Boulder: famous for the University of Colorado, a known hippie scene, a typical college town in the middle of America. Lesser known to most is Boulder’s eclectic fine dining scene, focused on local, organic and sustainable cuisine.

As a CU alumni myself transplanted to Boston, people find it quite surprising to hear the two things I miss most about Boulder: the first being the weather (yes, Colorado’s winters are significantly milder than New England’s), and the second being the restaurant scene. It’s a dining scene that stems far beyond the delicious locally raised meats and produce, because even in a town that’s 1000 miles from the nearest ocean, the seafood selectionsand even sushi—are second to none.

If visiting Boulder and escaping the college scene is your idea of good time, take a look at my top five spots for a great meal:

1. The Kitchen

Debuting on Pearl Street in 2004, The Kitchen is somewhat of a legend in Boulder neighborhood bistros. Not many small cafes see the national success The Kitchen has seen in recent years, but the expansion is no-doubt well deserved. Opening as the epitome of a neighborhood cafe, focused on the feeling of eating in one’s home and featuring weekly, family-style community nights, the restaurant has since grown into a Boulder sensation. With the opening of The Upstairs a few years later as more of a small-plates focused trendy bar scene, The Kitchen launched a journey to cover all dining needs in Boulder. Now they’ve expanded across Colorado, to Chicago, and heading soon to Memphis.

It’s been a crazy ride, but the restaurant is still focused on its roots: comfort foods, homemade pastas, delicious charcuteries, all served by a passionate team of connoisseurs.

2. Sushi Zanmai

Raw fish in a completely land-locked city may sound a little iffy, but Sushi Zanmai is on top of fresh fish with its daily deliveries. Focused on authentic Japanese cuisine without the Americanized spin on sushi, Zanmai offers fresh maki, sashimi, and nigiri in a fun setting. Their extensive list of daily specials and happy hour offerings sets the bar pretty high. And if the food itself isn’t enticing enough, they offer weekly karaoke nights and private tea rooms, perfect for any celebration.

Highlights include the Z #9 Roll, Firecracker Roll, and Purple Haze Sake.

3. Jax Fish House

Another restaurant at the forefront of group success, Jax was one of the first in Boulder’s own Big Red F Restaurant group. With four other locations opening in the last 20 years, and one Top Chef winner through its doors, Jax remains true to its focus on sustainable seafood since 1994. The west end Pearl Street restaurant also boasts an extensive raw bar, something few and far between in the town of Boulder.

Sit at the bar for one of the town’s best happy hours, including house infused martinis and $1.50 oysters—flown in daily from the east coast.  


4. Frasca Food and Wine

Of all the fine dining in Boulder, you’d be pressed to find anything finer than Frasca. Co-Owner Bobby Stuckey lives and breathes wine. Holding one of 147 Master Sommelier diplomas in North America, Stuckey has quite a few prestigious awards under his belt including 2014’s Best Sommelier in the Country according to Wine Enthusiast, and the 2013 James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Service for the restaurant.

With Stuckey’s vision and innate knack for hospitality, complimented by Co-Owner and Head Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s Parisian culinary education and Michelin-rated restaurant background, Frasca has created a truly magical experience. The rotating farm-to-table menu is full of intricacies, all perfectly explained by an incredibly passionate staff.

Big date night or special occasion coming up? It doesn’t get more impressive than Frasca.

5. Brasserie Ten Ten

Perfect downtown location, Parisian-style outdoor patio, and a huge menu that includes everything from roasted bone marrow to pan-seared halibut. Brasserie Ten Ten has it all. Whether you want to sit at the bar with beer and football, have a classy dinner out, happy hour, or the perfect Sunday brunch of in-house baked items like eclairs, croissants, and cinnamon morning rolls, Brasserie’s got all your bases covered.

Some highlights include the classic French fare- think French onion soup, moules  or steak frites, and savory crepes.

One thing you’ll quickly learn about Boulder is that happy hours are not just about the drinks. The food specials aim to please, and no matter what type of cuisine you’re craving, downtown Boulder has something to suit any mood.

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