thirsty lion pork belly tacos

Thirsty Lion’s Summer Menu: Pork Belly Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Salad, and More

I’ve really liked Thirsty Lion ever since they opened at Union Station (they now also have a Cherry Creek location). It’s a fun, hip bar that’s always happening, has a great patio facing all the bustle of Union Station, offers awesome happy hour deals and an extensive menu — and is in my opinion the best “gastropub” we have in downtown Denver. I recently got a chance to try their summer menu with a friend of mine, and I cannot recommend it enough. Read on for some of the highlights — all available at Union Station or in Cherry Creek.

Before I get into the food, I do want to mention this amazing summer cocktail: The Raspberry Mint Mule-jito (fresh raspberries muddled with mint, lemon, lime, Bacardi rum, Malibu rum, simply syrup, and ginger beer). I love raspberries, so maybe I’m biased, but I always crave a refreshing raspberry cocktail in the summer. Panzano used to have a fantastic one (the R&R), but that’s long gone. This is definitely the perfect replacement to fill the hole in my drinking heart.

thirsty lion summer cocktail

As much of a meat-lover as I am, my 1st love in life is tomatoes. Anything that says “heirloom tomatoes” will get me through the door. So yes, yes, and yes. No summer menu is complete without some generous slices of heirloom tomato. Add some fresh mozarella and basil — and my life is complete.

thirsty lion heirloom tomato salad

If you know me, you know I love me some tacos. Especially pork belly tacos. These have a fantastic Asian twist with the hoisin glaze, daikon, carrot, jalapeno, gochujang sauce (red chili paste), and pickled radish. There are a lot of people doing pork belly tacos all over town, but it’s hard to get the right combination: you definitely need some spice, vinegar, and crunch to balance out the sweet fattiness of pork belly — and these do a great job, if I may say so myself.

thirsty lion pork belly tacos

If you’d told me there was a “summer” pasta dish before this day, I’d be very skeptical. In fact, I was very skeptical when I ordered this Seared Shrimp & Heirloom Tomato Linguini (with garlic, asparagus, olives, red peppers, grape and heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, spinach, feta, and a parmesan crisp). But in fact, this is the perfect summer pasta dish. No heavy creams or butters or super-meaty sauces here (which are delicious, but not quite suitable for summer). Just some juicy shrimp and a variety of veggie flavors and textures — all piled on top of a simple pasta. A great go-to summer Italian dish!

thirsty lion summer pasta and shrimp

I of course couldn’t leave without managing to make room for dessert in my already-full stomach. It’s a skill I work very hard for. (Some people go to cycling class… I eat and drink.) Introducing the Strawberry Rhubarb & White Chocolate Cheesecake. It’s not quite D Bar dessert quality (then again, what is?) — but still a very satisfying end to the meal and perfect for summer 🙂

thirsty lion summer cheesecake

And if you’re curious about the full summer menu (and happy hour menu, of course) — here they are! Some of my happy hour recommendations include the caesar salad, bacon-wrapped BBQ prawns, and spicy fried chicken sliders.

 

Citizen Rail Opens in LoDo with a Fantastic Happy Hour and Dry-Aged Steaks

The recently-opened Citizen Rail on 16th & Wewatta in LoDo has brought an awesome new happy hour to the area — and it definitely stands out among all the other downtown options with the quality of the food and drink options.

Happy hour runs daily 2:30pm – 6pm, but get there early, because it gets packed!

During happy hour, you can get select specialty cocktails for $7, beer for $4, wine for $5, or a “combo” such as a glass of rose + mezcal (or a glass of stout + bourbon) for $7. What I like is that the happy hour wine options aren’t your typical Chardonnay and Merlot, but a Spanish Albrarino and Garnacha.

A must-order during happy hour is the Crispy Artichokes & Dungeness Crab (photo at the top of this post). Not only does it look like a work of art, but it’s also delicious. They get those artichokes perfectly crispy, which goes so well with the tender crab. And it’s only $9 during happy hour, vs. $16 during dinner.

Another amazing happy hour option is the Hickory-Braised Oxtail & Rice Grits (below) — $6 during happy hour instead of $13. Oxtail is generally my favorite cut of meat, because of how tender and juicy you can get it if you cook it right — and this is cooked right.

A little less unique, but no less delicious, are the Mesquite Fired Mussels ($8 during happy hour, or $14 during dinner).

