Mile High Highlights: Damn Delicious Denver Dining
I just returned from a paradisaical two-week long sojourn in Denver. I had never been to Colorado before and had heard good things, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Let me state for the record: the Rocky Mountain High makes this Western gal’s heart sing.
Not only is Denver full of beautiful weather and beautiful people, but this city takes it one step further: it has an innovative, exciting restaurant scene. Colorado is a playful, active place, and its culinary atmosphere clearly reflects this persona.
The Paramount Cafe on 16th Street, a popular tourist thoroughfare, provides what seems to be standard bar fare at first glance. Don’t be fooled – this is bar grub with a Colorado twist. The burger pictured above is not a run-of-the-mill hamburger, but a patty made from fresh Colorado elk and topped with BBQ sauce, bacon, grilled onions, and roasted garlic mayo. What is ground elk like? A bit cleaner tasting than ground beef, less greasy and a little tougher… in a good way.
Before a long day of hiking in the sunshine, it’s important to fuel up. Luckily Denver has a plethora of great breakfast options, including my personal favorite, Snooze. Featuring a creative and healthy menu, it was overwhelmingly difficult to make a decision on my brunch.
Luckily I chose wisely with the (pictured at top) Upstream Benny: honey smoked salmon on house-crafted bacon-jalapeno spoonbread, topped with two farm fresh Niman Ranch poached eggs, cream cheese hollandaise, and chives. I’m going to go ahead and call it: best benedict I’ve ever had, and I consider myself a benedict connoisseur. The bacon-jalapeno spoonbread made this dish. Word to the wise: Don’t skip the coffee. Snooze offers a damn good cup of joe, brewed exclusively for their restaurants in the volcanic hills of Guatemala.
I also made the fantastic decision to try a pancake, which Snooze is famous for. Behold their intimidatingly gigantic sweet potato pancake, topped with homemade caramel, pecans, and ginger butter. Between three ravenous girls, we couldn’t finish the whole thing. So decadent.
More of Damn Delicious Denver: lobster tacos, herb-spiked lemonade, Colombian arepas and more.
After frolicking through our day, we headed down to Denver’s beautiful Riverfront Park area for the fresh tastes and creative spices of Zengo, celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s Latin-Asian fusion restaurant. With an impressively extensive menu encouraging a shared plate experience, my group was able to try a good deal of Zengo’s offerings, and we were not disappointed. Enter yuzu-butter poached lobster tacos with miso-truffle black bean puree and chile de arbol salsa.
Our final entree of the night was the epitome of saving the best for last. Grilled habanero-cilantro scallops with black garlic, bacon, tomato, corn, and edamame. Served over sushi rice, drenched in kabayuki sauce and yuzu-sriracha aioli, this was one rich way to end the evening.
Not every meal has to be a fancy affair in order to be memorable. One of the city’s most beloved spots is the Cherry Cricket in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. This diner has been a community hotspot since 1945. Offering a wide array of classic diner fare, Cherry Cricket is well known for their delicious hamburgers and their myriad topping choices. My burger was topped with white cheddar, green chile strips, grilled bermuda onions., and BBQ sauce. Obscenely fresh from the kitchen and washed down with a local Wynkoop beer in the sunshine… who could ask for more?
Of the katrillion happy hours I sampled, my very favorite was at Root Down, a hip eatery in Denver’s adorable up-and-coming LoHi neighborhood. Root Down focuses on keeping its menu as organic, local and natural as possible, following what they call a “field to fork” philosophy. Guilt-free happy houring for all!
While savoring a delicious rosemary-lavender vodka lemonade on the patio, I discovered the best slider ever (a loaded declaration): hoisin duck confit on a challah bun, topped with lemon creme fraiche and fried sweet potato shreds.
Another standout on the menu was seared Colombian arepas with mozzarella, poblano-pistachio pesto, achiote crema, and pico de gallo. Fresh and light despite its intense cheesiness, this plate lasted about five minutes before the entire thing was inhaled.
Speaking of LoHi, this neighborhood is a mecca of exciting dining options. Coastal Mexican restaurant Lola was named one of the top five places in the country to drink tequila by Food & Wine, making it an obvious destination for any dedicated boozehound. Lola’s seasonally inspired menu features an amazing brunch. Behold the chicken and waffles, Mexican-Southern fusion at its finest. We’re talking buttermilk brined fried chicken smothered in chorizo gravy and cherry-fresno syrup. A combination of crispy, smoky, sweet, and spicy, we decided that Lola’s chicken and waffles blows famous California-based Roscoes out of the water, a statement that I would have found sacrilegious before this encounter.
Oh, and the tequila aspect? True story. I enjoyed a potent Mexican Mimosa: Dos XX lager, orange juice, El Jimador silver tequila, and fresh lime. Reminiscent of a glorified, gourmet beergarita, I maintain there is no better way to greet the morning.
A veritable hotbed of intriguing fusion food, local craft booze, and just plain FUN places to mingle, Denver delivered in every way possible. I know I’ll be back soon—so much beer still to taste, so many happy hours still to try, so many mountains still to climb. (But mostly the first two, let’s be honest.)