A restaurant owner smiles in his restaurant.
Javier Cruz, owner of Garibaldi Mexican Bistro, sits at the restaurant on Sept. 6 in Englewood. Cruz emphasized what he says is the unique nature of his menu compared to other Mexican restaurants. Credit: Ellis Arnold

Mark Antonation endeavored to eat at every restaurant on Federal Boulevard in Denver city limits.

He started near Hampden Avenue on the south end and made his way up above 50th Avenue on the other end, north of Interstate 70.

Skipping national-chain and dollar-a-scoop joints, he ate food from one restaurant each week.

He did that for about 75 weeks.

So Antonation, the former food editor at Westword, knows a thing or two about the Denver metro area’s restaurant scene.

He had set out to capture the spirit of the storied Federal Boulevard — with its authentic Asian and Mexican eateries — about a decade ago, but his food writing travels also took him through the suburbs outside Denver.

What makes the Denver area’s food scene different from other parts of the country is how the different cuisines are spread out and, in a way, “integrated,” he said.

“In other cities, say you want to find a Chinese restaurant. You’re probably (going to) go to a district where there’s a high concentration of that, or any other style,” Antonation said.

But in “metro Denver, especially when you hit the outskirts — Thornton, Broomfield, those areas — it’s a lot more mixed,” he said.

And there’s good news for foodies in the suburbs: With real estate becoming so expensive, a lot of new restaurants are opening in the north Douglas County area, Antonation said.

Elsewhere, around “Westminster and Thornton and Broomfield, there’s a lot of Asian restaurants opening up there, Chinese and Thai specifically,” Antonation said.

“If you live in the suburbs — if you live outside the suburban area even — it’s probably going to keep getting more interesting for you,” Antonation said.

Colorado Community Media asked Antonation what restaurants outside of Denver stand out to him. Here are some of his favorites — places where you might encounter dishes that you can’t find anywhere else.

Mark Antonation, right, stands at the 2022 Colorado Restaurant & Bar Show, which is run by the Colorado Restaurant Association. Courtesy photo

Garibaldi Mexican Bistro in Englewood

Unless you happen to pull over for gas right across from the Gothic Theatre, you might never notice that there’s a restaurant in the same building as a Conoco convenience store.

Years ago, Javier Cruz stopped to get gas there, and a small food outlet was serving burgers at the time.

“And kids said, ‘Can we get fries?’” Cruz said, recalling how he noticed the restaurant.

Cruz spoke to someone with the business who said of the small space: “You want it? Take it,” Cruz recalled.

Different food outlets have come and gone at that spot — Cruz still receives mail for many other businesses, he said.

But eight years in at that location, Cruz and his family are still serving up food that he says sets them apart from other Mexican restaurants in the area. He put up a wall to separate the restaurant from the gas station part of the building, adding new paint and artwork and a new ambiance.

With heritage from Mexico City, his family felt that “we never find this kind of food here,” Cruz said. “So when we opened this restaurant, we said we’ve got to sell this.”

He recommends the food on the “menu Azteca,” featuring dishes made with cactus that he says make Garibaldi unique.

You can find Garibaldi Mexican Bistro on Broadway a few blocks north of Hampden Avenue in Englewood.

Chile con Quesadilla in Brighton

The Chile con Quesadilla food trucks opened on March 15, 2020, just before the response to the coronavirus pandemic intensified and restaurants and bars stopped sit-down service.

“We were never shut down due to being classified as ‘take-out’ and gained exposure at a rapid pace when many restaurants were shut down,” said Christina Richardson, co-owner of Chile con Quesadilla. “We frequently went to neighborhoods, apartment complexes, HOAs and served food to people who were staying in their neighborhoods (and) homes while on lockdown.”

Since Chile con Quesadilla started, Richardson and her husband Jason have received several local awards for their food, and they recently opened a brick-and-mortar Chile con Quesadilla restaurant location in Brighton.

“Our liquor license got approved on May 5, 2023, and (we) have been operating since,” Richardson said.

She says that Chile con Quesadilla is “not traditional in any sense.”

“We create many different and unique flavor combinations, for a Mexican-American fusion with a multi-award-winning green chile at the heart of a lot of the recipes,” Richardson said.

Her top sellers include birria, or beef, tacos and the BBQ bacon brisket tacos, dubbed “The Triple B.”

“We are a quesadilla concept, but anything on the menu can be ordered in the form of quesadillas, tacos, nachos, sandwiches or a bowl, essentially turning nine menu options into 45 different items,” Richardson said.

You can find the Chile con Quesadilla restaurant on Main Street in Brighton, a couple blocks north of Bridge Street or state Highway 7.

 People sit outside Hong Kong Station restaurant in Centennial on Sept. 6. Inside, staff were busy with dinner customers. Photo by Ellis Arnold

Hong Kong Station in Centennial

A bustling dinner crowd came on Sept. 6 to Hong Kong Station, a restaurant that stands out among Chinese eateries.

“It’s kind of an unusual Chinese restaurant for Americans because a lot of the food is influenced by Europeans who settled in Hong Kong, so they have a baked rice dish that has like a pork chop and Italian-style tomato sauce,” said Antonation, the former food writer.

The restaurant also serves traditional Hong Kong-style Chinese food, but it’s well known for its Hong Kong French toast, Antonation said.

He describes that dish as two thick slices of white bread usually with peanut butter and an egg batter, pan fried and served with a big slab of butter.

“I think it was the first place I knew of in metro Denver that was serving this, and it’s kind of become a trendy dish lately,” Antonation said.

You can find the restaurant at 6878 S. Yosemite St., a bit south of Arapahoe Road in Centennial.

Farmhouse Thai Eatery in Lakewood

One of Antonation’s favorite newer Thai places is Farmhouse Thai in Lakewood near 1st Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard.

“Their dishes tend to, I would say, capture traditional flavors, but they do a lot of interesting modern presentations or updates on traditional fare without straying too far from the canon,” Antonation said.

Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton

A standout Italian restaurant far north of Denver serves a Detroit-style, thick-crust pizza, Antonation said.

“And the weird thing is that the pan is rectangular and has a rectangular hole in the middle … and so the advantage is that every slice has a crusty edge, unlike a normal Detroit-style pizza where you’ve got some with a soft edge and crusty edge,” Antonation said of Wholly Stromboli.

You can find that restaurant at 410 Denver Ave. in Fort Lupton.