The 32 Most Essential Food Experiences in Denver

Get started on these ASAP.

Quiero Arepas
Photo courtesy of Quiero Arepas

As the summer really begins to get into full swing, there’s no better time than now to revisit some of the many exceptional staples that have long made Denver the kind of dining city people rave about. While many dishes are fine at home, there’s something particularly brilliant about relishing them on-site, taking in the sights and smells that truly separate a dining experience from simply being a meal. There are a few new ones, but mostly these are long standing favorites, each of which has paid its dues and tastes better than ever.

The Burger at Twansburger

The delightful simplicity of a burger is amplified at Antoine Villaume’s ongoing project Twansburger. The Parisian native keeps it simple, offering only a single or a double. It’s probably his commitment to fine ingredients, as well as the house-made sauce that have quickly endeared the spot as a city favorite. Order a double, and bask in the smell of a truly properly-spiced burger as you wait for it to arrive hot off the grill.
How to order: Information on where to find Twansburger next can be found on its Instagram.

Not Yo Mama's Cupcakes
Courtesy of Not Yo Mama's Cupcakes

Anything and Everything at Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes

Another roaming concept to come out of the pandemic was Angelia Han’s Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes. Combining hip hop attitude (and titles) with international flavors from across Korea, Japan, and Hawaii, the frequently-emerging stand offers some of the most exciting desserts in the city. The Cookies n Bae with purple ube, nutella filling and Oreo crumbs is always a must, as is whatever Han is doing as a weekly special. 
How to order: Information on where to find Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes next can be found on its Instagram.

Photo by From the Hip Photo for Rosenberg's

Five Points & Aurora
With a system that replicates NY water, the bagels they’re churning out at Rosenberg’s are the real deal. From everything to cinnamon raisin, they’ve got all the classic flavors, available as a sandwich or with your choice of cream cheese smear (but never toasted—they’re fresh and perfect as-is). The only thing that can improve upon this kind of bagel perfection is opting to get your topped with their house-cured lox (and maybe some tomatoes, onions, and capers too).
How to order: Visit in person or order ahead online for pickup and delivery

Maria Empanada
Photo courtesy of Maria Empanada

LoHi, South Broadway, and Aurora
Lorena Cantarovici, founder of Maria Empanada, has been serving up her flaky, flavorful, hand-crafted empanadas to Denver for nearly a decade. Currently available on South Broadway, in the Stanley Marketplace and at the brand’s new location on Platte Street, the best way to dig in is to opt for a either a half or full dozen so you can properly explore the options that include breakfast (get the chorizo), traditional varieties like the Argentia with steak, red bell peppers, hard-boiled eggs, green onions, and green olives, and vegetarian options like the caprese with roasted tomatoes, Buffalo style mozzarella blend, and fresh Italian basil.
How to order: Order online for pickup, via DoorDash and GrubHub for delivery, or visit in person.

Sushi Den
Photo courtesy of Sushi Den

Platt Park
For nearly 40 years, the Kizaki brothers have been bringing the freshest seafood to Denver on what’s known as the “Den Corner” on Pearl Street where their trio of restaurants, Sushi Den, Izakaya Den, and Ottoto, are located. They were one of the first sushi restaurants in the US to fly in fish directly from Japan and they continue to do that today. So while you can’t go wrong with literally anything on the menu, their crispy tuna has earned iconic dish status thanks to decades of impeccable execution and the highest quality product. Crispy tempura sushi rice topped with spicy tuna avocado, jalapeno, tobiko, and sweet sauce. Does it get much better? The simple answer is, nope.
How to order: Order online for pickup or visit in person


Decadence on a plate. That’s what you’ll get when you order this dish with a cult following from restaurateur Frank Bonnano’s eatery that excels at using classic French techniques to produce some of the finest eats in town. It starts simply enough, with elbow mac, but the similarity to the out-of-a-box stuff ends there. The noodles are bathed in a creamy beurre blanc and rich mascarpone cheese with tender poached lobster and a swipe of paprika-infused lobster oil to really put the dish over the edge of indulgent perfection.
How to order: Make a reservation to dine in or explore the menu here.

