University of Colorado Denver
As a Denver native and passionate eater of foods, what follows is my personal, if a bit quirky, list of places I would send my friends and colleagues to eat and drink while visiting Denver. There’s no easy way to organize something of this nature but I’ve added some headings to provide some idea of where things are. I suppose as a Coloradoan, I should include something on our recently legalized intoxicant but I can’t for lack of experience, but I would refer you to the Cannabist, developed by the Denver Post which has a lot of news and reviews and the number of shops rivals Starbucks in their density (the basics: you have to be over 21 to purchase, can’t consume it in public spaces, and can’t take it with you…).
The Denver food scene is big, complex, a bit weird, but really fun so find some time to explore. Most of the restaurants are walking or short taxi ride from the convention center but I’ve included some stellar neighborhood restaurants as well.
Where to begin? Beer. Asheville, NC claims to have more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the country and I have no reason to dispute that but Denver surely ranges near the top for sheer number of excellent breweries. Microbreweries seem to pop up on a weekly basis so I’ll only mention the ones that always seem to find me at a table. Most of them have a food truck outside, or are in districts with easy access to food, so it’s easy to “do dinner” around some tasty beer. One of the oldest and still finest breweries in Denver is Great Divide. The Denver Beer Company actively partners with other brewers and in addition to their solid regular lineup, they often produce some creative new styles. A long standing Denver institution, My Brother’s Bar (home of the Ralphie buffalo burger), the REI flagship store and Wilderness Exchange are all within a few blocks which can make this an afternoon bored-with-the-meeting excursion. A small brewer that has made a big name for itself is River North Brewery; their specialty is barrel conditioned ales which to the glass are excellent. Do the tasting flight to get the full range of options. In the same neighborhood Epic Brewing Company (actually based out of Salt Lake City) is big and noisy but has plenty of tasty beer. For those who like their beers sour, the Crooked Stave is the place to go. For those with a desire for German style lagers, Proust Brewing will take good care of you. These are my usual haunts; for more suggestions and reviews go to the Denver Post Beer Blog which has been running for several years.
Colorado has also become one of the hotspots for artisanal distilling (yes, some of us are sober some of the time) but I’ll mention only one. Leopold Brothers produces an interesting line of whisky, gin, vodka and various cordials. If you’ve got three hours and your Uber app, they do a great three hour tour and tasting.
Onto the food; for lack of a better strategy, I’ll organize restaurants by neighborhood:
Lower Downtown (LoDo): walking, biking, short hop from Convention Center
Any of the James Beard awarded restaurants by Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch will make you happy. Their two flagship concepts, both in Larimer Square (two blocks from the convention center) are the Spanish inspired Rioja and the classic French joint, Bistro Vendome, across the street from one another. Around the corner is their upscale pub, Euclid Hall with a great mix of local and imported beer and not-your-average pub fare. A little further afield, but still within walking distance is their take on fish, Stoic and Genuine in Union Station. If you’re in that neighborhood, or love books, be sure to drop into the Tattered Cover, a highly successful and widely known independent bookstore that evokes passionate loyalty among its many supporters (great coffee too). Also in this area is the newly revitalized Union Station which is a beautiful example of urban renewal and in-fill.
Larimer Square has a host of eateries but I’ll just quickly mention a couple: The Market Deli is a locally owned institution and a great place for a quick breakfast or lunch (check out the salads) and fine coffee; everything is baked in house and their pastries are huge. Osteria Marco is Italian inspired with good salads, charcuterie and pizza; Tamayo is upscale, modern Mexican with a huge tequila list.
Tucked into a former warehouse district (most of which have been knocked down) you’ll find Domo which serves Japanese country fare and is consistently good. Their specialty is the wide range of noodle dishes from the Japanese tradition, with seasonal features.
A former working class, ethnic neighborhood that has felt the full brunt of gentrification over the last 20 years or so but in consequence has some excellent restaurants. An early entrant and current mainstay in the neighborhood is Z Cuisine and the next door absinthe bar A Coté. This is a classic French bistro space, intimate (read, tiny) with a beautiful menu. A key point: this is not the place to go if you’re in a hurry; they don’t take reservations for parties of fewer than 6 so the routine is to wait (or eat) in the bar until a table opens up. Two sister restaurants, Root Down, and Linger both feature locally sourced ingredients and innovative menus. For those interested in “nose to tail” farmhouse cuisine, Old Major is worth a visit—they do all their processing in-house and occasionally feature a pig to pork workshop. If ice cream helps you get up in the morning, you’ll want to make a stop at Little Man Ice Cream; you can’t miss it; just look for the 28 foot tall cream can…
This mixed warehouse, light manufacturing district is a rapidly urbanizing mix of upscale condo housing, apartments and conversions with the funkiness of a transitional neighborhood, and, of course, a lot of interesting food. Two restaurants back to back to one another and always packed are Cart Driver Pizza and Work and Class. Again, both tend to be noisy and crowded so don’t go if you have serious business to conduct or you’re in a hurry; if neither of those apply, it won’t be time wasted. If you find yourself at the Crooked Stave for a beer, two restaurants in the same building are worth the effort: Acorn is a small/shared plate place featuring highly creative (but expensive) dishes. The other option in this space is Comida serves reasonably priced, updated “Mexican street food.”
Not neighborhood specific but fine eating places within 5-10 minutes of the convention center and well worth considering include Satchels on Sixth, Beast and Bottle (nice wine list), and Charcoal; all offer interesting creative menus. WaterCourse Foods is Denver’s flagship vegan restaurant; you won’t find anything here that pretends to be meat; flavors are unique and you won’t leave hungry; great juice bar.
The Mercury Café is a Denver institution serving locally raised, organic food in a community setting. There’s almost always somethin’ happenin’ at The Merc—poetry reading, live music, dance…
SAME (So All May Eat) Café is a pay what you can/will with a different menu daily, depending on what’s available—soul satisfying food prepared in a social justice practice.
Three neighborhood restaurants twenty minutes or so from downtown but absolutely worth the trek are Bistro Barbès which is a north African/French inspired place (very small and very popular so make reservations well in advance); The Plimoth is another neighborhood restaurant that is generally reserved full 2-3 weeks out, because it’s really good.
There are dozens of lunch joints, both local and chain, within blocks of the meetings: the 16th Street Mall, Larimer, Market, Blake and Curtis Streets are rich with options as is Writers Square and the Tabor Center. Although November is not the best season, Denver hosts a lot of food trucks (http://roaminghunger.com/den/vendors/; http://foodtruckrow.com/) though they are not always obvious downtown.