What Citizen Rail is actually known for is it’s dry-aged steaks — which are butchered in house and displayed in a glass room for everyone to see. And what a beautiful sight it is. I love what lengths they go to for sourcing their meat, too:

“When it comes to sourcing proteins, Chef Graves is meticulous. He searches out wild venison from Texas, tender Sonoma ducks, cattle raised on spring water and pristine Wyoming pasture. Adjacent to the grill, you’ll find sides of pasture-raised beef and house-butchered Colorado lamb slowly maturing in Citizen Rail’s dry-aging room alongside hand-cut venison and pork steaks, rabbit and fowl.”

One of the in-house dry aged options is the 36oz Tomahawk steak (for two). If you like your steaks with that salty bit of crust and a good amount of marbling, this is for you.

Or you can go the 18oz bone-in rib eye route, which I think was my preference. For sides, I highly recommend the duck fat roasted potatoes (let’s be real, you can’t go wrong roasting anything in duck fat).

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what dessert we ordered, but it had chocolate and ice cream — and it was delicious. I have no idea how we managed to eat it after everything else, but we did. From appetizer to dessert, I really can’t point out any down sides with the meal.

If anything, I would say the chicken entree isn’t for everyone: I tried my friend’s, and it had a little too much of a smoky flavor and not enough crispiness on the outside for me. But if you come to a steakhouse to get chicken, you’re probably doing it wrong.

The New Marcella’s Restaurant in LoHi May Just Be Your New Favorite Italian Restaurant

The other day, I got a chance to check out Marcella’s Ristorante, Pizzeria and Wine Bar that just opened on Central Street in LoHi (right down the road from Prost Brewery, with a beautiful patio facing downtown). And I have to say, this just might be my new go-to for Italian food — so if you’re a fan of Italian, you’ve got to check it out. It’s the perfect balance between some of the fancier, dimly-lit Italian restaurants around town — and the slightly-kitchy family style Italian chains. Marcella’s has a fun, lively, vibrant atmosphere that’s the perfect mix of traditional Italian with modern, trendy Colorado — making it ideal for a happy hour with coworkers, a casual date, or dinner with the family. And the food is just soooooo good!

Some timing details: The restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 4-10pm; Friday from 4pm to midnight; Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10am-3pm; Saturday for dinner from 4pm to midnight; and Sunday for dinner 4-10pm. Happy hour is Monday-Friday 4-6pm and includes 50% off many of the drink and food options from the regular menu! That’s an amazing deal if you’re a happy hour fiend like me!

I decided to try one of the specialty cocktails, the Grapefruit Basil Fizz (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Italian basil, hand squeezed lemon)  — and was very impressed. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other cocktail options and seeing how they evolve their cocktail menu.

Now for the aforementioned delicious food! The #1 must-try is the Braised Veal Meatball with a simple tomato sauce. It’s bigger than the size of my fist — and it’s so incredibly flavorful that I’m salivating just thinking about it again. It’s not like any other meatball I’ve ever had: it’s not densely packed together like most meatballs I’ve tried, but literally falls apart as you touch it and melts in your mouth. I know I’m getting this again during happy hour when I come back! (The 1st photo below is mine, but the 2nd was borrowed from Marcella’s, since I think the day lighting does it much more justice.)

Next on my list of favorites are the parmesan crusted onions from Marcella’s brick oven. It’s not something I would have thought to order if they hadn’t suggested it — but I’m so glad I did. I loved this with the meatball, but they’d make a great sharing plate on their own, or a side for something else. That sharp parmesan flavor is just perfect with the slightly sweet caramelized onions.

Another highly-recommended appetizer is the melted Pecorino cheese imported from a Tuscan farm in Italy — with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. I mean, how can you go wrong with melted cheese?!

Alright, now for some main dishes. We decided to go with the chef/house recommendations for the table, and we weren’t disappointed. They were all traditional Italian dishes that were just perfectly executed and full of flavor — and exactly what you’d want from an Italian restaurant. This is the Chicken Parmesan, a classic:

My personal favorite was probably the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with crispy pancetta and a whole egg yolk (I took the photo after I broke the yolk and swirled it around — woops). It’s just so creamy, and the salty pancetta is the perfect addition, especially for a carnivore like me!

My husband would probably say his favorite was the Gnocchi con Bolognese. It’s not what you typically imagine “bolognese” to be — since it’s made with big chunks of braised lamb. So if you’re a lamb fan like my husband, this dish is perfect for you!

