Food & Drink

The Best Places to Eat in the Denver Airport

Denver’s airport has achieved legendary status: the demon horse, the Nazi murals, the aliens, man. And while, yes, conspiracy theories abound, DIA has another thing going for it: Delicious, bountiful food and drink options. It regularly gets recognition as a top-five airport for food in the U.S. (it's a thing), often taking the top slot. Why? For starters, the powers that be have picked proven, homegrown faves. If it ain’t broke, move it to the giant, white-tented place with underground tunnels for apocalyptic survival, right?

And while Denver International is in the midst of some extremely annoying construction right now, that also means more restaurants and bars are coming. There are gate expansions and, as the Great Hall of Jeppesen Terminal gets the ol’ four-year, $770+ million facelift, security will get moved and more spots will open for business. For breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, the places below are your best bets at Denver International. At least the places we know about...

Tom’s Urban Kitchen & Brewery
Tom’s Urban Kitchen & Brewery | Denver International Airport

HOTEL & TRANSIT CENTER


Tom’s Urban Kitchen & Brewery
West Side of Plaza
If you’re not from Denver, you probably don’t know about the highly-contentious, everybody-in-town-submitting-a-bid race to have the first only working brewery at the airport (and that’s fine, it was exhausting). When the smoked had cleared, Tom’s and Tivoli Brewing prevailed. At the spot, you’ll find Tom’s diner-on-steroids menu -- think racks of ribs, lobster rolls, and banh mi tacos alongside a huge drink list that features a handful of those beers brewed on site.

Grill & Vine
Level 5, Plaza
A fair amount of business is now being done at the Westin Hotel that’s attached to the airport. And what do you need when you’re doing that business? Food. And alcohol. At Grill & Vine, the name says, well, most of it, as grilled meats are paired with a long wine list. There are also sandwiches, beers, and all sorts of stuff to make you forget that you’ve, for some reason, found yourself inside a Westin attached to an airport.

JEPPESEN TERMINAL


Boulder Beer Tap House
Level 5, West
The fact that Boulder Beer -- Colorado’s oldest craft brewery -- recently closed its taproom in its hometown makes a visit to this pre-security outpost more necessary than ever. Denver-based Sleeping Giant Brewing is still producing a line of greatest hits from Boulder Beer, so you can still sip on Hazed & Infused, Singletrack, and Buffalo Gold as you munch on serviceable breakfast burritos, sandwiches, and green chile in the airport’s Great Hall.  

Red Rocks Bar & BBQ
Level 5, East
Red Rocks gets a shoutout here not because it serves the best BBQ in town -- or even at the airport -- but because, besides Boulder Beer, it’s a solid place to post up and waste some time with a cocktail or three in the main terminal. And, if your ride is caught in traffic or you’re snowed in for the night, get the brisket or green chile (naturally).

Coming soon to Jeppesen Terminal: Jax Fish House, The Post Brewing

Denver Central Market
Denver Central Market | Denver International Airport

A GATES


Brother’s BBQ/Breckenridge Brewery
Closest gate: A71
The native barbecued meats empire of the brothers O’Sullivan recently landed at DIA and it’s packing an even mightier punch than usual, sharing a space with another Colorado-bred force: Breckenridge Brewery. Grab a hot link and pulled pork combo sandwich -- called “The Brother” -- and pair with one of Breck’s acclaimed brews like the malt-forward Avalanche.

Denver Central Market
Closest gate: A48
A few years ago, Denver Central Market joined the extremely crowded food hall craze in Colorado’s capital city. It immediately distinguished itself with a great location and unique offerings. So, why not pop one inside of the airport, right? Right. Here you’ll find cheese boards, sandwiches, salads, sushi, pizza, pasta -- yeah, pretty much everything. And yes, there's a bar too. 

Denver Chophouse
Center core
The Chophouse has long been holding it down as the fanciest option in the A gates, the land of international flights, Delta jaunts, and people who look really mad (so are almost certainly flying Frontier). Because it’s been around for a minute, it’s easy to overlook its solid sandwiches, steaks, and proprietary beers. Hang out for a bit, especially if your Frontier flight has been delayed for four days.

Snarf’s Sandwiches
Closest gate: A73
Snarf’s has been slinging sandos in Colorado since 1996, so it was only a matter of time before it set foot inside of the air transportation center. This bare-bones outpost -- read: no bar -- is probably best for a to-go sandwich for the ride. Just don’t get a hot one. Please. For the love of everyone else on the plane.

