Aug 10 2018
Kristen Evans
5 Minutes to read

Denver may be tucked away between the rugged, snowy peaks of the Rockies, but the Mile High City’s food scene rivals the best from either coast. There’s a little bit of everything here—from craft brews to international cuisine to the generous bounty of farm-to-table fine dining.

And while Denver-area chefs will tell you they’ve had what it takes for years, everything in the Denver food scene has been changing fast, says chef Carrie Baird, one of the brains behind Bar Dough, a new upscale Italian Kitchen in the Lower Highland neighborhood (or LoHi, as locals would say).

“So much has changed in Denver, even in the last couple of years,” Baird told the Chicago Tribune in July. “There’s a lot of chefs here cooking outside of their culture. We have a Latin restaurant down the street that just opened, Señor Bear, and they’re doing really special, really neat things.”

“And the guys at Hop Alley [are] Colorado born and raised, but doing Chinese street food,” she added. “Everyone’s pushing the envelope.”

For the best envelope-pushers in town, follow our guide to the Denver food scene. We’ve got the skinny on neighborhood noshes, new food trends taking the city by storm, and Denver catering mainstays that can feed your office in a flash.

[Cart-Driver/Instagram]

New in Town? Denver’s Neighborhoods Have Their Own Foodie Vocabulary

It’s time to dust off your preconceptions about the West and “mountain fare.” Denver has transformed from a beloved vacation spot for adventurous hikers and snowboarders into an ultra-trendy small city. By any measure, this spot is on the verge of becoming the Next Big Thing—a destination for foodies, techies, hipsters, and hikers alike. When it comes to finding the best places to eat in the Denver food scene, each neighborhood has something special to offer—and a nickname to match.

River North Art District (RiNo)

The hippest neighborhood of all, River North Art District (RiNo), boasts breweries galore, along with wood-fired pizzas and innovative international cuisine. Cart-Driver fires some of the city’s favorite pizzas in its wood-burning ovens, but they also serve oysters, chicken liver mousse, and other fancy starters. Hop Alley, a new joint dishing up Chinese street food, is quickly becoming a local favorite. And don’t forget to visit the fantastic new Denver Central Market, a marketplace of gourmet food and catering hub with everything from cheesemongers to fish markets.

[Beast + Bottle/Instagram]

Uptown / Capitol Hill

Uptown tends to mean upscale. According to Eater, that doesn’t mean fussy—at least not in Denver. “Despite its reputation as boundary breaker on the U.S. scene, diners here will be hard-pressed to find a white tablecloth restaurant with a snooty attitude,” writes the Eater staff. In this neighborhood, you’ll find everything from farm-to-table American at Beast + Bottle, to Southern fried chicken at Bread N Butter. As for your catering options in the Capitol Hill area, opt for healthy grain bowls from Protein Bar & Kitchen or street tacos with a bit of flare from Dos Santos, to sample everything the Denver food scene has to offer.

[Denver’s Union Station/Instagram]

Downtown (LoDo)

“A lot of people talk about hipster neighborhoods, but the dining bell curve is highest around Union Station,” Bobby Stuckey, the co-owner of trendy Boulder mainstay Frasca Food & Wine told Bloomberg. (Even though Frasca is in Boulder, a reservation at the beloved Italian restaurant is a coveted coop.) Renovated and reopened in 2014, Union Station anchors the Denver food scene in LoDo and serves as a hub for travelers and diners alike. There you’ll find Mercantile Dining & Provision, a comfort food restaurant with its own market. Around Larimer Square, chef Lon Symensma’s ChoLon serves up crunchy Thai shrimp rolls and salmon crudo with nori chips. If you’re looking for something more casual, try one of Denver’s many beloved Latin catering options, like Lazo Empanadas, for an Argentinian flare on food.

[Bar Dough/Instagram]

Lower Highland (LoHi)

The Lower Highland neighborhood is where you can snag some of the trendiest new seats in the Denver food scene. At Bar Dough, wood-fired pizza and pasta get an upscale treatment. The new eaterie dishes up beautiful bucatini with fennel sausage and fettuccine with spring ramps. Have a funny bone? Visit the mortuary-turned-restaurant, Linger, which boasts a menu with food inspirations from all over the world. There’s bao and there’s dosa, there’s yellowfin tacos and lamb kabobs. The eclectic space makes it work, somehow. For innovative Latin fare, try the new Señor Bear for coconut spare ribs or a giant dish of mofongo.

