Iconic Denver diner with massive menu serves up all day breakfast and more | Dining review
May 25—Sam's No. 3 isn't a third diner; rather it's one of a trio with the same name.
Once, there were other numbers, but it's operated under that number 3 moniker for decades. There's also a lot of history, which according to Sam's website began in 1927 when Greek immigrant Sam Armatas launched the restaurant in downtown Denver. His sons and grandson opened locations in Aurora and Glendale. All have the same 16-page menu and a 13-page listing of beverages and desserts.
Nine pages of the massive bill of fare are dedicated to breakfast, which is served all day. The emphasis is on standard diner dishes along with Greek and Mexican influences. A diner, by definition, is an informal, usually inexpensive eating establishment boasting freshly prepared food. Sam's No. 3 meets most of the criteria. The downtown restaurant is large, it puts on no airs, but some of the items don't fit the bill. For example, the biscuits, according to our server, come from a can and the chicken tenders are from the frozen food section.
Nonetheless, we sampled the biscuits. They're among the options, along with French toast or pancakes, included in Mr. Sam's Big Breakfast ($18.99). The plate is buried beneath three eggs, sausage links and potatoes (a cross between home fries and hash browns). The spuds are crispy and creamy and the eggs cooked to perfection. The sausage gravy needed more seasoning in the kitchen. Salt and pepper at the table helped enhance them, but those canned biscuits didn't hold up well.
The awkwardly named High Maintenance Gluten-Dairy Friendly Skillet ($16.99) should appeal to everyone. This is a combination of hash browns topped with sautéed onions, diced green peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms. Avocado slices, black beans and two corn tortillas accompany the entree. An extra treat is the vegetarian green chili, made with corn, tomatoes and black beans, which has a not-so-subtle kick. Add two eggs for $2.69, but then you'd have to call this something else.
When challah is used for French toast ($7.99 for two slices), it's hard to resist. The thick bread is soaked in vanilla and cinnamon-infused egg mix before hitting the cooktop. The result is sweet and chewy.
The huevos rancheros were disappointing. Where the veggie green chili had plenty of heat, what's described on the menu as "Sam's No. 3 kickin' pork green chili" barely had a jolt. It, with refried beans, home fries and two over-cooked eggs, smother flour tortillas (two tortillas are also served on the side). This simply wasn't spicy enough.
Although we didn't the Greek dishes, there's a list of 26 "Spero's Breakfast Burritos." The selection is a mashup of Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, from a traditional flour tortilla wrapped around eggs, beans and green chili to a tortilla folded around souvlaki with a side of tzatziki, to name a few.
Food here is hearty, though seasoning was needed in some cases. Service was consistently attentive with coffee cups kept full and questions answered. In fact, our server's candor regarding the provenance of some of the menu items was surprising. I'm still shaking my head about those from-a-can biscuits.
Sam's No. 3
Popular Denver diner with large menu
Location: 1500 Curtis St., Denver
Contact: 1-303-534-1927; samsno3.com
Prices: $6.99 to $27.99 breakfast
Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday
Details: Credit cards accepted. Alcohol. Wi-Fi. Enclosed patio.
Favorite dishes: French toast and skillets.
Other: Gluten-free and vegan options available.