Call it a reversal of the food truck trend of the past several years. Instead of restaurant-style food hitting the streets via food trucks, now street food is finding its way to the brick and mortars. Denver diners have long known that the perfect taco isn’t so simple and that the perfect dog takes more than just a stale bun and slosh of mustard. Chefs have taken note and are taking a chance on opening full-scale restaurants devoted to food formerly served up out of carts and stalls. Here are some spots around town that are capturing the soul of street food off the streets.
Perhaps the quintessential street food, tacos are ripe for experimentation, and Pinche Taqueria was at the forefront of the fancy taco trend. Modernizing the Mexican street food staple means concocting bold flavor combinations, like sweet and sour braised pork belly laced with candied garlic, or agave-dipped fried chicken topped with chimichurri. And why not update the margarita while they’re at it? The spicy-tangy serrano marg is muy caliente. 1514 York St. & 3300 W. 32nd Ave., TacosTequilaWhiskey.com
Tacos have always dotted Denver’s landscape, but nothing quite like the adventurous combinations seen at Los Chingones. Self-described as being ‘sassy, spicy and sometimes irreverent,’ taco fillings go beyond your basic ground beef. (Although the beef cheek with sweet corn is an elevated version.) Think outside the bun with protein options like lamb neck, octopus and shrimp. Just not all in the same tortilla. 2461 Larimer St., LosChingonesMexican.com
If there was a mascot for 16th Street Mall, Jim Pittenger (aka Biker Jim) would be it. More than a decade ago Jim started slinging gourmet hot dogs – think rattlesnake and pheasant with Malaysian curry jam and elk jalapeno cheddar with cream cheese – out of a tricked-out cart on a bustling downtown street corner. His dogs were so popular, and so much better than the rest, that he expanded to a brick and mortar restaurant in the Ballpark neighborhood. 2148 Larimer St., BikerJimsDogs.com
The Über Sausage doesn’t just sell one of the city’s best sausages, they make it themselves. While most shops source their meat from outside vendors, über creates their own artisan sausages from naturally raised meats, including buffalo, lamb and even crawfish. For the ultimate indulgent meal, don’t miss the spiced tater tots and local beers. 2730 E. Colfax Ave., TheUberSausage.com
With riffs on Thai noodles, Burmese curry and Chinese dumplings, Cho77 takes diners on a culinary tour of Asian street food. Chef Lon Symensma (of fine dining Asian favorite ChoLon) fell in love with the casual, but not necessarily simple, dishes eaten on the streets of Bangkok and Hanoi during his travels. He re-creates the highlights at Cho77, with a menu full of shareable plates and spicy, palate-pleasing drinks. 42 S. Broadway, Cho77.com
Zoe Ma Ma isn’t just a clever play on words; there’s an actual mama – Anne Zoe – making sure the comforting Chinese dishes coming out of the Union Station eatery are up to her standards. Edwin Zoe opened the first Zoe Ma Ma (just off Boulder’s Pearl Street) six years ago, and he filled the menu with street favorites like steamed buns, pot stickers and loads of noodles. Insider tip: They’re not on the posted menu, but if you ask nicely and the kitchen isn’t slammed, you may be able to score Ma Ma’s delicious scallion pancakes. Just keep it on the down low. 1625 Wynkoop St., ZoeMaMa.com