As a top city for technology startups, Denver has taken the spirit of innovation and married it with another of the city's favorite passions: food. In the process, Denver's restaurateurs redefined fast-casual dining nationwide. Come try some favorite delicious, quick-serve restaurants in the places where they got their start.
In 1996, craving a healthy alternative to fast-food chains, Larry Leith decided to pioneer a fast-casual restaurant and settled on Japanese cuisine for its lauded health benefits. Tokyo Joe's, with its freshly cooked rice bowls, sushi and noodle bowls were a hit from the start and remain so today at about 30 locations.
Hoping to prove that "fast" doesn't have to mean "fried," Marly Hodgson and Dan Long opened MAD Greens to address the dearth of fresh, fast and healthy fare in 2004. The menu includes paninis, wraps, soups and desserts, but the salads are the main event, whether topped with fresh fruit, crisp veggies, savory cheeses, sliced nuts or succulent meats. There are 13 Colorado locations, but if you're in Southeast Denver, reviewers love the location at 2073 S Colorado Blvd.
No fast-casual roundup would be complete without a shout out to our favorite slice. Beau Jo's, founded way back in 1973, has found a way to put a Colorado spin on the classic pizza with its signature Mountain Pies, piled high with toppings and cheese. The super-thick crust is served with a side of honey! Try the Denver location on University Hill, or if you're headed up I-70, stop into the flagship location in Idaho Springs.
FAST-CASUAL RESTAURANTS: ONES TO WATCH
Looking for a little lunch-time diversity? You could eat at Modmarket (hatched in nearby Boulder in 2009) every day for a week and enjoy a totally different eating experience: salad one day, a brick oven pizza the next, sandwiches, soups and homestyle entrées - plus lots of gluten-free options. Founded by two fitness fanatics, the eatery recently announced an ambitious plan to expand nationwide. Flying through DIA? Modmarket has not one but two concourse locations to grab a pre-flight meal.
Founded in Vail, Colorado, in 2006, Larkburger began as an offshoot of the ski town's popular Larkspur restaurant. The company now boasts 13 Colorado locations and is committed to "keeping it natural," from the ingredients in the burgers (all-natural Black Angus Beef) to the packaging (biodegradable) to the restaurants themselves (100 percent wind powered). Get your eco-friendly grub on at the Wash Park location at 340 East Alameda Avenue.