In 1927, Greek immigrant Sam Armatas opened the first Sam’s No. 3 diner in downtown Denver on 15th and Curtis. While this location closed many years ago, Sam’s legacy lives on. In 1998, Sam’s son and grandson reopened Sam’s No. 3 just to the east of downtown in Aurora. In 2003, the downtown location was opened just across the street from the original which opened nearly 100 years ago. In 2013, a third location was opened in Glendale.
Today, Sam’s No. 3 is popular with both locals and tourists who flock here to sample the extensive menu featuring traditional American diner food, Mexican food, and Greek food. They are also famous for their signature Kickin’ Pork Green Chili which is made with New Mexico chiles. Due to its popularity, it’s not uncommon to find a wait of over an hour on weekends.
Over the years, Sam’s No. 3 has been featured in newspapers, films, and television shows such as Food Network’s Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives. As a fan of the show, I knew I had to add Sam’s No. 3 to my list of must try restaurants in Denver. Would it live up to the hype?
The interior of the restaurant featured a long, narrow dining room with a small dining room at the far end. On the left hand side was the kitchen and service area along with first come, first serve counter seating. If you are dining alone or don’t want to wait for a table, then the counter is great if you can find a seat. On the right hand side were a handful of booths along with floor to ceiling windows. With tall ceilings, white walls, and big windows, the restaurant felt bright and airy.
Other than a couple televisions hanging on the walls, some black and white photographs and artwork, exposed ducts, and hanging lights, the décor was quite simple. The space felt like a simple diner.
While I did not make a visit this time, at the far side of the restaurant opposite the entrance was a full bar known as The Hammer Bar.
The menu at Sam’s No. 3 was massive. There were endless options to choose from. You had American diner classics, breakfast dishes, Greek food, Mexican food, and a lot, lot more. While there was something for everyone, I felt the menu was too big and too confusing. With so many options, how would the kitchen ensure the quality of each dish? Also, the dishes were quite pricey for a diner.
The entire 15 page Sam’s No. 3 menu can be viewed here.
First up was the Huevos Rancheros ($12.99). This iconic Mexican breakfast dish was made with two eggs, two tortillas, Sam’s No. 3 Kickin’ Green Chili, homefries, and refried beans.
There was a lot going on with this massive plate of food. The first thing that caught my attention was how much food was piled onto the plate. Also, it wasn’t the prettiest of plates. It was very brown in color. I was hoping it tasted better than it looked.
The main reason why I ordered this dish was because of Sam’s No. 3 Kickin’ Green Chili. I heard so much about this sauce. This homemade sauce was made with tomatoes, jalapeños, chili puree, and fresh roasted green chilis. The mixture was then seasoned with salt, minced garlic, black pepper, ground mustard, and greek oregano. Mixed into the sauce were chunks of tender pork which shredded apart with my fork. Due to its name, I was expecting the sauce to be green but it was red. This wasn’t a problem as long as it tasted good. While I don’t think the sauce was bad, it seemed quite bland for having so many components. I found the sauce to be a little spicy and smoky but I wanted more flavor.
There wasn’t anything else that stood out with this dish. I did find that the eggs were cooked well, exploding with yolk when my knife cut through them. On top of the plate, and hidden underneath the eggs and sauce, were basic flour tortillas. Even though I prefer flour tortillas, for Huevos Rancheros I would have liked corn tortillas. And, it would have been nice if the tortillas were fried to give them some texture. I found these flour tortillas to be too thick, too large, and too gooey for my liking. Also, they were tough to cut through.
Finally, on the side were beans and potatoes. I enjoyed the tender, creamy, soft beans. The cotija cheese sprinkled over the beans added a much needed salty component. I also enjoyed the potatoes. While simple, I found the potatoes to be crispy and tender. All that was missing was a little salt which was a quick fix.
Hand-Rolled Chili Rellenos & Eggs
Just as with the Huevos Rancheros, the Hand-Rolled Chili Rellenos & Eggs ($13.99) was not the prettiest of plates. This dish made with two crispy rellenos, two farm fresh eggs, and Sam’s No.3 Kickin’ Pork Green Chili just looked sloppy. On the side, you had a selection of potato & toast or French toast, mini cakes, or biscuits & sausage gravy. I settled on the biscuits & sausage gravy.
This was not your traditional chili rellenos dish. These chili rellenos were made with egg roll wrappers which were stuffed with a New Mexico chile and cheese. I was expecting two crispy rellenos, but this was not the case. Maybe out of the fryer they were crispy but after sitting around for a while and being covered in Kickin’ Pork Green Chili, these things were soggy. And, they had a strange texture. Not only that, the egg roll wrappers were heavy and filling and I felt like I was eating batter.
As mentioned before, stuffed inside each wrapper were New Mexico chiles which were then stuffed with cheese. New Mexico chiles, also known as hatch chiles, are one of my favorite types of peppers. Traditionally, these peppers are roasted until fragrant and smoky. Sadly, the peppers in this dish tasted bland with a strange, rubbery, stringy texture. They didn’t taste fresh for something that is tough to screw up. Making things worse was the cheese stuffed inside each pepper. There was just too much oily, rich cheese which made the dish hard to finish. And, there was more cheese shredded on top.
The only part of this dish I enjoyed were the two farm fresh eggs which were cooked well though under seasoned.
Biscuits & Gravy
For my side, I settled on Biscuits & Gravy. I feel like a broken record, but as with the previous dishes, this dish looked sloppy. There was just so much gravy. It was like a bowl of gravy.
While simple and not homemade, I did enjoy the soft and fluffy biscuits. The gravy on top, and there was a lot of it, was forgettable. It tasted like your typical gravy but its texture was too sticky for my liking. A generous amount of flavorful sausage chunks were mixed into the gravy. The sausage reminded me of smoky, salty, sweet breakfast sausage which I am a big fan of. While not the most refined biscuits & gravy, it was just good enough.
My server was friendly and prompt and my food arrived quickly, almost too quickly. I also noticed how quickly tables were being cleaned by staff after each guest departed. With that said, I had no complaints with the service. While not directly related to the service, there were some flies buzzing around the dining room which I wasn’t a fan of.
Sam’s No. 3 is an iconic diner with a history that dates back almost a century. Visit on any day of the week and you are sure to find locals and tourists waiting for a table. With that said, I just wasn’t a fan of the dishes that I tried, especially for the price. I found the Kickin’ Pork Green Chili to be bland. Sure the portions were big and the service was great but the dishes were lacking flavor or imagination. Maybe I just visited on one of those days.
1500 Curtis Street, Denver, CO 80202
GPS Coordinates: 39.746201,-104.995595