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Distinctly Denver

I'm headed to Denver on 1/22 for 5 days to attend a professional meeting. Since I made my decision to go belatedly, I will be unable to partake of any of the vendor-provided free meals of rubber chicken (darn my luck). Since I am paying for the whole trip out of pocket, I want to get a good meal or two for my trouble.

Now for the particulars:
I will have a rental car.
I never met a cuisine I didn't like.
I am omnivorous.
When I travel I like to seek out the things unique to an area, especially if they are things uncommon to my home (greater Tampa area).
Cheap is fine.
Expensive is fine if the food is equally fine, but don't serve me a teaspoon of oxtail-flavored foam for $75 and expect me to think that if I was only smart, sophisticated or cultured enough my hunger would be sated and my soul exalted, because I will ask you why the emperor is naked tonight.

My husband lived in Cheyenne in the early 90’s; he told me to eat elk if I can find it or antelope if I can stand it. Is there much game to be had in Denver? What is typical of the cuisine (or is there anything typical about the cuisine)? Are there any winter season treasures that I should look for? Is there somewhere else on the net that offers more local guidance (like I have found for Chicago and NOLA)? Last but not least, if you had a houseguest coming from Florida, what would you like them to bring you? My husband roasts coffee at home, so I will be bringing that as a hostess gift for starters.

Some of the places that I’ve read about on this board so far are Rioja, Delite and B&W.

Thank you for sharing your chow experience!


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  1. I would say if you are looking for a distinctly Denver experience head out to The Fort in Morrison - about 15-20 minutes west of downtown. They'll have all the game you want, and some you would never think to try.

    If you want steak head over to Elway's or Sullivan's. Otherwise the three that you mention are rock solid.

    8 Replies
    1. re: msmcd

      Thank you - I just finished reading a thread about "quintessential denver" and I think that the fort was mentioned there. It sounds really good!

      I'm ashamed to admit that I am a flatlander. I live at 7 feet above sea level and driving across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is frightening to me. Will a drive to the Fort afford views that are likely to terrify me?

      1. re: BeaN

        Fort DeSoto from the Skyway, to The Fort in Morrison, will be a culture shock!

        1. re: Veggo

          How about the climate shock? I hardly own a pair of closed toed shoes & I don't think that the socks and birkenstocks are going to do the trick!

          1. re: BeaN

            Amusing that you mention that. I went back to Denver for Easter 2007 wearing Teva's with no socks, and it pretty much snowed every day. I renamed them after an Elvis song; my blue-toed shoes.
            Morrison is only in the foothills. You should definitely hit The Little Bear.

        2. re: BeaN

          Nah, you'll be fine - it's flat the whole way to the Fort. You'll drive past some great foothills, but you won't have to worry about any cliffs or slops.

          1. re: BeaN

            That thread's a really good guide. Start by following the beacon of green chile & go from there. I don't know what the Mexican food's like in Florida, but if you've never had Southwestern Mexican, now's the time to start.

            I might add that there's often game at the namesake of yours you mention, Beatrice & Woodsley. Right now I'm digging the place for brunch more than dinner, but it is a gorgeous, unique spot, still one of my faves in town (as is its sibling of a downtown bar, Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto).

            There's also a lot of game served at Opus, although IMO in my one experience there I felt I was in a bit of a nudie empire, to borrow your metaphor. Others have a higher opinion of it.


            Re your Q about seasonality, of course everybody's been uttering the locavore mantra ad nauseum for years now but one place that I think gets underlooked in doing that really subtly and well is Panzano.


            If re your gift question you're asking what do we miss most here in Denver—I guess I'd have to say I most miss the range of cuisines I could get in Boston. But I don't know how you bring someone a bowl of katchupada or Indian pudding.

            (I've got a few detailed posts on my experiences at B&W, Opus, and Panzano on my blog if you're interested, URL in profile.)

            1. re: tatamagouche

              Thanks! My experience with real Mexican food has been limited to what I have eaten in Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche states.

              A friend from New Mexico gifted me with some green chile powder which I have greedily consumed. Can I find that at a grocery to take home with me?

              1. re: BeaN

                You should be able to, on the Mexican/Hispanic markets on Federal Blvd...

