The Pearl Street Mall. Photo by Flickr user Pedro Szekely

The 9 Top Pearl Street Restaurants

In Food & Drink by Aimee Heckel2 Comments

Attention foodies. This street’s for you.

The quirky Pearl Street Mall is one of Boulder’s hottest landmarks, and not just for the tulips in spring, fire-eating street performers in summer and long line of great shopping year-round.

Some of Boulder’s best restaurants are directly on or a few blocks off Pearl Street. And if it’s the best dining in Boulder, it’s some of the best dining in the nation. Because Boulder has a long list of national rankings for its food, including being named Bon Appétit’s Foodiest Town in North America.

Ultimate Guide to Boulder’s Neighborhoods

This article is part of a larger series. To see all the articles in this Ultimate Guide, click here.

Plan a foodie tour down Pearl Street and you’ll quickly see why.

Here, find fresh seafood, award-winning chefs, restaurants that cook from their own private farms, tea parties and happy hours, cheese boards and cocktails on patios, fancy, fresh, French and nearly everything in between. The selection is huge and the bar is high.

In fact, the downtown area boasts about 120 different places to refuel with food, drinks and desserts.

Don’t be intimidated by the options. Lucky for you, we’ve lived here a long time (see: native) and know exactly where you want to be.

Starting on west Pearl and headed east, here are our favorite nine restaurants on Pearl Street, plus a handful of others that were close runners-up. Pick whatever type of food and atmosphere you’re craving and fill up.

Jax Fish House Exterior

Jax Exterior. Photo: Tyler Percy

1. Jax Fish House

Local tips: A highlight here is the oyster bar. Plan your visit to Jax on a Monday night, when oysters are just $1.50 each. For something different (and spicy), try a Buffalo Fried Oyster, served with kimchi, sriracha mayo and pickled mustard seeds.

Jax, located on the cozy, west end of Pearl, is one of Colorado’s best seafood restaurants. Not only does it always seem to be earning another “best-of” title, but it’s also an ethical restaurant.

Jax only serves sustainable seafood, meaning you’re not causing any unnecessary harm with your delicious dinner.

Although land-locked Colorado might not pop into mind as one of the best places to score seafood, Jax flies its seafood in fresh daily and has been named one of the top 25 seafood restaurants by Travel + Leisure, among others. We say it’s that, and more: Jax is one of Pearl Streets very best.

The atmosphere inside always seems to be high-energy. It’s a bit dim and sexy, but also totally hip. The dining room is small, so make reservations or come in early. Jax has been a Boulder staple since 1994 and is also a hoppin’ place to grab happy hour.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen Interior. COURTESY PHOTO

2. The Kitchen

Local tips: For a surprisingly delicious app, try the beet hummus. Our favorite lunch selection (if on the ever-changing menu) is the lamb burger, with balsamic onion jam and blue d’auvergne. For dessert, you have to have to have to try the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla gelato or pecans and vanilla ice cream. After dinner at The Kitchen, head upstairs and check out the swanky cocktail lounge.

This Pearl Street restaurant was named for its intention: to serve the community’s in the same way a kitchen serves your home, as a place for people to hang out, talk and share food.

Since opening in 2004, this bright, open, urban-inspired restaurant has earned a rep as one of Boulder’s best — and one of the best in the nation. The James Beard Foundation, Gourmet and Food & Wine Magazine have all deemed The Kitchen one of America’s top restaurants.

In total Boulder style, The Kitchen is concerned about the environment, too, and uses wind-power, composts whenever possible and recycles its used cooking oil to power one of the server’s cars.

Fun fact: You could say The Kitchen started randomly, when a dog jumped into the lap of Hugo Matheson as he sat outside at a cafe. The dog belonged to Kimbal Musk and Jen Lewin. Matheson invited them to dinner. It was that experience that led the three to launch the restaurant.

Local tips: Hit up Next Door on Wednesdays to nom to live music.

Today, you can find The Kitchen branches in Denver and Fort Collins, too. It also has branches in Chicago and Memphis.

The Kitchen also has an affiliated nonprofit, Big Green, that builds learning gardens to introduce kids to gardening food. It has built more than 200 of these gardens since 2011. Big Green reaches more than 250,000 students across the country every day and continues to grow.

For a more casual, family-friendly experience, head next door to Next Door (fittingly named), a casual comfort food hot spot owned by the same folks who run The Kitchen. Bonus: Money from every kids’ meal goes to plan gardens in Boulder schools.

Wild Standard interior

Wild Standard interior. Courtesy Photo

3. Wild Standard

Boulder may be thousands of miles from the ocean, but it still knows how to do incredible seafood. Wild Standard is one of our top Pearl Street picks for fresh, excellent, sustainably sourced seafood.