Ahead of the Curve: Food Trends in Denver

Coastal cities like Seattle and Portland vie for top of the heap when it comes to craft breweries and cocktails, but Denver has been in the game a long time. The city’s also leading the pack in restaurant concepts inspired by global foods—from ramen to sushi to unique takes on Mexican dishes. Even better? The parade of good food in Denver extends to the city’s best catering businesses, too. Here are the trends you should seek out:

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[Western Daughters/Instagram]

“Slow Food”

In mid-July, Denver hosted the Slow Food Nations Festival, and it’s easy to see why the festival migrated there. The Denver food scene loves its farm-to-table eateries, like Uptown’s Beast + Bottle, as much as its full-service butchers, like Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe. This sustainable, grass-fed butcher runs a cute-as-buttons meat and provisions counter in LoHi, too. Denver catering has caught up to the food trend. Joints like Just BE Kitchen dish up Paleo biscuits and gravy, grass-fed burgers, and “Green Goddess” salads for your health-conscious staff.

Toast

Had enough of avocado toast? According to Eater, the Denver food scene is producing toasted menu items galore—at least enough to warrant a full-fledged trend piece! There’s a sweet version at Death & Co, with ricotta and rhubarb, as well as superfood varieties at the forthcoming Whole Sol Blend Bar. Think healthy combos like banana and nut butter or hazelnuts and sweet potato hummus. With flavors like these, who needs avocados?

Upscale Italian

We hope you like pizza because Denver has wood-fired ovens everywhere you turn. From the upscale Bar Dough to the funky Cart-Driver, fancy homemade pizzas accompany the many delicious brews and craft cocktails of the Denver food scene. Need to translate this trend for a crowd of hungry office workers? Try Mellow Mushroom catering in Denver’s LoDo for pizzas, boxed lunches, and other casual Italian food.

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[Señor Bear/Instagram]

International Fare

You can’t travel far in Denver without coming across an innovative take on Latin food. The latest is Señor Bear, which favors Caribbean fare. Around the corner from Union Station, Marg’s Taco Bistro offers some of Denver’s finest Mexican food and catering, with buffet packages to spare. Denver embraces the other side of the globe, too, with a trio of restaurants from the Kizaki brothers, Yasu and Toshi. Their award-winning empire dominates the Denver food scene. Sushi DenIzakaya Den, and Ototo are all beloved by locals, and they each have slightly different takes on Japanese dishes. And don’t forget to sample the ramen at Osaka Ramen, which has vegetarian options in addition to traditional fatty pork.

Craft Beer & Cocktails

When it comes to craft beer in the Denver food scene, you pretty much can’t go wrong. There’s Denver Beer Co. in LoHi, Great Divide Brewing Co. in RiNo, and a spectacular beer garden and patio at Black Shirt Brewing Co. in the far-northern corner of River North, where things feel a bit more industrial. For a craft cocktail that’s truly special, head to the speakeasy B&GC in the Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek. There’s a secret number to text and everything.

[Little Man Ice Cream/Instagram]

Homemade Ice Cream

If you love small batch, homemade ice cream, the Denver food scene has got you covered. Little Man Ice Cream in LoHi and Sweet Action Ice Cream in the Heart of Broadway are local favorites. Need ice cream sandwiches for an office celebration? Call up Cream in nearby Lakewood—they even have gluten-free options for colleagues with dietary restrictions.

Rocky Mountain High: Unique Dishes from Denver’s Food Scene

  • Sugar steak: Coated in a blend of sugar and spices then thrown over a high-flame grill, sugar steak is the Mile High City’s ode to meat. You have to try it at Bastien’s.
  • Churro ice cream sandwich: With plenty of homemade ice cream joints to explore, you can eat dessert like a king here. But you’ll get the royal treatment with the churro ice cream sandwich from Bones.
  • “Rocky Mountain” oysters: We couldn’t not mention Denver’s claim to fame, “Rocky Mountain” oysters. No one will force you to try these deep-fried cattle testicles, but locals will joke with you about it aplenty—so come prepared with your best poker face.

Want to learn more about the best caterers in Denver? Read more here.

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Kristen Evans

Written by:

Kristen Evans

Kristen Evans has written copy for national snack brands and covered food for outlets like Extra Crispy, a TIME vertical devoted to all things breakfast. She’s worked countless shifts as a waitress and a wedding caterer and now writes for BuzzFeed and The Los Angeles Times. Learn more at www.kristen-evans.com.

Posted in: Trends in FoodNeed to Know

Tagged with: Catering, CO, Denver, Healthy, Italian, Mexican