(Editors’ note: You might also like our guide to eating on East Colfax.)
You don’t have to live in Denver for very long to learn one important thing: If you want good Asian and Mexican food, go to Federal Boulevard.
Along Federal’s nine Denver miles, there are at least 40 restaurants that aren’t big national chains serving Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food.
The surrounding 19 neighborhoods are almost all majority Hispanic, according to 2010 Census data. Valverde, Athmar Park, Barnum and Westwood are all more than 70 percent Hispanic. And while few Denver neighborhoods are more than 10 percent Asian, several neighborhoods along Federal Boulevard account for the highest Asian population percentages, including Westwood, Harvey Park South, Ruby Hill, College View and Sun Valley.
Naturally, some of those residents opened restaurants, giving Federal Boulevard its reputation for authentic and affordable ethnic cuisine.
And while you could figure all this out within a month or two of living here, it takes a little longer to ferret out the best spots. So we turned to the locals, from friends of friends to neighborhood association leaders to City Council members, from one end of the boulevard to the other. Here’s where they love to eat.
Name: Paul D. Lopez
Neighborhood affiliation: City councilman for District 3 for nine years, six months and four days.
Time in Denver: “Lived here my whole life. I grew up in between Barnum and Westwood and I live in Villa Park.”
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: “I love Grandpa’s Burger Haven (23 S. Federal Blvd.). It’s my favorite. It’s been there for such a long time. When it comes to good steak, I love Columbine Steak House (300 Federal Blvd.). When it comes to good Vietnamese, I love New Saigon (630 S. Federal Blvd.) and Pho 79 (781 S. Federal Blvd.). Torres Mexican Food (1597 S. Federal Blvd.) is pretty good, and so is Tarasco’s (470 S. Federal Blvd.).”
“I love Federal. The awesome thing about my district and about my neighborhood is that it’s still ruled by mom-and-pop shops. I went to high school with a lot of the families’ kids, so I’ve known them my whole life, and it’s always been stomping grounds for me. If I were to pick one, it’d be really hard because I grew up there, and there’s a lot. … I don’t know what Federal Boulevard would be without them.”
Name: Erica Augustine
Neighborhood affiliation: Ruby Hill-Godsman Neighborhood Association. “I’m sort of the unofficial secretary and webmaster. I run the neighborhood association’s website.”
Time in Denver: “I’ve lived in the Ruby Hill neighborhood for seven years.”
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: Ba Le Sandwiches, 1044 S. Federal Blvd. “I love Ba Le Sandwiches. They make Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches with delicious fresh French bread. You definitely want to get your sandwich to go — it’s a tiny shop in a strip mall, where parking is crowded and there’s no seating to speak of — but the prices can’t be beat.”
Favorite dish there: “The barbecue pork banh mi is my favorite.”
Name: Ruth Dameron
Neighborhood affiliation: Member of Sunnyside United Neighbors Inc. since 2011.
Time in Denver: “I’ve lived in Denver since 2011 and only lived in Sunnyside. My husband grew up in Denver. … He attended West High School.”
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: Chili Verde, 2311 Federal Blvd. “We love it because it’s not a Tex-Mex place. It’s definitely a regional Mexico restaurant — Puebla, Mexico, is the city at the heart of this region. Because of Napoleon’s armies, there is a French influence in the food. One year, Chili Verde won the Westword award for Best Crepes in Denver.”
Favorite dish there: “My favorite dish there is chiles en nogada. It has the most amazing ingredient list and not what you expect if you think tomatoes are always in Mexican food. Instead, it has pomegranate seeds, peaches, apples, walnuts, plantain, ground beef. This region of Mexico is sometimes called the ‘mole capital,’ and my husband finds it hard to pull himself away from one of the mole dishes to try anything else.”
Name: Cody Yantis
Time in Denver: “Aside from spending my 20s in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve lived in Denver my entire life (so, 25-plus years). I currently live in Olde Town Arvada, but I lived in Villa Park for three years, which, along with growing up on the west side of Denver, is how I know my way around Federal.”
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: Tarasco’s New Latino Cuisine, 470 S. Federal Blvd. “There are so many great restaurants along Federal, but Tarasco’s is my favorite. It has everything I love about a taqueria but also offers vegetarian options as well as dishes from Michoacan, which you don’t often see at other Mexican restaurants around town.”
Favorite dish there: “The moles are outstanding, my favorite being the mole amarillo. It’s almost like a cross between mole and thai peanut sauce, if that makes any sense. It’s super delicious and quite unique.”
Name: Jan Marie Belle
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: For Vietnamese: New Saigon, 630 S. Federal Blvd. For Thai: J’s Noodles Star Thai, 945 S. Federal Blvd., Unit E. For Mexican: Torres Mexican, 1597 S. Federal Blvd.
“And what I like most of all, in all these restaurants, is the awesome personality vibe. When you come in, you are family. Good food and great experiences await.”
Favorite dish there: At New Saigon, the Chef’s Special Noodle Bowl. At J’s Noodles, the lemon grass coconut soup with tofu. At Torres, the shrimp fajitas.
Name: James Rubino
Time in Denver: Lifelong (24 years) resident of Harvey Park and Ruby Hill.
Favorite Federal Boulevard restaurant: “My favorite Mexican restaurant on Federal is Tacos Rapidos. It’s the best because it’s so fast and authentic, moderately priced. Open 24 hours 365 days. Only downside is it’s take-out or outdoor seating only.” (Tacos Rapidos is just off Federal at 2800 W. Evans Ave. We’ll let it slide.)
“For Vietnamese, it’s Pho 95 and Ba Le. Pho 95 (1401 S. Federal Blvd.) is the most authentic pho restaurant on South Federal that specializes in pho. Ba Le (1044 S. Federal Blvd.) is the Vietnamese Subway. Fresh-baked French bread daily and quality meats and vegetables on the banh mi sandwiches.
Any glaring omissions? If you’ve lived near Federal Boulevard in Denver for a long time and think an important restaurant was left out, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.