Denver’s dynamic dining climate has grown exponentially, making way for season-intensive restaurants commanded by celebrity chefs, international haunts that favor global cuisines and swanky new American restaurants propelled by ingenuity, but the city has always had a soft spot for steakhouses. 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 Denver’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 wide, lovely surrounds that favor a feminine touch and a voyeuristic chef’s counter that overlooks the industrious kitchen. Ruby-colored bricks 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—4 ounces each of prime, Angus and grass-fed specimens—pumps plenty of testosterone through your veins.
Its proximity to the 16th Street Mall and the Colorado Convention Center makes Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse 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—40 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 outpost resides at Belleview Station, just south 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.
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 braised lamb chops, smoked oxtail, bone-in short ribs, dry-aged pork chops and plenty of beef, all broken down in house by a designated butcher. Plant-based foods shine, too, most notably in starters like the grilled escarole salad and in side dishes of spiced baby carrots, grilled long-stem broccoli 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.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll spot Mike Shanahan, the former NFL head coach of the Denver Broncos, at his namesake steakhouse in southeast Denver, his legacy lives on via the two Lombardi Super Bowl trophies. These double as photo ops for the power mob waiting to experience the steakhouse’s imperial cuts of beef cloaked in char and served on stark white plates, perhaps with a side kingly creamed spinach. The lavish, leather-clad dining room is equally grand with stately chandeliers, crisp tablecloths, elegant woods and walls displaying wine glasses and modern art. The wine list, albeit pricy, is strong and deep, and while the cocktail roster is rooted in familiarity, the smoked old-fashioned, made with local bourbon and smoked over a barrel stave, is a terrific riff on the classic.
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, parades local beers, boozy cocktails and wines from the Pacific Northwest, including a lovely Angela Estate pinot noir produced specifically for the restaurant.
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.
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, a 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 catalog 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.
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 Denver. 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, creamed kale, house-cut truffle fries and crisped Brussels sprouts punctuated with Fresno chiles. If you happen to feel blasé about beef, there are plenty of alternatives: duck breast, elk and Colorado lamb chops, among them.
By Lori Midson