It’s a well-known fact that Denver staked its culinary reputation on steakhouses, and while the city’s dynamic dining climate has grown exponentially, making way for chef-driven fast-casual joints, season-driven restaurants commanded by celebrity chefs and international haunts that favor global cuisines, steakhouses will never go out of vogue. The steakhouse is the personification of Americana, and here, in The Mile High City, beef is making a major comeback. Here’s where to slice into the city’s best red-blooded slabs of steer.
Downtown Denver lays claim to more than a few steakhouses, but Guard and Grace isn't your typical shrine to steer. There’s the bravado of wood-fired grills, charcuterie plates, a glistening raw bar, an exhilarating wine syllabus that stretches far and deep, swanky surrounds that favor a feminine touch and a voyeuristic chef’s counter that overlooks the industrious kitchen. Ruby-colored slabs of beef are the main attraction, but there’s so much more to applaud: exemplary oak-fired carrots with herbed yogurt, for example, and the smoke-scented octopus paired with a white bean and celery salad, Spanish chorizo and a roasted red pepper sauce. The filet mignon flight—four ounces each of prime, Angus and grass-fed specimens—pumps plenty of testosterone through your veins.
There are certain expectations that come with a steakhouse splurge: You want the service to be polished, the atmosphere sleek but not overly prim, beef that’s juicy and properly grilled and a wine list that impresses even the most persnickety grape guru. All of the above holds true at EDGE Restaurant & Bar, the signature restaurant inside downtown Denver’s stylish Four Seasons hotel. Renowned for hosting sports celebrities and musicians in its tastefully contemporary dining room, the menu ballyhoos steakhouse staples prepared on a wood-fired grill: strips, filets, ribeyes, a porterhouse and a Wagyu tomahawk chop, all of which can be matched with sauces and sharable sides, including lobster macaroni and cheese, heirloom carrots and herbed spaetzle with guanciale, Gorgonzola cream and English peas. If you happen to feel blasé about beef, there are plenty of alternatives: pan-seared snapper, miso-glazed black cod and Colorado lamb chops, among them.
There are newer steakhouses in this meat-intensive city, kitchens that are arguably more revolutionary and menus that are more conducive to millennials, but make no mistake: The Palm holds a sacred place in the hearts of longtime Denverites who continue to descend upon the downtown Denver citadel of beef to stake their claim. First-class service, essential side dishes, including creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin, plus a profoundly robust wine list and traditional cuts of cow still make this clubby beef emporium—a favorite of celebs, lawyers and politicians—one of the city’s most venerated steakhouse strongholds.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another steakhouse in the city that has the funky old-school charm of Bastien’s, a decades-old steakhouse in City Park that pays homage to the Rat Pack, properly chilled vodka martinis and palatable price tags. With apologies to those who eschew sugar, the dish to live (and die) by at Bastien’s is the iconic sugar steak, preferably paired with a grilled Caesar salad and a loaded twice-baked potato, best enjoyed on a chilly evening, in an intimate booth under the romantic twinkle of lights.
Its proximity to the 16th Street Mall and the Colorado Convention Center makes Ruth’s Chris Steak House an ideal place to dive headfirst into the profoundly beef-centric menu. Catering to amorous couples and business crowds in suits, the 10,000-square-foot space sizzles with moneyed glitz and modern elegance, its white tablecloths, towering wine wall, artwork and creamy white banquettes the perfect foil for an indulgent dinner. The broiled steaks, delivered on plates that sputter with butter, hit their mark, none more so than the tomahawk ribeye—forty ounces of marbled steer—carved tableside. The eclectic menu also proffers thick-cut lamb chops, barbecued shrimp and veal osso buco ravioli, sides of creamed spinach, sweet potato casserole and roasted cremini mushrooms and desserts that include white chocolate bread pudding and crème brûlée. A second location is slated to open in the Belleview Station development, just east of central Denver.
Meaty strips of steer score big points at Elway’s Downtown, the splashy signature restaurant of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. The handsomely appointed chop house, co-founded by former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, is awash in indulgences: shellfish towers, scarlet-hued lamb chops with green chile cheese fondue, Maine lobster tail and a pasture of beef, including the beautifully marbled bone-in New York strip, the steakhouse’s pièce de résistance. Locals love it, as do tourists, and with additional outposts in Cherry Creek, the C concourse at Denver International Airport and Vail village, there are plenty of opportunities to eyeball the football legacy, although you’re most likely to catch a glimpse at the Cherry Creek flagship.
Despite its chain status, The Capital Grille, a longstanding Larimer Square hotspot, evokes a genuine sense of personalization underscored by an appropriately posh atmosphere enriched with plush leather booths, gleaming dark woods, burnished accents and ambient lighting. Savvy servers bestow guests with starched white or black cloth napkins (here, they take the lint factor seriously) as a prelude to starters of shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell and the signature Stoli Doli martini infused with pineapple. Steaks, of course, are the grand dames of the carnivorous menu. Order a glorious, grill-etched New York strip or bone-in ribeye, share a few fat-cat side dishes (notably, the au gratin potatoes and lobster macaroni and cheese), and spend some time studying the extensive wine list—5,000 bottles strong—to seal the deal.