Roaming Buffalo
Photo courtesy of Roaming Buffalo

Rosedale and Golden
Denver’s got a lot of great BBQ these days but Coy and Rachel Webb, the owners of Roaming Buffalo, have been working hard since opening in 2015 to define Colorado barbecue. Exhibit A: the (rightfully) popular slabs of bison back ribs. Slow-smoked and locally raised, these ribs show off the best of the state’s culinary potential. You could hit ‘em with a dose of their house made sauce (available in traditional and spicy), but they don’t need it. You can get them by the rack, half rack, or by the bone, but whatever you do, pair them with one (or two... ) of their Colorado-inspired sides like the rich and creamy andouille and roasted corn grits or the smoked poblano mac and cheese. And best of all, the ribs can be enjoyed as part of the catering menu, perfect for the inevitable influx of events and gatherings.
How to order: Call 303-722-2226 (Denver) or 303-794-9696 (Golden) to order ahead for pickup or stop by

Athmar Park
Buns and dumplings and noodles, oh my! Denver may not have its own Chinatown like some bigger cities, but that doesn’t mean we’re lacking in stellar Chinese cuisine. Want proof? Bring a group to this popular spot for dim sum feasts. The roving carts are back in business, ready to serve up plate after plate of goodness, plus their entire dim sum menu is now available to go too. Don’t miss the pork and shrimp shu mai, fried shrimp dumplings with mayo (yes, just dip it!), and salt & pepper squid.
How to order: Order online for pickup or visit in person

South Federal
For over 20 years, the husband and wife team of Chung-Ming and Tse-Ming Wang (who are now in their 80s) have run this small strip mall noodle house. Pre-COVID, take out was a no-go here, but with the help of their son, they now have online ordering available for same day pickup as they operate as takeout only to keep the owners safe, healthy, and cooking. The small menu is filled with standout items like the soup dumplings and dan dan noodles, but the absolute must-order are the expertly crisped potstickers in all their golden, caramelized, pork-filled perfection. While much of the world is opening back up, Lao Wang continues to be takeout only.
How to order: Order ahead online for pickup or pop over to place a curbside order in person

High Point
Photo courtesy of High Point

Hilltop, Berkeley, and RiNo
Erika Thomas, who founded and owns High Point with her husband Chad Stutz, has a culinary background, so the menu is stacked with anything but average flavors, from Tin Cup Whiskey & pistachio brittle to basil with blackberry swirl. But at High Point, the agonizing choice of which one to order is a non-issue because they’ve made dreams into reality with their ice cream flight. Those three magic words translate to an ice cream lovers’ dream—your choice of five flavors of ice cream with a side of house made fudge or caramel sauce, all to yourself (well, you could share but no one will make you). Seasonal flavors include chamomile with blueberry swirl, moon pie, and pear sorbet.
How to order: Order local delivery of pints or stop by in person for the full flight experience

Not even a pandemic could stop the oldest bar in Denver from continuing its legacy. Former patrons Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady may be a bit confused by the new set-up if they wandered by today, but after sipping some whiskey, they’d probably settle in just fine. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the much loved, must try burger: the JCB, properly oozing with jalapeno cream cheese.
How to order: Call 303-455-9991 or order online for pickup, get delivery via UberEats or DoorDash, or visit in person

Goldsmith and Hampden South
A staple of Den-Mex cuisine, the Mexican Hamburger is a genius combination. A beef burger served inside a flour tortilla with refried beans, smothered in green chile and topped with melty cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. You can find versions of this comfort food mash up all over town, but the crew at both La Fogata locations nails it. No surprise since this family owned spot’s been in business for 30 years. The burger has that fire-grilled flavor, their pork-studded green chile is some of the best in town, and bonus—it pairs perfectly with their house margarita.
How to order: Visit in person, order online for pickup, or get delivery via GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats

