Spokes of the Wagon Wheel: Old South Pearl

Spokes of the Wagon Wheel is a series featuring Denver neighborhood watering holes, saloons, and general places to cause trouble.

Old South Pearl, the cute historic stretch located between Evans and I-25 about 6 miles from downtown, boasts restaurants, bars, art galleries, specialty stores and more.  It’s lightrail-able (to the Louisiana Pearl Station on the E/F/H line), cab-able, and drivable.

Sure, I’m not a young, urbanite married couple with 1.35 kids running around Wash Park every day and stopping at Wash Perk (which is a very, very cool neighborhood coffee shop) every morning before I head to my Banking and/or Non-Profit occupation.  Sure, it’s a little slice of suburbia right in the city without being obviously suburbia. It’s quiet, cute, quaint, and pretty, all mixed up together on one historic street.  Sometimes, it even feels transported back a few decades–the streets are spotless, the air smells crisp, the gardens are carefully manicured, and the neighborhood businesses are just that–for the neighborhood.

There’s a smattering of art galleries and cute boutiques, with a dash of specialty shops, like a jewelry, framing, and pottery shop.  And like cornerstones between these adorable shops on the historic Old South Pearl are places to drink.  Huzzah.

Black Pearl (1529 South Pearl Street)

I became acquainted with this joint in college because of its brunch and its bottomless mimosas.  It’s a great place to come in with your tank top on, get your tan  (or sunburn, in my case) on their outdoor patio, grouped together as community seating over a communal fire.  They pride themselves on having  contemporary cuisine focused on using fresh, locally produced ingredients.   The food is good, their wine list is great, and it’s a fixture of Old South Pearl.

black pearl table

Budapest Bistro (1585 South Pearl Street)

It’s Denver’s only Hungarian restaurant.  That alone is the reason to step in the door.  Then, the traditional and modern Hungarian food from family recipes is why you should pull up a chair and just watch the evening pass by.  Beer bottles and wine are available, but you go here for Hungarian food because it’s awesome.

Gaia Bistro (1551 South Pearl Street)

gaia front

Oh, Gaia.  You’re so adorable.  Situated in a small house with creaking wood floors and overgrown green cascading on the side and in the front area, Gaia is like the little dollhouse I never wanted to play in because it was too perfect.  In fact, Gaia has served me some of the best breakfasts and lunches in this adorable house with its perfect crepes (definitely go for the crepes), fresh fruit, delicious sandwiches, and the damn guilty pastries.  And now, after having their liquor license approved last year, you can pair your delicious meal with a glass of champagne, beer, wine, or bloody.  Gaia is a must.

Hanson’s Grill and Tavern (1301 South Pearl Street)

It’s the neighborhood joint I always wanted.  It winds up the stairs and out to the patio, reminding me of Mssr. Maguires in Dublin.  Their craft beer tap interpretation is Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and New Belgium’s line-up; I get the “special look” when I order Left Hand’s Milk Stout in bottle.  To a spoiled beer geek, it’s no Falling Rock or Euclid Hall.  And I know it’s no Colt & Gray–their cocktails either have vodka or St.-Germain.  And the wine, well, it’s there for those that drink out of the box.  All that aside, I go there for the ambiance and the food.  And frankly, they’ve got good food.  The sausage platter is spicy, all their apps are great (the nacho plate is HUGE), and they have $5 burgers on Monday and Tuesday.

India’s Pearl (1475 South Pearl Street)

I’m a big fan of Indian food.  While I’ve never been to their lunch, I’ve been for dinner and what a feast.  They have both traditional and modern Indian cuisine.  What surprised me, though, was their huge wine list, featuring over 500 wines.  As someone that loves dousing curry with Riesling, this was quite a treat.
kaos sign

KAOS Pizza (1439 South Pearl Street)

Lunch. Dinner.  I don’t care, I’ll do both in the same day.  KAOS Pizza is Denver’s only wood-fired pizzeria that grows its own produce.  Similar to Marco’s, they make their pies “Naples-style”.  In addition to wood-fired pizzas, KAOS has paninis, pasta dishes, salads and delicious desserts.  And delivery and take-out is available.  It’s quite a kick sitting on the patio around dinner time and seeing all the urbanite families enjoying their meal over beers and wine.  I could spend all night sitting on this patio.

