Denver International Airport is swarming with travelers during the holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, and one of those travelers might just be you. When you're tired and hungry and want nothing more than to step away from the fray of luggage-wheeling business types, dawdling tourists and passenger-cart drivers determined to mow you down, the airport has plenty of options where you can grab a seat and a snack. And while some dole out the standard fare you can find at any airport, others are destinations in themselves, serving up a true taste of Denver's restaurant scene.
Here are the ten best restaurants at DIA.
If the idea of a chicken-fried-steak breakfast burrito — made with prime tenderloin, eggs and hash browns, all smothered in sausage gravy — doesn't get you in the door, a long list of burgers, steaks and seafood prepared with the same attention to detail as at the Cherry Creek and downtown locations should. It's not all steakhouse fare, though: Crabcakes, grilled artichokes and entree-sized salads will also please those who aren't fans of red meat. At the bar, look for Colorado spirits that supplement the usual array of bottles. And in case you need to pick up a hostess gift, Elway's scores with last-second shoppers.
Etai's Bakery Cafe
Etai's has become a familiar name for Denverites who want well-made sandwiches on quality bread, but out-of-towners should know that the company started out as the legendary Udi's. Etai's is no longer associated with that brand, but the members of the Baron family who run Etai's still turn out great baked goods. Sandwiches are made on bakery-fresh bread stacked with savory meats and locally grown produce; the menu also offers flatbreads, salads and plenty of great options for gluten-free travelers.
Grill & Vine
All the hallmarks of modern dining can be found at this hotel restaurant that's easily accessible from the light-rail station beneath it or from the airport terminal. Small plates, charcuterie boards, gussied-up tacos and cute crocks of macaroni and cheese grace the menu, along with such Rocky Mountain-themed fare as buffalo chili and Colorado striped bass. Neighborhood maps and names adorn the walls and windows, and you'll feel like you're in a hip Denver eatery surrounded by barnwood and beetle-kill pine.
Happy Cakes Cafe & Allegro Coffee
The airport outpost of this cute Highland neighborhood bakery offers many of the same breakfast pastries, plus sandwiches. Allegro is also a Colorado original, so you'll want to skip the national coffee chains in favor of a fresh cup or espresso drink from the roaster that got its start in Boulder in 1977.
New Belgium Hub
New Belgium has achieved iconic status on the national craft-brew scene, so Colorado visitors seeking one more pint from the Fort Collins brewery will find what they're looking for on Concourse B. The brewery has another tap room, the Spoke, on Concourse A in case you want to make it a bar crawl, but the Hub has a bigger food roster of fun fare, including chicken and waffles, chili cheese fries and Belgian frites. The company's beers are even integrated as ingredients throughout the menu.
Concourses B and C
Modern Market, a Denver-based fast-casual chain that got its start as Modmarket, has expanded to two airport locations. Fans will recognize the farm-fresh produce and well-crafted salads, pizzas and sandwiches from the company's multiple locations around town. A stop at Modern Market is the perfect pre-flight plan for health-conscious travelers looking for energy without getting grounded by the heavier, fried options so common in airport food courts.
Root Down's eclectic, mod and worldly decor is creative and eye-appealing enough to make it a destination restaurant of its own, even without the unique, healthy and delicious menu inspired by the Highland neighborhood original. Traveler's bento boxes available in a choice of four different proteins and seasonal veggies highlight the choices here, and breakfast is as good as any morning meal anywhere in Denver — in or out of the airport. Grab a seat at the bar (where the contents of lost luggage are displayed under glass) and order something from the clever cocktail menu while you relax.
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The newest arrival at DIA, Smashburger is a shining example of Denver's pioneering fast-casual scene. Familiar enough around the country to give travelers a comforting welcome, the airport version of Smashburger boasts a new breakfast burger as well as a bar. A second location will soon open in Concourse B, and in summer 2018 Smashburger founder Tom Ryan will add a brewpub version of his Tom's Urban Diner restaurant in conjunction with Tivoli Brewing inside the airport Westin.
Steve's Snappin' Dogs
Steve's Snappin' Dogs has earned a loyal following at its East Colfax Avenue flagship, and this DIA outpost provides visitors to Colorado a welcome introduction to all the delights ahead. Favorites include the Denver Dog (built on a flour tortilla instead of a bun), a rippin' Rockies Dog smothered in housemade green chile, and crispy sweet-potato tots.
Tamales by La Casita
Get a true taste of Denver at Tamales by La Casita, which serves up much of the same great menu that the Sandoval family has been offering generations of fans in northwest Denver. You can grab tamales to go for a great host gift, but if you have time, you'll definitely want to sit down for a bite at La Casita, where you can wash down a plate of tamales (get it with both red and green chile for a Christmas treat) or even Frito pie with a local brew or two...or three.