Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fiona's Natural Foods Almond Chocolate Chip Quinoa Bars

I saw this bar at my local Whole Foods with the "I'm a Local" tag below it, and I knew I had to get one in my belly and on my little food review website.  After all, I love almonds, I love chocolate, I eat way too many energy bars, and I sort of like quinoa.

Fiona's All Natural Almond Chocolate Chip Quinoa Bar

Intriguing. I thought the quinoa concept was promising for an energy bar. That was, until I took my first bite.

This was hard to eat. There was way, way too much of an "all-natural" taste to these bars. I thought the flax seed taste completely overwhelmed the flavor of the other ingredients. I can definitely taste the quinoa, but its natural nuttiness and chewy texture are muted. One redeeming quality to this bar is the generous amount of sweet chocolate blobs it contains throughout.

This isn't low in calories - it's not supposed to be - but it does have decent nutritionals. Not decent enough, however, to justify my eating it again. Oh, and the $2.69 price tag is killer.

And Fiona, please check your spelling:

Yes, that says evaporated can juice.

Fiona's is based in Boulder (of course), and focuses on traditional granola rather than bars or quinoa. Maybe that's the better way to go with their products.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Pizza Republica

The Neapolitan pizza craze is exploding like a supernova, and sometimes I wonder if it isn't just going to begin collapsing under its own weight, imploding into a black hole and sucking in with it all kind of delicious Italian food and maybe a few random bystanders, and the next thing you know all that will be left behind are a dozen vacant restaurant facades and a consumer base wondering why they ate so much Neapolitan pizza over the last year or two.

But then I must look to myself, and realize that I am happily continuing to supporting their Neapolitan niche by eating at three such establishments in the last few months: Pizzeria Locale, Marco's Coal Fired Pizza, and now, Pizza Republica.

I knew a few things about Pizza Republica before showing up: they serve Neapolitan pizza, they're owned by the Jet Entertainment Group (uhh what?), and their website is not very user-friendly.

Once again, my husband and I were fortunate to have some taste testers with us, and we had no problem getting a table for four at the early 5 pm hour.

I was a little terrified that, given Republica's management, the interior might look like some sort of wild trendy nightclub downtown. Fortunately, it didn't. The dining area was pretty average looking for a classy pizza spot in the conservative suburbs, with high ceilings, ample lighting and a moderate noise volume.

After an excessively thorough introduction to the ins and outs of the menu from our waiter and a round of drinks for everyone, it was time to get started on the food.

We started out with the Republica Meatball ($6), which is described on their menu only as "Simply the best, ever".

Meatball Appetizer
We cut the tennis-ball sized meat sphere into fours and dug in. It was not the best ever, it was merely very good. The meatball itself was decent, but I really loved the sharp, oregano-heavy flavor of the red sauce.

We ordered three pizzas (each $16-$18) for the four of us to share. First was the Giacomo, which came with mozzarella, goat cheese, mushrooms, arugula, and fried garlic.

Giacomo Pizza
The garlic flavor was intense. See those nutty looking things on the arugula? That's crispy, delicious, fried garlic. There's even more buried among the sauce and cheese. The four of us each liked this pizza in exact proportion to how much we liked garlic. It will keep the vampires away (if you're worried about such a thing).

Next was the Rustica, which came with mozzarella, Genoa salami, Parma Prosciutto, and red pepper flakes.

Rustica Pizza

The menu advertises - or warns - that the pizza is spicy, and it is, but not nearly as spicy as I was hoping. I enjoyed the meaty toppings, but I missed the expected intense red pepper flavor.

The Vesuvius was the third pizza of the night. This one wins a few novelty points: half the pizza is meaty, half the pizza is vegetarian, and the vegetarian side is folded over to form a calzone. The meat toppings are pepperoni, capicola, and Genoa salami. The veggie side contains ricotta, goat cheese, artichoke, olives, and spinach.

