Best Boulder County bites of 2023

The Boulder Weekly’s veteran food editor names the very best things he tasted in 2023

Cinnamon rolls from Bittersweet Cafe & Confections (836 Main St., Louisville) top the list. Credit: John Lehndorff

Some smart psychologist or dietician could have a field day analyzing the dining choices I made in 2023. They might note the excessive number of bakeries and dishes involving cheese. A food diary always bares the inner soul.

All I know is that the following items at Boulder County eateries are the best things I tasted this year, and I’m happy to recommend them. (We shall not speak about the worst things I tasted and would never order again.) 

I made myself very hungry compiling this greatest-hits list. These are the dishes that linger in my memory and make me wish I could enjoy them again. 

My Favorite Boulder County Bites of 2023

Each spoonful of the black tonkotsu ramen is a separate flavor adventure at Edwin Zoe’s Dragonfly Noodle (2014 10th St., Boulder). A bowl of flavor-layered broth and house-made noodles are crowned with house-smoked pork belly, boiled egg halves, fried shallots, spicy sprouts and mushroom with earthy black garlic oil on top. 

The crave-worthy intersection of true Southern barbecue and classic Indian tandoori cooking is the masala combo plate at DJ’S Watering Hole (988 W. Dillon Road, Louisville). Tender smoked brisket and pulled pork are smothered in a complexly spiced sauce served over basmati rice, with naan. On the side: collard greens and baked beans.

The Hong Kong French toast served at Ginger Pig (1203 13th St., Boulder) is the best new dish I’ve sampled. Thick slices of white bread are middled with kaya coconut jam, dipped in egg, soy, bread crumbs and corn flakes and lightly fried. Garnished with sweetened condensed milk and melting butter, it’s street food that stops you in your tracks. 

Without the fancy trattoria trappings, Pasta Press (1911 11th St., Boulder) serves a dreamy fettuccine carbonara. Freshly made noodles are lightly boiled and coated with a spot-on sauce of eggs, imported pancetta and a grind of black pepper topped with aged Parmesan. 

It’s easy to eat local when it’s an entrée at Bramble & Hare (1970 13th St., Boulder) My plate of flavor sourced from Boulder’s Black Cat Farm was built around two tender cuts of Mulefoot pork with ancho chile cream on Boulder-grown polenta. 

Another dedicated bastion of local deliciousness is Farrow (7916 Niwot Road, Niwot). I still dream about that cozy restaurant’s seared pork belly from Longmont’s Buckner Ranch with massaman curry and the roasted rutabaga with Parmesan aioli, gremolata and lamb bacon.

There’s a surprise in every order of radna at Anchan Thai (1325 Dry Creek Drive, Longmont). Chewy, wide rice noodles are tossed with fermented bean sauce, egg, collard greens, veggies and chicken in a slightly sweet sauce. The edible garnish is pickled green peppercorns on the branch — each a pop of peppery joy.

The mixto at Pupusas Lover 2 (2525 Arapahoe Ave., Unit E1B, Boulder) is a fine two-person introduction to Salvadoran fare. Start with two pupusas, curtido slaw, a chicken enchilada, fried yuca, a banana leaf-wrapped tamale and fried plantains and finish with a plantain empanada and a sweet corn tamale. 

As a native New Englander, I can vouch for the fried fish at Lucky’s Bakehouse Cafe (3980 Broadway, Boulder). The lightly beer-battered Alaskan cod arrived steaming hot so I could dip bites in thick green goddess dressing and a side order of Hollandaise.

Tasting Regional Mexico

Unique dishes from the Yucatan region are featured weekends at the Off Campus Cafe (2600 Campus Drive, Suite B, Lafayette). Don’t miss the Yucatecan shrimp marinated with achiote, sauteed in garlic and butter and dished with cucumber slices and a mound of steamed rice. 

Coma Mexican Grill (4800 Baseline Road, Unit E-105, Boulder) dishes a pretty and satisfying chile relleno. The lightly fried roasted pepper is filled with melted cheese and smothered in green chile sauce with refried pintos, Mexican rice and warm tortillas.  

Durango Mexico-born Mirella Woo dishes authentic hand pies at Abuelita’s Empanadas (332 Main St., Longmont). My favorites from this food stall are her chile relleno empanadas and sweet pineapple empanadas.

A Few Favorite Sandwiches 

Kenny Lou’s Deli inside Button Rock Bakery (400 W. South Boulder Road, Unit 2200, Lafayette) puts together a legit East Coast-style Reuben. House-made corned beef, sauerkraut, Emmental Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing are stacked on rye bread and grilled until yummy. 

I satisfied my intermittent falafel cravings at the Mediterranean Market (2690 28th St., Boulder). Satisfaction is a fried garbanzo and fava bean patty, red onion, feta, romaine and tomato on a griddled thick pita with tzatziki sauce. 

In 2023, I happily discovered Fleishman’s Bagels and Delicatessen (2355 30th St., Boulder) food truck. Danna Fleishman bakes authentic chewy bagels and dishes deli faves. I love The Mudgie, a griddled everything bagel layered with bacon, cream cheese, tomato, chives and a sprinkle of smoked salt. You can enjoy it seated inside Full Cycle’s big cafe. 

The Best of Brunches Past 

The relaxed New Orleans-style brunch at Mateo (1837 Pearl St., Boulder) features beignets, shrimp and grits and a bagel plate with lox. My favorite is a true a.m. comforter: eggs Florentine with perfectly poached eggs, sauteed spinach and roasted tomatoes over English muffins drenched in Hollandaise sauce.

For once I skipped the Southern Breakfast at Dot’s Diner (2716 28th St., Boulder) and was rewarded with spot-on Nepali saag, creamy bright green spinach with tofu cubes served with steamed basmati, dal, chutney and flatbread for grabbing bites. 

The Christmas-style huevos rancheros and thick, smoky bacon strips were great, but the thing that made brunch sing at Doug’s Day Diner (2574 Baseline Road, Boulder) was the excellent biscuits — dense and chewy, not fluffy — served griddled with butter and mango jam. 

For a change of pace, skip the egg sandwiches and enjoy the savory SPAM Musubi at L&L Hawaiian BBQ (2323 30th St., Boulder) That’s a slice of sizzled SPAM with scrambled eggs and rice wrapped in seaweed. 

Where the sweets were

There’s something deeply satisfying about gradually unrolling the big, yeasty cinnamon rolls at Bittersweet Cafe & Confections (836 Main St., Louisville). It might be the thick shiny layer of cream cheese overcoating each bite.  

In this age of franchised food, it was satisfying to visit the family-run JD’s Delights (1801 Hover St., Longmont) dishing a full menu of cake and yeast-raised doughnuts, apple fritters and long johns. I’d drive an extra mile for a DJ’s vanilla cake doughnut with thick strawberry icing topped with crumbled strawberry Pop Tarts.

Bright flavors shine in the ice cream and gelato churned at Heaven Creamery (2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder) The scratch-made, organic pistachio gelato is spectacular. Light brown instead of artificial green, this moderately sweet, super-creamy treat is infused with tons of real pistachio flavor.

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. Comments: