A Guide to Denver Restaurants: Dining on $35 Per Diem

Denver Restaurants

Dining in Denver on a Dime

If you happen to be working in the Lakewood region of Denver, Colorado and need to survive on $35.00/day per diem, this is the perfect guide for you. It will also serve you well, if you are fortunate enough to be traveling and exploring this beautiful city, and have a budget to stick to.

You’re welcome.

No, seriously, I can’t claim to have even touched the surface of Denver dining experiences — anyone who has spent more than a few hours in the airport understands how long that would take. Denver is rife with all manner of eating establishments, from hole-in-the-wall budget dining to the full three stars.

This list is necessarily brief and restricted, as the title suggests, by limited time and money. It didn’t help that most of my coworkers prefer to get micro-ready meals from King Soopers and eat in their rooms. So, when I did get dinner company, it was usually a compromise between price and convenience. There were no real three-star dining experiences for me. The restaurants listed here represent the pleasant surprises and so we gave them our own three-star ratings. Bon Appetit!

Taqueria el Gallito

denver restaurants

photos: Bad Daddy’s via yelp

Quantity of Food: ***
Quality of Food: ***
Quality of Service: *
Price: $

I definitely can’t take credit for finding this little gem — shout-out to my WildLands, Inc. colleagues for stumbling across it. If you think that the best Mexican food in the western states comes out of Taco Trucks…well…you’d be right of course! And also, you would love Taqueria el Gallito. It is basically a Taco Truck inside of a building—quite a large building at that. It has plenty of tables and chairs though not a huge amount of ambiance apart from the neon lighting. Sort of like a Taco Truck!

The food is incredible, however, and they have a help-yourself salsa bar that includes something like six different salsas plus jalapeños and pickled vegetables. You can gorge yourself on $1.50 street tacos and $5 basic burritos of almost any meat imaginable (I recommend al pastor), or you can cobble yourself together a custom combination that will stretch your middle for less than 10 bucks. On $35/day, you can eat like a Queen. Just don’t expect to be served like one; it’s counter service only and bus-yourself at this casual dining spot.

2125 S. Sheridan Blvd.
Denver, CO  80227
Online:  yelp.com  

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs

Restaurants in Denver

photo: Jing via flickr

Quantity of Food: **
Quality of Food: ***
Quality of Service: ***
Price: $

We stumbled across this place while wandering around downtown Denver one Sunday afternoon. It is sort of a local chain with a permanent stand at Coors Field (home of the Rockies), and food trucks scattered around the city. The location in downtown Denver is, as you might expect, decked out in pure Biker Bar, but the original was a shiny silver food cart operated by one Jim Pittenger (a.k.a. Biker Jim), former repo-man turned entrepreneur and hot dog enthusiast.

You won’t find the typical baseball stadium hot dogs at Biker Jim’s—far from it. These are truly gourmet dogs, made from all manner of sustainably-raised meat and wild game (elk, duck, reindeer, pheasant; even rattlesnake!), and topped off with delicious-sounding concoctions that you would never think of putting on your hot dog (harissa-roasted cactus, cream cheese, wasabi aioli, fried pickled red onions…the list goes on and on). Biker Jim has become a Denver icon since opening his first cart in 2005, and for good reason; even Anthony Bourdain visited Jim’s in 2010 for his national TV show No Reservations. The hot dogs are meal-sized with all the toppings, but if you are really hungry you can add one of their mouthwatering sides —my favorite is the Fried Mac ‘n Cheese.  At $7.50 for a dog, plus $1.50 for toppings and $2-$5 for a side, you can eat a very filling (and tasty) meal here for under $15. If you are frugal with your side, you can even squeeze a $2 PBR in there. It will be the best dog you ever ate.

