Denver is the capital of fast-casual food (it’s the birthplace of Chipotle), so there’s no shortage of affordable places to dine. But the best cheap eats aren’t found at the chains. They’re on the menus at restaurants that get that thoughtful, well-made food shouldn’t have to cost a whole paycheck. If you know where to look, some of Denver’s most delicious food can be found for a bargain.
The Best Cheap Eats in Denver
Satisfy your appetite at one of these 10 cheap restaurants in Denver.
Sam’s No. 3
There’s an ongoing debate as to whether Colorado or New Mexico has the best green chile. To taste what the Centennial State is bringing to the table, order a green chile-smothered breakfast burrito (five of Denverites’ favorite words) at Sam’s No. 3. It—and most other dishes—can easily feed two people. The diner (open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) has three locations, consistently jolly service, and one of the largest menus you’ll find anywhere, with most items falling in the $10 to $13 range.
Zoe Ma Ma
When Edwin Zoe opened his Boulder restaurant in May 2010 and hired his Taiwanese mother to be executive chef (hence the name), Denverites were willing to make the 30-mile drive to dig into bites of Ma Ma’s Chicken Soup Noodle and Sichuan-braised beef noodles. Thankfully, there’s now a second location in Denver’s Union Station, serving the same home-style Chinese street food as well as breakfast bao buns at the attached café. The majority of the menu tops out at $10, and Zoe Ma Ma prides itself on paying staff a working wage, so tipping isn’t allowed. You won’t find a better meal for that price downtown.
The best Vietnamese restaurants in Denver can be found on South Federal Boulevard. Among the myriad options, Pho Duy sets itself apart with 24 phos (including a tasty vegetarian option) that are all based around aromatic broths. Experience may have something to do with the quality: The quick-service eatery has been around for more than two decades. The bowls start at $6.75, and the rest of the menu—stir-fry noodles, bun bowls, etc.—is similarly priced. When you’re seeking cheap eats in Denver, Pho Duy is an obvious choice.
My Brother’s Bar
There’s no sign out front letting you know you’ve found My Brother’s Bar, a nondescript brick building on the corner of 15th and Platte streets. Denver’s oldest watering hole—once a favorite hangout of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac—has been quietly slinging drinks from that spot for more than a century. But it’s the surprisingly good burgers that draw in bargain hunters. The JCB, with jalapeño cream cheese, is just $6.75 and makes for a filling foundation before an evening of imbibing.
Once a favorite of University of Denver students looking for a low-cost breakfast (or lunch), Cozy Cottage has since moved to the trendy Berkeley neighborhood, where it serves comforting, from-scratch eats in a converted house. Early birds snag the best deal: From 7 to 8 a.m. on weekdays, two eggs, toast, and potatoes are just $2.99. The rest of the menu averages around $11. This is a family-owned restaurant; servers are welcoming and the atmosphere is relaxed.
There’s a simple reason why Lorena Cantarovici’s empanadas are so habit-forming. She learned to make the savory half-moon-shaped pies in her native Argentina from family recipes. Whether you opt for a Beef Classico (ground beef, peppers, eggs, olives) or the tuna-based Gallega, you’ll only be dropping $3.55. Grab one of the sweet options—like the alfajor (shortbread cookies) with dulce de leche squeezed in between—to take home for a snack later. Cantarovici has three locations, but her handheld eats are also available at plenty of coffee shops around town, making them among the most ubiquitous cheap eats in Denver.
There’s nothing unique about cheap pizza—except when it’s brought to you by the team behind Frasca Food and Wine, consistently named one of Colorado’s best restaurants. Pizzeria Locale’s two Denver locations may be fast-casual (order at the counter) joints, but there’s no skimping on quality here. Go-to options include the prosciutto and arugula and the Mais, which is topped with ham, corn, and crème fraiche. Bites top out at $8.25, and the wine on tap is just $5 a glass. Save room for the budino, a butterscotch pudding with caramel and chocolate. Fun fact: The restaurants’ exclusive rotational hearth ovens cook the Neapolitan–inspired pies in two minutes flat.
Vinh Xuong Bakery
This family-owned sandwich shop and bakery has been Denverites’ go-to for banh mi for more than 20 years. What makes it so popular? Vinh Xuong doesn’t just stick to the traditional pork or tofu versions. Depending on the day, you can find roasted duck, salmon and peppers, or even a “Pho”rench dip banh mi, all served on house-made baguettes. It’s this creativity—and the $5 to $8 price point—that has customers returning again and again. The bustling spot also serves an enticing array of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French baked goods. A second location is opening inside of the Zeppelin Station food hall in March 2018, expanding the audience for these cheap eats in Denver.
La Potranca Taqueria
You’d be hard-pressed to spend $10 at La Potranca Taqueria. The tacos at the Elyria-Swansea eatery are all $2 or less. Your choice of filling—asada, carnitas, tongue, tripe, chicken, and more—is layered into a corn tortilla and double-wrapped to make sure you don’t lose a single ingredient. The rest of the menu is mostly sub-$10, too, and includes nachos, burritos, gorditas, quesadillas, and combination plates.
Golden’s Amir Grill is worth the 15-mile drive. The cooked-to-order pitas that accompany most dishes are large enough to feed a small family. The hummus ($6) is silky-smooth. The meat on the gyros and shawarma sandwiches (around $6) is impeccably spiced. The falafels ($5) are just the right blend of crunchy and soft. Entrées ($12 to $17), which are served with pita, rice, salad, and hummus, are easily enough for two. There’s nothing special about the strip mall location, but once you walk through the doors, know you’re about to experience some of the best Middle Eastern cuisine—specifically, Lebanese and Syrian—in Colorado.
More from SmaterTravel:
- Denver Travel Guide
- 10 Best Luxury Hotels in Denver
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Denver
- 10 Stylish Boutique Hotels in Denver
- 10 Must-See Denver Attractions
- 10 Best Day Trips from Denver
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Denver
- 10 Best Denver Restaurants
- 10 Best Denver Breweries and Distilleries
- What to Pack for Denver
- What to Wear in Denver
– Original reporting by Daliah Singer