Hi, friends. It’s been a minute since I wrote a “Chickpea Travels” post but I’m inspired to do a HELLUVA lot more this year. I’ve been thinking about how I really miss writing travel guides for you. I love nothing more than when someone asks me my favorite spots in a city, especially my own. When I read travel guides or someone’s top recommendations in their home town, I want to know what they get at each place, what their personal favorite moments/scenes/experiences were at each location and I like it detailed AF.
Nothing sucks more than finding a restaurant guide with the same places and top recs. I find it kind of funny when people recommend a breakfast place to me in a city that has some crazy fancy cinnamon roll pancakes and looks kind of just like any other average place… you know what I mean? Okay sure that’s what they may be known for but what did YOU order and what did YOU specifically like about the spot? Be different and think outside of the box. That’s what individual city guides are for! Your take on the city/place and how your experience may be different than the last person’s.
Another thing I love about city guides is that when we as humans travel, we’re always in different stages of life. I can remember certain things that were happening in my life when I last went to Denver, how I was working part-time and just got out of a relationship and this time around, I was full-time at my company for quite some time and used this trip as my first “dark week” of time off all year. It felt abso-freaking-lutely incredible. The best part of it all is that each time I return to a place like Denver where I have family/friends, I always like to frequent my favorite spots but still hit up a new spots. I love it.
If you’ve read my “48 Hours in Denver” post that I wrote the summer before last, you’ll see a few of these same spots mentioned. This trip my brother was carless (super unfortunate for a city 90% of the spots require a car to get to, even the mountains) but we made it work and in total I think I walked 20+ miles the 4ish days I was there. I actually walked so much I injured my foot.. Soo… there’s that. Ha!
Anyways, here are a few of my favorites below.
Starting with the best first because I truly could not be more obsessed with a restaurant/bar/eatery if I tried… Safta in The Source Hotel + Market Hotel. You guyyyyyys. This PLACE!
Denver is huge on food halls, including the Denver Central Market (which my brother used to work at so I’ve been to countless times!) and Zeppelin Station, which I absolutely love during the snowy season because you can grab food and shop around without having to walk outside. Safta is nestled inside of the hotel and before you enter the restaurant, they have a cute coffee shop stand with grab and go items like turmeric cookies, the best hummus you’ll ever lay your mouth on and their fresh baked pitas.
Their menu is inspired by the culinary landscape of Israel with flavors inspired from the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. It’s broken off into sections, all smaller plates and then a few larger items such as their harissa roasted chicken ($44) and whole roasted cauliflower ($24). My brother and I ordered multiple smaller dishes (it all cost under $100 and we were STUFFED).
Our order straight from the menu: roasted beets with sumac onions and tahini (similar to a shredded beet/carrot salad — the beets were sliced very thin), the butternut squash with orange and pistachios (my favorite one because it tasted like tahini with roasted beets straight from my oven), Ikra (salmon roe and scallions) which was essentially labneh (a thick yogurt spread) topped with salmon caviar, Lamb Ragu hummus (I wish I could put this on everything I eat going forward in life… it was to die for), the crispy eggplant with tomato and goat cheese (similar to eggplant parmesan) and the falafel with tahini.
They all tasted absolutely heavenly but I think the least favorite was falafel. It’s pretty hard to nail a good falafel in my opinion. Usually they’re too dry and I just felt like the tahini sauce paired with it was way too watered down to make much of a difference in texture.
Although we came for dinner, I would have loved to come for lunch to try the shakshouka and see the place in the daylight. The decor was absolutely breathtaking with light wooden tables and pink walls. Pretty much my dream.
Since my brother didn’t have a car and it was freezing cold, I didn’t get a chance to go to TOO many places since I honest to God hate ubering. It’s like you never know if you’ll get someone chatty or weird or too attractive and be stressed out so I like to avoid it at all costs when I can and at the same time, I love walking to my destinations.
A few other spots that we visited for convenience and because they were on Postmates and honestly some times, you’re just too exhausted to go out were True Food Kitchen (there’s one in Chicago and I love it for simple, easy dinners that are pretty healthy for eating out) where I got their ancient grains bowl and a side of cauliflower, City O’ City (very similar to The Chicago Diner here in Chicago) where I ordered a tempeh salad and cauliflower tacos, Aviano Coffee (in Cherry Creek, they sell oat milk and Intelligentsia Coffee — super close to Soulcycle so obviously I’m about that) and Illegal Pete’s (similar to Chipotle but 10x better). These are all spots I’d definitely go more so if I lived in Denver but wouldn’t tell the average person to stop and drop everything to go to, ya feel me?
Other places I WOULD tell you to stop and drop everything to go to:
Just Be Kitchen – My absolute favorite spot in Denver. It’s in the LoHi (lower Highlands) neighborhood and it’s an all gluten, dairy, soy and grain-free café. I always tell my friends who have never been it’s similar to Cafe Gratitude in California because all of the items on the menu are affirmations like “Just Be Ecstatic, Just Be Enchanted”, etc. Their food is made so fresh with minimal ingredients that every time I eat there I never feel weighed down or sick. High quality food with high quality ingredients and you can truly taste the difference.
