Much like belting out the lyrics to "Hello" in the privacy of your own home (or car), eating at chain restaurants can be a much-enjoyed guilty pleasure. But sometimes, those tried-and-true favorite dishes are so delicious — so consistent — that they're well worth the embarrassment. Here's a roundup of our favorite 10 chain dishes and libations in Denver, many of which call Colorado home.
Cheese enchiladas from Taco House
Why we love it: For more than five decades, these spotless Denver-born dives have satisfied our gringofied lust for down-and-dirty Mexican food — for less than $7 per menu item. There's nothing groundbreaking about the menu, but the enchiladas — a bubbling trio of tortillas oozing with melty cheese of the trailer-park persuasion — are so stupid-good we often double up and order seconds.
Guacamole from Chipotle Mexican Grill
Why we love it: Despite Chipotle's recent woes, the Colorado-grown chain still has a swell of loyalists who can't seem to kick the habit — especially when there's guacamole involved. And we have to admit: that guac — a mashed smash of ripe avocados, cilantro, tart citrus juices, onions, serrano chiles and a liberal thrust of salt — rocks our world. Plus, those chips.
Butterscotch budino from Pizzeria Locale
Why we love it: The Neapolitan pizzas at this fast-casual superstar from Boulder are nothing short of perfection. And the budino — an ultra-rich butterscotch pudding with caramel, whipped cream and chocolate ganache served in a cheeky shot glass — is a terrific sugar high for dessert fanatics.
Margaritas from Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant
Why we love it: While the recipe for these margs has never been officially released, one thing's for certain: they knock you flat on your butt. (The chain even enforces a three-drink limit.) Rumor has it: Everclear may be the culprit.
Chicken fried rice from Benihana
Why we love it: The theatrics alone are worth the dinner-and-a-show at this Americanized Japanese chain, where comical, knife-wielding teppanyaki chefs have mastered the art of fried rice. Grains are flipped on a flat-top grill sizzling with oil and garlic butter and mixed with scrambled eggs, onions, carrots, green onions, sesame seeds and soy sauce. Get a second portion to go; it's just as good the next day.
3295 S. Tamarac Dr.; 303-750-022
Truffle fries from Larkburger
Why we love it: Potatoes, no matter how you slice 'em, are great in every guise. And the thin tubers at Larkburger, which started in Edwards, are no exception. The hand-cut potatoes — crisp, dusted with Parmesan and Italian parsley, then sheened with just a whisper of truffle oil — are carbs on steroids. But, damn, they're good. Obsessively good.
Ding Dong from Elway's
Why we love it: This local steakhouse chain, monikered after Denver Broncos executive vice president (and former quarterback great) John Elway, does just about everything right, including its off-the-hook Ding Dong, an updated retro classic that delivers chocolate decadence on every level, from the ganache to the crème anglaise. It's a gut bomb to be sure, but, hey, you're already at a steakhouse, so you may as well embrace the gluttony. Bonus: the Ding Dong is complimentary if you're celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. No ditching allowed.
Chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A
Why we love it: "The nuggets, the chicken biscuits, the spicy sandwich, that damn Chick-fil-A sauce that I'm pretty sure is just some kind of barbecue sauce/honey mustard hybrid...." That Facebook endorsement pretty much sums up the Mile High City's mad love for everything that clucks at Chick-fil-A. Extra pickles, please.
French dip from Hillstone
Why we love it: OK, so at 19 bucks, it's not exactly a cheap sandwich. But have you tried the French dip at Hillstone? Because if you have, you'll understand why you'd consider paying double. Those still waiting to witness its virtues (the crimson shaved meat, for example) should bite the bullet and shell out the dough. Trust us: it's the Rolls Royce of French dips. Worth every penny.
303 Josephine St.; 303-333-4688
Sicilian pepperoni rolls from Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom
Why we love it: Birthed in Boulder, Old Chicago knows a thing or two about pizza, craft beers and pepperoni. Especially pepperoni, which you can find in its Sicilian pepperoni rolls — butter-glossed coils of pizza dough embedded with pinches of pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. If you're like the rest of us, you'll be hard-pressed to limit yourself to just one.