Category Archives: Boulder

Best Pizza in the Mountain West

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Over time, I’ve become a sucker for thin-crust pizzas. Preferably, the dough has some sour sourdough starter and has been rested/proofed a while. The decorated pizza should then be cooked in a smoking-hot brick oven for scant minutes, emerging slightly blackened on the bottom and puffy and leopard spotted along the edges. The true test of a great, chewy-but-still-soft-in-the-middle crust is I could eat it all by its lonesome.

I’ve also learned to love simplicity—a few outstanding, house-made ingredients that complement and don’t overwhelm that fine crust. So, no more three kinds of oily meat, blankets of greasy cheese or hearty ladlings of indifferent tomato sauce; heck, increasingly, I don’t want any sauce. As for ham and pineapple, just banish it to Hawaii, please. Instead, I’m all over freshly-made mozza and sausage and maybe something I’ve never tried before: dried cherries, yes, peanut butter, not so much.

I’ve organized these by best pizza in each mountain state and province, extending the latter to include British Columbia. The list is by no means exhaustive, a starter in pizza parlance. For instance, I’ve yet to try two Arizona standouts: Pizzicletta in Flagstaff or Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. By all means, let me know about your favourites.

Mountain States

At Pizzeria Seven Twelve, in Orem, the focus is on fresh, creative ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, house-made sausage and roasted fennel and cauliflower, all riding atop a thin, bubbly crust with a nice tangy flavour from the sourdough starter. The servers wear t-shirts hammering home that point with single words on the front—simple, local, inspired. Check, check, check. Definitely check it out.

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

Pizzeria Seven Twelve
320 South State Street, Orem, Utah
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-10 pm and Friday-Saturday 5 pm-11 pm. Closed Sunday
Pizzeria Seven Twelve on Urbanspoon

It’s a tossup (sorry, bad joke), with entertainment winning the day at Screaming Banshee Pizza in Bisbee and The Parlor Pizzeria taking the flavour crown in Phoenix.

I’ve always thought if you’re going for wood-fired pizza, you might as well get a front-row seat and enjoy the show. Sure enough, as soon as I sit down at Screaming Banshee Pizza and start sipping a hearty Kiltlifter Scottish ale, the pizza maker starts rolling out discs of dough and tossing them ceiling-ward three or four times. I’m so entranced, I don’t notice my own Screaming Banshee pizza ($15) getting lifted from the 760-F. oven with a long-handled wooden paddle. It has a lovely, lightly charred crust strewn with creamy fresh mozzarella, strips of fennel sausage and caramelized onion. After a game effort, I’m still left with half to go.

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Screaming Banshee Pizza
200 Tombstone Canyon Road, Bisbee
Tuesday-Wednesday 4 pm-9pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm, Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday

At Parlor Pizzeria, it only takes five minutes in a 460 F. oven for my eight-inch Forager pizza to emerge, with, no surprise, a bubbly char on the thin crust. The topping is a compelling, rich mix of wild boar meatball, rabbit sausage and finocchiona. Add some radicchio, thinly sliced fennel and rosemary, and I’ve got a first-rate, six-slice pie for only $10, knocked down to $6 during happy hour (3-6 pm).

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 East Camelback Road, Phoenix
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
The Parlor Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

New Mexico
Any surprise that Santa Fe takes the pie here? At Rooftop Pizzeria, you can dine in-house or, even better, head down the elevated hallway to Marble Brewery’s Taproom and enjoy a pint with your pizza from a patio seat overlooking the historic downtown plaza. I pick a New Mexican theme for my plentiful 12-incher—green chile with a fair kick, toasted piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust—alongside tender chunks of chicken, cotija and asadero cheese and alfredo sauce ($13.50). I must say, it goes down nicely with a 21.5-ounce tumbler of Irish Red.

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

Rooftop Pizzeria
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, with slightly reduced winter hours
Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

There’s no contest here. As previously mentioned in my Best of 2012 road food post, the guy sitting next to me at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza, in Missoula, says it’s the best pizza he’s ever tasted. Here, they use a sourdough starter, known as biga (bee-ga), add fresh, ingenious ingredients like fig paste and toasted hazelnuts and slide it all into a 650 F. brick oven for about eight minutes. I get a half and half—one side their award-winning sausage, cherry chutney and smoked gouda (my favourite of the two), the other a medley of local squash and pumpkin. I wash it down with a pungent, Missoula-produced Kettlehouse Cold Smoke Scotch ale.

