By Paul Albani-Burgio
Editor’s note: This story is part of our Street Week, which runs Dec. 14-18 and will focus on Bruce Randolph Avenue. Find more Street Week stories here.
Even as the hotspot center of gravity that is RiNo encroaches ever closer, Bruce Randolph Avenue has largely managed to remain a quiet, neighborhood-y thoroughfare whose 2.7-mile span passes mostly by brick bungalows and small commercial strips. It’s a drag where change happens at a slower pace (at least by Denver standards).
The neighbors’ divergent food offerings largely adhere to the same pattern: While RiNo and even Five Points are increasingly synonymous with hipness and hype, Bruce Randolph is all about hole-in-the walls and family-owned joints that are cherished by residents of the surrounding Cole and Clayton neighborhoods but not destinations for the rest of the city. That’s a shame, because some of the best menudo and ramen in town (not to mention one of the top happy hours around at Jack Rabbit Slims) can be found on Bruce Randolph.
In the spirit of righting that wrong, here’s our guide to each and every (and I mean every) place to eat that can be found along Bruce Randolph, from west to east.
3357 N. Downing Street
The first thing to know about this spot is that it isn’t technically on Bruce Randolph. But given that it would be if our guiding avenue extended only about 50 more feet — and also that I can’t resist stopping by for a cannoli whenever I’m nearby — I couldn’t resist starting my tour here.
Now for the second thing to know: This is definitely the Five Pointsiest place on this list. That’s no surprise given it’s part of the ever-expanding empire of spots run by the Bridge & Tunnel restaurant group, whose expertly-executed renditions of all things (and experiences) classically New York has come to dominate that neighborhood.
The classic Italian deli offers favorites like the Italian Beef and the Louie, which is topped with three meats, as well as several shelves and coolers stocked with meats, cheeses, olive oils and other specialty items from New York, Italy and Denver.
“If you look around you see we use as many local products as we can from different chips to sauces,” said Executive Chef Jason Somers. “It’s this really cool, interesting dichotomy between hyperlocal Denver and Colorado foods and then also our imported Italian specialties.”
Paleteria y Neveria Chihuahua
1201 Bruce Randolph Ave.
Tucked into the corner of a strip mall is the first of Bruce Randolph’s two Mexican-style ice cream and dessert shops.
Sure, you can grab a cone, but why would you when you could opt for specialty offerings like the tres marias (scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream drenched in strawberry and chocolate syrups) or the chili-covered sliced mango that is served on a stick?
The expansive menu (it can be a lot of fun just looking at the colorful pictures of everything taped to the wall) also includes classic Mexican snacks like pepiguate, which consists of cucumbers that have been filled with peanuts and covered in chili and hot sauce, and bionicos, essentially a fruit salad topped with sweet cream, granola and coconut.
Ho Ho Chinese
3350 N. Downing Street
The sign out front pretty much says it all: “$1.50 a scoop & up, combo special and free soda $5.” Ho Ho has got pretty much all of the staples (including some surprisingly decent wings), and you’ll definitely get your moneys worth here.
Plus, you can get 13 pieces of pepper shrimp and two egg rolls delivered to your door for a whopping total of $7.63 until 8:45 at night.
Hello Tabby’s Ice Cream
3407 Franklin St.
The Hello Kitty stickers that cover the entry to this Mexican-style ice cream shop signal that there is plenty of whimsy and fun in store.
Customers can choose from a bevy of unique flavors (at least by the standards of the typical corner ice cream shop) like the popular mango, which is made with fresh mango, chamoy, lemon and chili powder.
But most unique of all is the tequila chip ice cream.
1603 Bruce Randolph Avenue
Ivy Perez, who now manages this counter service restaurant that her parents opened 18 years ago, describes Los Molinos as “a family-run restaurant where the recipes go back generations and don’t change and all of our clientele keep returning over and over again for that reason.”
That would make for a cool spot in any place and time, but it’s particularly special these days as rising rent prices and other elements of gentrification make their mark on Cole.
