While Denver has gained plenty of fancy urban steakhouses over the last decade, and also lost some of its longtime meat markets (including the Downtown Broker, the Aurora Summit and the marvelous Emil-Lene's Sirloin House, where steaks were always sided with spaghetti), it's still possible to grab a seat at a modest meat-and-potatoes spot, where your meal is flavored by memories of the frontier (or at least the end of the last millennium).
Here are six of the best old-school steakhouses in and around Denver:
Bastien's Restaurant3503 East Colfax Avenue
Back in 1937, William Bastien purchased the Moon Drive-In; he ran it for decades, then tore the place down and built what is now Bastien's in 1958. The founder's granddaughter, Jeannine Bastien, runs the restaurant today. The steakhouse is more mid-century than cowtown in its design and decor, but it still sees an influx of cowboy hats and boots during the National Western Stock Show, according to the owner. The specialty here is the sugar steak, which may sound heretical, but many visitors are repeat customers who've become converts to the unusual cooking method. Bastien's doesn't run any specials during the Stock Show, but the steaks are always reasonably priced compared to many glitzier competitors. bastiensrestaurant.com
Black Hat Cattle Co.26295 Hill Top Drive, Kittredge
David Rodriguez's Western-style steakhouse is the youngest on our list at just fourteen years old, but the place is old-school in spirit. Wagon wheels and animal heads decorate the wood-paneled walls, and you're likely to see the owner in the dining room wearing the black cowboy hat that gives the restaurant its name. Black Hat Cattle Co. sponsors a youth auction at the Stock Show, so the restaurant does see an uptick in business this time of year, despite the thirty-minute drive (in good weather) from downtown Denver. If you've got tickets to a nighttime rodeo, head up for the early dining menu (with a choice of several starters, entrees and desserts), served from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. blackhatcattleco.com
Buckhorn Exchange1000 Osage Street
Many restaurants along the Front Range re-create the Wild West experience, but most of them deliver the mild West. The Buckhorn Exchange is the exception, a true old-timey spot that still has meaning for today’s diners. Before Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz opened the Buckhorn in 1893, he rode with Buffalo Bill; in 1905, he fed President Teddy Roosevelt, then headed off with him to hunt big game. And you’ll find plenty of big game on the menu of the restaurant today, meat that demands a pretty big price tag. Those on a nineteenth-century budget should head to the historic bar on the second floor, where you can order from the appetizer menu, enjoy entertainment, and gaze upon all the taxidermied specimens distantly related to what might arrive on your plate. From downtown, hop on the light rail and get off at the Osage Street stop for lunch or dinner. While there are no Stock Show specials, this is one slab of steakhouse history you won't want to miss. buckhorn.com