Denver Biscuit Company
Photo courtesy of Denver Biscuit Company

City Park, Aurora, Berkeley, Baker, and Colorado Springs
Gluten-free eaters, steer clear. The massive biscuit sandwiches here are definitely Instagram worthy, but they’re mostly a must because they really do taste as scrumptious as they look. There are a slew of sandwich options to choose from along with a selection of plates like biscuit French toast and biscuit pot pie, but one option (literally) towers over the others: The Franklin. This brunch masterpiece features DBC’s fresh baked buttermilk biscuit, split and stacked high with buttermilk fried chicken, bacon, and Cheddar and smothered in housemade sausage or vegetarian mushroom gravy. Yes, you’re gonna need a nap after.
How to order: Visit in person (you can even join the waitlist online), or order for pickup or delivery via DoorDash

Five Points
Biker Jim Pittenger’s original hot dog cart quickly became a Denver destination after he began slinging dogs in 2005. Soon, his collection of carts began to grow, with people all over the Mile High seeking out the line up of exotic sausages. Flash forward to 2011 and the opening of his Ballpark neighborhood brick and mortar. Whether you stumble upon a cart or head to his flagship store,  you’ve gotta start with a Jim’s OG, the elk jalapeño cheddar topped classic-style, aka with caramelized onions and cream cheese shot out of a caulk gun.
How to order:Order online for pickup or visit in person

Lincoln Park
You’d be hard pressed to find a Denverite who doesn’t name this small, counter service spot among their Mile High favorites. This is no frills dining for sure, but it doesn’t take long for the aroma of roasted chiles and slow cooked meats to make the world suddenly seem a little brighter. The chile relleno burrito is probably the most recommended meal in town, but oh, their carnitas. And their cabeza. And the asada... just know that the answer is always yes when they ask if you want it smothered and with onions and salsa.
How to order: Order online for pickup or stop by in person

Sam’s No. 3
Photo courtesy of Sam’s No. 3

Central Business District, Glendale and Aurora
Smothered burritos are basically Denver’s main food group so hell yes there’s room on this list for two of ‘em. And what a mighty option this is. With classic diner vibes and a menu filled with American, Greek, and Mexican favorites, Sam’s is a Denver institution for hearty comfort food. And nothing will lull you into food coma status faster than one of their enormous, full loaded burritos stuffed with all kinds of options, from corned beef hash and ground buffalo to the basic potatoes and eggs. Feeling really, really hungry? We dare you to tackle the Poppa’s Big as a House with six eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, gyro, onion, tomato, bell pepper, and mushrooms and  topped with American, Cheddar, Swiss, and jack cheese.
How to order:Visit their website to join the waitlist to dine-in at your nearest location and for links to order pickup and delivery via DoorDash for each location

Photo courtesy of Uncle

Highland and West Washington Park
Waiting for a table at Uncle’s OG location in the Highland neighborhood is pretty much a Denver right of passage. Now with a second location of owner Tommy Lee’s noodle haven and easy to-go options, you don't necessarily have to wait for a piping hot bowl of goodness, but you happily would. Especially after one taste of the iconic spicy chicken ramen, with Uncle’s signature springy noodles, and tender, rich soft egg yolk spilling out into the sesame broth. Add a spicy bomb (aka roasted pepper miso paste) for even more kick.
How to order: Visit in person or order online for pickup

Hop Alley
Photo courtesy of Hop Alley

Chef and restaurateur Tommy Lee’s skills don’t stop at ramen. Lee opened Hop Alley in late 2015, bringing bold flavors set to a hip hop soundtrack in what was once Denver’s original Chinatown. The best way to experience this spot is with a group willing to share, because you’re going to want to sample everything on the menu. But one dish that’s been a standout from the beginning and remains on the menu today is the la zi ji, bites of fried chicken nestled among dried red chiles and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Pair it with the bone marrow fried rice ‘cause you’re going to need something to sooth your tastebuds.
How to order: Make a reservation for outdoor dining via Resy, order online for pickup, or get delivery via Postmates and DoorDash

Right next door to Hop Alley is this spot from restaurateur Kevin Morrison (of Tacos Tequila Whiskey) where seafood lovers can get a fix of fish and chips, buffalo blowfish tails, peel and eat shrimp, and whole fish charred to perfection on the wood fired grill. But no meal at Fish N Beer is complete without an order of their wood grilled oysters doused in your choice of devil butter or their garlicky house butter. Start with a couple per person… then go ahead and order a dozen more. You’re gonna want them.
How to order: Visit in person or book a table in advance via OpenTable.

