, CO 80211
Indian taco topped with bison meat Rachel Greiman

With a second location in Greenwood Village, this self-styled American Indian restaurant run by members of the Osage Nation has brought key Indigenous traditions to the Denver table, including fry bread. Get it topped with shredded bison, hominy, and elderberry vinaigrette for the complete experience.

3536 W 44th Ave
Denver, CO 80211

2. Mexican hamburger at The Original Chubby’s

1231 W 38th Ave, Denver, CO 80211
Burger-stuffed burrito smothered in green chile Ruth Tobias

The vibe is chaotic. The service is desultory at best. And the brand of Mexican food it serves is — well, not to everyone’s taste, especially if they’re not familiar with the Colorado style. But love it or hate it, there’s one thing Chubby’s always gets right, and that’s this burrito stuffed with a burger patty and refried beans, topped with cheese, and smothered in mouth-lacerating green chile.

1231 W 38th Ave
Denver, CO 80211

3. Pita and hummus at Safta

3330 Brighton Blvd #201, Denver, CO 80216
Pita and hummus topped with lamb Lucy Beaugard

On the one hand, Safta’s flawless hummus and pita bread represent the transformation of RiNo from an emerging district to a nationally known destination in 2018, when it drew an influx of outside talent (Uchi, Death & Co, and Shake Shack also opened in the neighborhood that year). On the other hand, they inspired a bit of an Israeli food trend around town — although no one but no one can make hummus quite like chef/owner Alon Shaya can, whether topped with curried cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, or lamb ragù.

3330 Brighton Blvd #201
Denver, CO 80216

4. Chilled tofu at Hop Alley

3500 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Dish of chilled tofu with cucumbers in sesame sauce

Since its opening in 2015, Hop Alley has been instrumental in putting RiNo on the map, thanks in no small part to its chilled tofu. Though the modern Chinese hot spot is home to more than its share of groundbreaking dishes — including the Beijing duck roll and the bone-marrow fried rice — it’s this national attention-getting dish of tofu slices in sesame bang bang sauce with smashed cucumbers and peanuts that regularly steals the show.

3500 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205

5. Kale and apple salad at BriDer

1644 Platte St, Denver, CO 80202
Kale and apple salad with parmesan Jennifer Olson

Word of this salad has spread far and wide since its invention at Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth in 2010. First the togarashi-seasoned mixture of baby kale, shaved apple, candied almonds, and parmesan in lemon vinaigrette popped up at OAK’s now-closed RiNo follow-up, Acorn; then it made the menu at their fast-casual sibling, BriDer, gaining ever more followers along the way. Rarely has such a simple dish made such a splash.

1644 Platte St
Denver, CO 80202

6. The Massive Attack salad at Work & Class

2500 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Salad of avocado, tempura broccoli, and more Jennifer Olson

That said, here’s another salad that positively blew up when it made its debut in 2014, and it holds its own to this day on a menu that’s otherwise famed for meat cookery (including the coriander-roasted lamb that also warrants a shout-out). Combining broccoli tempura, avocado, asparagus, cucumbers, and spinach with parmesan and preserved-lemon vinaigrette, it’s a testament to chef Dana Rodriguez’s playfulness — one that only grows more popular with every order.

2500 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205

7. Johnny burger at My Brother's Bar

2376 15th St, Denver, CO 80202
Burger with Swiss, American, jalapeño cream cheese and grilled onions on sesame bun Ruth Tobias

Though it has gone by many different names under many different owners since 1973, this institution at the edge of LoHi remains Denver’s oldest continuously operating bar. And the Johnny burger (along with its simpler sibling, the JCB) is nearly as fabled as the place itself, loaded with Swiss, American, and jalapeño cream cheese as well as grilled onions.