Vesuvius Pizza

Now, why would anyone make a pizza like this? Who decides they want a half meaty / half vegetarian, half pizza / half calzone concoction? We did, apparently, but it is a little silly. Plus, if I were a proper vegetarian, I wouldn't want meat drippings getting all over my veggie calzone side. But it does look cool.

We finished off with the waiter's dessert recommendation, the tiramisu.

I loved it. The mascarpone filling was light and creamy and sweet. I actually don't care for a strong liquor or coffee taste in tiramisu, so I was happy that both flavors were pleasantly subtle.

Overall - and this may just be personal preference - all three pizzas were too "heavy" tasting for my Neapolitan preference. They were too cheesy and too greasy, and the crust was too thick. They were otherwise well executed, but with the current glut of Neapolitan pizza restaurants I feel like I'm entitled to be picky. There's better Neapolitan pizza out there, even in the 'burbs.

Casual Dining

(6 of 10)

Pros: Decent pizza, good service, great wine and beer selection.
Cons: There's better Neapolitan pizza out there.


Pizza Republica on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Lola is one of many restaurants in the Highlands that my husband and I get awfully excited about (see our Root Down review here).

We had Saturday night reservations on yet another rainy evening during this uncharacteristically wet May. Fortunately for us, we were joined by our wonderful neighbor-friends who journeyed out of the suburbs with us for some wonderful food.

Lola has apparently been named one of the "top five establishments to drink tequila in America by Food and Wine Magazine." I know that because that's the first thing you see when you visit Lola's website. I don't know what Food and Wine's criteria was, but Lola has a long, long list of tequilas available. Their margaritas are mixed with premium tequilas, and without any sour mix. After trying the Dr. J margarita at Lola many months ago, my husband has sworn off any other margarita from anywhere else. Forever. In fact, he considers himself a sort of pseudo tequila snob after a schooling from the bartender on that visit.

Dr. J Margarita

Lola is part of the "Big Red F" group of restaurants, which shares ownership under Dave Query and also includes Centro, West End Tavern, Jax Fish House, Happy, and Zolo. Besides all the tequila, Lola specializes in coastal Mexican cuisine, so you can expect far more seafood options on the menu than most Denver restaurants. 

The Highlands location at 16th and Boulder is apparently a former mortuary, and the spot where Wild Bill Cody's body laid temporarily in the winter of 1917 before Lookout Mountain had thawed enough for a burial. Fans of obscure Denver history will love it. 

Lola has an enclosed patio area with a view of downtown that's lovely in the summer. However, we were happy to be seated in the main dining area given the dreary rain outside. 

This being such a famously amazing tequila-drinking establishment, everyone ordered the Dr. J margaritas ($11 each).  Everyone except myself, that is, since I am an irrationally stubborn drinker of nothing but light beer.

We started out with our usual appetizer: chips and guacamole. It sounds boring, but there's a twist: Lola sends out a server and a cart full of ingredients, and the guacamole is prepared tableside to your liking. For $8, it's an expensive, Benihana-esque entertainment gimmick, but the guacamole is outstanding. Plus, you get the novelty factor of Lola being spelled into your dish with cayenne pepper.


For our main entrees, Mr. Oyster and I split the carne asada ($26) and the ceviche "flight".

The Carne Asada included, besides the steak, yam and chorizo hash, pork green chili, and grilled squash. The presentation was messy, but the food was outstanding:
Carne Asada
The yams stole the show; they were naturally sweet, seasoned to a perfect saltiness and cooked to very tender.

The ceviche flight that we split was an enormous portion consisting of fish, shrimp, and scallop ceviche.

Ceviche Flight, clockwise from top right: fish, shrimp, scallops
The shrimp was my favorite, although the least traditional of the three. It was served in a creamy aioli sauce with tomato slices. One of our friends that was with us, a native Californian, said overall the dish was the best ceviche she'd had in Denver.

