Denver has seen explosive growth in dining options, with new collaborative local marketplaces, chef-driven restaurants, brew-houses and hyper-local fine dining springing up in a series of neighborhoods. The Mile High City has long been at the forefront of the U.S. culinary scene – and in the past decade, it has become an award-winning culinary destination with nationally renowned hotspots, and unique and innovative concepts. Renowned culinary guide, Zagat, named Denver the fourth “Most Exciting Food City” of 2018. Denver is now home to three James Beard Award winners, one of the most prestigious culinary honors in the U.S., and many other nominees. Additionally, in July 2019, The Mile High City hosted the third annual Slow Food Nations, an offshoot of Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.
The most important part of Denver’s culinary identity is its deep roots in hyper-local cuisine. For years, Mile High City chefs have been working directly with local farms, utilizing Colorado’s bountiful harvest of fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and organically raised meats to create dishes that are eco-friendly, innovative and – most importantly – delicious. In Denver, local has always been better.
Here are just a handful of spots to enjoy farm-to-table dining in some of Denver’s most popular neighborhoods.
LoDo (Lower Downtown) – This 26-square block neighborhood has the largest concentration of restored turn-of-the-century and Victorian brick warehouses in the nation, and is now home to more than 90 restaurants, breweries, rooftop cafes, music clubs and sports bars.
The famous Larimer Square is the city’s most historic block and home to some of Denver’s signature restaurants. Jennifer Jasinski of Stoic & Genuine (above) made her first mark with the Mediterranean-centric Rioja, followed swiftly by French-inspired Bistro Vendôme and beer hall-style Euclid Hall. Frank Bonanno, 2016 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Restaurateur, owns four concepts on the block, including Osteria Marco, Green Russell, Russell’s Smokehouse and Wednesday’s Pie.
Since 2018, the Dairy Block micro-district has also been developing in LoDo. This historic block was once home to Windsor Dairy, and is now a vibrant micro-district that boasts 15 boutique shops, 18 restaurants, seven bars, a luxury coworking space, and The Maven, a 172-room boutique hotel. Favorites include Poka Lola Social Club, local Huckleberry Roasters, a whiskey bar called Seven Grand, a cocktail bar called Run for the Roses, as well as an activated alley, where a permanent Denver Flea space named Fetch Market, Blanchard Family Wines and an outlet of the Perfect Petal flower shop opened in 2019.
In May 2018, Frank Bonanno opened Milk Market in the Dairy Block, a highly-anticipated marketplace featuring fifteen Bonanno Concepts food outlets including a pastry shop; bao bun purveyor; a hot fried chicken sandwich spot; a fresh seafood eatery; Hawaiian poke bar; salad bar; sandwich shop; Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria; a wine bar; and a Colorado-focused tap room.
Famed Colorado brewery, Oskar Blues, also opened a restaurant and tap room in LoDo – Oskar Blues Grill & Brew – which pairs craft beer with a Southern-inspired menu; it is also home to one of Denver’s newest live music venues, The Black Buzzard.
Union Station – Additionally, Denver’s historic train terminal reopened in July 2014 with 10 new restaurants, bars and fine retailers. Celebrating its 5th anniversary in July 2019, the Beaux Arts train station’s revival has spurred a major redevelopment in the surrounding blocks, with several new and upcoming hotels, communal spaces and top restaurants.
Stoic & Genuine, a seafood-centric restaurant in the tradition of New York’s Grand Central Station’s Oyster Bar, was included in the original restoration of the station from local powerhouse chef Jennifer Jasinski (2013 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef Southwest and 2016 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Outstanding Chef). In late-2017, Jasinski opened her highly anticipated fifth Denver concept also in Denver Union Station, Ultreia – a tapas restaurant.
Alex Seidel (2018 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef: Southwest) owns Mercantile dining & provision, featuring food items from his farm located in nearby Larkspur, CO. Homegrown brunch hotspot, Snooze, brings energy, creativity and delicious food to the morning. Snooze features iconic pancakes, morning cocktails and a huge patio.