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall's Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza
241 West Main Street, Missoula
Lunch weekdays 11 am-3 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-9:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday

I can’t say I’ve tried enough pizza in this great culinary state to yet declare a winner. Here are some places chosen as much for character as fine pizza. One is The Sink, a graffiti-laced rabbit’s warren on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder (try the Buddah, featuring tofu, spinach and artichoke hearts). Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub and Amica’s Pizza are two good reasons for making the pilgrimage to Salida, my favourite Colorado town. Oh, they also both make their own beer.

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

Wyoming. Okay, I’ve only eaten pizza at one place, Lander Bar in downtown Lander. But it gets high marks for character, largely because of the boisterous, young crowd and my seatmates: three local women with a ranching heritage and a penchant for chewing tobacco. As for the pizza, it was a fine chicken and artichoke medley thrown down with a Five Pound brown lager from Lander Brewing next door. If you’ve noticed a theme here, it’s that pizza goes down well with a good craft beer. Sorry, wine just doesn’t cut it for me.

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Lander Bar
126 Main Street, Lander
Monday to Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday noon-10 pm. Note: The Gannett Grill is open daily 11 am-9 pm

Canadian West

As the name suggests, Una Pizza + Wine obviously breaks my beer-and-pizza rule. It’s also somewhat expensive ($15-20 per pizza) and often has a lineup (though it does Tweet about how long the wait is). But it’s worth bending some rules for one of the top-rated restaurants in Calgary, somewhat unusual for a place largely dedicated to pizzas. Creativity, first-class ingredients and execution are the reasons for its popularity, plus it’s a fun, noisy place to hang out. Our pizza choice is a puffy crust covered with roasted cremini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, fresh arugula and the trump card, splashes of fragrant truffle oil. Una has also transformed the predictable Caesar salad into a mountain of kale topped with crisp Serrano ham, garlic panko, an organic egg and shaved pecorino Romano.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue S.W., Calgary
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
UNA Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Coco Brooks also breaks some of my rules. It’s not thin crust, it’s a little heavier on the cheese and its toppings are by no means leading edge. Indeed, it pumps out the little cardboard boxes of pizza with industrial efficiency. But the Egg n Bacon is a guilty pleasure, with the soft, puffy filling offset by just a slight crunch of smoked bacon and melted mozza and aged cheddar. And at $6.29, it’s maybe the best value on this list for an individual-sized pizza.

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Coco Brooks
640 42 Avenue SE, #80 (two other Calgary locations)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-8 pm, Friday 8 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm
Coco Brooks - Highfield Industrial Park on Urbanspoon

British Columbia

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Here’s how Pizzeria Prima Strada, in Victoria, earns its Italian certification for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. It begins with a well-aged sourdough starter, mixed with fine-ground Caputo flour from Italy and left to rest for two days. After it’s stretched out and loaded with toppings, it goes into a 650 F. wood-fired oven for a minute, is turned and then finished for another minute in the 850 F. section. “The cook’s eyes are on the oven at all times,” the waitress tells me. My Salsiccia Piccante pizza ($15 for six substantial slices) features house-made fennel sausage, roasted peppers and mozzarella. But it’s that deliciously chewy, leopard-spotted crust that makes it a home run for me.

The sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I've tasted

The blistered sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I’ve tasted

Pizzeria Prima Strada
230 Cook Street (one other Victoria location)Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-10 pm
Pizzeria Prima Strada on Urbanspoon


Best Burgers in the Mountain West

Big, beefy burger with an onion ring cap at Burger Dive in Billings, Montana

Big, beefy burger with an onion ring cap at Burger Dive in Billings, Montana

Americans are pinkos? When it comes to ordering burgers medium rare at a lot of places, yes. Heck, some burger joints recommend it.

Meanwhile, in Canada, many restaurants are so afraid of incurring the wrath of health inspectors, they cook their patties to a shoe-leather well done.

Thus, regardless of where you come down on the health issue, American places that offer a choice of how you want your six-ounce patty cooked have an automatic hind leg up in my list of top burgers in the mountain west. That’s because a medium-rare or medium burger, like a steak, simply has more flavour and juiciness than dead cow cooked brown all the way through.

