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The Great Debate: Denver vs. Boulder, late-night eating edition


Denver food stays great late.

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Note: This is the fourth in an occasional series of me debating the merits of Denver's and Boulder’s respective restaurant scenes with Boulder Food Examiner Stacey Rose. Today, or should I say tonight, we’re examining the best late-night food scene (defined by restaurants open past 10 p.m.).

New York City is a great restaurant city. So is San Francisco and Vegas. One of the best aspects of eating out in these gourmet locales is that ability to get the best food in town, at 10:30 p.m.

There’s just something so big city chic, or at least Greek, about sitting down for a superb meal so late into the evening. Thankfully, Denver is embracing this, with a bevy of the top dining options in town featuring kitchens that stay open until close midnight, meaning you won’t be the last table eating if your reservation is anywhere close to tomorrow.

Late-night fine dining should never be rushed a kitchen trying to sweep up at 10.

That’s why, when it comes to the debate of best late-night dining scene, Denver blows away Boulder. For once in these arguments, Boulder probably has more options with all the late-night campus pizza, burrito and delivery joints. But Denver has a scene that doesn’t involve inebriated barflies, and the classy joints Stacey refers to all close a little too early for my late-night style.

Sure, it’s not quite the Big Apple here in the Mile High City, but in compiling a top 10 list to match the Boulder Food Examiner's feeble attempt at victory in this challenge, it becomes apparent that we’re a whole lot closer to those big-time foodie cities than one would suspect. And a giant step ahead on the upscale late-night curve when compared to Boulder.

  1. Il Posto: Finally, an Italian restaurant in Denver that is spectacular. Chef Andrea Frizzi's menu changes frequently enough that it’s written in chalk, and you can relax away a warm summer evening on the patio eating until midnight on weekends. 2011 East 17th Ave., Denver, 303.394.0100.
  2. Sushi Den/Izaki Den: They're owned by the same folks so I condensed them into one listing. Sushi Den offers perhaps the best sushi in Colorado until midnight. Its sister sake house across the street is open until 11, offering a fun fusion of cooking techniques that turn into a great small plate menu–the Crispy Tuna tapas might be the best late-night snack in Denver. 1487 S. Pearl St., Denver, 303.777.826/1518 S. Pearl St., Denver, 303.777.0691
  3. Nine 75: The chefs/driving force behind this concept have changed over the years, but the menu has remained. A hip eatery on the southern outskirts of the skyline that features an impressive small-plate selection including some pretty epic chipotle lobster tacos. The kitchen stays open until 11 on weekends, but the bar doesn't shut for a few hours later so you can comfortably linger awhile. 975 Lincoln St., Denver, 303.975.0975
  4. Rioja/Bistro Vendome: Same owners/same listing again. Jennifer Jaskinksi and Beth Gruitch-Verucchi have created two stellar eateries in Larmier Square focusing on cuisines of cultures who love to eat well into the enveing: The French and everybody else who calls the Mediterranean home. Both seat tables until close to 11. 1433 Larimer St., Denver, 303.825.2282/1420 Larimer St., Denver, 303.825.3232
  5. Samba Room: Latin-fused flavors heavy on seafood, late-night, fun cocktails. It makes for such a great match. The kitchen stays open until 11, but the bar much later so you'll never be rushed. 1460 Larimer St., Denver, 720.956.1701
  6. Solera: Great seafood and an even better wine selection on American's Avenue: East Colfax. Enjoy the great patio until the kitchen closes at 11. 5410 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303.388.8429
  7. Sushi Sasa: The other sushi restaurant in the debate for best in the region anchors the burgeoning 15th and Platt neighborhood. With a kitchen open until 11:30, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy your toro tartare. 2401 15th St., Denver, 303.433.7272
  8. Zengo: Featuring a menu as colorful as the tiles on the wall, Zengo's lobster potstickers and chicken tandora (and the rest of the Mexican/Asian fusion menu for that matter) are served until midnight on the weekends. 1610 Little Raven St., Denver, 720.904.0965
  9. Del Frisco’s: In a town saturated with steakhouses, Del Frisco's managas to shine. And if you get tied up at happy hour late on a Friday, you can still get a great surf and turf in the Tech Center until 11. 8100 E. Orchard Road, Grenwood Village, 303.796.0100
  10. Encore: The hand-cut fries with hot mustard drizzled atop is worth a stop any time of day. It's a simple side that just screams crispy flavor, highlighting a tasty American seasonal menu in a chic Colfax location. Taking reservations until 10:45, you'll finish dinner just in time to enjoy Colfax at its finest. 2550 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303.355.1112
     

Of course, there’s also a bevy of even later night, cheap eats that satisfy around the clock for post bar stops. Falafel tastes amazaing at 3 a.m., something Jerusalem Restaurant near DU has taught us. The Original (seriously, the actual original) Chubby’s on 38th Avenue in northwest Denver serves up tacos, burritos and a mean green chile at most hours of the day, and Two Fisted Mario's serves pizza that tastes amazing after seven drinks well into the night, capturing the racuous late-night LoDo crowd.

But it's the ability to wear a sports coat or cocktail dress to an upscale dinner late in the evening that sets Denver apart from the college town up the Boulder Turnpike. It's that added level of sophistication that rules the late-night scene. It's simply the better food after 10 that wins out every time.

Not to mention it's way easier getting a cab in Denver.

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