2149 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80205
Online: bikerjimsdogs

The Yabby Hut

restaurants in denver

photo: Elliot G. via yelp

Quantity of Food: ***
Quality of Food: **
Quality of Service: **
Price: $$

The Yabby Hut is an interesting combination of sports bar and crab shack, with a Cajun theme. There are TVs on the walls and fishing nets hanging from the ceiling; there are names and messages covering the wooden walls; there are plastic bibs, large bags of crayfish and all sorts of seafood, and there are plenty of napkins. There are not eating utensils (your hands work just fine).  It is messy and spicy and a bit disgusting, but definitely Fun! Food is delivered in large plastic bags, drenched in whatever sauce you choose (I recommend the Yabby Cajun), with a potato thrown in for good measure. If you don’t feel like a giant bag of seafood for dinner, you can get a delicious bowl of authentic gumbo for only $6. Seafood is market priced, so varies daily, but you can get a good, filling meal for under $25. And you won’t forget the experience.

3355 South Yarrow St.
Lakewood CO 80227
Online: yabbyhut

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

Restaurants in Denver

photo: Bad Daddy’s via yelp

Quantity of Food: ***
Quality of Food: ***
Quality of Service: ***
Price: $$

Okay, so Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar isn’t exactly “outside the box” — it is a chain after all, though more of a southern chain except for their locations in Colorado. I had never heard of it before my time in Denver, and my crew liked it well enough that it was one of our go-to restaurants. The most convenient location for us was in Littleton, CO, which happened to be in between our hotel (in Lakewood) and our jobsite (Chatfield Reservoir).

Bad Daddy’s has some of the biggest burgers I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it looks like you might need to unhinge your jaw before taking a bite. And they have toppings like buttermilk-fried bacon and sautéed wild mushrooms. The Green Chile Cheese Tots are to die for, and you’ve never tasted anything quite like the deliciously-fried Not Your Mama’s Deviled Eggs. Clearly this is no restaurant for calorie-counting: even the salads are almost all over 1000 calories, and you’ll spend your entire daily allotment (and then some) on the Bad Ass Burger. A good burger or entrée salad will run you $10-$15, including your choice of side with the burger. You will not need an appetizer, though you will want one (make it the Deviled Eggs, you can share). Wash it down with a 20-oz. draft of Bad Daddy’s Amber Ale for $3.50 and you’ll have to roll yourself out of the restaurant.  But it will be worth it!

8501 W. Bowles Ave., Ste. 2025
Littleton, CO 80123
Online: baddaddysburgerbar

Eeny Meeny Sushi Roll

denver restaurants

photo: Eeny Meeny via yelp

Quantity of Food: **
Quality of Food: ***
Quality of Service: ***
Price: $$$

This is a funky little sushi restaurant, mostly because of its location. It’s tucked into an odd-looking, windowless brick structure raised up on pillars,= with parking underneath. You enter through a glassed-in atrium with an open Koi pond inside, and a spiral staircase leads you up to the restaurant entrance above. Inside, there is a lovely traditional Japanese dining room, with floor mats instead of chairs, or you can sit in the American-style dining room, with actual chairs. This is not, technically, a budget restaurant.  I didn’t go to this restaurant with my co-workers — it is hard to eat sushi on a $35/day budget. But, if you want to eat cup-of-noodles in your room for a couple of nights, it is totally worth it. The sushi is fresh and delicious, and there are lots of interesting rolls to choose from.

The Bubba Gump is sweet and tangy, with spicy crawfish, tempura shrimp and eel sauce. The Eeny Meeny Roll features snow crab and crawfish and is wrapped in soy paper and deep fried. If you’re a football fan, you might try the Bronco roll: a mouthwatering and eye-catching combination of tempura shrimp, snow crab, and lightly seared tuna, with cream cheese, eel sauce, and sriracha.  Before you start filling up on rolls, though, you may want to get an appetizer. I recommend the Jalapeño Poppers – by far the best I’ve ever tasted!  

For non-sushi eaters (do these really exist?), there is a wider-than-usual variety of alternative Asian cuisine — curries, ramen, lomain, fried rice, katsu, tempura, and of course teriyaki. The wait staff is courteous and attentive, and the presentation is lovely. There are even air fresheners for your car! This restaurant is truly a hidden gem. Oh, and if you really, really love sushi, apparently there’s an All-You-Can-Eat option (!)—I didn’t actually see this in action, unfortunately.  2 rolls = my limit!

3650 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Lakewood, CO 80235
Online: eenymeenysushiroll

Do you have a favorite Denver Dining Spot? Share it with us in the comment section.

—Lisa Riley

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