Jax Fish House
Photo courtesy of Jax Fish House

Lodo and Glendale
Pioneers of the Front Range seafood scene (yes, we have one, and yes, it’s amazing), Jax opened their first location in Boulder in 1994. Now, Dave Query’s Big Red F restaurant group is a regional culinary force, and Jax remains the standard for seafood feasting (the restaurant’s High West Oyster Fest is currently postponed). Their oyster selection changes regularly with both East and West Coast selections. Served simply on ice with lemon, cocktail sauce, and house mignonette, these bivalves are a beach vacation for your tastebuds.
How to order: Visit in person, book a reservation via OpenTable, or select your nearest location on their website for links to order pickup and delivery

City Park
Denver’s former culinary reputation as a steakhouse town lives on at this mid century throwback that’s been serving up classic fare off Colfax since 1958. The retro vibes remain totally intact, with its sunken bar and strong martinis. Their signature item, boasted about right on the sign out front, is the sugar steak. The magic is in the house made, sugar-heavy rub caramelized on the grill—and don’t even think about trying to order your sugar steak well done. This preparation is only available on marbled cuts (the ribeye or NY strip) prepared rare or medium rare. Follow these rules for a must try carnivorous Denver experience.
How to order: Call 303-322-0363 to make a reservation to dine in or order pickup online

Photo courtesy of ChoLon

Union Station and Central Park
For a decade, Chef/owner Lon Symensma has been serving up his take on Asian cuisine using French techniques at the original Cholon location in downtown Denver. Last year, he opened a second location in the newly renamed Central Park neighborhood so now you’ve got double the options when your dumpling cravings hit. But these are definitely not traditional soup dumplings. Instead, with a bite into the pleated dough, you’ll get a mouthful of rich sherry-infused broth, sweet caramelized onions, and melted Gruyère cheese.
How to order: Visit their website to choose your nearest location and get links to order online for pickup and to make reservations for dining in

Quiero Arepas
Photo courtesy of Quiero Arepas

LoHi and Boulder
Beginning with a food truck and then expanding to stalls at both Avanti Denver and the newly minted Avanti Boulder, husband and wife team Igor and Beckie Panasewicz have been sharing Venezsualan culture with the city one arepa at a time since 2010. These (totally gluten-free) corn flatbreads are split stuffed with a variety of ingredients for a super flavorful and hearty meal. You can’t go wrong with any option but if this is your first arepa experience, a good place to start is the Pabellon, the national dish of Venezuela which comes filled with stewed beef, black beans, sweet plantains, and cheese.
How to order: Order online for pickup or visit in person

West Highlands and Congress Park
Look, we could debate all day about where to find the best pizza in the Mile High (and there are a lot of right answers of all types and varieties). But only one spot has amassed a cult following in just a few short years. Blue Pan first brought Detroit-style pies to the Mile High in 2015 and left all of us saying “what the hell is Detroit-style pizza?” But now it’s a local must. That caramelized, crunchy, cheese-flecked crust. Those high quality toppings. The cupping pepperoni! Once you’ve tried it, you’ll wanna schedule pizza night at least once a week. For those hoping to venture out, the Congress Park location is now back open for dine-in.
How to order: Order online for no contact pickup and delivery or visit in person

City Park
Flashback a few years to when Bo Porytko was making the most exciting food in the Mile High at the restaurant he co-owned in RiNo, Rebel Restaurant. While that spot’s no longer around (RIP), Porytko is back slinging super creative eats out of the kitchen at Middleman on Colfax. His offerings change often, so it’s best to keep up with his latest on Instagram but one staple is the chips & dip, aka small deep fried potatoes paired with “whatever dip [he] feels like making.” Don’t even ask the server what it is. Just get it.
How to order: Visit Middleman in person or check out the menu and text Bo 201-679-7079 to place an order for pickup