One of our dining companions ordered a Caesar salad alongside her main dish. The salad ended up containing a bit of a surprise:
Caesar Salad
See the huge croutons? Those aren't actually croutons. They're polenta-crusted cheese cubes, which we were told were wonderful. Sneaky.  

Finally, although we were getting quite stuffed by that point, it was time for dessert. Fortunately for us, Lola had just unveiled a completely new dessert menu which had several enticing options. We chose the Strawberry Shortcake Churro, being partially swayed by the fact that throughout our meal, the whole dining area had smelled like sweet fried dough.

Strawberry Shortcake Churro
Besides the lovely swirly churro, the dish came with malted strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, and sweetened strawberries (hidden under the whipped cream and churro in the photo). Very unique and every bite was delicious.

We had ordered too much food, but everything was excellent.

One downside to point out is Lola is not particularly vegetarian-friendly. One of our dining companions is vegetarian, and she had very limited menu options to choose from. In fact, if you're not in the mood for seafood, your meat options are also a little slim.

Casual Dining

(9 of 10)

Pros: Endless tequila selection, good food
Cons: Expensive, lack of vegetarian options


Lola on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pho Saigon

Not all pho is created equal. Pho Saigon at Arapahoe and Dayton in Englewood is not to be confused with the Pho Saigon in Englewood at Quebec, or the Pho Saigon in Aurora, or any of the other pho spots in Denver. This Pho Saigon is special.

After our first visit a couple years ago, we knew we'd stumbled on a gem. We've been many times since then, and we've never been disappointed.

Pho Saigon is located along a very busy stretch of Arapahoe Road in Englewood, in a little strip mall alongside several other restaurants. The interior is simple and modest, suited to a factory that cranks out happy Vietnamese food consumers. Despite the unassuming location, Pho Saigon is no secret among nearby office workers at lunch time. Be prepared for a line out the door if you arrive after 11:30 during the work week.

The staff is friendly and very, very efficient. You won't sit long before receiving water, having your order taken, and seeing your delicious plates (or bowls) of food in front of you.

Every time we go, we get the same things:

For a starter, the shrimp and pork spring rolls.
Shrimp and Pork Spring Rolls

The spring rolls are filled with shrimp, pork, noodles, lettuce, and carrots. The peanut sauce that comes for dipping is perfectly spiced, and not too sweet.

Mr. Oyster's main dish (and occasionally mine as well) is always the traditional beef pho.

Beef Pho
One thing I'm really, really picky about anywhere I eat is that the fruits or vegetables served be high quality and very fresh. Fortunately, all the veggies here pass my picky taste and texture criteria; you'll never see any brownish bean sprouts or wilted mint leaves at Pho Saigon.

Be warned that the size above is a small pho bowl. Order anything bigger at your own risk. The combination of beef, broth, and noodles is extremely filling.

And my usual: the grilled shrimp noodle bowl. It's served with carrots, scallions, bean sprouts, lettuce, peanuts, and fish sauce.

Grilled Shrimp Rice Noodle Bowl

Here is the standard routine with Mr. Oyster and I once the noodle bowl is set in front of me: he makes eyes at me like "hey, just let me have one shrimp".  I glare at him, and quickly move all the shrimp to my side of the bowl. Sometimes, I even build up a rice noodle barricade to further hinder any shrimp theft. He attempts to distract me throughout meal in hopes for a brief window of opportunity to sneak one of the delicious little crustaceans in his mouth. He usually fails usually wins eventually. Anyway, you get the idea, the shrimp are delicious. The portion, however, is too big for me. I usually leave most of the noodles behind.

For both the quality and quantity of food served, Pho Saigon is a bargain. Our bill for the food above, including tax, came to only $17.50 (I believe spring rolls were $3, shrimp bowl was $7, and pho was $6).