Tavernetta – from the award winning team at Boulder’s Frasca – opened in late-2017 to immediate acclaim. It is adjacent to the new Kimpton Hotel Born, which also boasts Citizen Rail, an upscale steakhouse with a laudable cocktail program. Hearth & Dram, in the Hotel Indigo, features a New American concept and one of the city’s best whiskey selections. The Pig & The Sprout provides creative, seasonal fare for all palates; and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a bar and restaurant with more than 90 whiskeys, 30 beer taps and a simple, craveable menu.
Denver Union Station also includes Terminal Bar, situated in the station’s old ticket window and featuring more than 30 Colorado beers on tap. Terminal Bar also opened a second outpost on the opposite end of the Grand Hall as well as the Plaza Beer Garden. Cocktail lovers can enjoy hand crafted libations in Cooper Lounge, which was named Bon Appetit’s “Most Posh Bar in a Train Station,” overlooking the grand hall. Next Door, a branch of The Kitchen Restaurant Group, is also located in Denver Union Station.
LoHi (Lower Highlands) – Connected to downtown by three pedestrian bridges, this culturally diverse neighborhood northwest of downtown Denver has experienced amazing growth over the past decade, and is overflowing with trendy restaurants, bars and shops.
Denver mainstay, Linger, may be located in a former mortuary, but its “farm to street” cuisine is far from ghoulish. Chef/owner Justin Cucci’s culinary creations are inspired spins on global street food, with Colorado’s seasonal ingredients taking center stage. Even the restaurant’s talented mixologists bring locally sourced ingredients behind the bar, serving up unique cocktails to diners on Linger’s breathtaking rooftop patio. Neighboring El Five (from the creators of Denver mainstays Linger, Root Down, Vital Root and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox) – has spectacular 360-degree views of the city skyline and Rocky Mountains from LoHi.
Inspired by European markets and food truck roundups, Avanti F&B is a modern-day food hall. Seven different restaurant concepts housed in one collective space created by modified shipping containers provide guests with an eclectic mix of affordable, chef-inspired cuisine, ranging from now-stationary kitchens that started out as local food trucks to nascent restaurants testing their concepts in a public forum.
The Bindery, from Chef/Owner Linda Hampsten Fox, is a market, bakery and restaurant with coffee drinks, housemade pastries, breakfast items and an ambitious, seasonal dinner menu.
The Family Jones Spirit House, a collaborative project from some of Denver’s biggest names, is a distillery, tasting room and restaurant in one – serving innovative small plates alongside housemade spirits and liqueurs.
Acova – from the owners of classic Denver bar, The Hornet – features an indoor-outdoor bar and a 100-person patio with a kids’ playground. The menu is an eclectic mix of classic entrees like veal osso bucco mixed in with international fare and crowd-pleasers like pierogis and seared ahi tuna.
RiNo (River North) Neighborhood – One of Denver’s popular arts districts, the RiNo neighborhood is quickly becoming a hotspot for established and emerging chefs, restaurants and food concepts. A former industrial neighborhood now filled with art galleries, restaurants, breweries, distilleries and two urban wineries, RiNo has seen some of the most concentrated restaurant growth of any neighborhood in the city.
Work & Class is a casual, full-service restaurant driven by the motto, "a square meal, a stiff drink and a fair price." A tribute to the working class, the restaurant strives to create an atmosphere that is unpretentious, fun and a bit irreverent. The menu focuses on Latin and American dishes, including an array of slow-roasted, braised, and rotisserie meats, creative sides, and freshly baked breads, and desserts. The bar program is marked by interesting small-batch spirits, craft beers and a well-curated wine list; and cocktails are created with house-made mixes. Work & Class chef-owner, Dana Rodriguez, recently opened Super Mega Bien, a new concept in The Ramble Hotel alongside the second outpost of New York’s Death & Co. cocktail bar.
The Source Hotel + Market Hall features two new restaurants – Safta, the highly anticipated Israeli restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef, Alon Shaya; and barbeque joint, Smok, from Acorn’s former Chef Bill Espiricuetta – in addition to the acclaimed Acorn restaurant and Crooked Stave Brewing.
Call, one half of Beckon-Call, was recently named one of “America’s Best New Restaurants 2018” by Bon Appétit. Opened in December 2017, Call is inspired by the all-day sidewalk bars of Europe and features breakfast, lunch and dinner fare made in-house, plus an expertly curated wine list. Beckon opened in November 2018 and is an 18-seat chef’s counter-style gourmet experience, with limited seatings and a new menu each night.
Denver Central Market in RiNo was Denver’s third food hall and marketplace and has become a mainstay of the neighborhood; and it features a selection of 13 local food purveyors – a produce shop, coffee shop, fish shop, butcher and bakery, wood-fired pizza place and chocolate maker, among others, plus outdoor public murals by local artists.
South Broadway and Baker – Another hip neighborhood, South Broadway, is just one mile south of downtown. It has a distinct feel with everything from fine dining at Beatrice & Woodsley to unique homemade flavors at Sweet Action Ice Cream, to bowling, darts or ski-ball at Punch Bowl Social.
Denver’s newest food hall, Broadway Market, is a collection of open-concept restaurant stalls, plus a chocolatier, coffeehouse, bar and self-serve beer wall. The nine different restaurant concepts come from some of the city’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs and range from pizza and curry to fried chicken and sushi.
Just a few blocks off of Broadway in Denver’s Golden Triangle Creative District, is Leven Deli – a new take on the traditional deli that features popular items made lighter and brighter with Mediterranean ingredients.
Cherry Creek North – Long known as Denver’s premier dining and shopping destination, Cherry Creek is undergoing a culinary renaissance.
Recently added to the dining scene in this upscale neighborhood are Narrative, a New American concept, and Kisbee on the Roof, a rooftop bar with stunning views of Denver and the Rocky Mountains – both in the Jacquard Hotel (September 2018); and TORO, from famed chef Richard Sandoval, will open in the JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek in 2020. In 2018, the Cherry Creek Beer Garden opened next to the Moxy Hotel. It features six local beers on tap and a rotating selection of local canned brews, served outdoors on a large patio.
Philippe Delgrange and Rick Wahlstedt of famed New York City restaurant, Le Bilboquet, opened the second location of their restaurant in Summer of 2019.
Stapleton – With 46 miles of urban trails that connect to Denver's 85-mile network, the Stapleton, Lowry and Northfield neighborhoods are a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown. After enjoying the outdoors, relax and take advantage of the shopping and dining at The Shops at Northfield Stapleton, Stanley Marketplace and Hangar 2.
Like many other Denver neighborhoods, Stapleton has been experiencing a lot of culinary growth, and many of its restaurants are quickly gaining local and national recognition. Stanley Marketplace extended Denver’s rapidly growing culinary marketplace trend to Stapleton. Inside Stanley Marketplace, Annette, from Chef Caroline Glover, was named one of the “50 Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit in 2017, and Caroline and her staff were nominated for two James Beard Awards in the same year, with another nod to Chef Caroline in 2019. Annette was also named “Denver's Best New Restaurant” and one of the city’s “25 Best Restaurants” by 5280 magazine, and was Eater Denver's “Restaurant of the Year.”
Residing in the historic Stapleton International Airport control tower, Punch Bowl Social is a multi-faceted gastropub and entertainment venue with plenty of activities, including bowling, darts, Ping-Pong, karaoke, shuffleboard, foosball and more. The Southern-intensive food menu from celebrity chef Hugh Acheson, features everything from buttermilk-brined fried chicken and beer-braised brats to lobster rolls and a double-fisted all-American burger.