Although there is no shortage of tasty Mexican food options in Denver, finding a traditional Colombian dish like bandeja paisa involved a fair bit of research.
Colombian food is pretty distinctive when you compare it to the other incredible flavors of Latin America. Unlike what you might typically expect of its northern cousins, Colombian food is light on spice, but rich in earthy umami (or savoriness), which Eater explains is “thanks to techniques likes smoking, fermenting, wood-grilling, and the use of tropical leaves and herbs, cacao, and coffee.”
Apart from earthy flavors, Colombians are also known for tart, punchy sweets, leaning on fruits like pineapple, passionfruit (maracuya) and guava.
Here are the best Colombian food options in the Denver.
Arepas, Tamales, Empanadas, Colombianas and More
Where to begin? La Chiva is a standout eatery on South Broadway and much of the menu is gluten-free. The corn shell empanadas were crujiente, we’re talking thin, crunchy shells with a juicy filling of queso, pollo or carne—depending on what you ordered—and an aji criollo that packed just enough heat. We went tapas style here and got their bandeja montera, barriga and more empanadas, and sampled their delicious cocktails drawn from the fruits of Colombia. However, their extensive menu also includes tamales and various soups. While not as economical as La Finca (below), La Chiva is a must-visit—but check their hours before you go. They tend to be open for dinner hours only.
If La Chiva is closed when you visit, fear not! Just across South Broadway, you’ll find LaTinto Café, which is truly evocative of the corner bakeries you can find across Bogota. LaTinto, while once again carrying those truly succulent empanadas, also boasts every type of gluten-free cheese bread typical of Colombia. We’re talking amojabanas, bunuelos, arepas con queso and more. And like any good Colombian bakery, get there early if you want a shot at their pan de bonos (another cheese bread). Their coffee and hot chocolates are not to be missed.
Nestled between a law office and a hair studio on West Colfax, this colorful jewel of a restaurant is your best place to find Colombian food on a budget, with flavors that feel like you popped into someone’s house. We tried out the empanadas, ajiaco and tamales. No frills, but there’s no beating the prices and vibe here. Be sure to check it out next time you’re in the area.
If you end up liking La Finca, be sure to check out their sister restaurant in south Aurora. Freshly remodeled, this spot is a hidden gem. Although the exterior is an unassuming strip mall, the inside boasts a taste of South America, with newly remodeled decor straight out of a trendy art museum, with great food and music adding to the ambiance.
La Rola used to be a downtown food truck but these days you can find them as a brick-and-mortar down in Littleton. La Rola does Colombian food a little differently and mixes the flavors of Colombia with some American staples like putting a Colombian spin on eggs Benedict, omelets, hot dogs along with the classics like bandeja paisa and churrasco. This is also the only place in Littleton to find bunuelos, pandebonos, empanadas and other Colombian pastries.
Finally, if you are out in Golden, there is still Colombian fare to be enjoyed. El Callejon rounds out this list with a wide variety of Latin American foods from beyond Colombia’s borders, including pupusas, tacos, burritos and quesadillas, with a mix of Colombian staples as well. Don’t skip the Colombian-style (gluten-free) empanadas, arepas, juices and sodas.
Until next time, happy eating and exploring!
Photo credits: La Chiva (header image); La Rola (side image) courtesy of @thebainmarie via Instagram.