Other criteria that move burgers up my list are:

  • Fresh-ground, locally sourced meat from the tastiest parts of the critter
  • Hand-formed patties. Uniform-shaped pucks are evidence, in my mind, of frozen, imported patties of unknown origin. Indeed, they may be an assemblage of many animal parts and fillers
  • Good, fresh buns. An overlooked detail in many places, a good bun shouldn’t disintegrate and should add some flavour and texture to the mix
  • Interesting toppings certainly help, but a really good burger shouldn’t need too much stuff disguising the main attraction: the meat.

Without further ado, here are my highly subjective picks of best red-meat burgers from my travels through the mountain west of the U.S. and Canada. As always, a * indicates a standout.

*Diablo Burger can be a bit hard to find: It’s down an alley or out the back of a mall in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. Kind of like rounding up stray cows. Which is somewhat appropriate, given all its natural meat comes from local, open-range ranches. My search for this hole-in-the-wall, unadorned place is rewarded with arguably the finest burger I’ve had a recent road trip, and I’ve had some damn good ones. Because the beef is 95 per cent lean, Diablo’s recommends a medium-rare burger. And the six-ounce patty indeed comes out pink in the middle and incredibly moist and flavourful. I choose the Blake burger ($11.75), featuring Hatch chile mayo, roasted green chiles and sharp cheddar. It’s all squeezed inside an excellent, locally made English muffin with a nice touch: DB branded on top. The toppings are aptly subtle and the lettuce and slice of red tomato are on the side, for me to add if so desired. But when the meat is this good, I don’t want distractions, though I do scarf down the hand-cut Belgian fries lying beneath this burger king.

At Diablo Burger, it's not just the cattle that are branded

At Diablo Burger, it’s not just the cattle that are branded

Diablo Burger
120 North Leroux Street, Flagstaff, Arizona (also a Tucson location)
Monday-Wednesday 11 am-9 pm, Thursday-Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sunday
Diablo Burger on Urbanspoon

Note: Bobcat Bite is relocating to 311 Old Santa Fe Trail in late summer 2013, under the name Santa Fe Bite.

Nearly ducking my head to get through the door of *Bobcat Bite, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I momentarily think I’ve entered a homesteader’s cabin (albeit with a pink adobe exterior and pictures of bobcats lining the walls). That’s because the low, dark wood beams are barely higher than the lanky cook’s head, and there’s scarcely room for half a dozen, tightly spaced tables and about the same number of counter seats; I’m asked to move over to make room for a couple of new arrivals. So the character of the place already has me excited. But really, I’m here for my baptismal GCCB (green chile cheeseburger for the non-cognoscenti), a legendary New Mexico concoction, and Bobcat’s version supposedly tops the list. You know it’s authentic when they ask how you want that 10-ounce, freshly ground chuck patty cooked. I go for the recommended medium rare, with no fries to sully the experience. And boy, does it deliver—two inches of one of the most succulent burgers I’ve ever tasted, with the melted chile-cheese topping adding some pleasant but not obtrusive heat. Bobcat’s GCCB is worth every bite for only $9; I don’t even touch the accompanying potato chips.

Good luck getting your mouth around this green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite

Good luck getting your mouth around this 10-ounce green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite

Bobcat Bite
420 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Wednesday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Bobcat Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Farm Grill, a happening place in upscale Gilbert, outside of Phoenix, produces its own tomatoes and lettuce that go on its local, natural and fresh-ground chuck burgers. Despite the line, an efficient crew soon produces my Fontina burger ($9.50), loaded with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, pecan pesto and melted cheese. It takes a minute to get through the greenery and into the moist, perfectly cooked patty. The burger is wonderfully complemented with an order of rosemary-dill, panko-crumb onion rings, the crispness of the fried batter nicely offsetting the soft, slippery onion inside. What puts things over the top is sitting on the patio on a spring evening—alongside mostly young families at picnic tables—looking out at the farm and a magnificent tamarisk, its giant branches paralleling the ground before reaching skyward.

Joe’s Farm Grill
3000 East Ray Road, Gilbert, Arizona
Daily breakfast 8 am-11 am, lunch and dinner 11 am-9 pm
Joe's Farm Grill on Urbanspoon

At Joe's Farm Grill, most of the fixings are right off the farm.

At Joe’s Farm Grill, most of the fixings are right off the farm.