Lincoln’s Roadhouse (1201 South Pearl Street)

I love me a good dive bar.  And I hear the motorcycles streaking past my apartment at 2am in the morning when they leave.  Lincoln’s looks like any other dive bar, with the exception of having delicious Cajun and Creole cuisine.  And they have live blues and  rock music on weekends with no cover.  Drinks here are what you would expect for dive bars. It’s a shot and a beer kind of place. It’s got charm.

Park Burger (1890 South Pearl Street)

Disclaimer: I love anything and everything grilled.  And I love a good burger when I find one.  For me, Park Burger holds my heart.  It beat out my beloved Cherry Cricket when Park Burger moved in a couple years back.  They don’t freeze their beef and buffalo, and they have 1 of 3 veggies burgers I’ve ever enjoyed.  Suggestion: don’t style out your burger, just get the Park Burger with a slice of cheese and you’re set the go.  Special sauce is already on there and you don’t need anything else.  Give their milk shakes a try.  And damn, they’ve got some fun Belgian beers that pair well with your patty.

The Pearl Street Grill (1477 South Pearl Street)

I feel like I walk into my neighborhood kitchen when walking into Pearl Street Grill.  They have your comfort food, like meat loaf, burgers, steaks, etc and when they changed their menu a couple years back, they now have healthy alternative menu selections.  Their tap selection is similar to My Brother’s Bar over on Platte Street, with domestics and the geeky tap being Great Divide’s DPA.  But that doesn’t matter.  You’re there for the company, ambiance, and food.

Sushi Den (1487 South Pearl Street)

I know Denverites are partial (and sometimes very defensive) of “their” sushi joints.  Sushi Den has been, and probably always will be, one of my favorite.  Sure, it’s pricey.  And that’s because they consistently strive to provide fresh fish flown in from Japan.  Koichi, their youngest brother, works in the Nagahama Fish Market situated on Kyushu Island, near where the brothers were raised.  He handpicks the fish to be sent to Denver and has them arrive within 24 hours.  Sure, they look “upscale” with the gray stucco, granite and sterile ambiance, with soft lighting.  In my opinion,  Sushi Sasa is of the same caliber with a very different interpretation. My favorite rolls: the Smoked Trout Roll and, of course, the house roll.  Their wine list is fun to play with and I suggest their sake.  When in Rome, er, Tokyo?

Run caddy corner from Sushi Den to visit Sushi Den’s cousin, Izakaya Den.  Created by the same owners, Izakaya offers similar menu as Sushi Den with more box entrees.

OTOTO (1501 South Pearl Street)

It’s the third installment of the “Den series”, as it’s owned by the same owner as Sushi Den and Izakaya Den, Toshi and Yasu Kizaki.  New last fall, OTOTO has ramped up the dining caliber on Old South Pearl and it is amazing.  With an up-and-coming cocktail program with incredible wine list (and some delicious beers!), OTOTO offers a great opportunity to eat and drink well.  They also earned Denver’s best oysters this year, as well as 5280’s Best Bites.  Not bad for its first year.  Not bad at all.

The Village Cork (1300 South Pearl Street)

I completely agree with Laura Shunk’s review.  Gentlemen, go here to charm a lady and increase your chances… of a second date.  It’s a great first date, utterly romantic, transporting you back to a corner French boutique where it feels just fine to drink bubbly at 3pm in the afternoon.  And the chef, Samir Mohammad, is incredible.  The creations he builds and crafts are done from the small over situation.  And he rotates them daily.  Don’t get liquor and don’t get beer.  You go here for the wine (see restaurant name above).

You, too, can join me on Old South Pearl.  It’s right off of I-25 at Louisiana/Pearl, as well as being accessibly by the E/F/H line (Louisiana/Pearl) stop.  Maybe I’ll see you for their summer concert series, too!


About Jess Hunter

Jess is a lady and a scholar. If she's not mulling over the various names of famous mustaches and their respective bitter cocktails, she's nibbling on American Craft Singles and Cantillon. Connect with her by email at jesshunter@denveroffthewagon.com.