They've recently updated their menu to include more vegetarian and vegetable-heavy options, but we haven't had a chance to try any of them. Also, if you're scouring the south suburbs for Boba tea, Pho Saigon offers some twenty or so flavors. 

Pho Saigon is a great place for simple, standard Vietnamese dishes. Just make sure to get there before everyone else does.

Everyday Dining

(8 of 10)

Pros: Great basic Vietnamese food. Speedy and friendly service.
Cons: Very busy at lunch hour, some portions too large

Pho Saigon on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 13, 2011

Justin's Nut Butter Peanut Butter Cups

I've been perplexed about these latest offerings from Justin's Nut Butter since seeing them pop up in Whole Foods a couple months ago:
Justin's Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Two-cup packs of peanut butter cups. They come in dark chocolate, too.

Why, Justin's?

This is the first time Justin's has branched our from their nut butter base. And up until now, everything Justin's has put on the market has been completely unique. Not only have they created flavors like chocolate peanut butter and maple almond butter, but their one-ounce individual packets have revolutionized nut butter packaging.

Shameless self-promo: you can read my gushing Maple Almond Butter review from a weeks back here.

So why is their next step as a company to duplicate a chocolate treat that has existed for decades? Even worse, there's already an organic peanut butter cup on the market, which is also sold in the conventional two-cup pack, and also comes in both dark and milk chocolate. Is the demographic of organic peanut butter cup seekers really that large?

Well, Justin's, if that's what you want for your brand...I will have to taste test these new peanut butter cups.

And the verdict, you ask? Hey, that's not really a fair question, because you can't really go wrong with a chocolate covered blob of peanut butter.

Justin's Peanut Butter Cups Exposed

As a chocolate addict, I was impressed with Justin's first foray into the world of solid chocolate; the milk chocolate exterior had a perfectly silky and creamy texture. The peanut butter filling was a little flat, but maybe I'm just used to the cloying sweetness of a Reese's.

These new peanut butter cups taste OK, but I doubt I'll ever buy them again. I'd rather have a treat with some imagination put into it. If you're looking for peanut butter and chocolate, Q.bel's Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Wafer Rolls or Pretzo Change-O All Natural Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars are better options for tastebud excitement.



My husband and I must live under a rock, because neither of us had ever heard of Strings Restaurant, despite living most of our lives in the Denver area. That was, until several months ago when we headed to Strings for a meal after visiting the Natural History Museum.  We ended up having a very lovely brunch, and had been anxious to return to Strings for a dinner visit since then.

Strings is located at Humboldt and 17th near City Park, among a cluster of highly-buzzed restaurants including Parallel 17 and D Bar Desserts. For our Saturday evening reservations, we didn't even bother trying to find a parking spot, and went straight for the valet service.

Strings has been open for an impressive 25 years, and they certainly have the seating area to support a large and dedicated following. The interior of Strings is enormous, with a sprawling main dining area, bar tables, patio seating, a beautiful atrium, and private rooms. It would be a perfect spot for a large party, especially a business dinner.

We arrived about half an hour early for our 7 pm reservations after finishing some nearby errands sooner than expected, which, fortunately, wasn't any kind of problem that happy hour at the bar couldn't fix.

Strings's happy hour menu is limited in both beer and wine selections, but they do offer premium wells, a long list of girly sounding martinis, and some tasty-looking appetizers. I stuck with my usual choice of light beer, while my husband started out with a gin and tonic. We chatted with the bartender for a little bit, and soon learned that she was the buyer for Strings's bar. When my husband asked her for help in selecting a fancy scotch (his buddies drink scotch and he's trying to keep up), she gave us an impromptu lesson in scotch selection. She brought us about seven different bottles, letting us sniff each one, and she explained the fermentation process associated with each type. After selecting his scotch accompaniment for the evening, it was time for my husband and I to get seated.

