Boulder is an interesting place when it comes to eating options, and it's home to a variety of ultra-specific restaurant styles that cater to our weird blend of rich hippie-dom.
Boulder is a very interesting place when it comes to eating options, and it's home to a variety of ultra-specific restaurant styles that cater to our weird blend of rich hippie-dom and granola-tech-vegan-foodies.
1. The Humanizing Fast Food Chain
The vitals: A fast food chain restaurant visited by members of all socioeconomic classes and walks of life where people leave their baggage at the door to gorge upon addictive, obesifying fare. Nobel prize winners sit shoulder-to-shoulder with high college bros, who eat their fried fat thing in peace across from hobos who used to own this town.
Waitstaff: Zombified cogs in the corporate machine with better insurance than you. This is either their first job or the only place that will hire them with a forged American visa, and you’re not even on their radar until you broach the topic of flour or corn tortillas. They’ll invariably mention how working at McSubway-Qdoba-King-Bucks shaped their work ethic in their best selling autobiography they write in 20 years after they’re recognized for popularizing teleportation.
Clientele: Humankind. This restaurant is the the web that connects humanity and no one is too rich or important to escape its delicious, mass-produced grasp. Billionaires and the derelict huddle in unison over prepackaged delicacies and for a brief pulse, the faint echo of “Kumbaya” can be heard over the whirr of frappucino blenders.
Probable dish: Anything on the assembly line that a 16-year-old can handle ie. burritos, sandwiches, burrito-sandwiches.
Date worthy? Eh … more like you’ve been dating for a year, so you’ll just pick up your girlfriend or boyfriend’s usual order for them on your way home.
Drunkenness policy: Just get through ordering and please don’t throw up in the bathroom.
You can get away with: Not tipping. Although it’s poor form not to tip, this is the most acceptable place to eat out if you’re the penny-pinching Scrooge-dick type. But … don’t do this just because you can; throw the kid a freaking dollar so he can at least dream about taking his SnapChat tit-flasher crush out for frozen yogurt.
Example: Chipotle, Starbucks, Boss Lady Pizza
2. The Completely Insane Breakfast Joint
The vitals: Your weekend brunch spot where eggs are God and you wait an excruciatingly long period of time to re-tox after last night.
Waitstaff: There’s only a certain amount of time until the weekend’s hangover wears off for these servers, whose main goal is to get the half-baked college transplants that have daddy’s credit card in their back pocket a pitcher of mimosas and like, 50 sides of bacon. The two-hour wait and line around the corner informs them that their interaction with you will be brief, and they know they’re getting off at 2 p.m., so they’re remarkably chipper for people that got up at 5:45 a.m. to put eggs in your face.
Clientele: Tourists and college kids who expect extensive service just because their waiter is in all black. Black=class right? Nope, joke’s on you, it’s just easier to hide the stains. Beyond that, there’s the usual brunch crowd; men and women who value the mid-morning meal and the ritual of breakfast so much that they’re willing to wait for hours to eat something they could easily have made at home.
Probable dish: Eggs Benedict, which, in Boulder, will undoubtedly be served sans gluten-muffin and on a bed of some kind of green thing instead.
Date worthy? It’s less “date” and more “consolation breakfast” worthy after a one-night-stand you didn’t completely regret.
Drunkenness policy: You can come in here pretty drunk as long as you keep drinking and are decisive. Own it.
You can get away with: Dine and dash. If there were ever a type a restaurant primed for this it’s the Completely Insane Breakfast Joint. Your waiter is busier than hell, so he might not notice right away. But once he does, don’t show your face again. People who steal get called out and 86’ed real quick.
Example: The Buff, The Village Cafe, Snooze
3. The Trendy Tapas Place with Insultingly Small Food and Hot Servers
The vitals: That one place that insists their share-friendly "family style" menu is truly the best way to enjoy their offerings, but what that really means is that you rack up an $80 bill ordering three molecular dishes with unpronounceable names.
Waitstaff: Blisteringly intelligent and weirdly attractive Masters students who’ve evolved from “waiter” to “server” and take their job seriously enough for them to form their entire social circle around their workplace. They’re all fucking each other, and they should be, because their vast interpersonal drama is the only thing spicier than the wasabi-jalapeno hamachi they’re serving. Cloudy with a 100 percent chance of them explaining that “most of our plates are share-style” to you, followed by a recommendation that you order 5-7 small plates before launching into a $45 entree. You kind of want to party with them and you probably will if you stay late enough.
Clientele: Young parents who found babysitters at the last minute, couples on dates, Rooster blind date participants or foreign tourists who Yelped “best food Pearl Street.” Most patrons are debilitatingly confused by the “share style” menu and can’t understand why there are no entrees, but they’re placated by the artisan cocktails or post-industrial decor. They think of this venue as the stage for their evening: “Leave us…and the wine. Please.”
Date worthy? It’s the perfect place for a double date because you can practically order everything on the menu, and the sleek, youthful vibe of the restaurant makes you feel adult enough to have the sex later.
