The Taste of Colorado has been slinging food in Civic Center Park in some form or another since 1984, when the main event was called the Festival of Mountain and Plain -- resurrected from a festival of the same name in the late 1800s. Festival activities begin today at 11:30 a.m. and run through Labor Day weekend. You can wander the grounds aimlessly, sniffing the air for hints of something good cooking, or you can attempt to map out an eating itinerary based on the Taste's listing of over fifty restaurants, caterers and vendors. But if you're like us, you'll head straight for the tasty festival fare that's not normally available in area restaurants and the iconic Denver treats from the restaurants we tend to forget about the rest of the year. Here's a list of a few of our favorites.
1) Turkey Legs from various vendors It doesn't matter that these mahogany monstrosities aren't haute cuisine or the next cutting-edge food trend (unless you're a Paleo warrior); they're the ultimate street food, with a built-in handle and enough fire-roasted flavor to keep you interested as you stroll past lesser food booths. A good turkey leg will fill you up and leave you with a handy tool for swatting at flies, prodding away ankle biters or distracting police dogs.
2) Shrimp Cocktail from the Broker Nothing says Colorado like a chilled mound of pink shrimp, right? Well, it does if you've been around long enough to be familiar with this downtown stalwart -- and the free shrimp cocktail that comes before every meal. There's nothing fancy about the way the Broker does it, just boiled shrimp in a bowl with a classic, tangy cocktail sauce. And while that may not be the most appealing dish on a sun-baked day, it's just the thing for this summer's cooler, wetter weather.
3) Funnel Cake from various vendors Face it: unless you plan on making the four-hour, round-trip drive to Pueblo for the Colorado State Fair, there just aren't enough annual opportunities to gorge on funnel cake in Denver, so you have to get them when and where you can. Basically a doughnut concocted by someone too lazy to form the batter into actual shapes, the funnel cake takes on Rorschach-like forms from a bath in boiling oil. Go minimalist with a simple dusting of powdered sugar or indulge in a variety of canned-fruit toppings. And then find a shady place under a tree to nap away the rest of the afternoon. Keep reading for two more of our favorite foods.
4) Fry Bread and Indian Tacos from Tocabe Fry bread is like funnel cake with form, taking the best textures of fresh bread and plain doughnuts without the cloying sweetness. Great on their own or stuffed with beans, beef and veggies, Tocabe's fry bread and tacos are available any day of the week at the fast-casual restaurant on West 44th Avenue, but they're somehow even more suitable in a festival environment where you can nibble as you walk and attract wide-eyed stares of envy from fellow festival-goers.
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5) Fried Alligator From Bayou Bob's Yes, Bayou Bob's is still downtown, selling the same Cajun and Creole fare in the same spot next to the Paramount Theater where it's been for the past three decades. It's not exactly on the hip restaurant circuit; Denver eatery-hoppers tend to skip this place -- and alligator isn't something you're going to see much of on other menus. So the Taste is the perfect time to try the other, other white meat, whether on a dare or just out of curiosity. Tell your friends it tastes like chicken to get them to try a bite, when you know it really tastes like giant, primordial swamp creature.