With a fun spin.

Wild Standard’s dining room is both comfortable and homey, with a dash of beachy elegance (rustic chandeliers, white-washed brick walls)

You must start your dinner with the fried calamari, made with gluten-free flour and a thai sweet chili glaze. This subtly sweet and spicy variation on classic calamari is one of Wild Standard’s most popular items. The restaurant also has a raw oyster bar.

Ask your server about the nightly special and hope for the king salmon from Yakutat Bay Alaska, flown in fresh overnight so it’s the freshest seafood you can get in a landlocked state. Occasionally, Wild Standards gets a rare ivory king salmon.

Seafood isn’t all Wild Standard has perfected. Pasture-raised beef and pork, local chicken and farm-to-table produce, only what’s in season, rounds out the menu. You’ll even see some creative international influences, like Thai spring mussels or curry cauliflower.

Ask your server to pair your dishes with specialty cocktails and wine. This is something Wild Standard has perfected. Its cocktail list changes seasonally, but if you see it, the Alice Waters (named after the influential farm-to-table leader) is a bull’s eye: vodka, celery juice, verjus, elderflower liqueur, prosecco and thyme.

For dessert, the house-made bread pudding with a chocolate-dipped banana is ridiculous.

Wild Standard is the newest creation from the founder of two other popular restaurants, Salt and Colterra.

 

4. Riffs Urban Fare

Riffs Urban Fare Interior

Local tips: Riffs is best known for its Brussels sprouts. Not sure what to get? Order from the “daily Riffs” menu, or try the cedar plank salmon, one of only a few items that has been on the menu since day one.

Riffs shows a different side of Boulder. It’s funky, urban, relaxed and exciting — a hip place to refuel after seeing Boulder’s sites. It describes its food as “Boulder-flavored,” and while abstract, it’s also somehow perfectly accurate. Food here is fresh and creative, like grilled avocados with crab salsa or cauliflower with raisins and capers, and naturally, it is locally inspired.

Riffs is especially adored for its interesting small plates. Try a scattering of small plates with a craft cocktail on the patio and watch Pearl Street’s people parade by. 

Prices here are reasonable, for a Pearl Street restaurant of this caliber.

Oak inside bar

Oak Interior. Courtesy Photo

5. Oak at Fourteenth

Local tips: Oak is also revered for its innovative cocktails, often using local, seasonal ingredients. It’s no wonder; co-owner Bryan Dayton is a certified sommelier with a ton of impressive experience, even running his own cocktail catering biz and founding the Colorado chapter of the U.S. Bartender’s Guild — which actually crowned him the nation’s Most Inspired Bartender.

The heart of Oak is its wood-burning oven (oak-fired, but of course) and seasonal produce. Watch chefs prepare the locally sourced food in the open kitchen. From local veggies to local meat to pasta made right in house, Oak is totally fresh and original. The apple and kale salad is a favorite. So are the donuts, made fresh daily in different flavors.

This restaurant is one part contemporary, one part rustic. In other words, it’s totally Boulder.

Pizzeria Locale

6. Pizzeria Locale

Local tips: Try the Filetto pizza, topped with burrata cheese, garlic, basil, cherry tomatoes and parmigiano reggiano. Locale has a massive wine list and even offers some wine on tap.
A few blocks down Pearl Street is Boulder’s best pizza restaurant. But this isn’t your average cheese-and-crust experience.

Pizzeria Locale serves up authentic Neapolitan pizza, wood-fired in an oven built out of bricks and mortar directly from Italy. The goal: to bring Italy into the heart of Boulder. So you’ll find local ingredients in that Italian oven, served with Boulder’s friendly, laid-back hospitality.

The atmosphere is relaxed, but also classy and elegant, perfect for both a romantic date or family outing.

Frasca

A cocktail at Frasca. Photo by Julia Vandenoever

7. Frasca Food and Wine

Down the street from Pizzeria Locale is a restaurant by the same owners and arguably Boulder’s best food. That is, if you’re arguing with James Beard.

Frasca holds two esteemed James Beard wins: for its wine service (co-owner Bobby Stuckey is a master sommelier) and for having the best chef in the southwest.

Then, in 2016, it was one of five national finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurant category, competing with such famous restaurants as Momofuku Noodle Bar and the Spotted Pig in NYC.

That’s basically the Oscars of the food universe.

Awards aside, food here centers around Northern Italian fare (Friulano food, it’s called) perfectly paired with top-of-the-line wines.