Probable dish: Cue your bacon-wrapped dates and charcuterie boards.
Drunkenness policy: It’s best to come in sober and get a couple bottles of wine with your tastings. After your “meal” which was comprised of several plates of tiny food, you’ll want to balance out that voluptuous red with a five-dollar burger from down the street.
You can get away with: Picking up your server. Long sit times at tables means face time with your server, and if you’ve got game, you might just be able to snag digits.
Example: Hapa, Riff’s, Cafe Aion
4. Raw Vegan Gluten-Free Guilt Emporium
The vitals: The kind of place you take your mom when she's in town because she won't stop sending you emails about high mercury levels in tuna. Also the kind of place that makes you feel really, really guilty about your bacon fetish.
Waitstaff: Very enthusiastic cult-escapees who live on a farm co-op and play mandolin like an angel. These servers have a passion for the raw/vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, and believe that adhering to a diet of the same has cured them of a debilitating digestive condition. If you eat meat and have no food allergies to speak of, you will be treated like alien life and handled gently because no one knows when you might explode and drag a bread-encrusted animal carcass into the facility as an act of gastro-terrorism.
Clientele: Your mom, and other people who inquire about the sourcing of the tahini-roasted almonds. Were they raised responsibly? Was the water they were grown with organic? What were the names of the farmers who harvested them?
Probable dish: Kelp noodles with seared tempeh-cranberry “meatballs,” hand-massaged kale and a small potted plant to keep you company while you eat it.
Date worthy? Only if you don’t mind the excessive farting afterward.
You can get away with: Substitutions. Mass, innumerable substitutions. The kitchen is already so sensitive to alternative diets and food allergies that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure your raw, vegan, gluten-free meal is to your liking and also won’t kill you. They don’t want blood on their hands unless it’s tofu blood.
Example: Leaf, Zeal
5. The Used-To-Be-Fancy Bistro
The vitals: This restaurant type was swank in the eighties when ribeyes and baked potatoes were still symbols of status, but today it's plagued by modernity. Its dark, heavily decorated atmosphere would have be perfect for a Russian mob meeting except the retirement home is holding a bingo tournament there, so …
Waitstaff: This type of restaurant is what your Midwestern grandparents would call “fancy,” yet by Boulder’s standards, it’s rather basic. As such, the waitstaff is a persnickety bunch, caught in the nameless void between fine dining and casual fare, and so they’re just not exactly sure how to act. You’ve got your overbearing managers named Tina who take the whole thing way too seriously, your college freshman with hearts of gold, and every type of human being in between. There is always, always, an old male bartender whose life calling is mixing Manhattans there, and you refer to him by his last name.
Clientele: Typical family of four “Bobby just graduated middle school” Boulderites here, as well as the occasional businessman or woman who’s trying to woo clients by appearing traditional and therefore a safe person to invest in solar power with. Oil barons. Your nana.
Probable dish: Burger with a spin like “chipotle ketchup” or the ubiquitous steak and frites.
Date worthy: Prom night dates and 80-year-old couple who eat in silence dates are perfect.
Drunkenness policy: Hey, if you’re a functioning alcoholic, let your server top of your old fashion with top-shelf bourbon. Ladies, order your cosmos but please, keep your voices down after you have two or three.
You can get away with: Getting it on in the bathroom. This place has enough money backing it to get a classy washroom where each stall is its own little room. Oddly enough, there’s always a step stool for your leveraging purposes to the left of the toilet. Just make sure to keep the noise down, these aren’t bomb shelters after all.
Example: The Cork, Ted’s Montana Grill, Turley’s
6. Woefully Unattainable Fine Dining
Waitstaff: Does it matter what your server is even like here? All you really need to know is that she can answer any obscure questions you have, including those concerning what time of day the hen that laid that egg you’re about to eat, what the temperature was in Spain when they harvested the grapes in your wine, and what the chemical composition of ‘uni foam’ is. These are career servers who operate like butlers, and they are not fucking around. Their annual salaries make mince meat of yours and they’re always happy to see you because they can afford to have a sex dungeon in their mini-mansion so there.
Clientele: Olympic athletes, rich Boulder alcoholics, sugar daddies, people who invented Chipotle, sommeliers and their daughters, dermatologists, software foodies, and other 1-percenters whose lives you can only imagine are filled with temperature-controlled rooms.
Probable dish: Freshly murdered halibut flown here two minutes ago from Alaska with saffron-pea risotto, caviar broth, and some decorative pearls because fuck it.
Date worthy? This is a “next step” restaurant. If you are ready to give her the key to your apartment, move in together, or put a ring on it, bring her on over.
Drunkenness policy: Basically anything goes. If you maintain a certain level of class and don’t shit your pants at the table, they will keep the bottles coming, because that’s what they have, bottles.
You can get away with: How big is your bank account? To feel comfortable walking over the threshold of this place means you have an account here. So if you want to rail lines in the wine cellar with that stripper you brought in, go ahead. Your card is on file.
Example: Frasca, The Flagstaff House