Great tastes of 2021

A food critic’s guide to his favorite Boulder soups, salads, sandwiches and treats of the year

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Pho Mi
John Lehndorff

When people find out I’ve been writing about food in Boulder since the 1980s they almost invariably ask, “What’s the best restaurant in Boulder?”

The answer is complicated. I can tell you the 10 or so Boulder eateries generally considered the top fine destinations in town. However, those are not places I have dined at often or recently.

The better question is, “What’s the best thing you’ve tasted lately?” 

The following guide details the top dishes I’ve tasted and enjoyed in the past year. Most are meals I’ve written about in Nibbles and on the Taste of the Week page. Others are eateries I’ve visited in the course of my job and travels. These are all dishes I recommend and would be happy to taste again.

Smoked Brisket Pho, Pho Mi, Boulder: The Vietnamese side of Edwin Zoe’s Chimera Ramen does pho right with rich bone broth and rice noodles graced with thinly sliced smoked fatty brisket and small juicy meatballs. On top are Asian basil, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, scallion, and jalapeño slices with a squeeze of lime. 

Spicy Pig Patty-style Pizza, Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage, Boulder: This tucked-away pizzeria elevates crust enjoyment by coating it Patty-style with sesame seeds. The pan-baked square Spicy Pig pie is crowned with high-quality pepperoni, sausage, roasted jalapeños, fresh garlic, crushed tomato sauce, and mozzarella. 

Momo, Chiri’s Momo Delights, Boulder: On the bricks of the Downtown mall, Sanjay Nazir and Chiri Maharjan are dishing first class chicken, vegetable, or beef momo. The steamed dumplings are stuffed with minced meat, herbs, masala spice, onions and green onions, and served with a mild orange chutney.  

Bourbon Chicken at Ruby Ru’s; photo John Lehndorff

Bourbon Chicken, Ruby Ru’s Street Eatery, Lafayette: Chicken thighs are marinated in a tangy-sweet, fruity, spicy teriyaki sauce and then flame-grilled until they char a little creating cravable chicken candy. Bourbon chicken is dished hot and saucy over steamed rice. The top side dish: shell mac-n-cheese. 

Pumpkin Curry, Bee’s Thai Kitchen, Lafayette: The pumpkin curry served by Bee Rungtawan Kisich from her food truck is blissfully creamy with coconut milk, chicken, kabocha squash, carrots, and bell peppers with Thai basil, shrimp paste, and chilies. 

Chile Rellenos, Parkway Cafe, Boulder: Comfort here consists of two roasted Anaheim peppers stuffed with white cheese, batter-fried and dished “Christmas-style” with green chile and red chile sauces plus sides of beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, and sour cream. 

Margherita Pizza, La Licha, Lyons: This Lyons food truck parked at the U Pump It station dishes exceptional Italian fare including exceptional Neapolitan pizza including the classic Margherita: A chewy, nicely charred crust is coated with a barely-there tomato sauce with a perfect layering of fresh mozzarella and basil. 

Breakfast Burrito, Blue Corn Tacos, Longmont:  A creamy combo of cracked eggs griddle-cooked to order, cheese, steak, potato, onions, and jalapeños is tucked inside a fresh warm flour with green salsa on the side. 

Caprese Panini, Community Table Kitchen, Boulder: At the eatery in the Della Cava Medical Pavilion at Boulder’s Foothills Medical Campus, flatbreads spread with basil pesto are filled with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomato slices, then pressed and grilled until gooey good.

Milanesa de Res, La Choza, Boulder: This top torta is agriddled soft roll piled with juicy breaded beef, lettuce, tomato, avocado, mayo, and pickled jalapeños. 

Ska Street Dagwood, Ska Street Brewstillery: A toasted baguette is stuffed with smoked duck, brisket, and pastrami, grilled kale, cheddar, and mustard. 

Sandwich of the day, Al’s Artisanal Meats and Cheeses, Lafayette: Finocchiona salami, cotto salami, ham, and sopressata with Dijon pesto and aged cheddar tucked inside a crusty baguette.

Other Boulder favorites include the falafel sandwich with hummus and feta, Mediterranean Market and Deli, Boulder; Tuscan bean soup with sofrito, olive oil and rosemary, Salt Bistro, Boulder; Snarf’s eggplant Parmesan sub; house-made sausages and pretzels with Les Trois Peardonnay ale, Outworld Brewing, Longmont; chicken with mole sauce, Tierra y Fuego, Boulder; and blueberry sausage Saddlebags pancakes, Buff Restaurant, Boulder.   

Cinnamon rolls at New Moon Bakery; photo John Lehndorff

Local bakery treats

Any Front Range bakery tasting tour should include the cream-filled soft buns and red bean croissants at The Enchanted Oven, Broomfield; Flaky dark chocolate pistachio “escargot” at Babette’s Artisan Bread, Longmont; poppy seed hamantashen and apricot rugelach, Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen, Boulder; seeded dark rye loaf, Moxie Bread Co., Louisville, Boulder and Lyons; cinnamon rolls and monkey bread, New Moon Bakery, Nederland; country sourdough loaf, Whistling Boar, Longmont; lemon Shaker pie and scratch-made cinnamon rolls, Walnut Cafe, Boulder; peach pie with peach ice cream, Tip Top Pies, Lafayette and Boulder; cardamom and raisin boller buns, Ana’s Norwegian Bakeri, Centennial; and whipped-cream filled Paris-Brest pastry, La Belle French Bakery, Thornton.

Top roadfood attractions

Ajarski, House of Bread, Denver: Armenian yeasted dough baked with mozzarella, feta, eggs, and dried beef. 

The Old Amsterdam, Dubbel Dutch, Denver:  Butter-spreadbaguette with hard-boiled egg, aged gouda, tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce. 

BBQ Pork Banh Mi, Vinh Xuong Bakery, Denver: House-baked bun, buttered and stuffed with grilled seasoned pork, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeño.

Chicken Matzo Ball Soup, Zaidy’s Deli, Denver: This is the real thing: Clear chicken broth adrift with noodles, celery, onion, carrot, chicken, and a giant tender matzo ball. 

Pan-fried chicken, Castle Cafe, Castle Rock:  Bone-in chicken pieces are fried in cast-iron pans yielding juicy meat and a peppery, crackly skin served with real mashed potatoes and gravy. 

Words to chew on

“A house without a cat is like a day without sunshine, a pie without fromage, a dinner without wine.”—Julia Child

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming on kgnu.org). 

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