You’d think we’d be way too full to eat anything by now — but thankfully we didn’t finish our entrees and took them to go, so we could leave room for dessert. And the desserts here are awesome. This is the chocolate almond cake, and I’d eat it again anytime. It’s not overpoweringly almond-flavored, but just enough to give it that unique flavor.

And we all agreed the Cannolis here were the best we’ve had outside of Italy. You may think you’ve tried a cannoli elsewhere in Denver, but these will redefine what you think of as cannolis.

 

The Best Fried Chicken & Southern Food in Denver at LOW Country Kitchen

LOW Country Kitchen opened earlier this year in the LoHi neighborhood (in the former Vita space) — and it brought some much-needed Southern food to the neighborhood. Owners Katy and Brian Vaughn are from the South, and their first LOW location was a hit in Steamboat, so I was pretty excited for them to open another one right here in Denver.

LOW describes its food and beverage menu as a combination of “time-honored Southern cuisine using only the highest quality of ingredients” — resulting in “genuine hospitality, serious drinks, and the best fried chicken you have ever sunk your teeth into.” Now that I’ve finally made my way here and stuffed my face, I have to agree. Not only is the food amazing, but the staff really tries to make you feel welcome.

(Full disclosure: the photo of the fried chicken above is from the LOW website, since my photo of the fried chicken isn’t as awesome, as you can see below.)

Pro tip: there is free valet for Mizu, Lola, and LOW right on the corner of Boulder and 16th Streets — which is a life-saver in this busy neighborhood.


THE HAPPY HOUR

LoHi is a hot neighborhood for a good happy hour, and LOW is no exception — especially if you like a good cocktail. For a refreshing option, I highly recommend the $5 Bumblebee (pictured on the left below). Although the $7 LOW Old Fashioned (pictured right) was a delicious classic. They also have a $6 Deep South Limeade, an $8 Classic Sazerac, $3-4 beers, and $5 wines. And food too: $2–7 Southern snacks such as deviled eggs and dry rub wings.


MUST-TRY FOOD

Now I’m normally not a huge dessert person, but you HAVE to leave room for dessert here. This is the most amazing pecan pie I’ve ever had. I still dream about it sometimes. It really is the perfect ending to a Southern meal.

 

Rebel Restaurant: A Great Happy Hour and Creative Dishes in RiNo

I’d been wanting to try Rebel Restaurant since it first opened (on the corner of Wynkoop and 38th, right off Brighton). Zagat included it on its “Denver’s 10 Hottest New Restaurants,” and it was on Eater’s “The Hottest Restaurants in Denver Right Now.” The concept is fun and creative (although maybe not for everyone). I say just put your adventurous hat on and try it!

When you first drive up, you can definitely tell that Rebel occupies a former dive bar spot — but looks are deceiving. The inside is cozy and fun — with creative decor and large community-style tables.

Rebel Restaurant outside

I’ve read that it’s a Ukrainian-influenced restaurant, and having talked to one of the owners, I know they’re both from a the East Coast and of Ukrainian background — but as someone who was born and raised in Ukraine myself — I’d say the influence is very mild.

Rebel Restaurant inside


The Food

The food here is pretty awesome, and very much on creative side. I came here with a big group of people, so we got to try most things on the menu (sadly, there was no “pig part of the day” that day). The menu changes pretty often (about every month) — so don’t get too attached to trying anything I mention below. Trust me, there will always be delicious things on the menu.

During Happy Hour, beer/cocktails are discounted (unfortunately the wine is not), and all apps are $2 off. It’s the last part that makes eating here an AMAZING deal. Especially if you’re with a bigger group and can try a bunch of things. We came here with 8 people, and it was the perfect amount (we were completely full after spending only about $20 each on food). I couldn’t find the HH hours on the site, but if memory serves me right, it’s 5pm-6:30pm.

Even the popcorn here is weird. The “shrimp cocktail” — popcorn, powdered cocktail sauce, and dried shrimp — was pretty awesome in my opinion, but it’s definitely got a very fishy/shrimpy flavor, which wasn’t everyone’s favorite.

Rebel Restaurant shrimp cocktail popcorn

Boudin Balls are one of my favorite things in life. Big balls with braised pork belly, rice, cajun spices — what could be better?

Rebel Restaurant boudin balls

The “pierogi of the day” happened to be sweet potato & sage that day. Not something I’d ever expect to find in a dumpling, but it was a surprisingly good combination.