        3. If you are free for lunch or Sunday brunch, try Red Rocks Grille just north of Morrison (west of Denver, same direction as The Fort). Not necessarily a Chowish experience, but definitely a quintessentially Denver one. Red Rocks Amphitheater was built by the CCC amid spendid red-rock formations. Dramatic and beautiful. The eatery as it is now is just a few years old.The food is Southwestern (see http://www.redrocksonline.com/pages/s...) and the setting is memorable.

          1. It's a little touristy, but absolutely quintessential Denver: the Buckhorn Exchange (http://www.buckhornexchange.com). Boy do they have game - elk, buffalo, quail. Specials are often things like emu, ostrich, and yak (yak is better than beef OR elk, and it's locally raised and grass-fed). Appetizers include rattlesnake, alligator, and Rocky Mountain oysters. Don't miss the upstairs saloon for an after-dinner drink, with the oldest liquor license in Colorado (No. 1) and on weekend nights, singing cowboys.

            (I know the Buckhorn has gotten some bad reviews in CH, but it's never disappointed me. Though I have to admit that in recent years I go there more for the after dinner drinks and dessert and singing cowboys upstairs than for dinner. And the yak was delicious. Also, nowhere else IN town offers rattlesnake, alligator and RM oysters, and it's a great place to take visitors


            The Buckhorn is at 10th and Osage, you can take the light rail from downtown (it stops right in front) or drive five minutes to get there. You don't have to drive to Morrison for game but it's perfectly safe, our mountain roads aren't scary or dangerous unless you're going on one with "pass" in the name - Berthoud Pass, Loveland Pass, Guanella Pass, Independence Pass are all scary mountain roads, for example, but they're actually IN the mountains. The mountain roads have to be safe for the millions of ski vacationers. Denver is at the high end of the plains and pretty flat. Morrison is in the beginnings of the foothills.

            You mention Delite, but the better food, IMO, is next door at Deluxe. Same owners, different vibe. Sit at the copper-topped bar looking into the kitchen if you can, the chefs are friendly. Beatrice and Woodsley is right next door.

            For inexpensive authentic Mexican food, try El Taco de Mexico, an unlikely-looking place at Sante Fe and 7th Ave. If you're feeling adventurous order three buche (boo-chay) tacos with rice and beans and make sure you get some limes for the tacos.

            Having moved here from San Diego years ago, I've found that most of the "Mexican" food in Denver is not like what they serve in Mexico, or even in California. In fairness, though, there's something to be said for the local green chile, which they typically use to "smother" their version of Mexican food.

            Another Denver treasure is Domo, which serves Japanese country food.

            One of my personal favorites is LOLA in the Highlands neighborhood just north of downtown. They serve what I'd call Southwestern fusion - the shrimp albondigas are fabulous. If you like really upscale Mexican/Southwestern, then try Tamayo's in Larimer Square downtown.

            Best Italian is Barolo Grill. Best French is Bistro Vendome. IMO, of course.

            What to bring from Florida: Can you get key limes? Avocados? They're outrageously expensive here.

            One final note: your visit will overlap with the National Western Stock Show. So did my first visit to Denver, nearly 20 years ago. You will run into people wearing cowboy hats, Western garb, and stacked jeans unironically. These are real cowboys and real ranchers, and there are never as many of them in town as there are those two weeks every January. Most actual residents of Denver do not dress like that.

            Not that there's anything wrong with it, of course.

            7 Replies
            1. re: avgolemona

              The cowboys don't eat sushi during the Stock Show week, soSushi Tazu and equivalent are safe. And I atone to Vetsa Dipping Grill, no cowboys there, either. Actually, Veggo and Vesta got Westword Best of Denver awards, in alphabetical order, in 2000, but I made a comment that had me eviscerated here.

              1. re: Veggo

                Well, I took a date to Vesta for his birthday, and I was less than impressed. What were you eviscerated for?

                1. re: avgolemona

                  One of the female hornets is surely watching; I can't go down that road again.:)

              2. re: avgolemona

                Great thorough response...I don't entirely concur with Avgolemona about Domo or Tamayo (think both are overrated, though the former is certainly a sight to see; as for the latter, I think Zengo's overrated as well, but the menu's got spunk), but I definitely do agree about El Taco, Lola, Deluxe vs. Delite (though I need to give the latter another try), and the fact that Buckhorn, though a culinary disappointment—the much-touted RM oysters, rattlesnake, and so on are so heavily breaded they're past all recognition—is a treat for drinks and atmosphere. Being eyeballed by the heads of whole dead herds is pretty thrilling.