Also special is Los Molinos’ tradition of offering free food to anybody who comes in on three days each year.
“Unfortunately, with COVID-19 this is the first year that we weren’t able to do that,” said Perez. “But we are definitely proud to try to keep that and some of our other traditions alive because we are one of the very last restaurants from 18 years ago that is still here.”
1629 Bruce Randolph Ave.
Although a trendy ramen spot may seem like an odd fit for Bruce Randolph, Corner Ramen has ingratiated itself to the neighborhood with its huge bowls of made-from-scratch ramen and poke.
But while the menu includes solid versions of the typical miso and shoyu ramen (plus a splurge-worthy lobster ramen), the manager told us the most popular items are actually the pork belly buns.
Corner Ramen has been open for less than four years, but the space it occupies also looms large in Bruce Randolph’s culinary past as the longtime home of Daddy Bruce’s, the BBQ joint owned by the philanthropic legend whose name now graces Bruce Randolph Avenue.
Tacos El Ranchito
2240 Bruce Randolph Ave.
2002 turned out to be a big year for Bruce Randolph Avenue as it also saw the opening of this counter, which doubles as a small convenience store.
During our visit, staff member Juan told us that while the gorditas and smothered burritos are among the most popular items, the locals especially turn out on weekends for the menudo.
“Most of our customers come from this neighborhood,” he said. “This is a gathering place for the Hispanic community here.”
2231 Bruce Randolph Ave.
Po’boys. Expertly crafted hurricanes. Walls adorned with Mardi Gras masks, beads and other ephemera. This small restaurant and bar captures much of what is great about the Big Easy.
At Nola you’ll find a mellow crowd of regulars who come out to enjoy a roster of well-executed New Orleans classics (owner Henry Batiste is from there) as well as more original dishes such as Cajun cheese fries covered in red beans. But that all changes when the beloved Saints are playing and the bar fills up with jersey-clad fans yelling “who dat?”
2222 Bruce Randolph Ave.
Jack Rabbit Slims might just be the most fun bar in Denver. I especially enjoy the supersized Jenga and Connect Four, plus A Hole, which is basically a more barroom friendly variation of cornhole. Sadly, the games have been shelved for now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but what remains is a comfortable neighborhood watering hole with good pizza (try the Howie) and several TVs and beers on tap.
“It’s just a great community kind of place,” said Susan Freeman, who opened Jack Rabbit Slim’s with her family five years ago. “Everybody knows each other and there are a lot of groups of friends that have met here and now they even go on trips.”
Name sound familiar? It’s a reference to Pulp Fiction and the ’50s themed restaurant where Vincent takes Mia out for dinner.
“It doesn’t resemble it at all, but my son came up with it and he just thought it was a real fun name,” said Freeman.
2940 Bruce Randolph Ave.
This unassuming counter service joint grew out of the downtown food cart of the same name. On offer is a small menu of Mexican specialties including tacos, enchiladas and affordably-priced fajitas.
However, the highlights are the breakfast burritos (which come with a choice of meat and hot or mild green chili) and tamales.
3401 Colorado Boulevard
This isn’t the only Church’s in Denver (there are two others on Federal Boulevard). But as far as I know, it is the only one that offers the manager’s special, which means it is the only place where you can purchase eight pieces of Church’s crunchy-yet-juicy fried chicken, which the uninitiated should know puts the Colonel to shame.
3350 Colorado Boulevard
Yes, it’s a McDonald’s, but this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Mickey D’s. No, this is one of the nicest McDonald’s in Denver (or anywhere) complete with massive windows, tile floors and perhaps the best bathroom experience of any McDonald’s I’ve ever been to.
I stopped here to buy a drink while doing research for this story and had one of the most pleasant ordering experiences. As I hemmed and hawed over what size to get, the woman who took my order suggested I get a good large — “they are all the same price” she cheerfully reminded me — and even told me not to worry about the change as I reached for my wallet.
This story originally said it included every restaurant on Bruce Randolph, but that wasn’t accurate: We accidentally omitted River and Roads Coffee. We apologize for the error.