Squatting in Lincoln Park, Denver’s oldest neighborhood, the Buckhorn Exchange is a shining example of Denver’s fabled past. The storied restaurant, serving cuisine that channels the Wild West, sports a rooftop patio that overlooks downtown, while the main dining area, a rusticated den with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, is walled with a taxidermy collection of mounted animal heads that represent what eventually ends up on your plate. Prime-grade steaks, buffalo prime rib, salmon, quail, game hen, Rocky Mountain oysters and alligator tail stamp the menu, which is offset by a beverage scroll (the joint happens to lay claim to the state’s first liquor license) inked with meat-appropriate wines.
All-you-can-eat portions of pork, fire-roasted steak, leg of lamb, chicken and the show-stopping picanha—prime top sirloin studded with rock salt—are the siren song of the massive Fogo de Chão, a traditional rodizio that resides in LoDo. As if unlimited quantities of skewered meats weren’t enough to humble a rumbling stomach, the steakhouse also features an incredibly diverse market bar flush with vegetables, cheeses, cured meats and seasonal salads, plus a station devoted to feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew studded with sausage and garnished with baked yucca flour, bacon, hot sauce and orange wedges.
It’s a bit of a trek from the skyscrapers of downtown Denver, but The Fort, an historic adobe structure in Morrison, about 20 minutes southeast of the city, is one of the state’s most recognized restaurants, its hilltop location a prime perch to admire the downtown skyline from its lovely outdoor patio. The menu, brandishing everything from elk chops and a buffalo ribeye to New York strip steaks and rattlesnake cakes, celebrates the culinary heritage of the Wild West, as does the “historic drink” menu, a catalogue of cocktails that range from the non-alcoholic prickly pear cooler to the 1840 Hailstorm Premiere julep, a bourbon or Scotch libation with sugar and mint.
URBAN FARMER STEAKHOUSE
Shelves stacked with mason jars brimming with pickled vegetables and fruits, produce and herbs sprouting on the garden patio, an in-house butchery program and dry-aging room, mushrooms growing in an illuminated indoor terrarium, and a communal table constructed from recycled trees creates the landscape of Urban Farmer, a fashionably hip steakhouse in Lower Downtown’s (LoDo’s) historic Oxford Hotel. Originally founded in Portland, Ore., the Denver outpost grandstands a warren of atmospheric dining rooms, in which attentive servers, who work in tandem, grace tables with well-seasoned slabs of beef, including a terrific bavette, a tasting trio of grass-fed, corn-fed and corn-finished New York steaks, filets, ribeyes and a porterhouse. The kitchen staff, overseen by heavyweight chef Chris Starkus, also maintains a rooftop bee colony, and the honey finds its way into salad dressings, butters, desserts and starters like foie gras. Shellfish towers, along with chicken, fish, lamb chops and pork chops, round out the food menu, which also showcases Starkus’s passion for vegetables. The beverage scroll, bounded in a leather book, favors local beers, boozy cocktails and wines from the Pacific Northwest, including a lovely Angela Estate pinot noir produced specifically for the restaurant.
Located in Cherry Creek's hip Halcyon hotel, Quality Italian, an offshoot of the New York flagship, is the brainchild of restaurateur Michael Stillman, whose name is a big deal in the Big Apple. His steakhouse is a big deal in Denver, too, as evidenced by the parade of expensive sports cars that pull up to the valet. And here’s plenty of eye candy inside, too. A choreographed staff, well trained in theatrical tableside presentations, navigates the classy dining room decked out with warm woods, sienna-hued leather booths and kitschy vintage accents. Everyone is here, as are you, to test drive the steaks, a collection that swaggers everything from filets to a Prime dry-aged porterhouse for two. If you want to forego beef, the Italian-American portion of the menu boasts baked lasagna and a rather intimidatingly large sphere of cheese-blanketed chicken Parm that doubles as a pizza.
The tomahawk (for two) and the bone-in New York strip hold their own against any steak in The Mile High City at Citizen Rail, a meat-intensive stunner tucked behind Denver Union Station, just adjacent to the new Kimpton Hotel Born Denver. A timeless, art-deco design scheme, reminiscent of a railcar, yields polished metal accents and mirrors that mimic the scenery from the window seats of a train, while the open kitchen is aromatic with the scent of smoldering ash from the wood-stoked grill. A visible dry-aging cave showcases cuts of beef, charcuterie and chops, and the menu, the handiwork of chef Christian Graves, a San Diego transplant, is stamped with “Butcher Shop” favorites: lamb chops, a bison filet, venison chops, a pork porterhouse, grilled swordfish, hamachi collar and plenty of beef, all broken down in house by a designated butcher. Plant-based foods shine, too, most notably in starters like the Persian cucumber salad and in side dishes of cauliflower and blue cheese gratin, braised root vegetables and wood-roasted mushrooms. The cocktail syllabus is steeped in ambition and ingenuity, while the beer list focuses solely on Colorado craft beers, with an emphasis on sours and experimental creations.
By Lori Midson