20 of My Favorite Hidden Gem Restaurants in Denver

I almost hate writing this post, because any regular at a “hidden gem” wants it to stay hidden just a little while longer, of course. But these restaurants deserve the recognition (and the business). There are no Michelin-star spots on this list, although a couple may have recently received a “bib gourmand” recognition for “great food at an affordable price” — so they’re definitely already a little less hidden. These are all my bib gourmands, so to speak — if I were the one making the list.

Please excuse the quality of these photos: I normally am not doing promos at these restaurants, so I do not bring my lighting or bigger camera. It’s also often dim, and the dishes aren’t always optimized for photos anyway. But they’re tasty!

1. African Grill & Bar

955 S Kipling Pkwy, Lakewood

Since 2004, owners Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo have welcomed all visitors through their doors like family. It’s impossible not to feel their love for this place and their gratitude for those who frequent it. While Ghanaian themselves, they offer a wide variety of African cuisine here — from South African pap and chakalaka, to East African samosas and chapatti, to North African couscous, to West African fufu and jollof, to Central African cassava and peanut dishes. If you’re lost and confused when first seeing the menu (like I was), they are always happy to recommend where to start. These days, my favorites include the spicy goat soup, oxtail, cabbage stew, and jollof rice. If I can’t make it out to Lakewood, this is also one of my go-to spots for delivery to downtown.

2. AJ’s Pit BBQ

2180 S Delaware St, Denver

Ok, so AJ’s Pit BBQ is one of those spots that has unfortunately become a lot more popular since it received the Michelin bib gourmand mention in 2023 — but I’m happy for them. Located in what looks like a cozy little house on a residential street near Evans and Broadway, it still feels like a hidden gem even when it’s packed. My favorites here are hands-down their smoked brisket, beef pastrami, and beef ribs (and yes, there are also burnt ends available while they last). They have fancier items like tri-tip, but honestly, stick with what I told you. Also, I’m in love with their custard-filled cornbread. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had.

3. Reggae Pot Jamaican Grill

7562 S University Blvd, Centennial

With Jamaican Grill permanently closed as of 2024, Reggae Pot is now the only legit, full-service Jamaican restaurant in Denver — so I shall make the drive more often. Their menu offers island specialties like jerk chicken, escovitch fish, oxtail, curried goat, and curry chicken — paired with traditional sides like stewed cabbage, rice & beans, and plantains — and seasoned with scotch bonnet peppers and fiery jerk spices. Owner Tamara Nisbeth — originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica — has created a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere here with a great variety of food (and also fantastic catering options).

4. Lincoln’s Roadhouse

1201 S Pearl St, Denver

Lincoln’s Road House describes itself as a “blues bar and cajun cafe” — and it’s the best dive bar I’ve been to in Denver, which also somehow serves some of the best cajun food. It’s been in Wash Park for 20+ years, located right by I-25 on a corner you’d easily miss if you didn’t know about it. They have trivia on Tuesdays, open mic night on Wednesdays, and live music Fridays and Saturdays (blues or rockabilly). They also serve what is arguably the best gumbo and crawfish etouffee in town, as well as a variety of po’boys (also available as bowls for my gluten-free folks). There are also 2 non-cajun items on their menu that are fan favorites, and you can see why just by the names: a meatloaf cheeseburger and a pot roast burrito. If you come here during one of the event nights, make sure to come early to snag a seat.

5. Hong Kong Station

6878 S Yosemite St, Centennial

Hong Kong Station is hands-down my favorite spot for Chinese food in Denver — and I mean the traditional, large-platter kind of Chinese food (not dim sum). It’s a casual-looking spot that doesn’t serve alcohol, so I prefer it for lunch or takeout, but I’ve had dinner here, too. They have a very extensive menu, and you can of course get the typical items everyone knows like Kung Pao Chicken and Mongolian Beef — which are all excellent here. Some of my favorites here are the less known dishes, though. I highly recommend the Beef Tendon & Brisket Pot (either the “Szechuan” one if you like spice, or the “Curry” version if you like it a little more mild). They also have a great Crispy Pork Intestine if you’re feeling adventurous (Szechuan or regular). And don’t forget dessert: the HK Style French Toast with peanut butter is absolutely a must-try.