It goes without saying, Frasca is elegant and gourmet; known for its service; and, in itself, makes Boulder a worthwhile destination from Denver and beyond.

Cured

Cured. Courtesy Photo

Cured is one part gourmet grocery store, one part cafe. Although it only has a few tables, its exquisite selection of charcuterie, cheese and Euro-style sandwiches earns it the honor of our favorite place to grab a quick bite in Boulder. You’ll never think of sandwiches the same again.

Grab a to-go meal for a picnic, hike, to enjoy on the courthouse lawn just off the mall or to take back to your hotel room. Thursday is a chicken and mashed potatoes dish. Every other Friday, is a different pre-packed meal that promises to rival anything else in Boulder. It’s a bold claim, but this small, mom-and-pop shop more than delivers.

Cured shares its space with one of Boulder’s best coffee shops, too, Boxcar Coffee. Or if you’re looking to slow down, not speed up, Cured serves “unique, quirky, geeky” bottles of wine, Colorado beer and spirits. It playfully boasts to have the smallest liquor store in the state (206 square feet).

Don’t miss Cured’s second location on west Pearl.

Black Cat interior

Black Cat interior. Photo: Kristen Boyer

9. Black Cat

This restaurant is not directly on Pearl Street, but barely off the main drag on 13th Street — hence its “lucky” name.

Black Cat is the epitome of farm-to-table. No, really.

It’s connected to its own 130-acre, certified organic farm whose produce goes straight to your plate. Including a special corn that the chef dries and mills for polenta. The farm also raises sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys and geese. Even the wild fruit and produce is foraged for locally by Black Cat staff.

To level it up even more, Black Cat’s wool is sold to a local, organic mattress manufacturer.

Black Cat takes local, sustainable and healthy seriously. No GMOs here.

Food in this small bistro is classified as “inventive New American” and changes daily. Really, with all that natural, local influence, Black Cat’s menu is an honest reflection of Boulder’s land.

Other downtown highlights

Pearl Street has so many excellent restaurants, it’s hard to narrow it down. We had to gives these other options a mention, too. Again, west to east on Pearl Street: 

1. Jill’s Restaurant and Bistro

Website Directions

This sophisticated bistro, inside the luxurious St. Julien Hotel and Spa, serves up organic, contemporary American and Fresh cuisine. Ask your server to pair your meal with wine; Jill’s has earned a Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

Highlights: Colorado lamb, special meals cooked table side, an impressive vegan buffet.

2. Centro Latin Kitchen

Website Directions

Centro, with its popular happy hour (all night long on Monday), Pan-Latin food and live music, always seems to be happening. It offers a new take on Mexican food, and the margs served on the spacious patio will make you never want to leave.

3. The Med

Website Directions

The Mediterranean, called “The Med” by locals, is a longtime (more than two decades), downtown fave. This casual but classy Greek restaurant has mastered small plates, tapas and outside dining. We love a plate of paella with a signature cocktail as the sun sets behind the Flatirons.

4. Salt the Bistro

Website Directions

Salt specializes in local, seasonal food, located in a historic building (updated with 100 percent recycled decorations) right in downtown. The food here comes from the restaurant’s own farm and proudly claims to be 99 percent GMO free, even the beef.

5. Japango

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It’s hard competition across the street from popular Hapa Sushi, but Japango is a Boulder staple, with its patio bar and the biggest selection of Japanese whiskey in the state. We love Japango’s bento boxes for a healthy, light and reasonably priced lunch.

6. Mateo

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Just down the street is another French-inspired restaurant, but it’s a totally different feel than the others. Mateo is hip, minimalist and urban, with a organic, local, seasonal menu borrowing tastes from the Provence region.

7. Fior di Latte

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Fior is our top pick for dessert or just a splurge. This gelato is made from scratch every day, using local dairy products and no artificial ingredients.

The owners studied gelato-making in Italy, before bringing it to Boulder. They started at the Boulder Farmers Market but their cult following there naturally led to their own storefront.

8. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant

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Boulder is known for its restaurants catering to different diets, and Leaf is a top destination for vegetarians and vegans. Find a selection of gluten-free and raw food here, too, that is good enough to entice even those without food restrictions. Organic produce comes from Leaf’s own farm in nearby Lafayette.

The Taste of Pearl

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Every spring, Downtown Boulder holds a foodie showcase called the Taste of Pearl. It highlights some of Pearl Street’s tastiest restaurants and wineries. Stroll from one business to the next and try samples from 15 different restaurants.

That is, if you can score a ticket. People come from all over to taste Pearl Street and it’s hard to get a spot unless you plan in advance.

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