From slow food to fast fun, metro Denver will host a smorgasbord of culinary festivals. Here are the ten tastiest.
Colorado BBQ Challenge
Main Street, Frisco
Free admission (food and drink extra)
The skies over Frisco grow smoky every summer at the onset of one of Colorado's biggest and most popular barbecue events, now celebrating its 25th year. If you're a little piggy, you'll cry wee-wee-wee all the way to Frisco for tastes of brisket, ribs, pulled pork, chicken and other smokehouse delights from multiple vendors. The challenge itself is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned competition pitting more than seventy teams against each other. Throughout the weekend, there are multiple events, from the Bacon Burner 6K to piglet races, with plenty of opportunities to chow down on good 'cue. If you plan to just wander and take in the sights and smells, the event is free from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, but if you want to eat and drink you'll need to exchange your cash for "hogbacks," the official currency of the festival.
Denver BBQ Festival
Sport Authority Field at Mile High
If a drive to the mountains for smoked meats isn't in the cards, how about a smoky event a little closer to home? The first-ever Denver BBQ Festival includes a $99 preview tasting on Friday and free festival days on Saturday and Sunday. The food will be provided by ten "Legends of the Pit" from around the country, including Mike Emerson of Pappy's Smokehouse in St. Louis, Scott Roberts of the Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas, and Denver's own Jason Ganahl of GQue Championship Barbecue. Enter for free and pay as you eat, or land a $75 VIP pass so you can leave your wallet in your pocket. There's also a Denver Outlaws pass that gets you barbecue and a seat inside the stadium for a lacrosse match. See the festival's website for Saturday and Sunday session times and a complete list of barbecue classes, live music and other events surrounding the main cookout. It's perfect for Father's Day weekend.
Heritage Fire Snowmass
Snowmass Base Village
The annual Aspen Food & Wine festival sells out well in advance every year, so you're probably out of luck if you're not already clutching a ticket. But Cochon555 organizers are making sure you can still have fun in the ritzy ski town this weekend even if you didn't drop big bucks for the main event. Heritage Fire is an outdoor version of Cochon555's whole-animal competition, except that chefs get to work with more than just hogs. Cooks from all over the country will fire up more than 3,000 pounds of beef, pork, lamb, rabbit, duck, fish and goat over open fires from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Guests will enjoy the fresh air, the smell of wood smoke and unlimited food and drink. Pigging out is just a small part of the eating action.
Do at the Zoo
Dine like a celebrity while supporting a great cause at the Denver Zoo's annual fundraiser dinner. You won't have to munch on hay or pellets; food will be provided by more than seventy Denver restaurants, and there will also be plenty of beer, wine and cocktails to sip while you stroll. The price of admission goes toward ongoing animal care as well as local and global conservation and science education. The event runs from 7 to 10 p.m. and is for those 21 and over only, so it's just about the only time you won't have to squeeze through a throng of kids to see the animals. Cocktail attire is suggested — or wear your best animal prints or safari gear.
The Big Eat
Denver Performing Arts Complex
If you're looking for a food festival that delivers on its promises, one with the words "big" and "eat" shows plenty of potential. The Big Eat is EatDenver's annual food-and-drink soirée, this year with 65 independent restaurants serving their best bites. Add unlimited samples from local distilleries, breweries and wineries — all selected by the Colorado Bartenders Guild — and you've got a gastronomer's dream. The event takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. under the Galleria canopy at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, so dining in cool, breezy comfort is all but guaranteed. Admission also includes a commemorative glass. Eat big!
Breckenridge Food & Wine
Main Street Station and The Village at Breckenridge
$50 and up
A three-day weekend of wine tasting and indulging in great food in one of Colorado's most beautiful mountain towns sounds like a perfect summer plan. Breckenridge Food & Wine offers a full agenda of wine dinners, special events, the Grand Tasting and a Sunday wine brunch. If you try to take it all in, you could spend a pretty penny, but if you stick with the Grand Tasting from 2 to 6 p.m on Saturday, July 28, you only spend fifty bucks (not including the hotel room you'll need for recovery after the festival). Upgrade to VIP for extra perks; tickets and a full schedule of events can be found on the event's website. Some of California's best wines will be poured, so start practicing your swirl-and-sip now.
Clyfford Still Museum
Food and art go hand in hand at the fourth annual Local Tastes dinner, presented by the Friends of Clyfford Still. Denver chefs and bartenders will present their edible and drinkable interpretations of the artist's best and most popular works. Register in advance on the museum's website (Friends of Clyfford Still members get a $10 discount), then show up from 6 to 8:30 p.m. for an elegant evening of thought-provoking art and innovative eats. Participating eateries include Block & Larder, Luca, Charcoal Bistro, Ad Hominem, DiFranco's and more, with beer from Ratio Beerworks and sake from Colorado Sake Co.
Slow Food Nations
Free, plus additional ticketed events
Slow Food Nations is more than just a festival; it's a multi-day deluge of tastings, classes, lectures and demos focused on Slow Food USA's mission of recognizing and supporting local food cultures and traditions. The biggest events are the free and family-friendly Eat Street and Taste Marketplace from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, where you can graze and sample from multiple food producers set up on Larimer Street. Visit the Slow Food Nations website for a complete rundown of more than 25 other happenings, from Aw, Shucks! An Oyster Tasting to the Zero Waste Family Meal.
Olathe Sweet Corn Fest
Olathe Town Park
$18 (with early bird, child and family tickets available)
You've nibbled Olathe corn, Colorado's finest export — the sweet, golden corn that bears the town's name — at restaurants and backyard barbecues throughout Denver. Now hit the road for a celebration of Olathe sweet corn in its home on the Western Slope. The price of admission includes all the corn you can eat, plus other food and activities as well as beer and wine made from local ingredients available for purchase. This year's music lineup is headed by rising star Eric Paslay. The fun begins at 10 a.m. and lasts all day — and you won't even need to BYOB (bring your own butter).
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Civic Center Park
$25 and up
Tacolandia is Westword's annual celebration of Denver's street tacos, with dozens of taquerias, food trucks and other vendors wrapping nearly everything imaginable in warm tortillas. The main event runs from 4 to 7 p.m. for guests 21 and over. General admission tickets will get you unlimited taco samples, live music, a car show from the Saints & Sinners car club, and access to cash bars. VIP ticket holders will get in at 3 p.m., get two free drink tickets and access to an exclusive VIP section with food from Lola Coastal Mexican. Come celebrate the food, culture and art of Mexico through Denver's top taco masters.
Free (plus food and drink)
Signore e signori, there's a festival you won't want to miss in Lakewood, where you'll be able to fill up on pasta, sample cannoli and shop for Italian goods to take home and build your own feast. The Festival Italiano returns for its fourteenth year, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Cooking demos, Italian treats and wines, and vendors peddling everything from olive oil to home decor are all part of the festive street scene, along with music, dancing and other entertainment. Buon appetito!