Year Of The Staycation (Part 2): Budget-Friendly Places To Eat In Denver

For Part Two of our feature on enjoying a Denver vacation on a budget, Elissa is looking at budget-friendly places to eat in Denver.  Your stomach will be growling by the time you’re done reading this post – don’t say you weren’t warned!

Get the best bang for your buck by eating your way through the delicious ethnic restaurants in Denver, exploring the food truck and hot dog stand scene, and enjoying trendy restaurants’ amazing happy hour specials – you won’t be disappointed you ventured off the path of large chains and fast food restaurants!

Don’t miss part one of this series: Enjoying Denver’s Attractions On A Budget

Image Credit: imelda on Flickr


Located at 36th and Tejon in the Lower Highlands neighborhood, Lechuga’s is one of the best kept Italian secrets of Denver. The line is often out the door, but the cannolis are more than worth waiting for.

You get your choice of hot or mild Italian sausage or meatball (all locally made), covered in marinara sauce, and baked into the center of tasty Italian bread. A small (filled with 1 sausage, approximately 4” long) will only set you back $1.45, and a large (filled with 2 sausages or 3 large meatballs, approximately 8” long) only $3.50. Make sure to pick up a ($0.50) side of marinara sauce for dipping!

Be careful—Lechugas is closed on Sundays!

Or, pick up a pasta bucket (and I do mean bucket!) to go. For around $15 you will get a huge tub of pasta, three sausages and three meatballs, two loaves of garlic bread, and enough salad to feed 6-8 adults. Spend the extra $2 for the homemade, thick noodles—they’re worth every penny! Lechugas’ canolis are a perfect portable treat to bring with you to Elitches or a Rockies game (and it’s only 5 minutes out of your way!).

They have daily specials, too—on Tuesdays you can get a large plate of homemade pasta, your choice of sausage or meatball, salad, and 2 pieces of garlic bread for just $4.25!

Tamales by La Casita

Located at 36th and Tejon in the Lower Highlands neighborhood (across from Lechugas), Tamales by La Casita offers delicious tamales at a price you can afford. Year after year, Tamales by La Casita wins “best of Denver” awards, but their prices don’t reflect their popularity!

Pick up a mixed dozen (six red chili with pork and six green chili withcheese) for just $9.75. Bring them with you to enjoy at a Rockies game or an afternoon in Downtown Denver.


They got their start in an old A&W rootbeer stand in Brighton, but Santiago’s now has more than 20 locations in Denver metro area. No matter where you are in Denver, there’s a Santiago’s location nearby.

A burrito or breakfast burrito will only set you back $2, and for $9 you can get a “large combo” (taco, tostada, enchilada, smothered burrito, tamale, and beans & rice) which is really large enough to feed two adults and a child. Be careful, the hot green chili is enough to make you break a sweat!

Pho Duy

Feeling particularly adventurous on a chilly summer evening? Head down Federal for a giant bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup that’s guaranteed to warm your tummy. This year Westword named Pho Duy as the “Best Denver Dinner Under $10.”

Image Credit: becca elouise

For $6.50, you’ll get piping hot bowl of beef broth (that’s bigger than your head!) packed full of rice noodles, and a meaty combination of your choosing.

They will bring an entire platter of fresh basil and cilantro, bean sprouts, and limes so you can dress up your soup any way you want. If you ask, they’ll even bring you a small bowl and a pair of scissors so you can share your soup with the kiddos, and cut the noodles into bite-size pieces.

Not a meat eater? They offer a tasty vegetarian pho which they pack full of noodles, vegetables, and tofu. Make sure to save room for dessert—for $2.50 you can enjoy a delicious Thai Combination Pudding (full of fruit and large pieces of tapioca), or for $3 you can enjoy a frozen boba treat (frozen smoothie with large tapioca balls at the bottom)!

Kim’s To Go

While you’re in Boulder, be sure to stop by Kim’s To Go for a tasty lunch at an incredible price! For $4.50, you’ll get your choice of lunch entrees that are large enough to feed 2 adults.

Some of the star choices on the menu? Tofu Lo Mein, BBQ Beef or Pork, and Cashew Chicken. Add a huge shrimp spring roll to your order for just $2! Pick up your lunch and eat it across the street on the benches surrounding Varsity Pond on the CU Campus .

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog Stand

Image Credit: Wally G

Now, I know what you’re thinking—“why should I pay $4-5 for a hot dog when I could buy a whole package for that price?”

Visit Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog Stand at 16th and Arapahoe and you’ll understand that these aren’t just ordinary hot dogs, they’re a gourmet meal in disguise (and 5 bucks for a gourmet meal isn’t half bad!). Biker Jim has many unique options like Elk Jalapeno Cheddar Brats, Wild Boar Sausage, German Veal Brats, Southwest Buffalo, and (my personal favorite) Alaska Reindeer Sausage!

Try any of these topped with your choice of fixin’s, including Jim’s famous Coca Cola caramelized onions, tomato curry jam, and Jim’s signature cream cheese. Not to worry, Jim is happy to serve the kids a classic Hebrew National dog with mustard, ketchup, and relish.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider visiting on ”##%$%!! Wednesday” for unique specials including Rattlesnake, Pheasant, and Duck Brats!

Don’t want to eat on the go? Visit Biker Jim’s new sit-down restaurant at 22nd and Market.

Steubens (Uptown at 17th and Pearl)

Steuben’s is of the best restaurants in the city, is very kid-friendly, and offers incredible happy hour specials!

Visit on weekdays from 2-6 PM and enjoy $1 beef burger, veggie burger, pulled pork, or BBQ beef brisket sliders (and for $2 you can get a tasty crab cake slider). Dress them up—add cheese, bacon, egg, or green chili for $0.50 each. And these sliders aren’t dinky – two (or 3 if you’re REALLY hungry) for an adult, and 1 for a kiddo is plenty to fill you up!

Add a huge plate of Steuben’s famous gravy fries for just $3 and your stomach will thank you!

Hapa Sushi

Hapa Sushi has four locations Pearl St. and The Hill in Boulder; and Cherry Creek North and Landmark at DTC in Denver

Hapa Sushi a trendy restaurant with an unaffordable price tag—unless you visit during happy hour! From 2:30-5:30 PM daily, you’ll get your choice of 2 delicious (8 piece) sushi rolls (including California roll, spicy shrimp, spicy tuna, cucumber avocado) for just $7 (or $6.50 if you visit the location on The Hill in Boulder). Other happy hour specials vary by location, but include drink and appetizer specials at an affordable price tag.

Denver Food Trucks

Image Credit: Jess J

Food trucks are the biggest craze to hit the Denver restaurant scene. Many of the popular Denver restaurants and chefs are creating food trucks which travel to different locations around the city and offer select items from their restaurants at discounted prices.

Look for these trucks at city parks, farmers markets, street festivals, and food truck events (like Civic Center Eats and Justice League of Street Food Parties).

Some of my favorites are The Biscuit Bus, Steuben’s Truck, and the Basic Kneads Pizza truck. Follow your favorite trucks on Facebook and Twitter to find their daily location, and “like” the Justice League of Street Food on Facebook to learn about special discounts and events.

Thanks so much to contributing writer Elissa for her expertise!