The hostess seated us in sort of a corridor area, where three tables were lined along the walls on either side. As soon as we got situated, we realized that directly behind the table was the main thoroughfare for waiters grabbing water glasses and silverware. Deciding that the traffic was going to be obnoxious, we tracked down our hostess, who promptly seated us two tables away. In hindsight, considering how much I'm about to gripe about it, we should have asked to be moved a second time, because our new table wasn't any better. Behind where I sat was the hallway to the bathrooms and the bar area, and the non-stop traffic was just as bad in the new location. They could have minimized the traffic nuisance by putting two tables along the corridor area instead of three, but instead they got a little greedy with table space.

Anyway, moving on to something we really loved about Strings: the food. We started with the Crab Cake appetizers, which came with fruit chutney, cranberry puree, curry oil, and crispy onions. Sadly, in our excitement to eat it we forgot to take a picture of the two small crab cakes that arrived. 

Next was Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque. I loved the flavor, although the red pepper was much stronger than the tomato, and there was zero effort put into the presentation.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque

For our entrees, I ordered the full-size Open Face Ravioli, which came with (directly from the menu) Confit Chicken, Egg, Asparagus, Serrano Ham, Sauce Normande. No matter the occasion, I almost never order pasta, but I was curious what open-faced ravioli would entail. What arrived was basically a crepe-sized noodle at the bottom of my plate, topped with the "filling" described. That giant white blob you see in the middle of the plate below was my favorite part of the dish, a poached egg that oozed yolk when I cut into it.

Open-Faced Ravioli

Overall a decent dish, especially the rich and salty serrano ham, but the chicken was a boring and bland choice of protein. I would have preferred something with more flavor and texture (shrimp maybe?).

My husband's entree choice was the Roasted Lamb Sirloin, which came with Confit Shoulder, Edamame, Pearl Onions, Pea Tendrils, Carrot.

Roasted Lamb Sirloin
 The lamb was well seasoned and perfectly cooked to medium rare. My favorite part of the dish was definitely the confit shoulder, which lay underneath the lamb sirloin and pea tendrils. I've never seen edamame included in a traditional lamb dish, and it didn't really add anything to the meal.

We finished off the meal with the Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake. It reminded us both of the Cheesecake Factory's Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake, but in cylindrical form.
Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake
It was, as expected, rich and extremely sweet and satisfying. However, it didn't offer anything that Cheesecake Factory couldn't.

Our bill came to $78 for the food described above (booze had all been paid for separately at the bar). All of the dishes we tasted were very well executed, and the staff was excellent. However, nothing really set the food apart from a good meal at a lot of Denver restaurants, and I can't get past how poor of a dining area our table was located in.

Casual Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Great food, endless seating options, excellent staff
Cons: Watch out for bad seating areas, food lacking in imagination and presentation for the price


Strings on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mix1 Lean Performance Shakes

I've been a regular drinker of Mix1's "light" protein shakes for over a year now, but they're only something I buy if and when they go on sale.

I've always found the drinks to be reasonably tasty considering their low calorie content and impressive nutritional stats. Plus, they're portable, making them a good remedy for the 3pm slump at work. However, anyone not interested in a "diet drink" might find them too watery and flavorless.

Besides the lean performance shakes, Mix1 also offers "all-natural protein shakes", which have more calories, different nutritional stats, and come in a wider variety of flavors. But I need to balance out things like the Bronx pizza's effect on my 5'2" frame, so I stick to the low-cal stuff.

Mix1, like so many local companies, hails from Boulder. And being from Boulder, the founders of Mix1 really, really, want you to use Mix1 as a recovery drink, for when you wake up one day and decide to participate in an ironman, or climb Mr. Kilimanjaro, or just squeeze in a quick marathon before heading to work. And of course, their drinks are completely all-natural.

Anyway, last weekend at the grocery store, I noticed the lower price, and I went into spend mode.

It wasn't until I got home that I really took a close look at the bottle, and realized things were a little different:

New packaging and apparently a new formulation. And a new label. Oh, and a different flavor.