I’ve covered this in a previous post, but *Bingo Burger, in Pueblo, Colorado certainly produced the best lamb burger I’ve ever tasted. All burgers and fries are cooked to order, and from a counter seat I can watch my thick, hand-formed patty grilled and then finished under a lid. Next come the twice-cooked fries—from San Luis Valley potatoes—tossed with a little salt. My God, these are easily the best fries on the trip, good enough I don’t want to sully them with the roasted garlic dipping sauce. The Goat Hill burger ($9.75, Colorado-raised lamb with goat cheese, mushrooms and a lemon-rosemary aioli) is right up there with it, cooked slightly pink as requested and requiring a well-hinged mouth to bite into.

Succulence of the lamb at Bingo Burger

Succulence of the lamb at Bingo Burger

Bingo Burger
101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, Colorado
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Joe's Farm Grill on Urbanspoon

Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, in Boulder, Colorado boasts a lineup of 12 third-of-a-pound burgers, the Colorado-raised beef cooked to medium. The signature burger is called Date Night, an unusual medley of roasted poblano peppers, smoked bacon, melted goat cheese and, wait for it, date puree. The combination works surprisingly well, with the sweetness of the dates proving a counterpoint to the poblanos’ pungency. The obligatory accompaniment is a generous serving of hot fries that, the menu promises, will be redone if they’re not perfect.

A "date" with a fine burger at Mountain Sun Pub

A “date” with a fine burger at Mountain Sun Pub

Mountain Sun Pub
1535 Pearl Street, Boulder Colorado (a second location at 627 South Broadway)
Daily 11 am-1 am. Cash only
Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon

*Charcut Roast House, in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, breaks most of my road-trip food rules. It’s in downtown Calgary, which means parking and a vacant table are hard to find at lunch. It’s fairly expensive and its signature burger is made of…. pork? Just ignore all this, and go eat at one of the city’s deservedly hottest restaurants. Here’s a tip: Get there before noon and ask for a seat at the counter, where you’ll get a ringside seat of a first-class team of chefs in action.

A friend and I both order the house-ground burger, a massive nine ounces of a unique blend of sausage and beef (70-30%), accompanied by a pile of Parmesan fries and homemade ketchup. Partway through the grill-top cooking, co-owner Connie DeSousa (she finished third in Top Chef Canada; check out the tattoo on her arm), peers over the counter and asks if we’d like an egg and some aioli spread on that burger. After nodding yes, we tuck into these juicy monsters, held together with thick, gooey cheese and a bun that miraculously survives the mauling. Sure, it costs $17, but for one of the better and bigger burgers I’ve had anywhere, it’s still good value. And if we’d paid attention to the name, the Share burger, we could easily have split it.

Charcut Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday-Tuesday 11 am-11 pm, Wednesday-Friday 11 am-1 am, Saturday 5 pm-1 am, Sunday 5 pm-10 pm
CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: Sugar Nymphs Bistro, is in the tiny town of Penasco on the scenic High Road between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. But it’s definitely a destination restaurant, thanks to the reputation of owner and former Greens Restaurant (San Francisco) chef Kai Harper Leah. I only had a delicious bite, but my sister said the green chile cheeseburger was one of the best burgers she’s tasted.
Sugar Nymphs Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sugar Nymphs Bistro, Penasco New Mexico

Lovely green chile cheeseburger at Sugar Nymphs Bistro

It doesn’t get more local than Chuckwagon Cafe, in the heart of cattle country, in the town of Turner Valley, an hour’s drive southwest of Calgary. Owner and chief cook Terry Myhre finishes steers at his nearby ranch and has them processed into various cuts for dense, hand-formed burgers or steak benedict.
Chuckwagon Cafe on Urbanspoon

The burgers are almost straight off the range at Chuckwagon Cafe

The burgers are almost straight off the range at Chuckwagon Cafe

At the The Burger Dive, in Billings, Montana, my Blackened Sabbath is an unusual combination of blackened seasoning, blue cheese, bacon, garlic mayo and the kicker, a thick onion ring that provides a contrasting crunch to the luscious burger.
The Burger Dive on Urbanspoon

Rolling Through Boulder, Colorado

Boulder Creek is a lovely place for a walk or run through Boulder

Boulder Creek is a lovely place for a walk or run through Boulder

Boulder may well be the hippest city in Colorado. On the doorstep of both Denver and the Rocky Mountains, it’s small enough (less than 100,000 population) to easily get around, yet sophisticated enough for the outdoors and arts crowds, thanks largely to the state’s biggest college, the University of Colorado (CU-Boulder). It is more touristy than Fort Collins, especially along Pearl Street. The good news is you can park for free, for a couple of hours, a block or two away and walk to many of the better eateries and coffee shops in town.

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