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 with the kooks 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.
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 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.
Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg’s half restaurant, half market (and also a food truck) has quickly become one of the most talked-about spots in the Denver/Boulder area, and for good reason. Hosea has a lot of passion for farm-to-table cooking, raising much of his own livestock and vegetables, but he complements that passion 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. 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. 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’re assuming is all the time.
Since 1978, this Boulder classic has been bringing Chicago dogs to Colorado. They also offer a strong variety of vegetarian options. Yep, a decent hot dog stand with vegetarian options… it’s Boulder, man. Don’t be afraid. Mustard’s is perfect for a post or pre-game snack, especially if you’re looking to fill up on something before the bars or after a game.
The Kitchen may be the best restaurant representation of what most people think when they think about Boulder restaurants: 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 voila, you have The Kitchen. Don’t be afraid of the crunchy 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.
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 the parents for a drink and some tapas plates… and to pretend you’re a college student.
This is our current favorite restaurant in and around the Denver/Boulder area. Frasca’s focus is as much about wine as it is about food, and they do both really f*cking 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 parlour offshoot from the good people of Frasca. Located right next door to their fine dining mecca of Boulder, Locale focuses on Neapolitan style pies. 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’re suckers for 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 their own 130-acre farm, they build their menu from scratch daily depending on what that day’s harvest brings. This makes for a simple menu, with some limit to the options, but a good meal nonetheless.
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 from burgers to wings, with some nice twists as well. See: 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 just look like more of an upscale Olive Garden, its staying power is impressive. It’s got enough cheese factor 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 these parts, 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 its signature Victorian home with its signature yellow paint, 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, get some Pain Perdu, and get some Eggs Sardou. Then probably get back to bed.
Everybody knows The Rio. It’s an easy go-to for big groups and an easy go-to for 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. People watching gets pretty fun too, because everyone knows it’s fun to watch drunk people.
Snooze hit the Colorado breakfast/brunch scene hard just over 10 years ago and they haven’t slowed down one bit 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: Cosmos. Giant slices, and open until 2am. Don’t forget to order some spicy ranch on the side.
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 soup, salad, and sandwich action all around. 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.
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. Great raw bar, and really nice variety on their 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.
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. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas. Si.
Taco is the best place to get a ton of solid street taco options for cheap. But don’t let the prices fool you - this is high quality, fresh product from a great chef. You should order basically everything on the menu, except the classico taco. It's the only one that is not delicious, and tastes strangely like nutmeg.
Sherpa’s claims that it’s the only Nepalese, Indian, and Tibetan restaurant that doesn’t serve via a buffet in Colorado. That basically means they’re dedicated to freshness and made-to-order food, and we dig that. 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(er) dinner.
This restaurant is a little off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth braving the traffic on 30th St for. 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 they have strong happy hours and late-night karaoke. Also, you can sit on the floor in the back and pretend you know something about Japanese culture.
Some of the best dessert and bakery offerings in the city, but their soup and sandwich combos rule, too.
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 a cheap restaurant. That's why that happy hour is so crucial, but we're also happy to pay full price from time to time. Quality don't come easy.