6. Tasty Pot

6330 S Parker Rd, Aurora

Tasty Pot is the only cross-state chain on this list (with one location in Colorado) — but it’s actually not very well-known around here, perhaps partly due to its location (almost in Parker). However, it’s worth making the trek to visit, as it’s pretty unique in the kind of food it offers (Taiwanese hotpot), and it’s also in my opinion a cut above the rest when it comes to all the more traditional Chinese hotpot options around town. It’s not a fully DIY hot pot like the others, but you instead choose 1 of approximately 12 starter options (all of which are fantastic) — and then pick a 1-5 spice level and add on any meats or veggies you like. The starter combos vary from beef-focused, to lamb-focused, to seafood-focused, to curry flavored, to kimchi flavored, to Thai flavored (like a Tom Yum), to traditional spicy Taiwanese, to Japanese miso, to Chinese sichuan. Each one includes a super flavorful broth and a thoughtful combination of meats and vegetables that’s way better than anything I’ve been able to create myself at a DIY hotpot spot.

7. Mint Indian

1531 Stout St, Denver

I’m not sure how there can be a “hidden gem” downtown — but Mint has been open since 2016, and I still meet lots of people who have never heard of it. It’s an innocuous little spot on Stout Street that isn’t fancy or flashy. It has good service and a reasonably-priced lunch buffet — so it gets some of that downtown lunch crowd (from the people that have actually come back to their offices). My husband and I have been ordering dinner from here for years, though — sometimes as often as once a week. The quality, flavors, and portions have been more consistent than any other Indian place in Denver. Not only do they have great chicken and lamb options — but they also have my favorite meat for curry: goat. And I appreciate the selection of curries: korma, tikka masala, vindaloo, saagwala, rogan josh, chettinad, kadai, hyderbadi, and house curry — and yes, I’ve tried them all. The vegetarian dishes are also fantastic, whether with potato, eggplant, spinach, cheese, lentils, or chickpeas.

8. Lo Stella Ristorante

1135 Bannock St, Denver

Lo Stella has been open in Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood (near the art museum) since 2013 — but most people seem to have never heard of it still. It probably doesn’t help that we also have a bunch of Trattoria Stella locations around, and now Stella’s Cucina in Boulder, too (all non-affiliated). Lo Stella has one sister restaurant, owned by the same family, and that one has been in Portofino, Italy since 1850. So the food here is as authentic as you’d expect from a restaurant in a small town in Italy. The service is sometimes also that — so have a little patience. But once you get to know the staff, you start to feel like family here. The must-try on the menu is anything they can make by swirling it in the enormous parmesan-wheel bowl. (And they do have gluten-free pasta, but that will get cross-contaminated in the wheel.)

9. Glo Noodle House

4450 W 38th Ave, Denver

Like AJ’s BBQ at the start of this list — it’s become harder to classify Glo as a “hidden gem” ever since it got the Michelin bib gourmand recognition in 2023 — but I’m keeping it here anyway, since it’s my favorite little ramen spot in Denver. I know that’s an audacious claim, but their “Deathwish” ramen is absolutely unrivaled in flavor, especially if you like spicy food. (Yes, they do have gluten-free rice noodles.) They also boast fantastic sashimi and tempura appetizers — and even the bok choy bowl is delicious!

10. Taki Sushi

420 E Bayaud Ave, Denver

It was hard for me to pick a “hidden gem” in the sushi category, because there are just so many great little sushi spots in strip malls all over Denver metro. Hana Matsuri in Glendale is a recent favorite of mine, for example, but I decided to add it to my Newest & Hottest list instead. Of the spots that have been quietly serving great sushi for years, Okinawa on Colfax and Kurosawa in Parker also came to mind — but I decided to focus on Taki Sushi — a tiny little spot in Wash Park that easily gets lost among the heavy hitters in that area like Lucile’s, Uncle, and Mister Oso. I ordered the Spicy Tuna Avocado appetizer here 3x in one visit — it was that good. No rolls costs more than $17, even the lobster one. All the fish tastes fresh, the portions are generous, and the prices are reasonable. Sold.

