Top Nibbles

A veteran critic names his favorite Boulder food and dining attractions.

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Black Belly

If you just moved here, we understand why. According to U.S. News & World Report, Boulder is the “No. 1 Best Place to Live in U.S.” for the second year in a row in 2021. What the endless lifestyle awards the city wins never quite capture is that Boulder is also one of the best places to eat and food shop in the country, as well as in Colorado.

I’ve been writing about food in Boulder County since the late 1970s. The question I most often hear — besides, “How do I make a flaky piecrust?” — is, “What are the best places to eat in Boulder?” 

My answer is always: “It depends.” It depends on what you like to eat, how much you like to spend and who you like to dine with. 

Here are a few of my favorite, non-chain Boulder eating destinations, the places I often suggest to visitors. These are strictly personal and by no means all the food attractions of the city, but it’s a good list to get you tasting. 

Fine Dining: Boulder boasts some extraordinary upscale eateries with great food and service. To taste Boulder’s best chef-driven fine dining, make a reservation at Frasca Food and Wine, Flagstaff House, Black Cat Bistro, Blackbelly, Basta, OAK at Fourteenth, Corrida, SALT, River & Woods, Café Aion, or Mateo.

International Oases: Perceived elsewhere as a bastion of blandness, Boulder is actually home to some diverse tastes. Grab a bite of soul and Puerto Rican fare at Rae and Kay’s Melting Pot, modern Israeli dishes at Ash’Kara, empanadas at Rincon Argentina, French bistro favorites at Le French Café, Turkish and Nepali eats at The Boco Restaurant, Greek at Kalita Café and Lebanese delights at Ali Baba Grill.

Chimera.

Asia’s Best: Boulder’s wealth of pan-Asian eateries features Sherpa’s Restaurant (Nepali and Indian), Curry ‘N’ Kebob (Indian), Chez Thuy (Vietnamese) and Aloy Thai (Thai). Japanese and sushi spots include Amu, Tasuki, AOI, and Osaka’s, along with Formosa Bakery (Chinese) and Edward Zoe’s trio of eateries: Chimera Ramen, Pho Mi and Zoe Ma Ma. 

Mexico and Beyond: Yes, there’s a bevy of good Boulder burrito opportunities. To taste a wider range of Mexican and Central American fare, visit Tierra y Fuego, Mojo Taqueria, Centro Mexican Kitchen, La Choza, and try the chef-driven New Mexican cuisine at Hosea Rosenberg’s Santo.

The Dawn of Brunch: In the 1970s we believed that Boulder was the place where brunch originated. We may have been incorrect, but the city is still a great place for weekend or week day late-morning meals at Snooze, Tangerine, Parkway Cafe, Lucile’s Creole Café and the Walnut Cafe.

History and Culture: To dine amid the city’s historic and cultural structures, grab a bite in the Boulderado Hotel, the gorgeous Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Roadhouse Boulder Depot (formerly Boulder’s train station), and enjoy brunch on the porch of the Chautauqua Dining Hall.

Zeal.

Naturally Plant-Based: In part, the natural foods industry was born in the Boulder area. Besides the many natural foods markets and shops, diners looking for topnotch vegan, vegetarian and diet-specific cuisine can visit Leaf, Thrive, The Bumbling Bee, Zeal, Organic Sandwich Co., and Fresh Thymes Eatery.

Art of the Loaf: Boulder may be the place doughnut shops come to die, but we love real bread and have first-class bakeries in town. For artisan loaves, choose from Moxie Bread Co. (on North Broadway), Kelly Whitaker’s Dry Storage, and Breadworks. While the city has other good bagel places, the best bagels in Boulder can be found at the new Rosenberg’s Bagels on the Hill. 

Sweets for the Flaky: As a pie expert and bakery aficionado, I’m happy to report that the city is full of pastries. For places baking a wide range of goodies, look no further than Shamane’s Bakery, Spruce Confections and Lucky’s Bake Shop. For gluten-free and diet-specific sweets, don’t miss Kim and Jake’s Cakes. Find Mexican goodies at Panaderia Sabor a Mexico and buttery European classics at Le French Cafe. Try the New Zealand-style pies at Tip Top Savory Pies (in Gunbarrel).

Class Acts: If you want to learn to cook, numerous Boulder classes are available. Home cooks — adults and kids — can learn about the world’s cuisines at the Food Lab. Professional chef training is provided by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, The School of Natural Cookery, and the Vegan Fusion Culinary Academy.

Out on the Farm: The Boulder Farmers Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays has a national reputation as being among the best in the country. Besides the market, many local farmers maintain farm stands in season around Boulder. Look for fresh crops and local foods at Munson Farms, Cure Organic Farm, Black Cat Farm, Growing Gardens, Sunbeam Farm, Naughty Goat Farm Stand, and other farm stands. 

They Have the Meats: I’ve listened to unschooled diners dismiss Boulder for 40 years as the “Tofu Town,” “Granolaville” and the “People’s Republic of Wheatgrass.” Local carnivores just chuckle and get out their steak knives at Blackbelly, Boulder Cork, Corrida and Steakhouse No. 316. 

They Best of the Rest: Pizzeria Locale and Barchetta (Neapolitan-style pizza), Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage (American pizza), Jax Fish House (seafood), The Post Chicken & Beer (fried chicken), Glacier Ice Cream (ice cream), Trident Cafe (coffee culture), Ozo Coffee (coffee), Local Table Tours (culinary adventure), Flatirons Food Film Festival (culinary cinema), Cure (charcuterie and cheese), the Peppercorn (gourmet goods and cookbooks), Avanti and Rosetta Hall (food halls), and Piece, Love & Chocolate, Fortuna Chocolate, Moksha Chocolate (chocolate), Bookcliff Vineyards (winery), and Redstone Meadery (mead).    

John Lehndorff is Boulder Weekly’s food editor. He writes the Nibbles column. He is the former food editor of the Daily Camera and dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU (KGNU.org). Comments and questions: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com

Walnut Cafe.