Mix1 used to market their "light" drinks as "Hi-Antioxidant Fiber" drinks. Now, they're "Lean Performance Shakes". And they used to offer, I believe, an orange flavor and a dark berry flavor. Both were equally good. Now, they have an orange twist and an acai-pomegranate flavor. I'm cringing just writing acai-pomegranate. Could they have created a more shamelessly trendy flavor?

But one thing I have no complaints about is the impressive nutritional stats and easily-pronounceable ingredient list. With its new formulation, the calorie content has also dropped from 115 calories to 90 calories. I was a little worried that the taste would suffer accordingly, so it was time to put the new incarnation to the taste test.

The verdict: definitely an improvement in consistency and texture, and the lower calorie content is a plus. I was impressed that the new formulation actually seemed thicker than the previous version. Also, one thing I really disliked about Mix1's earlier embodiment was that every bottle would have a stubborn accumulation of hi-antioxidant, fibrous, all-natural sludge at the bottom. Thorough shaking of the bottle usually dispersed some of it, but it wasn't really worth the effort, even if I ended up with slimy bits in my last few sips.

And the acai-pomegranate flavor itself? Well, I'm not really sure what acai is supposed to taste like, since I've stayed away from the superfruit fad. It really tastes just like what I remember the Dark Berry flavor tasting like a few months ago. It's mildly sweet, still a bit watery, but it is, again, a low-calorie "light" drink.

Overall, the new lean performance shakes are a substantial improvement over the hi-antioxidant fiber drinks. They're an easy, portable option for getting a substantial dose of fiber, protein, and other nutrients, even for those of us who aren't extreme endurance athletes. But I'm sticking to the orange twist flavor.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria

To understand how my husband feels about pizza, think about how the Cookie Monster feels about cookies. Yep, it's pretty much the closest comparison I can make.

So it only made sense, when looking for a place near Coors Field to grab a pre-Rockies dinner with friends, to try Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria.

Knowing that Marco's would likely be packed just before a ball game, we made reservations for four for a very early 5:00 pm dinner.

My husband and I arrived about fifteen minutes early and were told that despite our reservation, we'd have to wait until our entire party arrived to be seated. Ok, no problem, off to grab a drink at the bar. Oops, we couldn't do that, all the bar stools were taken. So we sat down near the bar, at a table which we couldn't decide if it was part of the bar area or wasn't. Fortunately, a couple people soon left the bar and we were able to grab two of the precious few seats available.

After a beer for each of us and the arrival of our dinner companions, we were seated at a real table. We were soon greeted by a very friendly waiter who took good care of us for the rest of the night.

To start, we had to try the Lemoncello Chicken Wings after reading rave reviews on Yelp.

Lemoncello Chicken Wings

They were well cooked and well seasoned but didn't live up to the hype. I couldn't get over the extremely charred look of some of them (part of the "coal-fired" mystique maybe but it still turned me off) and I missed the spiciness of a normal hot wing. I still don't know what "lemoncello" means, but it's not as tasty as Franks Red Hot.

Next up, it was time for the pizza that we all came for. And before even trying a bite, my husband became every excited about a certain pizza at Marco's. He likes to brag about his Italian heritage, and especially about how his family comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy. After a brief perusal of the menu, he excitedly pointed out to me that Marco's offers an "Abruzzo" pizza, which comes with a cheesy concoction of Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Gran Cru and Caciocavallo cheeses. In other words, a fancy quattro formaggio pizza. We ordered it, of course.

We also ordered two "New York Pies": The Bronx, topped with meatballs and ricotta cheese, and the Staten Island, topped with sweet Italian sausage, Vidalia onions, and roasted peppers.

