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Best Boulder Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
You'll find plenty of dining options in Boulder. Boulderites know and appreciate good food of all sorts and in all price ranges. Inexpensive ethnic restaurants? Check. Brew pubs with award-winning beers and good, filling pub food? Check. Fine-dining establishments with nationally recognized chefs and astonishing wine lists that might be expected in a far larger city? Check. Boulder restaurants that proudly use the freshest local ingredients? Check. Restaurants that grow their own on their own farms? Check. Artisanal bakeries? Check. Boulder has it all—in abundance. Chain restaurants are concentrated at the Twenty-Ninth Street shopping area and a few arterials. Boulder, after all, is the city where a McDonald’s and a Dunkin’ Donuts closed and became locally owned cafés.

Frasca Food & Wine

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
Frasca is not just one of the best restaurants in Colorado, but it is one of the best restaurants in the nation. Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, alumni of The French Laundry, brought the highest Napa Valley culinary standards to the heart of Boulder. Frasca exudes simple perfection in décor, food and service. The small, exquisitely balanced, seasonally changing menu reflects the culinary influence of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy. If you enjoy sushi and ceviche, you’ll love the Pacific hiramasa crudo. The pillow-soft gnocchi or house-made pasta might be on the menu with mushrooms or with crisp pancetta. The grilled natural beef sirloin cap is a splendidly simple entrée. Reservations at this top Boulder restaurant are a must, especially on weekends, and a few first-come, first-served seats are also up for grabs at the salumi bar. A chef’s choice set menu on Monday evenings is a more affordable option. The Boulder spirit of entrepreneurship and mentoring is evident in Frasca’s expansion plans, which should be completed in November 2010. Two chefs who have worked at Frasca are respectively opening a café and pizzeria next to the “mother ship.”

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Frasca Food & Wine  

Flagstaff House

Neighborhood: Flagstaff Mountain
Price: Expensive
The Flagstaff House is Boulder’s long-running special-occasion restaurant. It is built on the site of an old cabin and is the only private or public structure above the blue line in the Boulder Mountain Parks. Owned by the Monette family since 1971, the Flagstaff House is widely renowned for its panoramic views, first-rate service, excellent international cuisine, 160-page wine list and high prices. The menu at this top Boulder restaurant changes seasonally and is tweaked each evening. Executive chef Mark Monette and his crew combine both expensive and simple ingredients into reliably elegant dishes. The filet mignon, three-lamb combination (rack, loin and braised shank) and any selection that includes scallops or Maine day-boat lobster make choosing especially challenging. Decadent desserts like the cheesecake and Vahlrohna chocolate tart are made with first rate ingredients, and if you want the chocolate soufflé, you’ll have to pre-order it. However many courses you order, you’ll always get two additional. The chef sends out a small amuse at the beginning of each dinner and a selection of chocolates, cookies and small pastries at the end. The new Tastes on the Terrace menu is a more affordable with hot and cold plates and cocktails. And the view? Priceless.  

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Alba Restaurant and Wine Bar

Neighborhood: Village Shopping Center
Price: Expensive

Other than abundant free parking, Alba’s location in a shopping center isn’t much to crow about, but the northern Italian fare is among Boulder’s best. You can go for small plates or epicurean pizzas or for a full-on feast at this Boulder restaurant. Risotto, gnocchi, lasagna and other items on the primi menu are offered in appetizer or entrée portions. Second are entrée-size only and feature with exceptional, Italian-accented seared Harris Ranch hanger steak, herb-roasted duck breast or wild-caught salmon. Chef Alexander Feldman immersed himself in the foods of Piedmont, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna and brought the refined, related cuisines to the casually elegant Alba, which offers frequent wine dinners, half-price bottles of wine on Monday evenings and a well-priced happy hour. 

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Alba Restaurant and Wine Bar  

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

The capital of Tajikistan, one of Boulder’s several sister cities, donated this elaborate ceremonial teahouse to Boulder. The city deliberated for years over the most suitable location, and downtown was finally selected. This exquisite example of classic central Asian teahouse is ornamented with brilliant polychrome tiles and carved wood. Restaurateurs Lenny and Sara Martinelli, who also own nearby Aji and Leaf, were selected to operate the teahouse. It serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and early dinner. Tajik lamb skewers, Persian sumac salmon and curry chicken wrap are oyster mushroom polenta, cappelini a la fresca but so are Indian masala dosa in this vegan-friendly restaurant. With such varied culinary traditions, moderate portions, a gurgling fountain, large windows that let in abundant natural light and lush indoor plants, it is an exotic restaurant—one that fans of dark, wood-paneled steakhouses may find a tad precious. 

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SALT

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

Owner Bradford Heap, a well-regarded Boulder chef, took over the space once occupied by a burger joint called Tom’s Tavern, gutted it, expanded it and turned it into a lively bar and modern American restaurant called SALT. Despite uneven service that took months to iron out, SALT became an instant downtown hit. The eclectic lunch and dinner menu includes individual brick-oven pizza and flatbread, an upscale version of the old Tom’s Tavern burger pan-roasted ono from Hawaii, halibut from Alaska, rotisserie Colorado lamb and Long Farm pork from down the road. Food and drinks are served at lunch and dinner in the bar area, the restaurant area, at a few choice seats looking into the kitchen, a downstairs dining room and a fine patio. 

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SALT  

Happy (Restaurant) & Bitter Bar

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

This tandem establishment is the hippest of owner David Query’s Big Red F Restaurant Group. The front of this restaurant is a casual Asian-inspired eatery, with a happening bar in the back. In the late afternoon, they serve an inexpensive combo of a pork Banh Mi sandwich and a beer. Happy’s short happy hour called “happy time” features small plates at small prices—nothing except the combo platter is over $4. The scene transitions from budget-conscious happy-hour patrons to families whose kids have sophisticated tastes to young Boulderites out on the town. The crispy chicken American-inspired cornbread and Asian-accented bean sprout salad alongside is a local favorite. The sophisticated Bitter Bar’s award-winning mixologists shake and muddle, stir and pour into the wee hours.

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Happy (Restaurant) & Bitter Bar  

Sherpa's

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

Pemba Sherpa, who grew up in the Everest region of Nepal, has been building bridges between his native Nepal and Colorado since immigrating to the U.S. He operates a travel agency called Sherpa Ascent International that organizes both mountaineering expeditions and spiritual journeys, and a restaurant called Sherpa’s Adventurers Restaurant & Bar. The Boulder restaurant rambles through the small rooms of an old Victorian home and spills over to one of Boulder’s most pleasant patios. Don’t miss the house-made steamed dumplings called momos, the soul-satisfying, Popeye-pleasing spiced creamed spinach called saag and the Sherpa stew, a rich mélange of potatoes, dumpling and veggies in a flavorful broth. In addition to the interrelated cuisines of Tibet, Nepal and India, Sherpa’s offers Americanized items for picky eaters of all ages.  

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The Sink

Neighborhood: On The Hill
Price: Budget
In 1949, a CU alum bought a Continental restaurant called The Sunken Gardens and morphed it into The Sink, an institution On The Hill that remains forever young. It has been through several owners and name changes, but the Sinkburger has endured since 1955. Regulars at this Boulder restaurant have their favorite low-ceilinged rooms, and patio seats are coveted too. Students go to socialize. Buffs fans go to celebrate or mourn. Nostalgic alums go to reminisce. Everyone goes for the vibrant walls with condoned graffiti, painted scenes and signatures, phrases and other writing. The burgers, pizza and other fare as well as the drinks are reasonably priced. The Sink has a commendable choice of microbrews on draft, and as befits a place within sight of Colorado’s most populous college camps, the wait staff and bartenders card conscientiously.

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The Sink  

Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

The Mountain Sun and its sister establishment, Southern Sun on South Broadway (plus Denver’s Vine Street Pub), brew more than a dozen beers, ales and stouts from girly-girly Blackberry Wheat to rich, manly-man Isadora Java Porter. The kitchen turns out commendable versions of such standard pub fare as nachos, burgers, sandwiches and wraps. Patrons either love or hate the service at this Boulder restaurant. With the “team system,” every employee does every job, from busing each others’ tables, running food, washing dishes, pulling beer at the bar or working the host stand. The result is that you might get good service, poor service or no service for a long time.

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The Dark Horse Bar & Grill

Neighborhood: South of Campus
Price: Budget

Tucked away next to a highway exit and behind a strip shopping center and a hotel, the Dark Horse still attracts hordes of loyalists. Décor runs to movie posters, props and memorabilia. There’s stuff on the windowless walls, more stuff hanging from the ceiling and two dozen or so TV screens. Add the frequent crowds, and it’s not a place for the claustrophobic—except for the pleasant patio where you’ll find light and air. The Dark Horse is a student hangout, a nostalgia mecca and a popular sports bar. They have some sort of event going on just about every evening. Well-priced burgers, sandwiches, entrees, salads and liquid refreshment dominate.

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