Denver International Airport celebrates its twentieth anniversary on Saturday, and while restaurants, bars and food concessions have been a big part of DIA since the beginning, newcomers to the airport's Jeppesen terminal and three concourses have made it one of the top in the nation for good food. With more than 26 million passengers boarding planes last year, it's no wonder food and alcohol sales are one of the biggest money makers at DIA. In fact, sales of food and beverages rang in at $203.8 million for 2014, or about 9 percent more than in 2013, according to numbers available on DIA's website. With all of the changes bringing more and more attention to the airport's food, we thought it was time to revisit our list of Denver International Airport's best restaurants. Some are stalwarts that have been around since opening day, while others just opened this year. Here are the top ten, listed in alphabetical order — until number one, winner of the Best Airport at DIA award in the Best of Denver 2014.
10) Boulder Beer Tap House
Jeppesen Terminal, Level 5
The long, dark, cavernous Boulder Beer Tap House, situated on the security level of DIA's busy terminal, is just the place for travelers to fortify themselves for the ordeal ahead. The bar's menu of sandwiches, soups and salads — with highlights like a fat breakfast burrito smothered in Colorado-style green chile — are a step above standard airport fare. More important, though, is the beer stock, with taps devoted to Boulder Beer's handcrafted ale, giving those about to leave our state one last chance to sip a crisp Sweaty Betty Blonde or hoppy Hazed & Infused.
9) Cru Food and Wine Bar
While Colorado breweries have made their presence felt at the airport, wine lovers will find their niche, too. And the best of the crew is Cru, where you can taste a flight before your flight, nibble on cheese and charcuterie boards, and pick from a sophisticated selection of small plates and pizzas.
8) Denver Chophouse
Part of Denver's Rock Bottom Brewery family, the Denver Chophouse at DIA features the same hearty fare as the original LoDo location. From the signature monster onion rings to classic cuts like an eight-ounce filet mignon or a New York strip, power lunchers will find something satisfying before taking off.
If the idea of a chicken-fried steak breakfast burrito — made with prime tenderloin and smothered in sausage gravy — doesn't get you in the door, a long menu 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: Crab cakes, grilled artichokes and entree-sized salads will also please those who aren't fans of red meat.
6) Etai's Bakery Cafe
The name Etai's may not be familiar, but it's just the new name for Udi's, the original Colorado bread and sandwich eatery that moved into DIA two years ago. Sandwiches are still made on bakery-fresh bread and feature locally grown produce. Etai's is also a great option for gluten-free travelers.
Denver fast-casual chain Modmarket opened its newest branch at DIA in January and plans to add a second in the spring. 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 Modmarket is the perfect pre-flight plan for modern travelers looking for energy without heavier, fried options so common in airport food courts.
4) 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's airport outlet 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 menu of fun fare like chicken and waffles, chili cheese fries and Belgian frites.
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3) Steve's Snappin' Dogs
Steve's Snappin' Dogs has earned a loyal following at its Colfax Avenue flagship frankfurter hut, and now Colorado visitors can experience a touch of Colfax at DIA. Favorites include the Denver Dog (built on a flour tortilla instead of a bun), a rippin' Rockies Dog smothered in house-made green chile, and crispy sweet-potato tots.
2) 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 hostess gift, but if you have time, you'll definitely want to eat 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.
1) Root Down
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 some of the finest you'll have 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.