                The fact that the Mexican food in Denver is not like that in Mexico (which itself differs from region to region, of course) or California is precisely the point—it's a unique regional variant, not any less "authentic." I happen to prefer it to that in CA, where I've also lived briefly, just as I can understand why a CA transplant would prefer what they grew up with.

                I'm not even close to being able to afford Barolo at the moment, but I adore Luca d'Italia; Avgolemona (or anyone), how do you compare them?

                1. re: tatamagouche

                  RE: affording Barolo - restaurant week's coming.

                2. re: avgolemona

                  I wholeheartedly concur with you on Deluxe v. Delite. We've always enjoyed eating at the Chef's table and getting to know the owner a bit.

                  For Mexican - I've always been partial to D'corazon - The owner comes from a family from Northern Mexico, and his dad owns 25 other Mexican restaurants in town.

                3. I'd agree that The Fort & The Buckhorn are uniquely Denver. Some of my favorites are Snooze, El Tejado, Paggliaci's, India House, & Restaurant Kevin Tayor. Again, these are IMO only. I've eaten at Steubens a couple of times and it has yet to wow me, maybe I'm missing something. I live in Wyoming and like to try a new place each time I go Denver. Up next is Osteria Marco, Sushi Den, & Solera (Goose Sorenson is from WY, so gotta try it)
                  Quite a few of Denver's best restaurants are listed here. http://www.denver.org/denverrestauran...
                  I like this page because it provides a direct link to each restaurants web sites including menus.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jcattles

                    I will never understand why people are so ga-ga over Snooze - I've eaten there 3 times (since I used to live next door) and each visit was awful. The service is painfully slow, the bread is usually stale, the food mediocre at best, getting coffee refills is like pulling teeth, etc., etc.

                    Anyway, I agree with you on the rest, including Steuben's.

                  2. I agree with El Taco de Mexico for regional mexican and Luca d'Italia for Italian. I would add Fruition (my fave). Mizuna is also very popular (same owner as Luca).

                    I think Yelp is much more active in Denver than Chowhound, I would check their reviews as well.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: SeattliteChower

                      Back in Boston, I never even glanced at Yelp. Here, I agree with SC, Yelp is much more active. At the same time, I still feel it's harder to separate the wheat from the chaff of respondents. Not that there isn't wheat, just that it's harder to cull. So I tend to use Yelp to get info and CH to glean opinion. I'm also pleased to say I trust the reviewers in this town—Midson at the Rocky, Shaw at the Globe, Sheehan at the Westword. I always respect what they have to say even when I don't agree.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        Er, Pastajohn just pointed out I meant the Post, not the Globe. Silly me.

                    2. Many thanks - I'm making my list and checking it twice so to speak. I'm also going to take a look at Yelp.


                      1. I used to go on restaurant reviews with the Rocky Mt. News and some of the places we loved are on my personal website at:
                        Go to the Foodstuffs page and the Boulder/Denver restaurants.

                        Last week I ate at Domo for maybe the 20th time, and it might have been my last. Their "customer is always wrong" attitude can really counteract the wonderful food and amazing ambiance. The salmon roe was on it's last legs (about $2 worth in a tiny bowl of rice and grated diakon) but they refused to exchange it for me.

                        Anyway, some of my top favorites are any of Frank Bonanno's restaurants (he just won the Food Network Challenge for the second time last month). Luca d'Italia, Mizuna, Osteria Marco and Bones, which just opened a few weeks ago and I have yet to go.

                        For Mexican, I agree on El Tacos de Mexico. There is also some super-authentic stuff at El Mercadito (3125 Federal Blvd), which is a Mexican market with a restaurant in it just off Speer at Federal. Try the mocajete dish (on the back of the menu?) lined with meats, chilis, cheeses then baked in the oven. This article came out just last night and is filled with tips on good Mexican on the best Ethnic strip in Denver - Federal Blvd. And, it includes two of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Asian places, Lao Wang's and J's Noodles: http://tinyurl.com/6wtssd

                        If you want to venture to Boulder, about 45 min from downtown, try Frasca (the secret to getting is in on my website...otherwise, it's can be a month wait). Wonderful northern Italian fare by some of the friendliest folks who just happened to come from The French Laundry. For game, there's another option up Boulder Canyon, The Red Lion. Again, the food's not fabulous, but the drive and atmosphere is great...unless they put you in the newer annex...ask to be seated in the old rooms.

