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.

 

North Italia: Great Modern Italian and an Upbeat Vibe in Cherry Creek

I have to be honest: I don’t often think of Cherry Creek when I’m looking for a fun place to go for dinner. Very often, Cherry Creek lives up to its stereotype of being an expensive, pretentious neighborhood. However, I’ve recently discovered that there’s also a lot of great food to be had in Cherry Creek — and great in a foodie way, not in a “I just paid $50 for this steak, so it must be good” kind of way. One of the places I definitely recommend visiting is North Italia (190 Clayton Lane), which is a more modern, upbeat version of your traditional Italian restaurant (but still with delicious, made-from-scratch Italian food). And it’s surprisingly affordable!


The Atmosphere & People

Maybe I’ve judged Cherry Creek too much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how “cool” it was in here. Apparently, North gets pretty packed on a daily basis. It has a fun, upbeat buzz that makes it a really great place to come with friends or on a date. And the staff is young and friendly and great to chat with (if you’re sitting at the bar). I really couldn’t find anything to even complain about (which is pretty rare for me).

North Italia inside


The Drinks & Food

There’s some great Italian wines here (duh), but I would also highly recommend trying the Julietta cocktail (even though it’s $10). I’m a sucker for cocktails with herb- or spice-infused liquor. And this is a vanilla- and ginger-infused Smirnoff with St. Germain, lime, and prosecco. It may look a little girly, but guy or girl, you should give it a try.

North Italia cocktail

The menu pretty much had me at “Heirloom Beet Salad” (I’m a sucker for beets). It’s a mix of roasted golden beets, apples, arugula, hazelnut, ricotta, and lemon crème fraiche. Now, I’m not usually one to rave about a “salad,” but this salad is pretty damn amazing. It’s not one of those “here’s a bunch of arugula and 3 pieces of beets” kinds of salads. The hazelnuts were a pretty genius addition, too. I’d eat it every day.

North Italia beet salad

If you knew me, you’d know how hard it was for me not to get the beef short ribs ($25) or the prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin ($22). But the “Bolognese” is the house specialty, so I felt like on my first visit here, I had to give it a try. And oh man am I glad I did. For just $16, you get a bowl of made-from-scratch pasta smothered in an amazing meat sauce, and topped with grana padano cheese. It definitely tastes like it’s made-from-scratch and is bursting with great Italian flavors, and even though it’s not your traditional Spaghetti Bolognese (as you can tell from the photo), I actually like this better. A flat pasta just holds meat much better than a slippery round noodle (and it’s important to get all that meat!).

North Italia bolognese


The Happy Hour

If your concern is more about the price, North also has a great Happy Hour (3-6pm Mon-Fri and all day Sunday). You can get $4 glasses of wine or sangria, $16 bottles/pitchers, $3-$4 snacks, $8 pizzas, a $10 board of meat/cheese, or a $20 bottle+pizza or bottle+board. I did that last one the last time I was here — and man what a deal that was! Pretty hard to beat as far as happy hours in Cherry Creek go!