Born and raised in Colorado, when I go back after twenty years I rely on my old favorite haunts as well as recommendations from all of my friends* who still live in Colorado.** I’m often asked where people should eat when they visit Colorado.
Quick Overview of Colorado Food & Drink
You’ll find no shortage of Tex-Mex in Colorado. Here most burritos, enchiladas or combo plates come “smothered”, usually with a choice of either ranchero sauce or green chili sauce and lots of cheese. I’ve lived all over this country (CO, CA, MA, MT, RI, TX) and while tacos are big in Texas and California, burritos are the star of the show in Colorado. Green chile is practically a religion (Hatch chilies from NM preferably) and can be a bowl of chili, a sauce, or a filling, and typically is made with large pieces of pork.
Colorado, as a historic Wild West pioneer town, boasts lots of game. Buffalo, elk, Rocky Mountain Oysters (not for the faint of heart) and other exotic game can be found on the menus of the older historical type places. Local fish in Colorado comes from the ice-cold rivers. Try some rainbow trout.
Denver is a sports-loving town. The Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rockies, and Denver Nuggets are all hugely popular. This means you’ll run into lots of great sports bars that will likely be serving a ton of craft beer from local breweries. In the 90s these breweries started popping up everywhere and it is a haven for any craft beer lover.
Hopefully, something on my list will appeal to you and get you out and about with some dining goals! Please come back and comment with feedback regarding your picks and pans from this list, or those that you discovered on your own. I love visiting my home state for the old standards, but look forward to trying out all of the new places popping up as the city grows.
*A huge thank you to all of my friends in Colorado who shared their favorite spots. I’ve been to most of the places in this list, and those that I’ve never visited come highly recommended by my foodie family of friends in Colorado. They’ve made this list more updated and thorough than I could have provided!
**As of the publication of this guide, I have only completed the Denver Metro Area section with links, photos, addresses, and descriptions, as I have a local friend who will be visiting the Denver area in a few days. I will continue to compile and complete the rest of the state and update the post when I do! Thanks for your kind understanding.
If you take nothing else from this post, just please remember this: ORDER ANYTHING WITH GREEN CHILE! Here we go…
Denver Metro Area
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980 Grant St, Denver, CO 80203
Go late night and the performers from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts will often come to hang out after performing and occasionally stand up and belt out a tune. Go for brunch and get the Huevos Rancheros with Green Chile.
1962 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206
A Colfax staple with 24/7 service and greasy spoon drunken/hangover magic. Also try his other restaurants (Pete’s Greek Huevos Rancheros, for instance).
24/7 best greasy spoon EVER – Amazing breakfast burrito. You can show up any time of day or night for the full menu. Bring a bottle of the hot sauce home, and get a breakfast burrito or any of the Greek food…or a classic old school grilled cheese. Two eggs any style with whatever you want will never be a bad choice at Pete’s. The wait staff is fast and friendly.
321 17th St, Denver, CO 80202
The Brown Palace is a historic, beautiful hotel with several high-end restaurants and bars to experience, including a champagne brunch and afternoon tea. It is worth a stop in just to see some old world Denver history. For my Austin readers, this is to Denver what the Driskill is to ATX: a beautiful historic hotel in the heart of the city.
714 Santa Fe Dr, Denver, CO 80204
If you’re visiting Denver at the beginning of the month, go grab some killer Mexico City-style tacos, enchiladas, rellenos or whatever your poison. Then check out the First Friday galleries open to the public all along Santa Fe Drive. The food is no-frills, but ask any local. It is the real deal.
1365 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204
Domo boasts a whole lot of “best of” awards for their country style Japanese fare. Try their sushi, sake, curries, udon, ramen or other specialty dishes while dining on the patio (or you can even get take-out). This comes recommended by a friend who always takes out-of-town guests to Domo for a special Denver dining experience.
1514 York St, Denver, CO 80206
Their chef is from Mexico City – authentic street tacos and pozole too!
1000 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204
Historical steakhouse with all the crazy game stuff, including Rocky Mountain Oysters. Teaming with taxidermy and old school historical Colorado mementos. So if you’re craving ostrich, yak, elk, alligator or buffalo, now you know where to go.