11. Thank Sool Pocha

2222 S Havana St, Aurora

In its own words, “Experience Korean nightlife culture with Thank Sool Pocha K-Pub!” This has been one of my favorite spots in Denver metro for years, and not just for its fun atmosphere. It serves what I think is the most delicious, authentic, and interesting Korean food in town. You can, of course, come here to grill some kalbi/galbi ribs — since Thank Sool is another addition to the empire of restaurateur J.W. Lee of Seoul Hospitality Group, who has brought 15 restaurants showcasing Korean cuisine to the Denver metro area (including the famous Seoul Korean BBQ, which is where I’d recommend going if you want to grill all of the meats). My favorite dishes here include some of the more unique items: the best chicken feet I’ve ever had (served in a spicy jalapeno sauce on a steaming hot skillet), stir fried chicken gizzards, spicy crab soup (pictured), army stew (which features famous American wartime exports such as hot dogs and SPAM), and kimchi pancakes (yes, I know those aren’t very unique, but they’re delicious here). There are, of course, pitchers and towers of booze and K-pop to go with all of it.

12. Tofu Story

2060 S Havana St, Aurora

Tofu Story specializes in something I never thought I’d fall in love with — tofu soup. “Sundubu-jjigae” is a spicy Korean soft tofu stew made with freshly curdled soft tofu called “soondubu” — and Tofu Story is the first Denver metro restaurant with a house-made tofu program like this. Opened at the start of 2023, Tofu Story is the latest addition from restaurateur J.W. Lee of Seoul Hospitality Group, who has brought 15 restaurants showcasing Korean cuisine to the Denver metro area. It’s the 2nd location after his aunt’s successful version of this hotspot in New York City. Fun fact: Tofu Story sources its organic, non-GMO beans for its tofu from Soyko International, a Minnesota farm owned and run by Korean immigrant Jade In.

13. Shondiz

8000 E Quincy Ave Unit 1000, Denver (DTC)

Shondiz came at me out of left field. For the longest time, I avoided driving to this strip mall somewhere in DTC to go to a restaurant that didn’t look like much from the outside. But I am so glad I finally did, because they have the best kebabs and Persian cuisine in Denver. I’ve never particularly liked falafel or dolma (stuffed grape leaves) until now — but theirs have converted me. All the different skewers, from chicken to beef, are tender and delicious — but the real standout is the lamb lollipops. You definitely don’t need a knife for these. They melt in your mouth. And everything is super affordable — plus available for catering on short notice. Because who doesn’t love meat sticks at a party?

14. Saigon Bowl

333 S Federal Blvd #134, Denver

Having a very vibrant and long-standing Vietnamese community, Denver boasts many excellent Vietnamese restaurant options, especially in its S Federal neighborhood. Most of these serve what is probably the most famous Vietnamese dish in America — the noodle soup containing any variety of meats, called Phở. I’ve tried most of the spots serving it in Denver, and Saigon Bowl — located in the Far East Center at Federal & Alameda for 20+ years — is still my favorite. Yes, there are people who’ll say it’s changed hands over the years and it’s not as good “as it used to be” — but I still love it for what it is today. My recommendations is to try the Phở, but then branch out. In their “Traditional Noodle Soup” section, go for the Bún Riêu or Bún Bò Huế — both of which are lesser know, but way better, in my opinion. The first is tomato-based broth topped with crab, and the second is a beef-based broth heavy on lemongrass and a bit spicy. After that, branch out and try some of the non-soup dishes on Saigon Bowl’s extensive menu (steamed clams and stir-fried crab are two I love).

15. Kiké’s Red Tacos

1200 W 38th Ave, Denver

Kiké’s (pronounced kee-kays, and short for Enrique in Spanish) — has become somewhat well-known among the foodie crowd in the last few years for the best beef birria in town — but is less known among the general public. They first opened as a food truck in 2020 and finally opened a brick-and-mortar location in Highland/Sunnyside last year, which means they now also serve alcohol. In case you don’t know what birria is: it is a traditional Mexican meat stew from the state of Jalisco, usually made with goat, beef, or lamb marinated in an adobo sauce before being slow-cooked in a broth. Birria tacos are tender, flavorful, and dripping with juice — one of my favorite things to eat when I’m in Jalisco. “Quesabirria” or “queso tacos” are birria tacos with melty cheese fried onto the tortilla before adding the meat. Traditionally, birria tacos are served with a side of “consomé” —  a small cup of the broth the meat was cooked in (for dipping, or for eating like a soup). So when you first come to Kike’s, get the 4 QUESO TACOS & CONSOMÉ for $16 and then branch out if you want.