Food truck
Chef Penelope Wong left a long term job to start her own food truck in 2019 and in the process, created a wonton-seeking movement in Denver like no other. Pre-COVID, the lines outside would form early no matter where she pulled up or how cold the temps got. Now, she’s been relying mostly on a pre-ordering system to help control the chaos and keep her fans and staff safe, but whatever you need to do to get yourself an order of her signature chili wontons, it’s worth it. Everything here is made from scratch, with each pleat expertly folded, but what really sets the flavor off is her spicy chili oil and Szechuan peppercorns. While the online system is still in place, Yuan is starting to include in-person service, with the predictably large crowds acting as a beautiful emblem of things getting back towards normal. 
How to order: Follow them on Instagram to find out where they’ll be and when online ordering will go live (be fast, they usually sell out in minutes)

North Park Hill
Since 1994, this market has been selling specialty grocery goodies to their loyal clientele, but those in the know come here on the regular for their always on point sandwich menu. With 22 options plus a make-your-own option, they’ve got every classic deli sandwich craving covered, from hot Italian roast beef and toast meatball subs to the classic Italian loaded with Genoa salami, capicola, and smoked ham. This is the socially distant picnic-ready comfort food we all need right now.
How to order: Visit in person for sandwiches to-go

Union Station
When the James Beard award winning team behind Boudler’s Frasca announced they’d be bringing a new Italian concept to Denver, the anticipation was high. And Tavernetta lived up to every wine and pasta lovers’ dream when it opened in 2017. There is no wrong move on this menu, but there’s something about settling in to their sleek yet cozy lounge and ordering a perfect Negroni and one of everything on their happy hour cicchetti (“small snacks”) menu that just feels right in every possible way.
How to order: Happy hour is available for dine-in only—book a reservation on Tock; you can also order items from their regular menu online for pickup

Photo courtesy of From the Hip Photo for Annette

Chef/owner Caroline Glover has won all kinds of trendy awards for her first solo restaurant, Annette. But what’s really stood out over the challenges of 2020 is her transparency and strong voice in speaking out about the challenges restaurants have faced. All the while, she’s not sacrificed on her standards, even when Annette has to move to a take out only model, or as they installed small greenhouses with the help of their community for safe outdoor winter dining. Get the burger on house made English muffin. Trust her expertise and try the beef tongue and marrow toast. Get in early for weekend brunch so you can score one of her kolaches. It’s literally all good.
How to order: Make a reservation via Resy or order online for pickup

Is it weird to highlight the bread at a place known for kick ass pasta? Maybe. But we’re not saying you shouldn’t get the cacio de pepe with curly edged mafalde or the radiatori with basil pistachio pesto, mozzarella, and furikake. You definitely should. But we are saying you absolutely cannot skip the house sourdough. This one comes with thinly sliced prosciutto, stracciatella cheese, and 15 year aged balsamic so this ain’t your average bread basket.
How to order: Visit in person (they’re open for walk-ins only) or order online via Toast.

Athmar Park & RiNo
In the pantheon of sandwich perfection, the banh mi reigns high on the list. And the ones from this small deli counter spot off Alameda are a staple of the typical Denverite’s diet. Why? Is it the consistently crisp on the outside, soft on the inside rolls? Or the super fresh herbs and veggies? Or maybe the ideal hints of lemongrass on their thinly sliced grilled pork? Whatever it is, we wanna douse it in bright red chile oil and eat ‘em on the regular. 
How to order: Visit either location in person; online ordering is also available from the Zeppelin Station location

Central Business District
Look, Denver is a jeans and T-shirt (and hiking boots) kind of town, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get classy on occasion. The Brown Palace has been a luxurious stopover for visitors and locals alike since 1892 (!). The place has got a lot of beloved traditions, but afternoon tea is one you can experience anytime. Packages include the basic up through champagne-soaked luxury options, but the experience of noshing on tea sandwiches from a tall, silver platter while seated in this historic space is definitely a Mile High must. Also, with new head chef Kim Moyle behind the wheel, patrons can expect a certain reenvisioning of the same upscale delight the place has brought all through its existence.
How to order: Make a reservation online or by phone at 303-297-3111

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver who eats out often, just for you (you’re welcome). Follow her Mile High food adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.