Following your nose is a sound strategy for finding a good meal in Mile High, but since it's also a good way to find a decent dispensary, local editor Lee Breslouer is freeing up your olfactory powers to focus on more important things by highlighting the best eats around.
Favorite Restaurant: Years before LoHi was overrun with hip, original restaurant concepts, Root Down planted its flag there, transforming a former gas station into a design marvel, plating outrageously delicious "globally influenced seasonal cuisine", and sporting unparalleled views of the Denver skyline. Dining there is more magical than David Blaine doing card tricks.
Best Fine Dining: A huge hit since the second it opened its doors in 2010, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro was previously nominated by the James Beard peeps for Best New Restaurant in part because of their tremendous soup dumplings, which are tiny marvels of dumpling ingenuity.
Best Late-Night Eats: From 10p-close every night of the week, always-bustling comfort food spot Steuben's offers starving patrons a cheeseburger, fries, and a can of either PBR, Olympia, or Coors Banquet for just $7 total.
Best Cheap Eats: Federal Blvd is a hub for affordable world cuisine, and Ba Le's 15 kinds of banh mi (pork, chicken, umm... sardine) all check in at just around $5.
Best Sandwich: A short walk from downtown, Justin Brunson's Masterpiece Deli is a hopping lunch spot, and once you shovel the 12hr Braised Beef Brisket w/ taleggio fondue & red wine gastrique in your mouth, you'll understand why. Their reuben also draws raves.
Best Chinese: Lao Wang Noodle House is another Federal staple and another Mile High spot with top-notch dumplings. Fun fact: the husband and wife team who own and operate LWNH have a son who opened Caution: Brewing, and his beer (especially the Lao Wang Lager) pairs nicely with much of the menu.
Best Italian: Technically, the best Italian is that guy Chef Boyardee. But the best Italian restaurant in Mile High can be found at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, where you can enjoy certified authentic Neapolitan pies a hop, skip, and a jump away from Coors Field. Satisfaction is also guaranteed at Osteria Marco on Larimer Sq. Surprisingly, there is no law requiring Italian restaurants here to be named after guys named Marc.
Best Mexican: Their al pastor tacos and four signature salsas are two (or five, technically) reasons that people keep coming back to Los Carboncitos.
Best Food Truck: A truck so successful it's been spun off into two popular restos, Pinche Tacos attracts lines whenever they hit the streets for their pork belly, asada, and lengua street tacos.
Best Dish: For me, ramen is the most comforting, satisfying dish on the planet, and Uncle knocks that sucker out of the park. Get their Chashu Ramen, a generous bowl of noodles, melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly, bean sprouts, peas, and an egg.
Best Burger: Many believe The Cherry Cricket, a local institution, has a top burger, and they're not necessarily wrong. But just South of Denver, Crave Real Burgers has inventive meatwiches that were winners at the Denver Burger Battle.
Best for Partying: Root Down's nearby Highland sister resto, Linger, has a bustling upstairs bar scene, and the roofdeck offers sweeping skyline views and superior cocktails.
Best for Work: Big shots love Barolo Grill's Italian eats and ambience. If an expense account is involved, work out that credit card on the chef's five-course tasting menu.
Most Romantic: A low-lit, cozy Wash Park space owned by two lovebirds (he's the chef, she's in the front of house), Bittersweet serves up dishes using mostly produce they grow themselves in two on-site gardens.
Best Lunch: The 16th St location of Illegal Pete's in LoDo is packed mid-day with office workers picking from an assembly line of ingredients that'll be rolled into Mission-style burritos.
Best Wings: Elway's is known for their steak, but their happy hour is also worth a look, including delectable bar wings slathered in smokey BBQ or buffalo sauce. For something a little more casual, Vine St Pub's wings enormous, tasty bird parts are easily washed down by any number of brews.
Best Donuts: Ok, so they're not donuts per se, but Glaze offers an unparalleled cake difficult to find outside of Japan that's shaped like a huge donut. It totally counts.
Weirdest Food: Buckhorn Exchange is the city's oldest resto (since 1893, back when it was impossible to get a 4G LTE signal here), and not only do they have the aforementioned Rocky Mountain oysters, there's also ostrich, yak, and fried alligator tails.
Photo by Adam Larkey Photography
1. Snooze700 N Colorado Blvd, Ste A, Denver
2. Steuben's Food Service523 E 17th Ave, Denver
3. Masterpiece Delicatessen1575 Central St, Denver
4. CAUTION: Brewing Company12445 East 39th Avenue, Denver
5. Osteria Marco1453 Larimer St, Denver
6. Los Carboncitos720 Sheridan Blvd, Denver
7. Uncle2215 W 32nd Ave, Denver
8. The Cherry Cricket2641 E 2nd Ave, Denver
9. Crave Real Burgers9344 Dorchester St, Highland Ranch
10. Linger2030 W 30th Ave, Denver
11. Jack-N-Grill2524 Federal Blvd, Denver
12. Gather1062 Delaware St, Denver
13. Barolo Grill3030 E 6th Ave, Denver
14. Illegal Pete's270 South Broadway, Denver
15. Jelly U Cafe1700 E Evans Ave, Denver
16. Elway's Downtown1881 Curtis St, Denver
17. Vine Street Pub & Brewery1700 Vine St, Denver
18. Glaze1160 Madison St, Denver
19. The Buckhorn Exchange1000 Osage St, Denver
20. ChoLon Bistro1555 Blake St, Denver
21. Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria2129 Larimer St, Denver
22. bittersweet500 E Alameda Ave, Denver
The ever-popular brunch spot has expanded to five Colorado locations. Enjoy their mouth-watering pancakes or their brunch menu featuring The Fungus Humungous Burger, all in a low stress environment.