Rebel Restaurant pierogi

This is the foie gras parfait with pear puree. Because it’s a parfait, even the people at the table who don’t normally like foie gras liked this. However, I personally love foie gras, so I could have stood for something a little more adventurous. (Gotta love that pork skin though!)

Rebel Restaurant foie gras parfait

The Squid Noodles with kimchi peanut puree, grilled scallion, seaweed, and yuba — really good if you enjoy Korean/Japanese flavors.

Rebel Restaurant squid noodles

This is from the entree section: the Pork Pot Pie with durok pork, mushrooms, leeks, carrots, and parsnips. It’s basically a deconstructed pot pie, and it’s incredibly tender and juicy and delicious. I want to see more comfort food like this made into modern dishes.

Rebel Restaurant pork pot pie

Another entree: the Roasted Pork Belly with buffalo oysters, eggs, and farm greens. Who doesn’t love huge pieces of pork belly? (Get out if you don’t.) Also, if you’ve ever wanted to try “rocky mountain oysters” (bull balls), these are probably the best place to do it. Sure, they’re buffalo, but they’re probably the best treatment of balls I’ve tried. I’m going to stop talking about balls now.

Rebel Restaurant roasted pork belly

And this was probably my favorite entree: smoked rabbit and matza meatloaf with tart cherry ketchup, confit rabbit gravy, navy beans, and greens.

Rebel Restaurant rabbit meatloaf

Overall, this was a great place I’d definitely go back to during HH. I’m a little bitter about wine not being on the HH menu, though — as well as not getting to try the pig part of the day.

 

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox: Downtown Denver’s Brothel-Turned-Restaurant

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox garnered a lot of conversation when it first opened in Denver. It’s the 3rd addition to our city from Justin Cucci, chef-owner of two other popular restaurants: Linger and Root Down. The location’s history also certainly adds to the allure: a brothel that opened in 1889, then turned into an adult bookstore, then turned into a restaurant. And reminders of its history remain in the risqué, retro decor of Ophelia’s.

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

It’s really impossible to convey online how cool the space itself is. You have to see it for yourself. From the downstairs stage with old cassette players on the wall, to the bar built entirely of mini Jägermeister bottles, to the decadent lounge chairs, to the retro adult movie posters, to the edison lightbulbs — everything has been carefully thought-out. (They also have a HUGE projector TV for NFL games — and apparently for Monday Night Football, they serve a 3-course $30 menu themed around the teams playing. How cool is that?!)

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox inside


Happy Hour: M-F 4-6pm

Happy hour includes $4 Colorado drafts, $6 wines, $5 cocktails, and $5/$7 food plates (and they’re not small). When they opened, personal favorite HH cocktail was the Diamond Lil’s: Cocchi Americano (an aperitif wine), prosecco, lemon, and orange bitters. I’m not sure if they make that anymore (you can ask), but there’s another awesome option on the HH menu now called a PG13 (Vodka, Dill, Cucumber, Lime, Ginger, Soda).

Ophelia's drinks


The Food

The bourbon BBQ oysters ($2/each on happy hour) were one of my favorite things here, but I don’t think they do these anymore 🙁

Ophelia's oysters

The Gigante Bean Hummus (no longer on HH, but $13 on the regular menu) is pretty awesome. It has roasted carrots, watermelon radish, dates, roasted beets, cucumbers, shishito peppers, and flatbread — which makes it the best hummus plate I’ve ever had. The Spring Cheese Incident and Green Chili Cornbread (which is on the HH menu) are also great options.

Ophelia's hummus

If you’re looking for something a bit more filling, there is a $5 mushroom or pepperoni flatbread on the menu (this is the pepperoni, with Biellese Pepperoni, mozzarella, and basil).

Ophelia's flatbread

The duck wings used to be on the HH menu, and the sauce was a little overwhelming, so I’m looking forward to trying the new jerk chicken wings on their menu.

Ophelia's duck wings

There are also duck meatballs available for $13, and I think those are much better than the duck wings actually (although the portion isn’t huge).

Ophelia's duck meatballs

These are the Dry Rub Ribs (Berkshire English cut pork ribs, Carolina Gold mustard, and apple slaw). I wouldn’t really call them “dry rub” — but if you’re a fan of Carolina style BBQ (a thinner, vinegar-based sauce), you’ll love these.

