A visit to the Mile High City—its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level—wouldn’t be complete without a serving of smoky green chilies; a regional favourite found on hamburgers, in omelettes, on savoury pasties and ladled onto burritos. Once you’ve taste-tested its chilies, start exploring the rest of Denver’s energized food scene by visiting its many cafés, fine-dining restaurants and elevated food halls. From fast-casual fare and upscale eateries to craft cocktails and locally made beer, Denver has an appetite for all things culinary.
2 Must-Try Restaurants
Dress up, or down, for dinner at this popular spot in The Source, a complex that features a hotel and two massive market halls. Acorn was one of Denver’s first restaurants to really push culinary boundaries and, even after switching head chefs, its cuisine remains innovative in cooking techniques and flavours, with dishes that are still perfectly executed. Try the wagyu beef tartare, the popular black pepper and Gouda pork rinds and the unforgettable kale salad. The cocktail menu features drinks that go from zero-proof to alcohol-forward.
For an authentic Mexican experience, this vibrant downtown noshery—run by chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval—hits all the right culinary notes. The restaurant is located on historic Larimer Square, one of the city’s prettiest streets. Order the succulent white mole on grilled chicken with sweet plantains, or a pile of the street tacos topped with grilled skirt steak, beef cecina, Mexican chorizo, asadero cheese or grilled nopales. A taco cart even comes directly to the table for groups of four or more. Be sure to pair your meal with a tangy prickly pear margarita.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Breakfast: The Universal
The Universal might look unassuming on the outside, but it’s one of Denver’s top morning hangouts. Expect lineups on the weekend, but the wild boar scramble is worth the wait.
Lunch: Avanti Food & Beverage
If your group can’t agree on lunch, Avanti Food & Beverage is the answer. This food hall boasts seven casual spots serving everything from fried chicken sandwiches to French bistro fare.
Dinner: Hearth & Dram
With the Hearth & Dram’s rotating menu, you can dig into dishes such as the grilled Colorado lamb with a side of house-made Hawaiian rolls or Oak Grilled Steelhead Trout served with summer squash.
3 Drink Stops
From craft beer to artisan spirits, much of Denver’s booze is made in the state. Many of the city’s bars and restaurants showcase local producers by serving microbrews and mixing well-balanced cocktails featuring homegrown ingredients.
Denver is known for its craft-beer scene and innovative brewmasters, and this lively spot is proof of that. Led by Jason zumBrunnen, a talented and inventive brewmaster, Ratio Beerworks has a solid lineup of brews, such as the King of Carrot Flowers, made with elderflower and fresh-pressed carrot juice. It also has a huge patio, which is the perfect place to taste a flight, or two.
Every pour on the menu at this bar and restaurant is made in-house, including the spirits, liqueurs and syrups. Try a Colorado Sour, made with bourbon, rosemary, amaretto, lemon and egg white.
Located in what was once the Blake Street Vault, this spot combines the relaxed attitude of a dive bar with the service and quality of a classy cocktail joint. On the menu, you’ll find local beer, cold-brew coffee and bottled craft cocktails.
Head to Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve or Vesta to find treats by pastry chef extraordinaire Nadine Donovan. The orange creamsicle push pop and fried apple pie with Frosted Flakes at Steuben’s are crowd favourites. For small-batch frozen treats, visit Sweet Action Ice Cream and order the salted butterscotch. If you’re looking for something totally off the wall, you’ll find creations such as Mexican Fried Ice Cream, served with chocolate and exploding whipped cream, at The Inventing Room.
Not too long ago, Union Station mainly housed trains, but a makeover has given the downtown depot new purpose. Today, this landmark space is a testament to Denver’s growth and its booming food and drink scene. Lined with restaurants and shops, the station’s Grand Hall is filled with comfy chairs where guests can relax with a shake, malt or an ice cream from Milkbox Ice Creamery, or a hearty pasta dish from celebrated chef Alex Seidel’s Mercantile. If you’re staying on-site at the Crawford Hotel, wake up and hit Snooze, a popular pancake joint.
[This story appears in the November 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]
Discovering Art, Beer and Food in Denver
A trailblazing craft beer industry, a growing culinary scene, revitalized neighbourhoods and a variety of arts-based initiatives make Denver worth exploring. Drink at Denver's first brewery Wynkoop Brewing, visit during the First Friday Art Walk and eat at Acorn restaurant.