You may have noticed that wagyu has been gracing Denver menus left and right, from high-end steaks to Asian fare to simple sandwiches. The trend comes with a good reason: Colorado is home to two major ranches specializing in this Japanese cattle breed — the 7X Ranch in Hotchkiss (owned by the 7X Cattle Company) and the small-production Yarmony Ranch, which took over the herd at the now-defunct Emma Farms.
But what exactly is wagyu, and what makes it such a hot ticket item? Technically the word "wagyu" means "cattle" in Japanese and is not as big a deal in the home country. However, when the Tottori Black Wagyu and Kumamoto Red Wagyu breeds were shipped to America, in 1975, the meat market eventually jumped on the bandwagon. The resulting beef is known for having superior fat marbling, a supple texture and less saturated fat than other varieties. Today most American wagyu is a cross between the original Japanese bovine and local breeds, but is just as tasty and, if scientific studies are to be believed, good for you. With that in mind, we found nine knockout dishes featuring this magnificent meat, from Colorado and beyond, that you can go out and try right now.
3350 Brighton Boulevard
There's tartare and then there's the wagyu tartare served at chef/restaurateur Steven Redzikowski's RiNo hot spot. Made with wagyu beef from Texas, this popular dish gets spruced up with fresh chives, celery, honey mustard, lemon and Grana Padano cheese. Each heaping order comes with a side of housemade lavash with "everything" spices sprinkled on top. Because tartare is served raw, diners can really taste the nuances of the wagyu and appreciate why this beef proves superior to others. Plus, eating tartare (especially when you add a glass of sparkling wine to the deal) makes one feel fancy. Not bad for a $14.50 appetizer.
Wagyu French Dip
1644 Platte Street
If you love a good French dip sandwich, then the option at this LoHi casual eatery is a must-have. After all, the beef that's placed between two halves of a fresh ciabatta roll from Grateful Bread is tender wagyu from 7X Ranch. To help enhance the meat, the sandwich gets a healthy dose of mustard, horseradish aioli and melted Gruyère, all of which go together wonderfully to create one of the best French dips in the city. Give your lunch a dunk in the luscious jus, and consider $14 a bargain for such a distinctive meal.
3. ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro
Wagyu Chow Fun
1555 Blake Street
Chef/owner Lon Symensma's chow fun is nothing like what you might recall from nights of cheap Chinese food when you were a kid (or an adult with a late-night craving). This dish has been elevated not only with hand-made rice noodles, fresh vegetables and shiitake mushrooms, but the chef adds a hearty helping of oil-poached wagyu from 7X Ranch to the mix. Oil-poaching the wagyu means that before all the other goodies get cooked, the beef's tasty juices get locked inside as it cooks. From there the meat is put to the side so the vegetables can get a turn. Then come the tender noodles, followed by that wagyu. The result is a lovely, $15 Asian dish that's a little sweet, a tad spicy and full of scrumptious umami flavor.
4. Corner Ramen
Waygyu Ramen Burger
1629 Bruce Randolph Avenue
There's nothing fancy about this ramen joint's burger, save for the use of wagyu instead of the usual run-of-the-mill beef. Well, that and the fact that the bun is made out of ramen noodles, a trick that gives the dish a buttery, slightly mushy mouthfeel that's all at once strange and texturally addictive. This $10 burger also comes topped with fresh arugula and Kewpie mayo, and is small enough that you'll want to order a side of edamame and maybe even a pair of pork-belly buns to round out your meal.
5. Edge Restaurant & Bar
Wagyu Bone Marrow Custard
1111 14th Street
Sure, you can order the intense wagyu tomahawk steak or a tantalizing wagyu burger at this downtown hotel restaurant, but if you really want to see the skills of chef Zack Rozanski, order the wagyu bone-marrow custard as a starter. To make this delicate and rich dish, the chef utilizes beef and marrow from 7X Ranch, liquefies it, and then sends it to the pastry team to turn the meat fat into an indulgent pastry cream, minus the sugar. Instead of sweet, it gets a savory blast of fresh thyme and salt. Then the mixture is put back into little bone cups and topped with a dried-apricot compote. Smear this $18 appetizer on a triangle of housemade brioche toast and wallow in each bite.
Keep reading for more great wagyu dishes...
1881 Curtis Street, 303-312-3107
2500 East First Avenue, 303-399-5353
It's not hard to find a wagyu burger in this town, but few places make them as good as Elway's, both at the Ritz-Carlton location and the Cherry Creek spot. To start with, you have two options: John Elway's Favorite with smoked gouda, bacon, an over-easy egg and shoestring potatoes, or the slightly spicy Colorado 7X with roasted green chiles, asadero cheese and chipotle aioli. All of the beef comes from 7X Ranch and is cooked to your specifications. The restaurant also serves wagyu in the slider form and, of course, as an elegant and no-nonsense steak.
7. Old Major
Waygu Beef Hot Dog
3316 Tejon Street
When is a hot dog more than just a hot dog? When it's made in-house with fresh wagyu meat and trim, then topped with an array of seasonal pickles, condiments and whatever else chef Amos Watts and his team think would go well on top. The beef comes from 7X Ranch, and when the hot dogs get made, they hang for about five days before doing a turn in the smoker. Each link comes nestled in a split-top, milk-bread roll, which is also made on site. This hefty dog costs just $7; the only downside is that you can only order it during happy hour.
8. The Preservery
Wagyu New York Strip Steak
3040 Blake Street
There's something special about the steak that chef Brendan Russell prepares at this breezy, casual eatery, and it's not just that the name "wagyu" appears on the menu. Russell sources his meat from Yarmony Ranch, a small operation that bought its almost-full-breed cattle (99 percent compared to the usual 51 percent wagyu at other farms) from the now-defunct Emma Farms. The ranch is so tiny that only four animals from Yarmony's herd are butchered each week. That makes the New York strip steak that Russell grills up hard to come by, but oh, so worth seeking out. To make the simple yet flavorful dish, Russell seasons the grilled meat with a bit of salt before placing it on top of marble potatoes, grated 12- and 24-month aged Gouda, and a whole roasted green pepper. At $42, it's not a cheap dish, but with each bite, the marbled-fat richness of the meat butters the tongue and satisfies on a level that makes you understand why beef lovers crave wagyu in the first place.
9. Uncle Joe's Hong Kong Bistro
891 14th Street
If you find yourself downtown for a quick and inexpensive lunch, the $10 wagyu wrap at this casual Asian spot is well worth ordering. It's all you'll need, too, given the sheer size of the scallion pancake that serves as a wrapper and the heaping pile of thinly cut strips of wagyu beef loaded on top. All of that is crowned with a crispy cucumber salad and your choice of side (the green beans are a lovely and fresh option). Just make sure you ask for a stack of napkins to go with it. While the golden pancake holds up well to the saucy sandwich, your fingers and mouth will get a coating as you take in every delicious bite.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.