1600 17th St, Denver, CO 80202
Born after the repeal of prohibition in 1933, this wine bottle-shaped art deco style bar is on the ground floor of the beautiful Oxford hotel. Enjoy a fancy cocktail of your choosing, but I recommend sticking with a classic such as a martini or Manhattan. This is an elegant start to an evening out on the town in Denver. Next, head over to El Chapultepec (see below) for some live jazz.
1962 Market St, Denver, CO 80202
Like The Cruise Room (above), El Chapultepec opened in 1933 making it the oldest live jazz and blues club in Denver. The kitchen is open till 1 am, and features what else? Tex-Mex! Grab a drink and enjoy some jazz and people watching in this world-famous Denver icon.
2376 15th St, Denver, CO 80202
It is true. The burgers are outstanding. Originally called “Whitey’s”, this bar is the oldest bar in Denver. In 1970 the name changed due to a legendary partnership amongst two brothers who would avoid blame for anything sub-par by claiming “it’s my brother’s bar”. The rest is history. But seriously, get a burger…any local will tell you that.
3536 W 44th Ave, Denver, CO 80211
I will preface this with the admission that I have not visited Tocabe yet, but I cannot wait until I get the opportunity to try this American Indian restaurant. They serve their original Osage family recipes using native grown ingredients.
1800 Wazee St #100, Denver, CO 80202
The Milk Market is a collection of sixteen options for eating and drinking on-site or for take-out. From early morning coffee to late-night bites, there is something for everyone.
2501 Dallas St #108, Aurora, CO 80010
Chef Caroline Glover’s “scratch-to-table” concept focusing on simplicity and a welcoming environment for people to share food and company. Gorgeously presented hand-selected ingredients in a calm and clean contemporary space.
457 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209
Not everyone will agree with me on this one, but I still love to go back to Blue Bonnet when I’m in town. It is on South Broadway, and there is outdoor seating. I always ask them for a quart of the salsa to freeze and bring home with me. It is a very specific trigger for my love of Colorado Mexican food.
6715 W Colfax Ave, Lakewood, CO 80214
The legendary Casa Bonita can only be explained in terms of a hybrid restaurant and indoor amusement park with a splash of 1970s kitsch preserved for kids and adults-who-were-kids when they first explored it. Start with the outdoor vision with a giant facade and fountain to get an idea of the campy grandeur within. The food is notoriously horrible (although one ex-employee does claim the chicken enchiladas aren’t horrible), besides, of course, the endless delicious hot sopapillas you obtain by raising a flag on your table. That is possibly the most subtle of all the gimmickery you’ll find at Casa Bonita. There are a cliff and 30-foot waterfall where “Cliff Divers” entertain diners with high dives from the cliff to the 14 foot-deep pool below. Also, a gorilla may make an appearance if you’re lucky. Be sure to explore Black Bart’s Cave and the over thirty other attractions…all that AND a gift shop. Every Colorado kid has attended a birthday party at Casa Bonita, and every adult delights and dreads the idea of bringing their own kids there. A true legend, Casa Bonita is simultaneously the best and the worst.
The Rio Grand (multiple locations, including Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and more)
1525 Blake St, Denver, CO 80202
The Rio, in my mind, is most famous for having a limit of three margaritas due to their potency. Legend has it there is Everclear in them to give them a little extra kick. They’re delicious and you should order one while you peruse their healthy-ish nouveau delicious Tex-Mex food menu. Nice environment and some locations have outdoor seating.
The following places I’ve listed to help guide you through the state while I complete this work-in-progress guide to dining in Colorado. Please visit again in the coming weeks for the completed guide.
Morrison/Red Rocks Area
Red Rocks Amphiteatre
Curry n Kabob
Dot’s On The Hill
The Dusty Boot
“Family style pan-fried chicken dinners and bring out a ton of courses, all from scratch (tomato chutney, poached pears). Everything is delicious. The recipes haven’t changed in over a hundred years as the miners used to come down the mountains after long days. It is in the coolest old 1800s building that looks like your grandma’s grandmas house.” (- Tanya Carrine, Denver resident)