                        Enjoy your stay!

                        P.S. If I had a houseguest coming from FL, I'd want them to bring me fresh mamey fruit.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: LifeOfSpice

                          LifeOfSpice, I'm definitely checking out El Mercadito thanks to your rec!

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            ...Except I wish I'd looked up its hours first. We went at 7 to find it darkened.

                          2. re: LifeOfSpice

                            LOS, I checked your blog and didn’t know that the bar at Frasca was such a big secret. I wandered in and sat at the bar during their second week of biz in ’04 without a reservation and have done it a million times since. This is always the way to eat at popular places with no notice (whether it’s Babbo or Gary Danko or Billy Bob’s House of Fried Pies). In fact, I have to say I prefer sitting at the bar at many places, with the bar at Rioja in Denver for brunch being one of my absolute faves. I have heard over the years from some people about how they don’t think they can get into Frasca at all without planning two months in advance and this mystifies me. Yes, you should plan ahead if you want a table other than the walk-in deuces, but they get cancellations like every other restaurant in the world too, so calling the day of can sometimes work. If you don’t like the “bar bar,” there are four seats available at the salumi station.

                            The truly funny thing is this weekend we first tried to go to happy hour at the “internationally renowned” SoBo since the Mr. was craving a Blanche de Bruxelles, and the bar was completely packed. We figured that by the time a slot would have opened up, their half-price deal on drinks and tasty small plates would have been over, so we elected to leave…and drove to Frasca (where we nabbed seats at 5:40). :-)

                            For Denver spots, if you can’t get in to Deluxe on Broadway, the food from the adjoining Delite comes out of the same kitchen, yes? And it’s half price during happy hour! We split eight apps there recently (yes, eight) and only had one miss (the potato skins). You’d think with a superstar line-up of salmon, caviar, and crème fraiche that the skins would be dreamy, but they were overly-crisped and the flavors didn’t meld into a symphony of deliciousness like one would expect. I think a lighter vessel is warranted (think Keller’s delicate cones). My favorites were the edamame in a knock-out spicy sauce, the masa oyster shooters served on individual spoons, and the mound of tuna tartare surrounded by mandoline-thin slices of cukes. Who can truly hate criminally good and messy truffle/blue cheese potato chips, pork sticky bun sliders, and deviled eggs?

                            I would echo that Frank Bonanno’s restaurants are reliable and delicious, as is Fruition on 6th Ave (opened by a former exec chef at Bonanno's Mizuna).

                            Besides Rioja (which is great at any meal, although I name-checked it for brunch above), another good spot as tatamagouche mentioned is Panzano. And if you walk in to Panzano when they're baking bread...wow.

                            For Denver Mexican, I like Tacos y Salsas (Kentucky and Federal location). In Boulder, Efrain’s for the green chile and Pupusas for their name-sake (as well as the cheap and delicious tacos).

                            I concur that the OP should check out Lori Midson's Rocky Mountain News dining article from Jan. 15th about Federal ethnic spots ("Boulevard of Dreams").

                            I am excited about Troy Guard’s TAG opening on Larimer this year. Anyone know an exact date?

                            1. re: rlm

                              Strangely, rlm, I've had the skins twice, once at Deluxe and once at Delite—and they were superb the first time, not so much the second. But I need to give Delite another try; you'd certainly think there's no magical threshold between them that affects the quality of the dishes that cross it. The edamame sound intriguing...and I adore those potato chips.

                              As I've stated elsewhere, I agree with rlm—there's almost a direct correlation between a deep and abiding interest in good food and a preference for bar seating. It's not without exception, but it's common enough to have struck me as notable for years now.

                              1. re: rlm

                                I'm reading this story now and my mouth is watering! Thanks!

                                1. re: rlm

                                  I'm glad somebody mentioned Tacos y Salsas, concur re Federal location as the place to go.

                                  I might throw in, for New Mexico Mexican, Jack'n'Grill on the west side (2524 N. Federal) for family atmosphere (though there are cocktails available) or Mezcal on Colfax for rowdier time, its sister Tambien in Cherry Creek if a little more upscale is your pleasure...

                                  I second or third Osteria Marco...

                                  Cafe Star on East Colfax? Nothing says Denver like Colfax but I haven't been since Rebecca Weitzmann (sp?) went back to NY...