Coming soon to the A gates: Mercantile Dining & Provision

B GATES


Elway’s
Center core
Dining with a flexible corporate account? Or with a travel pal you’re really, really (and weirdly) trying to impress at an airport? Or, perhaps, your flight has been delayed for a weeklong snowstorm and you’ve lost the will to even care about any financial repercussions? This is your spot. At Elway’s, you’ll find killer steaks and stiff cocktails alongside various memorabilia honoring the restaurant’s namesake, owner, and Denver Broncos great. And if you’re not a sultan, don’t fret, they have a burger that won’t bankrupt most.

Etai’s
Closest gate: B23
In 1994, Udi’s was founded in Northglenn, Colorado. Eventually, because of some business-oriented this or that, it became Etai’s. It’s all pretty confusing. What’s not is that the local chain offers salads, sandwiches, and pizzas made with fresh ingredients. There’s a bar, here, too.

New Belgium Brewing
Closest gate: B30
The Fort Collins-based New Belgium may have lost its indie cred -- it recently sold to the international behemoth which makes Lion and Kirin -- but it still brews a mighty fine beer, as fine as you’ll find at most airports, we reckon. And alongside its dozen taps -- which, of course, includes the nationally sought-after amber, Fat Tire -- the newly-opened spot offers creative takes on pub grub. To boot, many of the recipes feature New Belgium’s own suds.

Smashburger & Bar
Closest gate: B44
Also in C gates closest to C51
Chipotle, Qdoba, Noodles & Company. Denver doesn’t mess around when it comes to establishing fast-casual giants. Smashburger is no exception, and now finds not one but two homes at DIA. Here you’ll find the namesake burger that is pushed down onto the grill to form a juicy crust. But unlike most other Smashburgers, these locales have full-blown bars.

Steve’s Snappin Dogs
Closest gate: B24
We’re still trying to figure out why it's so fun to eat a hot dog -- especially one wrapped in a tortilla and topped with chili, bacon, and a bunch of other stuff that’s bad for you -- in an airport…but it damn sure is. Steve’s -- which began on Denver’s storied Colfax Avenue -- is a hidden gem, one that features 12 beers on tap.

Wolfgang Puck
Mezzanine
Heard of this up-and-coming chef from Austria who made a splash in Los Angeles before setting off for bigger and better things? Now’s your chance to try his cooking. Wolfgang’s busts out too-good-for-an-airport pizzas, sandwiches, and salads alongside cocktails, beer, and wine.

Coming soon to the B gates: Shake Shack, Osteria Marco, Snooze, Hacienda Colorado

C GATES


Great Divide Brewing
Closest gate: C32
Great Divide has long been a standard-bearer of brewing prowess in the City of Denver. Beer for beer, there might not be a suds custodian with a higher batting average. And looky here, GD has gone and outdone itself with this new spot. Start with the bar which features a dozen Great Divide drafts (plus more beer offerings), as well as cocktails made with its beers, wines, and liquor -- the whole deal. The menu, itself, goes beyond standard bar fare and features Colorado-inspired offerings like lamb meatballs, bison chili, and a burger made fresh with local beef.

La Casita
Center core
Even if you didn’t have the chance to eat Mexican food in Denver on your trip -- or are simply connecting -- La Casita has your back. At the bar that’s tucked into a corner of the food court, you’ll find margaritas, burritos (including of the breakfast variety), and D-Town’s aforementioned crown jewel: green chile. The best part? You can get La Casita’s specialty tamales to go.

Little Man Ice Cream
Closest gate: C27
Little Man has steadily become the biggest frozen dairy force in the Mile High City. So, it’s only fitting that the dessert empire erected its latest location at the airport. Its recent opening caused a fuss not only for the availability of its prized, trademark flavors -- like Salted Oreo and Purple Cow -- and ice cream “sammies,” but most of all for its boozy milkshakes. Flavors like Whiskey Apple Pie, and the conspiracy-friendly Illuminati, will satisfy your sweet tooth and help calm any nerves about to encounter DIA’s notorious turbulence.

Root Down
Center core
For years, there has only been one answer to the question: what's the best restaurant at DIA?Root Down has been the answer. When the Edible Beats group decided to open a sister restaurant to its hyper-popular Highland spot in 2013, it wasn’t immediately clear whether or not the airport venture would pay off. It did, of course, and years later, it’s still tough to top Root Down’s craft cocktails, tap list, and singular takes on farm-to-table cuisine. There are plenty of spots coming to Denver’s airport soon, but they’ll have their hands full chasing this crown.

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Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer, editor and joke maker. He's written for Rolling Stone, Deadspin, Esquire, and Pitchfork.