Denver's five best homegrown, fast-casual chains -- from Noodles to Chipotle

Fajita Burrito.jpg
The fajita burrito from Chipotle.
Fast-casual restaurants are taking over the world, one burrito, burger and bowl of pasta at a time, offering customers the convenience of quick-service joints and some of the atmosphere and ingredient quality of sit-down places. And given Colorado's casual lifestyle and entrepreneurial spirit, it's not surprising that this state has been the birthplace of some of the country's most popular -- and lucrative -- fast-casual concepts.

Here's our list of Colorado's top five homegrown chains -- and what customers love about them. The eateries may be fast-casual, but their fans' devotion is very, very serious.

See also:
- Larkburger lands in Northglenn...with a new BLT sandwich
- Smashburger offers many opportunities for delicious deviation
- New summer salads at Noodles & Company: two outta three ain't bad

The Chili-Lime Ginger Salad with Seared Chicken.jpg
J. Wohletz
Even the salads have noodles on them.
5. Noodles & Company
This fast-casual pasta spot opened its first restaurant in Cherry Creek in the mid-1990s, offering noodle bowls in all colors and flavors of the savory rainbow. Today menu items range from mac and cheese with mushrooms and truffle oil to some really good sour cream, beefy Stroganoff to mildly spicy pad Thai. Noodles & Company is still privately held and has expanded to more than 250 locations nationwide, nabbing a fair share of consumer awards and attention along the way.

What customers love about Noodles & Company: Sure, people can boil pasta at home, but good sauces and toppings take some time -- an investment that, for a hungry person who just got done with work/yoga/book club/chasing their kids around a park, seems like a lifetime of waiting. Noodles is easy on the purse, the portion sizes are generous and the menu staple beef Stroganoff just as good as what you can make at home -- with zero percent of the time and effort.

truffled larkburger.JPG
J. Wohletz
The truffle Larkburger with melted Swiss.
4. Larkburger
It all started with a burger and a world-class restaurant in Vail, Colorado....so sayeth Larkburger. Co-founder and chef Thomas Salamunovich has been involved in a formidable roster of Colorado fine-dining facilities, including Larkspur, where he invented the Larkburger. This damned delicious burger was so incredibly sought-after that Salamunovich built a sleek, innovative fast-casual restaurant around it. Today Larkburger is a chain that proves to people that a truffle burger with a side of Parmesan truffle fries isn't too much truffle at all.

What customers love about Larkburger: They adore the truffle-scented burger and they lust after the truffle fries. The seared tuna burger is as healthy as it is scrumptious. Larkburger also offers edamame as a side, and gives kids whole apples with every kid's meal -- guilt-free dining at its finest.

Garbanzo beef skewers.jpg
J. Wohletz
Beef and veggie skewers from Garbanzo.
3. Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill
Alon Mor had a vision of bringing quality, Mediterranean-style food to the U.S. in a fast-casual environment -- and he made this happen with fast growth, and some of the best babaghanoush in Colorado. Piping hot pitas are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day in full view of customers; cool salads and sauces are made from fresh, whole vegetables and prepared each morning; there are no transfat oils in sight. Started in 2007, Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill currently has locations throughout the Denver metro area, as well as Colorado Springs, Boulder and Fort Collins areas, and is expanding quickly across the state -- and outside of it -- with more franchise stores in the works.

What customers love about Garbanzo: Lean, well-prepared proteins and a surfeit of seasoned, grilled vegetables -- some on skewers -- make customers feel like they are getting some serious quality grub for reasonable prices, with no muss, fuss, dirty dishes in their own sink. Garbanzo's fresh mint lemonade would take forever to make at home, and only a second to grab here. And watching the oven drop fresh pitas into a waiting basket is at least five minutes' worth of entertainment at no additional charge.


Location Info

Noodles & Company

550 Broadway, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Larkburger

2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, CO

Category: Restaurant

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill

8547 E. Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village, CO

Category: Restaurant

Smashburger

1120 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Chipotle Mexican Grill

145 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO

Category: Restaurant

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23 comments
Victoria Dyksterhuis Folkerts
Victoria Dyksterhuis Folkerts

Noodles is a fabulous concept. Such friendly service and consistently good food! And whats not to like about the rice krispie treats? :-) And am a fan of Chipoltes, Tokyo Joes and Santiagos!

Julie Ann Rabelj
Julie Ann Rabelj

Tokyo Joes is one of my favorite meals ad way healthier than those mentioned here.

petenammy1
petenammy1

Garbanzo is terrible. Can't understand how people can like it.

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

Chipotle Grill and Tokyo Joe's destroy the competition.

lucca.mo
lucca.mo

How about MAD Greens and Tokyo Joe's?

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Larkburger = Name Fail

Reminds everyone not familiar with Larkspur of ground BIRD


Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@Julie Ann Rabelj Aside from Chipotle, yes, you're right. They're like 1A and 1B.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Don Tacho  ... Evil Corporate Owners.

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@Meril Penn Yu Good Times is like a bad taco stand without the tacos.

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@foodcrazy I prefer to EAT Chipotle. I'm also not too interested in driving six or eight miles for a burger. 

carramaena
carramaena

@DonkeyHotay... If you insist. However, your original point was that their name is a fail. Ground animal = ground animal. Also, If meat is murder, you're not eating at this burger place all that often anyway, and therefore aren't terribly affected by what they named it, am i right?

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