Ten Things Visitors Should Know About the Denver Restaurant Scene

Visitors, don't settle for another Denver omelet.
Visitors, don't settle for another Denver omelet.

Out-of-towners may have specific ideas about what they'll encounter when trying to get a meal in Denver: there's nothing but steak houses, they'll have to resort to a chain restaurant, or dinner will likely consist of a Denver omelet. While our city certainly has its fair share of good beef, variety and quality have always been here when it comes to other options (those who were around to remember the oil-boom days of the late '70s and early '80s can attest to that), but in the past few years, the proliferation of new restaurants has outstripped Denver's undeserving reputation as nothing but a Midwestern cow town. We love our old favorites and our unique traditions here, but there's also plenty of the new Denver to give locals, tourists and business travelers alike a great taste of the city.

See Also: Denver's Ten Best Old-School Italian Restaurants

Bison: the other red meat.
Bison: the other red meat.

10) Bison really is popular

It's not just a myth of the West; bison is an integral part of Denver menus, from fast-casual joints to fine dining restaurants. According to the National Bison Association, national bison consumption is only a minuscule .07 pounds per person annually, but Denverites, who value healthy eating (bison --often called buffalo -- is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than beef, pork or even chicken), help make Colorado one of the top bison-consuming states. Park Burger -- with locations in Platt Park, Lower Highland and Hilltop -- grills up the quintessential buffalo burger: flavorful and lean but still juicy. For something other than burgers, head to Second Home in Cherry Creek North for a savory bowl of bison chili. They also do seasonal braised bison short ribs if you're in the city in the fall or winter. Newcomer Guard & Grace downtown makes buffalo the star of one of its starters: Colorado bison tartar.

The many Colorado beers available at Colorado Plus Brewpub.
The many Colorado beers available at Colorado Plus Brewpub.
Phillip Poston

9) Everything goes better with beer

There are currently more than forty breweries within Denver's city limits, with more opening every week, and that's not even counting the suburbs. With all that beer to go around, it makes sense that restaurants keep beer in mind when menus get written. For an excellent roundup of the state's best beers, head to Colorado Plus Brewpub, which boasts 56 Centennial-State beers on tap, including a few brewed in-house. But it's not just the casual places that are bringing the beer; Mercantile Dining & Provision, the newest eatery from farm-to-table champion Alex Seidel, offers only four draft beers, but they're all local and small-batch: Grimm Brothers, Crooked Stave, Hogshead, and Comrade Brewing. And diminutive 19-seater To the Wind Bistro offers more than forty beers, many from Colorado, to complement creative dishes like rabbit empanadas and chanterelle-dusted monkfish with quinoa.

The Far East Center on Federal Boulevard offers multiple Vietnamese and Chinese options.
The Far East Center on Federal Boulevard offers multiple Vietnamese and Chinese options.
Mark Antonation

8) The ethnic food scene is better than you think

Many cities build a reputation for ethnic eats on one or two nationalities; places with large China Towns like San Francisco and New York City offer regional specialties not found in the rest of the country. Denver may not have a central enclave of any single cultural or ethnic group, with the possible exception of South Federal Boulevard's Little Saigon Business District, but with a little patience, some great treasures await in the strip malls and suburban landscapes of Denver's perimeter. Certainly, head first to Federal for great pho at Pho Duy or a range of traditional and exotic dishes at Viet's -- like a stellar goat hot pot. Then head down Alameda Avenue for dim sum at King's Land or Super Star Asian before filling up on a dizzying variety of street tacos at La Calle.

Ethiopian options abound too, whether at the venerable Queen of Sheba on Colfax or the newer, and menu-free, Megenagna in Aurora, which specializes in a range of traditional kitfos and tibs. While on the east side, seek out Seoul BBQ or Han Kang for Korean. For a unique taste of Southern Indian, make the trip down to Lone Tree for a variety of dosas and vada (lentil-flour doughnuts) at Khazana.

The original Chipotle.
The original Chipotle.

7) We invented fast-casual restaurants

Chipotle is the patriarch of fast-casual, point-and-serve dining; visitors to Denver can make a pilgrimage to its first location near the University of Denver. While the fast-casual concept can be likened to a cafeteria line, Chipotle mastered the art of serving fresh, customized burritos to the masses beginning in the early 90s. Since then, a wave of followers -- Smashburger, Qdoba, Noodles & Co., and Quiznos -- have spread through Colorado and into the rest of the country, while Mad Greens and Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill are also slowing making national inroads. But you'll still find small chains here that have yet to jump state lines. Pizzeria Locale, operated by the owners of fine-dining Boulder destination, Frasca Food and Wine, now has two locations in Denver, with more planned for the Front Range, while Bubu is serving fresh and vibrant bowls with international flair and Chop Shop is giving a taste of sous vide cooking to neighborhood families on East Colfax.

Keep reading for more of what visitors to Denver should expect.



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