2376 15th St
Denver, CO 80202

8. Pineapple upside down pancakes at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

2262 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Pineapple upside down pancake Larimer Associates

How has this breakfast joint managed to expand from the original Ballpark location to a sprawling six-state franchise over the course of 15 years, with eight other outlets in metro Denver alone — all of them thronged morning in and morning out? One word: pancakes. Actually, make it four: Pineapple upside-down pancakes. (For that matter, make it the signature flight of pancakes, which also includes the blueberry-danish and pumpkin–pecan pie flavors.)

2262 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205

9. Fried chicken at Welton Street Cafe

2736 Welton St, Denver, CO 80205
Plate of fried chicken with mashed potatoes

An anchor to keep the Five Points community grounded even as change happens all around it, this old soul food favorite makes the kind of fried chicken that can cure just about any ailment — from the sniffles to homesickness. No wonder the place is so cherished by its neighbors.

2736 Welton St
Denver, CO 80205

10. Bagels at Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen

725 E 26th Ave, Denver, CO 80205
Bagel with lox and cream cheese Ruth Tobias

To produce a bagel Denver could be proud of, Joshua Pollack famously came up with a system to replicate the mineral content of New York City’s water. Now Rosenberg’s is a three-branch franchise serving up everything from basic breakfast sandwiches to specialty creations like the Heebster with whitefish salad, scallion cream cheese, and wasabi roe — but they all start with those chewy rings of goodness.

725 E 26th Ave
Denver, CO 80205

11. Elk jalapeño cheddar dog at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

2148 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205

Everyone around here knows the story of “Biker Jim” Pittenger, a former repo man from Alaska who turned a sausage-slinging street cart into a citywide fleet plus a brick-and-mortar outlet in Ballpark (with a little help from noted fan Anthony Bourdain). But the elk dog, along with the currently unavailable reindeer dog, is the item that really put the wheels in motion — ideally topped with the classic combo of cream cheese and caramelized onions.

2148 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205

12. Soup dumplings and Kaya toast at ChoLon

1555 Blake St #101, Denver, CO 80202
Singaporean-style kaya toast Ruth Tobias/Eater

Though xiao long bao come filled with everything from matzo balls to green chile these days, no one had seen anything like Lon Symensma's dumplings — delicate yet fit to burst with French onion soup and gruyère — when this eternal LoDo hot spot opened in 2010. And to this day, no one in these parts has seen anything like his Kaya toast, a Singaporean-inspired dish of coconut jam–slathered brioche with savory egg custard for dipping.

1555 Blake St #101
Denver, CO 80202

13. Fresh bacon at Rioja

1431 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202
Pork belly atop garbanzo puree Ruth Tobias

One of two dishes on this map that proved game-changers back when pork belly remained far beyond the U.S. mainstream (see also Fruition below), chef Jennifer Jasinski’s “fresh bacon” appetizer is scented with cardamom and set atop curried green garbanzo purée to exemplify the elegance for which Rioja is so well-known. (Granted, her artichoke tortelloni has drawn equal raves over its nearly 20 years in business.)

1431 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80202

14. Cake & Shake at D Bar Denver

494 E 19th Ave, Denver, CO 80203
Slice of chocolate cake with chocolate shake D Bar

On the menu of Keegan Gerhard and Lisa Bailey’s chic bakery and café since day one, this instant classic has outlasted any number of elimination-diet trends over the past dozen or so years. After all, who can resist the rush of nostalgia and sugar delivered by a slice of three-layer chocolate cake, paired with a mini-milkshake or malt in a choice of three familiar flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry?

494 E 19th Ave
Denver, CO 80203

15. Steubie Snacks at Steuben's

523 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80203
Deep-fried pork nuggets with powdered sugar Connor Green

Defining Steubie Snacks as nuggets of deep-fried, braised pork shoulder rolled in powdered sugar is not the same as describing them: The ultimate munchies have an addictive je ne sais quoi that simply has to be sampled to be understood.

523 E 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80203

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16. The Franklin at Denver Biscuit Company

3237 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206
Biscuit loaded with fried chicken, bacon, cheddar, and gravy