Sure, you won't have any trouble finding a pair of Crocs in Boulder (they were invented here) or Phish-loving, mountain-hugging locals, but a good restaurant is a different story. Plenty of great eats abound and whittling them down to the five best is actually a challenging endeavor. The restaurant scene is booming; even Denver magazine 5280 ranked Denver's 25 Best restaurants last year, and had no choice but to include five from neighboring Boulder, if that's any indication. We rounded up our favorite picks that will give foodies a reason to visit and stay a while.
Oak on Fourteenth
The popular Oak on Fourteenth is highly touted as one of the city's best restaurants, thanks to Steven Redzikowski (his resume includes Le Cirque in NYC and Little Nell in Aspen). Contemporary and stylish, Oak serves hearty portions of New American cuisine. The highlight here is the one-of-a-kind, oak-fired oven and grill, so expect subtle smoky flavors throughout . All vegetables and meats are locally sourced, seafood is sustainably raised, and pastas are made in-house. Don't leave without a cocktail: the beverage program features hand-carved ice cubes and homemade sodas. Co-owner Bryan Dayton was voted "the most inspired bartender in America" by GQ magazine and Bombay Sapphire in 2011.
Can't-Miss Dish: Oak grilled Berkshire pork chop with black mission figs, Anson Mills grits, Benton's Tennessee smoked ham.
The Bitter Bar
Thanks to James Lee, owner of The Bitter Bar, you can expect something different in Boulder. The former Happy Noodle House is now a restaurant/lounge/hipster joint serving up creative, American-themed dishes like Captain Crunch chicken wings, lobster hot dogs, and coconut shrimp eggrolls. But the Bitter Bar's claim-to-fame is its award-winning mixologists, including James Lee himself, who was voted as one of the top ten mixologists in America by Playboy magazine. While beer is Boulder's thing, The Bitter Bar is spearheading the cocktail scene, and the friendly staff is happy to geek out on tasty drinks like Amber Wave (a National Cocktail Competition winner).
Can't-Miss Dish: Halibut cheeks with risotto cake, corn emulsion, grilled green beans, candied walnuts.
Take a break from Americana-inspired menus and head to Dushanbe Teahouse, one of Boulder's most "exotic" restaurants. As a gift from sister city Dushanbe in Tajikistan (random, we know), this teahouse is completely built by hand with elaborate woodwork, ceiling mural, Islamic ceramic art, and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the restaurant to flood with natural light. Choose from an extensive array of teas and a variety of international dishes (from Korean to Persian to Thai classics).
Can't-Miss Dish: Spicy Indonesian peanut noodle with rice noodles, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, spicy peanut curry.
This modern bistro inside the well appointed St. Julien Hotel & Spa highlights retro-contemporary American and French cuisine and, like most restaurants in Boulder, supports sustainable, organic farming practices. Jill's Restaurant is an annual recipient of Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence, and the market-inspired specials keep the menu diverse. Several dishes are prepared tableside (like the popular caesar salad), which is a unique touch. The intimate setting makes it perfect for special occasions like big birthdays and hot dates.
Can't-Miss-Dish: Spice Rubbed Scottish Salmon with organic quinoa, seasonal vegetables, citrus pesto.
Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids Restaurant
While Oskar Blues may be the heavyweight of craft beers based out of Lyons, not many people know about its Home Made Liquids & Solids Restaurant in Longmont (about a 15-minute drive from Boulder). What makes the restaurant special is the executive chef Jason Rogers, who is two-times nominated for a James Beard award, worked with Todd English, fronted three of the 7 restaurants at Borgata in Atlantic City, and was executive chef at St Regis Aspen, so visitors can expect fancy comfort food—accompanied with one of Oskar Blues craft beers, of course.
Can't-Miss Dish: Any of the meat dishes, as all their red meats come directly from Oskar Blues' very own 50-acre farm.
Jimmy Im is a freelance travel writer based in NYC. He's hosted programs on the Travel Channel and LOGO, and makes regular appearances on morning news shows as a "travel expert." He teaches travel writing courses and is also cofounder of OutEscapes.com.
Photo Credits: Oak on Fourteenth: Couretsy of Oak on Fourteenth; The Bitter Bar: Courtesy of The Bitter Bar; Dushanbe Teahouse: Courtesy of The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse; Jill's Restaurant: Courtesy of St. Juliene Hotel and Spa; Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids Restaurant: Courtesy of Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids