Just down the road from our fair city, the Buffs have fallen on hard times as of late. But while the once mighty musk of Bill McCartney and Darian Hagan has faded, one thing in Boulder has gotten better and better every year - the food. Turns out, losing records and Buffalo tears have proven to be really inspirational for culinary folk around the flatirons, with old staples improving and excellent restaurants appearing seemingly out of nowhere every other week.
Whether you’re there for gameday, or to just hang out on Pearl St., Boulder has just about everything you could ask for - minus that whole football-team-with-a-winning-record thing. Here are some of our favorite stops in and around both campus and town.
The Buff Restaurant
Well known, yes, but also hands down one of the best breakfast spots in Colorado, let alone Boulder. It’s situated near enough to campus for a nice pre-game fuel up, and conveniently lacks the usual crowd of rowdy, hungover college kids. The Saddlebags pancake order is our favorite. Get it with bacon or sausage, top with a few over-easy eggs, and you’ve won no matter what happens with the actual Buffs later in the day.
Oak At Fourteenth
Oak At Fourteenth is a beautiful space with a wide open kitchen that’s perfect for any kind of date, but it’s the great menu and even better cocktails that put it near the top of our must-visit-in-Boulder list. Dinner here is always great, but their late-night setup Thursday through Sunday might be our favorite thing about this place. From 10pm-12am, there’s a completely different menu with drink specials and dishes to help put you to sleep. Piping hot homemade pretzels also come out at 10:45pm, but be ready - they only serve 12 total and it’s first come, first served.
This half restaurant, half market (and also a food truck) is one of the most talked-about spots in the Denver/Boulder area, and for good reason. There's a big focus here on farm-to-table cooking - the chef raises and harvest much of his own livestock and vegetables - which is complemented with as much of a focus on flavor - something a lot of other spots like it lack. If you go to Blackbelly (and you should), be prepared to eat a lot. It’s one of the heaviest meals we’ve had in a while, but appetizers through dessert, you can’t really go wrong here. Best seats are at the kitchen bar where you can watch the cooking crew in action.
You can’t really consider yourself a Buff fan unless you’ve hit up The Sink and signed your name on the ceiling. And honestly, the foot traffic here is probably more fun to watch than the football at Folsom anyway. Burgers are where it’s at, but don’t sleep on the rest of the menu - it’s all good if you’re in the mood for greasy bar food, which we are most of the time.
Mustard's Last Stand
Open since 1978, this Boulder classic brings Chicago dogs to Colorado - along with a surprising variety of vegetarian options. Yep, a decent hot dog stand with vegetarian options - it’s Boulder. Mustard’s is perfect for a pre- or post-game snack, especially if you’re looking to fill up on something quickly before the bars or after a game.
The Kitchen Boulder
What most people think when they think about Boulder restaurants is a nice rustic atmosphere with a high-quality, farm-to-table rotating menu. Add in a strong focus on sustainable food sourcing and environmental initiatives and you have The Kitchen. Don’t be afraid of the description - this is one of the best restaurants in Boulder, especially if you’re looking for a nice dinner with a larger group. We’ve never had a bad meal here, and it’s always a memorable experience. They have offshoots situated right next door and upstairs, too, creatively called The Kitchen Next Door and The Kitchen Upstairs.
The Mediterranean is a solid standby if you’re looking to stay in and around the heart of Boulder/Pearl St. The patio makes for great people watching, and the Happy Hour prices are built for a college student’s budget. It’s a great place to take parents for a drink and some tapas plates - and to pretend you’re a college student.
Frasca is our current favorite restaurant in and around the Denver/Boulder area. The focus here is as much about wine as it is about food, and they do both really well. This is where you have your parents take you because you’re graduating, or to have them thank you for scoring them really good Dave Matthews Band tickets.
An upscale pizza parlor offshoot from the good people of Frasca, Locale is located right next door to their fine dining mecca of Boulder. The menu focuses on Neapolitan style pies, so the dough is super thin, and a little on the softer side, but delicious. Some of the pies get a little crazy with toppings, but you’ll be happy with mostly everything - we love the Mais Mozzarella in particular. Bring your knife and fork, and see if they’ll let you snag a few fresh slices of prosciutto from the ridiculous giant slicer up front.
Of all the farm-to-table restaurants you see around Denver and Boulder, Black Cat is likely the one that can claim the title "best." Mainly sourcing from its own 130-acre farm, it builds a menu from scratch daily depending on what that day’s harvest brings. This makes for a simple meal, with some limit to the options, but always great nonetheless.
West End Tavern
If there’s such thing as gourmet bar food, this is where you go to get it. There is plenty of beer on tap, plus classic favorites like burgers and wings, with some nice twists as well - think fried clams and a full list of house-smoked BBQ. The patio up on the roof is open year-round and offers some pretty spectacular views of The Flatirons. You can also try their wing challenge (50 wings in 30 minutes). If you win, you get a nice t-shirt and everything is free, including the buffalo chicken sauce smell you’ll carry with you for the next five to seven days.
Jay’s has been part of the Pearl St. mall forever, and while on the surface it may look like an upscale Olive Garden, its staying power is impressive. It’s got enough cheese alone to make it worth checking out. Random date night, carbing up for The Bolder Boulder, or in town to hike up chautauqua tomorrow? Jay’s is a safe bet. You’ll probably see a lot of 19-year-olds on first dates, but that just makes the experience more fun. Cheap and straightforward Italian eats. Thanks, Pasta Jay’s.
You don’t see much authentic Creole cooking around this city, but if we were to venture a guess, we’d say it doesn’t get much better than Lucile’s (as far as Colorado goes). Situated in a yellow-painted Victorian home, this is the spot for the best laid-back breakfast in Boulder. You may have to wait for a bit, but once you’re seated, get some beignets, some pain perdu, and some eggs sardou. Then probably get back to bed.
Everybody knows The Rio. It’s an easy go-to for big groups and a relatively cheap buzz. The food isn’t the best Mexican in town, but it will get better after your third or fourth margarita - if you can convince them to give you a fourth, that is. The location can’t be beat as a stop along post-game bar crawls.
Snooze hit the Colorado breakfast/brunch scene hard just over 10 years ago and they haven’t slowed down since - especially at their Boulder location. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll likely have a long wait whenever you go. In this case, though, it’s worth it. Just think about the pancake special of the day and how well it’ll pair with the breakfast tacos you’ll also be ordering.
If it’s late and you’ve managed to maintain consciousness throughout the day after the Buffs lost by 36, you deserve a reward to close things out. Go claim your trophy at one of the best pizza spots in Boulder, and definitely the best pizza spot on The Hill: Cosmo's. Giant slices, and open until 2am - and don’t forget to order some spicy ranch on the side.
The Yellow Deli
What’s a good restaurant list without somewhere you can go 24 hours a day? The Yellow Deli is a small spot with an interior that looks like something straight out of The Hobbit. Good soups, salads, and sandwiches, plus, the staff is as welcoming as can be, so if you go, return that respect - this isn’t a loud drunk hang. It’s way more laid back and better suited for insomniacs and all you calm, cool drunks out there.
Jax Fish House Boulder
This is another franchise that has multiple locations across Colorado, but as far as seafood goes in Boulder, Jax can’t be beat for quality and consistency. A little on the pricey side, but you’re in Boulder so that shouldn’t surprise you. It has a great raw bar, and really nice variety of specialty fish and shellfish items. There’s a lot of energy in the room, which makes it a fun spot for both larger groups and date nights.
Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace
If you’re in the mood for Mexican, you go to The Rio for drinks, and Centro for eats. Centro actually has great drinks too, but it’s definitely more of a sit-down-and-be-an-adult Mexican restaurant, with really good food, especially for the price.
Taco is the best place to get a ton of solid street tacos for cheap. But don’t let the prices fool you - they're high quality and fresh. You should order basically everything on the menu, except the classico taco. It’s not our favorite and tastes strangely like nutmeg.
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant & Bar
Sherpa’s claims that it’s the only Nepalese, Indian, and Tibetan restaurant that doesn’t serve via a buffet in Colorado. If we had to eat vegetarian in Boulder, this would definitely be our go-to. And even though we don’t have to eat vegetarian in Boulder, we still go here quite a bit. Get an early lunch here, and you’ll be solid until it’s time for a late dinner.
Vina Pho & Grill
This restaurant is a little off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth braving the traffic on 30th St. It's no different than most other pho spots you’ve been to as far as menu items, but the broth here is ridiculously good.
There’s a nice variety of good sushi spots in Boulder, but this is our favorite. Not necessarily because the fish is leaps and bounds above other places (though it is really good), but because the atmosphere, location, and general vibe at Zanmai make it an overall winner. Plus there's a good Happy Hour and late-night karaoke.
Some of the best dessert and bakery offerings in the city, but their soup and sandwich combos are great too.
SALT the Bistro
Salt is a Boulder classic that’s equally great for Happy Hour drinks and bites at the bar as it is for a late Saturday brunch with some friends. All of the food is locally sourced and organic and all of that other good stuff, which unfortunately also means it’s not cheap. That’s why that Happy Hour is so crucial, but we’re also happy to pay full price from time to time.