Steuben's, an old-school diner with sophistication, serves good ol' American comfort food in Uptown Denver. Class it up with a cayenne etouffee or get down and dirty with some gravy fries.
This Uptown spot has mastered the art of the sandwich. The freshness of the menu offerings here is unparalleled: from bacon to roast beef, all of the meats are cured in-house, along with all the accoutrements (aiolis, slaws, soups, even potato chips). Notorious egg salad gets a major come-up here, prepared fresh with hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, red onions, and capers, made decidedly decadent with white truffle oil and romaine on toasted locally-made bread. If there’s no available seating in the sleek, modern eatery, we suggest snagging a can of craft beer and heading outdoors to the patio, where ample sunlight and fresh air make for a great meal on the go.
Throw it to the wind and try these awesomely weird micros that are surprisingly drinkable, like the famous Lao Wang Lager, named for the beloved noodle house in Denver and brewed with the same secret Asian spices used in their beef soup.
Here're 3 reasons to consider cruising by this approachable LoDo staple: a menu full of great Italian eats, a sick patio, and an appealing happy hour with cheap meatball sliders. Stop by and try one of their incredible handcrafted pizzas, cheese plates, and cured meats. Why aren't you there yet?
Because everything in life is better with bacon, this pork heavy menu is sure to please. Open on the weekends till 1:30 a.m., sweat out the booze with a round of their chips and homemade spicy salsa.
Uncle is a pleasantly boisterous Asian Fusion restaurant in the Highland Parks neighborhood. The chefs' creative takes on ramen dishes are becoming local favorites on its lengthy, diverse menu.
Backed by 50 years of burger history, Cherry Cricket's patties are a true legend, and its wings, sandwiches, and chilis are pretty damn good too. A champion of local beer, the bar is stocked with 27 taps of locally brewed craft beer.
A Denver Burger Battle winner, Crave Burger may not reinvent the wheel, but darn it do they try, and dare you to do the same. Their Nutty Professor burger features peanut butter and chances are, you won't notice until you'll have belched in satisfaction and rubbed your belly buddha-style.
If you think an ex-mortuary can't serve up some killer apothecary-esque cocktails, you're dead wrong. Ok, ok, but seriously, the views at Root Down's fancy sister spot are spectacular, and with a rooftop patio and dinner menu featuring gourmet dishes from around the world, you will definitely be tempted to linger.
You may have seen this joint on a number of channels, boasting a 7lb burrito or some of the best burgers in the nation. See and taste it all for yourself at their original location!
Pair their rich, slow drip coffee from the single origin boutique producer Ninety Plus with Gather's home made scones, muffins and croissants, stir in a little witty conversation with the tech-y geniuses from the adjacent Galvanize, a digital startup hub, and who knows, you might just find yourself awake before 1 p.m.
Definitely a date night spot, this upscale Italian restaurant has a huge selection of wines that are all good enough to make you look like a connoisseur.
Illegal Pete's is always buzzing with hungry diners picking from an assembly line of ingredients that'll be rolled into Mission-style burritos.
Stemming from its predecessor on Cap Hill, Jelly U's got a walk-up donut and coffee window in addition to the standard (but not standard at all) bacon pancakes, beet/bacon/red potato Red Flannel Hash, and maple bacon donut bites.
Elway's Downtown location, nestled snugly into The Ritz-Carlton Denver, serves up a seasonally rotating menu and an extensive wine list in an atmosphere as chic and sophisticated as The Ritz Carlton itself. Their bone-in filet is the choicest plate, even if the meat isn't actually choice, because clearly Mr. Elway wouldn't accept anything less than all USDA Prime hand-cut steak. If you're worried that won't be enough protein, lamb chops dipped in green chili cheese fondue make for a fine start.
A subsidiary of the Mountain Sun Restaurant Group (Pearl Street's popular pub), Vine Street offers a solid selection of microbrews on tap, as well as delicious pub fare. Just like its extensive collection of housemade craft beers, the interior design here is wholly custom-tailored as well, and features abstract and colorful murals, overhead piping painted with vines, and a patio designated for cornhole matches.
Refined in Japan via Germany, the Baum has landed in Denver at the Baum Cake Shoppe. The Japanese call it the "tree of life" and it promises to be everything and more, plus Cointreau glazes. Sign me up.
Open since 1893, the Buckhorn Exchange Since has been serving the Lincoln Park community prime-grade steak and other slabs of top-notch meat. Walking inside feels like visiting an Old West museum that happens to make food. Taxidermy lines the walls and Teddy Roosevelt's hangs prominently framed. He's eaten here, as have a few other Presidents. You should eat here too -- try something you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, whether it's Rocky Mountain Oysters, rattlesnake, or buffalo, a Colorado favorite.
The lauded "modern Asian bistro"'s name stands for "big market", which is perfect, because the amount of delicious food they're serving up would lead you to believe that you are choosing from an actual Vietnamese market. It's everything you know and love about Asian food, with a modern-day flare.
Hailed as one of the best pizza's in the Mile High City, stop by this Ballpark joint for a pre-game pie (and beer!), and choose from a huge selection of toppings and styles.
This artisanal eatery serves up hearty dishes, including short rib with a rutabaga puree, monkfish in a lemon gastrique, and confit Maple Leaf Duck, aka what Toronto hockey players do when confronted by disgruntled fans.