16. La Calle Taqueria

1565 W Alameda Ave, Denver

La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas is a little Mexican spot near Alameda & Tejon that is a standout among all the taco spots on S Federal. Locals and Denver taco connoisseurs know all about it, but it’s not a widely recognized name otherwise, despite being open since 2012. If you haven’t been there, don’t try looking for a sign with the name — just look for the “little orange house” that stands out much more brightly. “Calle” literally means street in Spanish — and the street tacos here are legit. The Barbacoa (lamb), Al Pastor (pork), and Chivo (goat) tacos are a must — but I also highly recommend branching out and trying the Cabeza (cow cheek), Campechango (fried pork mixed with skin), Tripa (fried tripe), and Lengua (cow tongue). All 3 soups on the menu are also great options: menudo, barbacoa y consome, and goat birria.

17. Crawling Crab

781 S Federal Blvd, Denver

I’ve been coming to Crawling Crab for probably 10 years now. It was actually one of the first date nights my husband and I went on. We had to make sure the other person was down with wearing a bib and having pounds of saucy seafood dumped out on the table between us, with just a crab cracker for utensils. In all seriousness, crawfish boils are my favorite meal, so I’ve tried a lot of the seafood boil places in town — and this spot is still my favorite. Their sauce has way better flavor than everywhere else I’ve been, it’s not so overloaded with oil or butter that your seafood is swimming in it (but rather has more of a tomato sauce consistency), and the large garlic chunks are always soft and fully cooked (you’d be surprised how often this is an issue). They have a second, larger location in Lakewood now — but I still prefer the cozy little spot on S Federal where it all began.

Ladies, bring a hair tie and take off your rings. Also, they do offer flimsy little gloves if you ask for them (but I sometimes bring my cooking gloves from home if I just got a manicure). Some overall recommendations: 1) get the clams in a garlic sauce, 2) order the fresh crawfish only (approximately Feb-Aug when crawfish are in season), 3) get the snow or dungeness crab clusters (not the whole ones, and not the super expensive king crab), 4) try the all-in house sauce for your crab or crawfish, 5) add sausage and corn, and 6) spicy means spicy, so order accordingly (I prefer the medium).

18. Samosa Shop

inside Honor Farm / 1526 Blake St, Denver

You might recognize owner Chef Dave Hadley as a winner of “Chopped” and “Super Market Stakeout” on Food Network — but I know him from seeing him around local farmers markets and crushing his samosas every time. Seriously the best samosas I’ve ever had — and I don’t just say that because they’re gluten-free! They have a crunchy shell, but it’s super thin — so you mostly get flavorful filling in every bite. Plus, he experiments with flavor combinations ranging from traditional samosas, to breakfast samosas, to elote samosas. And his new pop-up location inside Honor Farm downtown also has vindaloo chicken birria tacos and lamb kebob smashburgers — which are next on my list to check out.

19. Chook Chicken

several locations and delivery

Chook Chicken has put all rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had to shame. I can no longer eat the grocery store rotisserie chicken, because it’s just so inferior to the super tender, juicy, flavorful chicken you get from Chook. It seems so simple — it’s just rotisserie chicken, right? But I’ve yet to find chicken this good at another restaurant, so they’re doing something right here. They also source all their chickens from Miller Farms (GAP Step 2 certified), only use clean-label ingredients, and commit to purchasing >50% of all products from local suppliers (like Fruition Farms).

Pro tips: you can order a quarter chicken, not just half or whole — which means you get just the dark meat, or just the white meat (if you’re like me and strongly prefer one to the other). And don’t leave without trying the mashed potatoes (with gravy), celery-apple slaw, and the piri-piri and spicy macha sauces.

Chook Chicken has 4 locations in Denver: 1300 S Pearl Street, 4340 E 8th Ave, 2500 E Orchard Rd (Greenwood Village), and 1501 N Dallas St (in Stanley Marketplace). It also delivers, which is how I most often get my hands on it.

The cool thing about hidden gems is that there are tons out there I’m sure I don’t know about even after 12 years of living in Denver — but all you locals have your favorites, I’m sure. So please let me know what I’m missing!