My favorites here are: JOY (a spinach artichoke dip that is completely dairy-free and made with cashew cream), SIMPLICITY (a breakfast plate with a homemade gluten-free tortilla, sweet potato hash, veggie hash and a homemade sausage patty) and definitely ask for their matcha rooibos tea with half coconut half almond milk add collagen (sounds ridiculously extra but it was the best tea latte ever).
Alongside their delicious savory options, they have tons of gluten and grain-free desserts like their DIVINE which is a brownie trifle made with homemade coconut cream. I’m not even a chocolate person but this was 10/10.
I could go on and on about this place but truly nothing on the menu is bad. It’s all amazing, as is their sweet gem of an owner, Jen. She is seriously the sweetest and I’m so happy that she created this killer restaurant. LOVE LOVE LOVE!
Nooch Vegan Market – My brother and I were joking the whole weekend how I’m turning him into a vegan because whenever we’re together I make him eat a ton of vegetables so naturally he told me we had to go to Nooch Vegan Market which was a 10 minute walk from his house. I was OBSESSED. It’s sort of like a mini little co-op health food store and of course, everything is vegan. Someone on Instagram told me I had to go here to try this brand “NiceCreamSammies” that are raw vegan ice cream sandwiches made with cashews and coconut milk… you guys I think this was hands down my favorite dessert I’ve had in 2018. May just top my obsession with Jeni’s Ice Cream. I know. That’s saying a lot.
This spot also had Siete tortillas, CBD sparkling water, tons of different CBD oils and fun snacks.
Root Down – If you ask anyone for recs in Denver 9x out of 10 they will tell you to go to Root Down. I had been to Root Down once before at their DTA location but it’s slightly different than going the actual Root Down in the city. I had also been to sister restaurants Linger (best sweet potato waffle fries) and Vital Root (I’d rate it a 6.5/10) so I was excited to try Root Down for dinner. My brother at first hesitated thinking it’d be “too fancy” and “too organic” but honestly… it was one of the best meals of my freaking LIFE. Their menus are seasonal and they use local produce, fresh meats and vegetables and overall you can just taste the quality in the food which is a plus. I swear this trip to Denver just proved to me there are some of the best restaurants out there.
The dishes are a bit on the smaller side so we both ordered 2 things each and then split the Dungeness Crab & Avocado Tacos with jicama shell tortillas and a kohlrabi-radish slaw which were my favorite. Super light and refreshing and anything with crab + avocado is a match made in heaven.
Truly you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu as it’s very veg-forward. Lastly what I wish ALL restaurants had because it’s so dang tasty and the ideal mocktail, Root Down’s Coconut Ginger Fizz which is a combination of ginger, lime, coconut milk and sparkling water. I could drink it every day.
Stowaway Kitchen – Ahhh, this place. You guys! The second I walked in I was in love. I had been eyeing their menu for a few weeks before my visit because it’s Australian-inspired and the brunch items are unreal. Unlike anything in Chicago that’s for sure. I ordered their spiced fruit toast which was a combination of hearty, thick cut bread topped with ricotta (first time trying ricotta – fun fact) with a thick fruit spread on top and their “colorful colorado” bowl which was essentially just a veggie bowl with a potato hash, asparagus and radishes (I added poached eggs, too). It was so simple and so filling.
P.s. they make pastries in house AND homemade cashew milk. It’s like they knew I was coming in 😉
Blue Sparrow Coffee – This place. I love it so much. It’s in the RiNo (River North Arts District) neighborhood in a teeny tiny outdoor shopping center and you might be deceived by photos online but it’s pretty small (less than 10 tables). It has the CUTEST interior – bright blue coffee bar with white countertops and all of the most magical drinks: think CBD-infused cold brew, Upstart kombucha, and local pastries like breads from Rebel Bread (handmade in Denver!). When I came to Denver I told my brother’s roommate, Leo (who works at a roastery for Strava Coffee in Denver), I wanted the best matcha (unsweetened, of course) in Denver and he delivered when he told me about Blue Sparrow. P.s. their coffee is from Strava. V good.
They had tons of options but the best part was that my matcha wasn’t sweetened and BRIGHT green, aka how I like it. I ended up working at a table for a bit as it was super snowy outside. It’s overall just a good place to come in the morning but make sure to get there early if you want to grab a seat.
I’ve got to say, every time I come to Denver there’s something new I see, experience and notice. Ever since my first visit back in 2016, I felt like I could see myself living here. I remember thinking years before my brother moved out there how I’d make my way to it multiple times in the coming years and now it’s like I have to go a few times a year AT LEAST.
When my brother and I text about the places he’s going every day I’m like “ahhh I want to come back now!” Truly. If there’s one place I see myself besides Chicago it’s Denver. I also love how up to speed they are with fitness, everyone is so so active and the food scene is just incredible – so many local, farm-to-table and sustainable options. Plus CBD everywhere! They just GET health and wellness.