Ophelia's ribs

Leña: A Great Happy Hour and Upscale Latin Food on South Broadway

Leña is a “Latin American inspired upscale, casual restaurant with a fun, vibrant atmosphere, focused on sharing and communal dining” — and it’s a must-try. Admittedly, it can be a little expensive outside of happy hour, but it also lives up to its description of “upscale” (you don’t come here looking for cheap Mexican street tacos). I would highly recommend getting here during happy hour, and sticking around for dinner. The cocktails are fantastic and the food is creative and bursting with flavor (definitely try some grilled dishes from their signature wood-fired white oak grill).


The Happy Hour

Happy Hour runs Sun-Thu 5pm-6pm and Fri/Sat 4pm-6pm. Margaritas, sangria, and wine are $5 — and well drinks and drafts are $4. You can also get small bites for $3-$7, and you should definitely do so. I highly recommend the goat tacos (if they have them on special), as well as the chicken empanadas (they also have vegetarian ones if that’s your thing). The empanadas (below) are only $3 and definitely some of my favorites around town.

Leña empanadas

The goat tacos ($3.50) are a must-try. It’s not quite a pile of goat meat like you can get at Work & Class, but it’s still delicious.


Dinner Menu

The “Pulpo a la Brasa de Roble” is a beautiful, tender octopus with potatoes and corn. It was definitely one of my favorite things here (although a little pricy at $18).

Leña octopus

The “Camarones y Semola” is Leña’s take on shrimp and grits. I think it could use a little more spice, but it’s certainly tender and buttery. (I believe this has now been replaces with “Camarones y Chorizo” on the new menu.)

Leña shrimp

BEST VALUE: By far, the best decision we made was to get the “Mixto” — which is essentially a mixed meat platter (sorry vegetarians!). The “small” is $36 and should be good for 3-4 people (the large is $72). You might want to get some extra side veggies. Or not. I won’t judge. My favorite thing on the platter was actually the blood sausage — or Morcilla (which was spicy and F’in amazing). You can even order that on it’s own for $14. I don’t think I’d order the chorizo here on its own, but the short rib and steak were bomb.

Leña meat

AWESOMENESS OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Side of “Pan de Yuca” for $4. I don’t know what it is, but I could eat these fluffy puffs all night (and maybe I did).

Leña bread

Humboldt: A Fantastic Sunday HH on a Patio in Uptown

Humboldt Farm, Fish & Wine is one of my top 2 or 3 favorite places to go on a Sunday for happy hour. They have a perfect patio for lounging about — and also $1 oysters ALL SUNDAY. Happy hour starts at 3pm — so if you get here early, just gorge yourself on some oysters first, and then order more food off the HH menu once 3 rolls around. I’m sure the brunch is also delicious, but I just love the HH menu here too much.


$1 Oyster Sundays

Yes, you heard that right. They’re $1! That’s cheaper than anywhere else in the area (even Jax does them for $1.50 for happy hour, and they don’t even open until dinner). And these aren’t just their happy hour oysters. ALL the oysters must go. So premium oysters are all $1. That’s pretty much my definition of the best deal ever.

Humboldt oyster Sunday

Just note: it’s only while they last, so if you show up after me on a Sunday, sorry! 😉

Humboldt oysters


The Happy Hour: 3pm-6pm every day

You always need to know a few spots that have HH every day, not just weekdays. And this is one of them. Wines and beer run just $4-$6 for some fantastic options, and cocktails are $6.

I’m also pretty much in love with the HH menu here. So far, I’ve tried everything on it but the mussels (but I hear Mondays are now Bottomless Mussels day, so I’m sure to remedy that shortly).

Humboldt HH menu

I’ve tried a lot of different chicken liver patés around Denver, and this is one of my favorites (and only $5 during HH). The trout one is also good, but I prefer the chicken. Unfortunately, I think they only have the trout one now.

Humboldt pates

The Humboldt Burger won Westord’s best burger a few years ago, and you’ll see why when you try it. There’s a $4 mini slider version of it on HH, too!

Humboldt HH burger

The veggies here are surprisingly good too (I only say surprisingly because I’m mostly a carnivore). We got the brussel sprouts and crispy broccoli — and holy crap, that crispy broccoli is one of my favorite veggie dishes ever.

Humboldt veggies


The Wine

I can’t not mention the wine. As a California transplant, I love wine. I drink a lot of it, and I know my way around it pretty well. So trust me when I say Humboldt has a fantastic selection of affordable, unique wines. I’ve had probably half of the white wines here — and I have yet to be disappointed. They’re also currently doing a Summer of Rosé, so ask your server about that!

Humboldt wine menu