Fortunately for my husband's pride, the Abruzzo was amazing. I don't normally order four cheese pizzas because I find them bland, but the cheeses each had a creamy and sharp flavor.
Lots of cheese on one pizza is great and all, but now it's time to talk about the real shining star of the evening: the Bronx pizza. I had been skeptical about the ricotta cheese; I thought it might be overwhelming or too lasagna-y or just the wrong match for pizza dough. I was wrong. Whoever dreamed up the toppings on this pizza is a genius. The ricotta was rich and creamy and spread lightly enough on the dough to still make it manageable as finger food. The meatballs were thickly sliced, well-seasoned morsels of meaty perfection. The Bronx pizza at Marco's might be my favorite pizza, ever.

The Bronx
The Staten Island was my least favorite of the three, and the only one our group didn't finish. It was bland compared to the other two pizzas, maybe because the only cheese used was standard mozzarella, and the Vidalia onions were overpowering.

The Staten Island
We were awfully stuffed after three pizzas and an order of wings between the four of us, but apparently not that stuffed, because when Mr. Oyster saw cannolis offered on the dessert menu, he couldn't refuse. Like the pizzas that preceded it, this was as good as I could've imagined. The ricotta filling was perfectly creamy and sweet. Our waiter informed us that the filling is made in-house, but the shell is not as they don't have an oven to bake it properly.

Since leaving Marco's, my husband has declared it as his favorite Neapolitan pizza ever. This is a big deal from a guy who eats so much pizza.  

Marco's has a second location, closer to our lives in the 'burbs, at Vallagio. We're rearranging our calendars to try that location after the culinary joy at the Ballpark Marco's. 

If you like Neapolitan pizza, go to Marco's. Period.

Casual Dining

(9 of 10)

Pros: Pizzas are well executed and follow Neapolitan standards. Unique toppings. Excellent cannoli. 
Cons: Not nearly enough room at the bar. Won't seat incomplete parties even with reservations


Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bernie's Hot Dog Co.

Disclaimer: I'm not a huge hot dog fan. To me, a typical hot dog tastes OK but not great. Plus I sort of avoid processed red meats. But my husband is an occasional hot dog eater, and he was intrigued by Bernie's after driving by their Highlands Ranch location. Since our first visit many months ago, he's become a regular, and I tag along every once in a while.

Bernie's is located in the most stereotypically suburban setting imaginable, in a small strip mall-ish cluster of restaurants near a main artery of Highlands Ranch and across from Home Depot. But don't be fooled by the location; Bernie's is one of very few non-chain, local restaurants in the south suburbs.

Walking into Bernie's, you might forget just how deeply entrenched in the suburbs you are.The interior is a combination of eye-popping red and green walls and, in an apparent reference to its own menu offerings, canine photos plastered all over the restaurant.

Anyone wary of standard hot dogs will be pleased to discover that Bernie's offers veggie dogs, turkey dogs, and "all-natural" dogs. The "all-natural" dogs are made of Vienna beef with no added color, hormones, or nitrites, and they're what my husband and I have ordered every single time we've visited. In other words, they're delicious.

The most difficult part of a visit to Bernie's may be deciding from their 20+ condiment offerings. Besides the usuals like ketchup and pickles, there are more exotic options including blue cheese, bacon, and green chili. My husband usually orders the "Michigan Ave" (aka a Chicago Dog), which comes with yellow mustard, pickle spears, tomatoes, sweet relish, diced onions, banana peppers, and celery salt. I've tried the Michigan Ave a couple times but got turned off by the subsequent bad breath and fluorescent green relish; now I stick to just ketchup and mustard.

All-natural dog with Michigan Ave toppings

All of our meals at Bernie's have included a side of their beer-battered fries, which are always served piping hot, and with all the salty and greasy goodness you ask for from a hot dog joint.

Beer-battered French fries

Nothing stands out as being the best thing i ever ate, but you can definitely get a great hot dog - customized to your liking - at a very decent price.

Everyday Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Good food. Lots of hot dog and condiment options, great service
Cons: Boring location, buns are nothing special, not many healthy options


Bernie's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon