1968-83, Prehistory. In my early years, I rarely experienced fast food. There were the occasional trips to Shakey’s Pizza. I may have gone to Casa Bonita once with my family. I remember eating at the McDonald’s at Colfax & Pennsylvania once with my Dad. I don’t remember anyone in my family liking fast food. I ate a lot of Hot Tamales and those awesome fruit chews they used to sell at the Cooper Theater…but I’m getting off-track.
83-87, The Classical Age. At East High, we had an open campus for lunch. I loved being able to walk out the front door and walk to lunch. No more public school cafeteria crap. Jack-in-the-Box became my first fast food love. I can still taste the exotic meat in their SuperTaco. It was the best processed/reprocessed and constituted/reconstituted meat in all the land! Especially when served with a packet or two of their sauce. Alas, dagger in my heart, J-in-a-B no longer serves the SuperTaco. Which is why I don’t care that J-in-a-B has no more Colorado locations. At some point, a Sandwich Board opened up across the street from J-in-a-B. Then I went there and ate a lot of French bread pizzas. Once we could drive, Famous Pizza became our big hangout, with a smattering of Taco Bell. I was to get to know Taco Bell very well over the years, starting with that Colfax & Williams location. I mostly stayed away from McDonald’s and Burger King, other than a very ill-conceived date at the McDonald’s at Colfax & Pennsylvania.
87-91, The Dark Ages. I rarely ate fast food during college. I never had a car and I ate dorm food all four years. Except, of course, pizza that was delivered to the dorms. And the potstickers and ramen some student group sold in the basement of the neighboring dorm. In junior high, I stopped at the 7-Eleven at 11th & Ogden every day on the way home. In college, I stopped at the convenience store in the student union nearly as often. No Hot Tamales, though — no, I ate a lot of Twinkies and drank a lot of apple juice. I spent my summers home in Colorado, where I ate a lot of Taco Bell, Famous Pizza and other standbys. The new kids on the block were Renzio’s (on the 16th Street Mall) and Sbarro’s (next to Renzios and in the Cherry Creek Mall).
91-93, A Brief Enlightenment. Washington, D.C. I often ate at the Sbarro’s at Union Station on the way home. Sometimes I’d eat in their food court but it wasn’t that great. Showing uncharacteristic wisdom (this is the enlightenment part), I usually brought a sack lunch from home.
93-94, Renaissance. I moved back to Denver and rediscovered the classics. Taco Bell (on Colfax at Williams and at Glencoe), Famous Pizza, both Sbarro’s and Renzio’s. The Sandwich Board had turned into a Popeye’s at some point and that became one of my top stops. I had an internship with a judge in the City and County Building for one summer during college. I watched a lot of trials, including jury selections. One day I walked into Popeye’s and realized the guy working there had been one of those prospective jurors. I can’t remember what he said in jury selection, but I remember thinking he would be a solid, intelligent, objective juror. And there he was working at Popeye’s. That gives me faith in our system, that a guy working at Popeye’s would make a good juror. And I knew my two-piece chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuit was in good hands.
94-97, The Border Wars. During law school, I ate at Taco Bell nearly every day, rain or shine. Across the street from the law school in Boulder is a shopping center. In that shopping center was a Taco Bell, a Subway, a sit-down Vietnamese restaurant, and a Wild Oats. My classmates could set their watches by my pilgrimage to The Bell (and they often mocked me for it, deservedly so). The Vietnamese restaurant served awesome Spring Rolls with which I often supplemented my Taco Bell diet.
Wild Oats had good sandwiches though it was a little pricey for every-day eating . An important fast food moment in history occurred during law school, when my friend Dean pointed out to me that the secret of a good sandwich is the bread. “Of course,” you say. But, like all great discoveries, it was groundbreaking at the time. This was before Subway totally revamped their breads. They were serving their sandwiches on glorified Wonder Bread. The quality of the Wild Oats deli bread, Dean pointed out, is what separated it from Subway.
97-98, The Gathering Storm. I spent most of this period trapped in my parents’ house due to illness. Which meant I relied on deliveries, meaning I rarely ate fast food except when some friend or family member, usually my Dad, fulfilled my fast food requests. I remember eating a lot of Subway sandwiches.
99-2001, The Internet Boom. I worked at an internet company at the corner of Hampden and Havana. Consequently, my fast food experiences centered on that location. This is when I began my love affair with Anthony’s, a New York Style pizza place. During the week I went to the location out there off Havana and on the weekends I went to the location at 7th and Colorado near my condo. I have eaten a lot of Anthony’s pizza since then. I would also walk to a small Mexican place near the office and this is about the time I discovered another Mexican place that would come to dominate my lunch world, a little Denver-based chain called Chipotle. Chipotle taught me the First Law of Fast Food: you can only move up the fast food ladder. Once I started eating Chipotle every day it got very hard to eat Taco Bell. Of course, I still did and do eat Taco Bell, but only occasionally when I’m craving processed/reprocessed & constituted/reconstituted ground beef. After I was laid off by the internet company I stayed with Anthony’s and Chipotle but said goodbye to the extreme South Denver locations.
2001-2005, Sherman’s March. At the end of 2001, I began working on the edge of downtown, at 13th and Sherman. Three blocks up 13th was good ol’ Chipotle. One block away was an old friend I hadn’t seen since high school, Sandwich Board. I would bring a Mt Dew and some chips from home, buy a sandwich at The Board, and I could feel better about myself because I was sort of saving money. This is also when I discovered two places that would become stalwarts, Schlotsky’s and Tokyo Joe’s. And there was Denver Ted’s, a Philly cheese steak (or chicken) sandwich place where my buddy Matt and I played Sorry! over many lunch hours. On the weekends I still hit Anthony’s a lot.
2005-2007, The Golden Age. This was the pinnacle of lunch appreciation. The only real exercise I got each day as I awaited my retransplant was my daily foray into the fast food world with my portable oxygen tank hung over my shoulder. These were the halcyon days of leisurely late afternoon lunches. (I would go around 2 or 3pm to avoid the crowds and their germs.) My top spots included Schlotsky’s, Tokyo Joe’s, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, Anthony’s, Chipotle and Swing Thai. The cashiers at all these places got to know me well. I think they were concerned about this lonely soul who kept arriving at their shore with a book in hand and oxygen tubing in nose. You know how in school you made friends that you never saw outside of the schoolyard? This was kind of like that, me and my fast food friends. Or, in the case of the cute women cashiers, my fast food just friends.
The Present, Return to Sherman Street. Post-transplant. Anthony’s and I are still tight, but we dance at a new branch, the DU store. I still go to Schlotsky’s way too much. It’s my default lunch spot. Not because I love it, but because I’m the least tired of it. When I can’t think of anywhere else to go, I go there. I still fancy Tokyo Joe’s and Chipotle. I’ve gone back to the Cherry Creek Mall a few times, for Renzio’s mostly. But also to try Sbarro’s. That location has gone downhill big-time. And Swing Thai isn’t what it once was. Strangely, they stopped being good the second they changed from a fast food to a sit-down restaurant format. On the bright side, Denver Ted’s has picked up again after a brief decline…