Colorado's sunny summer days make dining and drinking outdoors always seem appetizing. With a mountain of food festivals across the state, you'll never go hungry. Here are ten of our favorites:
Civic Center Eats
Tuesdays through Thursdays through October 10
Civic Center Park
You may not consider this summer-long institution a festival, but with the addition of a Thursday beer garden to the lunchtime food-truck gathering, Civic Center Eats feels more celebratory than ever. The communal seating contributes to a convivial atmosphere, and with the addition of over twenty new trucks, the breadth of cuisine is impressive. Of note: Bruna's Cheese Bread, serving Brazilian pão de queijo; Cilantro & Perejil, slinging a sandwich found in only one Mexican town; and the Veggie Whisperer, with vegan Israeli food that even carnivores can get behind. This summer, a picnic in the park is more fun than it's been in years.
Colorado BBQ Challenge
Main Street, Frisco
It's a basic tenet of barbecue: Hurry up and wait. Whether you're babysitting the meat while it soaks up all those smoky flavors or sitting in a car on I-70 on your way to Frisco, you've got to pay your dues for good ’cue. But the wait is worth it at our favorite barbecue festival, where piles of pork, brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage await (you'll need to purchase Hogbacks to pay for your plate), alongside chef demos, bands and road races (in which both humans running the Bacon Burner 6K and porcine participants whizzing down Frisco's streets try to outrun their impending mortality).
Heritage Fire Snowmass
Snowmass Base Village
$150 to $200
Despite the evolved price tag, Heritage Fire Snowmass is the fest that most appeals to our primal core. There aren't many aromas as evocative as wood smoke and roasting meat; it's the earliest — some would say purest — form of cooking, and makes our mouths water like nothing else. So put fifty chefs and butchers, 2,500 pounds of whole heritage-breed animals, open fires and free-flowing wine, spirits and craft beer into a pristine mountain setting, and you've got an event that satisfies your soul and stomach on a fundamental level.
The Big Eat
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Shake Shack? Not here, not at the Big Eat, the biggest celebration of local independent eateries in town. Over sixty restaurants, breweries and distilleries will gather under the complex's glass galleria to put out unlimited food and drink pairings that reflect Denver's true food scene, with nary a campy Rocky Mountain oyster in sight. Instead, there will be mainstays that have been upping Denver's game for decades (Vesta, Duo, TAG) as well as newcomers bringing inspiration from across the globe (Liberati, Cirque Kitchen). While national chains are finally starting to look to our city as a viable market, we've had everything we need here all along — and the Big Eat proves it.
Strawberry Days Festival
Sayre Park, Glenwood Springs
There's something charming about small-town festivals; their wholesome events and resolute un-coolness are a balm to the strain of constant irony and urbanity. And while Glenwood Springs hasn't been a small town for decades, this agricultural festival has maintained its pastoral feel for a whopping 122 years. There's a parade followed by free ice cream and strawberries for spectators, as well as an arts and craft show, free concerts and the fiercely contested Miss Strawberry Days competition. And if the action proves to be too much for you, you can always have a soak in one of the town's restorative hot springs before heading back into the fray.
Slow Food Nations
Free admission (ticketed events start at $20)
Slow Food Nations appeals to everyone's palate. Want to nab artisan products for your pantry? Hit up the Taste Marketplace, where over 100 vendors will be sampling and selling hot sauce and honey, coffee and kombucha, sausage and spices. Looking to geek out over ingredients and techniques? Attend a workshop covering food from the Yucatan peninsula or meet a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. Just want to see and be seen? Plenty of posh parties will provide luxe food and drink. And with food luminaries like chef Alice Waters and activist Ron Finley participating, you're sure to be inspired to make some big changes in your own food choices.
Bacchanal x Denver
The Source Market Hall
Chef Alon Shaya set Denver abuzz with the opening of his Israeli restaurant Safta last year — and now he's bringing another far-flung tradition to Colorado. For two days, the original Source parking lot will be transformed into a Mile High version of the Big Easy's celebrated wine shop/cafe/all-day party Bacchanal Wine; guests can expect live jazz performances, extravagant charcuterie and cheese boards, more than 25 Old World wines, and limited-release beers from New Belgium Brewing Co. In keeping with Bacchanal's garden vibe, seating will be casual, colorful and communal, making you feel as though you're relaxing at a friend's backyard party — a custom that's always in style, no matter where you're from.
Palisade Peach Festival
Riverbend Park, Palisade
Come August, every restaurant in Denver will have Palisade peaches on its menu — paired with feta, basil, bacon, honey...you name it. That's because there's nothing better than biting into a juicy peach when the weather's hot and the days are long. And you can go right to the source at this fair honoring the fruit that launched a thousand dirty text messages. Make the trip to the Western Slope to enjoy cooler climes, orchard tours, a free ice cream social, peach-eating contests, a peach barbecue throwdown, farm dinners, and bands on the charmingly named Peach Jam Stage. It just might change the way you look at the peach emoji.
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RARE: The Denver Steak Championships
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Denver was long considered a cowtown — if not by snooty coastal types, then affectionately and somewhat defiantly by its own denizens. While we've (mostly) left that moniker in the dust, there's no reason we should turn our backs on our heritage, particularly when it's so tasty. At this new festival, the top steakhouses in town will be firing up the grills and competing to sear the best steak in both traditional and creative categories; they're also hoping to win your vote by plying you with sophisticated cocktails designed to pair perfectly with meaty, medium-rare goodness. So honor Denver's cultural history: It's as juicy as that steak you're about to sink your teeth into.
Civic Center Park
We love tacos so much we've dedicated a whole festival to them. At Westword's fourth annual Tacolandia, you'll get unlimited tacos from over forty Denver taquerias, trucks and restaurants, with enough variety to satisfy you whether you're a fan of the classics — just meat, onion and cilantro — or you like your tortilla piled high with garnishes and sauces. This year, VIP ticket holders also get Sinaloa-style sushi from El Coco Pirata (think a shrimp and cucumber roll topped with cream cheese and tangy aguachile soy sauce) — but, really, everyone's a VIP when they're surrounded by the world's perfect handheld food.
For tasty news of more food events through the summer, go to westword.com/restaurants, and watch for our culinary calendars every Monday and Friday. Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.