What to Eat at Boulder's New "Fine Diner," Ella

By Ruth Tobias  |  July 16, 2014
Credit: Ruth Tobias

For Boulder restaurateur Edwin Zoe, comfort food is at once a family affair and a global adventure. That’s why he built beloved Pearl Street Mall nook Zoe Ma Ma around the dumplings, noodles and soups of his Taiwan-born mother turned chef a few years back — and it’s also why he’s relying on the input of everyone from his Hungarian mother-in-law to the Hispanic members of his kitchen crew as he perfects the repertoire at his month-old “fine diner,” Ella

Zoe says that the charmingly eclectic menu “reflects the story of my life as an American.” But the truth of the matter is that it reflects the lives of most Americans, natives and immigrants alike. Zigzagging from French-inspired omelets and huevos rancheros to pizza and meatloaf, it’s a world map of homestyle cooking set against the cheeriest of backdrops. The former Radda Trattoria always looked a bit like a diner to us anyway, with its strip-mall setting and bright white-and-yellow tile work, so Zoe has smartly kept renovations of the space to a minimum in favor of "obsessing over roast chicken" or zipping through "probably 100 pounds of potatoes" to nail down his hash browns. And based on what we sampled for the slideshow below, we expect you’ll be too busy eating to notice the changes to your surroundings — except, perhaps, for the vibrant flower arrangements on the patio. Guess who’s in charge of those? That’s right, Zoe’s mama.   

1265 Alpine Ave., Boulder; 303-442-6100

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Forget the bland, mushy matzo-ball soups of your childhood. Here, the chicken-and-veggie broth sings in bright, clear tones, while the springy-textured dumpling at its center melts in your mouth. 

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Not your average gut bomb, this pizza starts with a crackery thin crust to support plenty of rock shrimp, diced tomato and snipped thyme atop a judicious layer of mozzarella and grana padano. The light, fresh, tangy result feels almost guilt-free. 

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    We can't say the same for the bourbon-chocolate Brown Derby shake. But we can say it's a treat worth regretting. The full bar also turns out classic cocktails, local craft drafts and an easygoing, well-priced selection of wines — try the Hungarian red blend called Bull's Blood, just for kicks.  

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    And then there's the chicken-fried hanging tenderloin — huge yet exquisitely handled from its golden crust and juicy interior to all the right trimmings. Bacon drippings enrich the gravy on both the steak and the whipped potatoes, while the sautéed kale, loaded with garlic and shallots, proves absolutely addictive. (At breakfast, the dish is complemented instead by the aforementioned hash browns and two eggs over-easy.)

  • That kale also accompanies the lasagna, zesty with fresh pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, lots of spinach and wild boar as well as beef.  

  • Zoe told his cooks to make the green chile as they would at home. They took him at his word, adding tomatillos, serranos and cayenne to the mix — and it will have you sweating happily from the first bite. 

  • Meanwhile, his mother-in-law gets all the credit for the chicken paprikash, robust and velvety right down to the nokedli (aka spaetzle).

  • She also makes the Dobos torte, an architectural feat of chocolate and hazelnut. Because every visit to a diner should end with a slice of layer cake.