Olivia Dansky of Spoon WashU co-wrote this article.
Denver is not only the fasting growing city right now for young professionals, but it also has one of the most up and coming food scenes. Growing up in Denver has not only made us appreciate food, but it has lead us to understand how much better local produce tastes, and the benefits of supporting local restaurants and vendors.
A ton of Denver restaurants have jumped on the farm-to-table wagon and let us tell you, these dishes are unbelievably fresh and innovative, and many restaurants change their menus seasonally based on fresh produce availability.
Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free (yeah, yeah we all know if you are because you tell us ten times a day), paleo, or craving something buttery and rich — perhaps due to a certain legal substance you ingested — the Denver food scene has you covered. So, do yourself a favor, and next time you come out to ski, hike, or enjoy that legal substance, cross some of these off your list… you can thank us later.
1. French Onion Soup Dumplings at Cholon
This self-proclaimed “modern Asian bistro,” offers everything from Kaya Toast to salmon crudo. Taking an unorthodox approach to the classic dumpling, Cholon fills the inside of their dough with Gruyere cheese and sweet onion broth — also known as french onion soup. These little balls of heaven are so darn good.
If you try any food dish in Denver, this one has to be it.
2. Crispy Tuna at Sushi Den
Crispy rice with tuna is nothing new. Pictures like this one have been plastered across the internet for months now. So what makes Sushi Den’s so special? With thinly sliced pieces of jalapeño, fresh avocado, and heaping portions of masago, there is nothing ordinary about this Denver take on crispy rice with tuna.
Another must have dish at Sushi Den is their Japanese Eggplant. As someone who claims she doesn’t like eggplant, I certainly eat a lot of it at Sushi Den.
3. Arepas at Quiero Arepas
For those of you who don’t know, arepas are the sliced white bread of Venezuelan food. Made out of white cornmeal, water and salt, the little pockets are grilled to perfection and stuffed full of avocado, cheese, beans, chicken, salmon and whatever else you may want.
4. French Toast at Steuben’s
This french toast is the best brunch option in Denver. It’s a gooey and heavenly combination of bread, butter, berries, cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup. This is basically a dessert that passes for breakfast, and is the perfect way to indulge after a long night out.
5. Any type of sandwich and side at Vert Kitchen
Vert is not only housed in the trendy and homey neighborhood of Wash Park, but it has a killer menu that is constantly changing. Every ingredient they use is local and homemade, and while they always have sandwiches and salads, they switch up their specials and sides so you can try something new every time you go.
If you close your eyes and point to a menu item, I guarantee you will love it.
6. Classic pizza at Pizzeria Locale
If you can’t tell from this picture, this is the best darn pizza in the state of Colorado. Fresh, homemade dough and local, organic ingredients baked together in a traditional brick oven makes these pizzas taste like they’re right out of Naples, Italy. Simple ingredients and traditional methods make Pizzeria Locale a must.
7. Make-your-own bowl at Biju’s Little Curry Shop
Biju is the greatest recent edition to the Denver food scene. You get to choose the base, protein, type of curry, veggies and flavorings to create a custom Indian curry bowl that has incredible flavor and spice.
The ingredients and options are unbelievably fresh and constantly changing, allowing you to switch it up every time you go, but I highly recommend the coconut curry and chicken. This really is street food at its finest.
8. Cheeseburger and Truffle Fries at Larkburger
Larkburger’s grass-fed meat, Tillamook cheddar cheese and fresh lettuce and tomatoes make this cheeseburger a must-have. They throw on some of their special sauce for the best combination of savory and tangy, and their freshly baked bun is the cherry on top.
While their tasty burgers are a reason alone to go, Larkburger’s truffle fries are my favorite fries in Denver, hands down. They’re crispy, hot and piled up with freshly grated parmesan, Italian parsley and just the right amount of truffle oil. I would do anything at any give moment to eat these fries… and I mean anything people.
9. Ice Cream at Bonnie Brae
Bonnie Brae is a true Denver establishment. They make their homemade ice cream and cones on site each day, and have a plethora of delicious flavors available. Their cappuccino crunch ice cream is the best coffee ice cream I have ever had, and their cookies n cream flavor comes pretty damn close.
Whether it’s a summer’s night or cool afternoon, Bonnie Brae is always crowded with happy kids, families, and large groups of friends.
10. BBQ Biscuit at Denver Biscuit Co.
Denver Biscuit Co. has a national reputation for serving up insanely good biscuits, and this reputation could not be more accurate. Their biscuit french toast has the perfect level of sweetness and is deliciously indulgent, while their egg biscuits are the most satisfying way to start the day.
But the king of all biscuits here is the BBQ biscuit… it really is out of this world. It’s tangy, full of tender meat and refreshing coleslaw, topped with those crunchy onion straws that everyone loves, and all stacked in between a homemade buttery biscuit. This combination will surely turn you into a biscuit snob, and for a good reason.
11. Ramen at Uncle
Good ramen is hard to come by, and Uncle somehow blows it out of the park with every menu item they offer. Their spicy chicken ramen is packed with flavor, a soft egg, tons of noodles, tender pieces of chicken and fresh veggies. I don’t even like duck, but their duck ramen makes me think it’s my favorite food every time I dig into this bowl.
Start with the crispy Brussels sprouts, order a ramen bowl (they’re honestly equally amazing), and end with one of their creative desserts for the best meal of your life.
12. Bagel with Lox at Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen
Rosenberg’s is a newer addition to the Denver food scene and it is taking it by storm. Rosenberg’s easily claimed the title of best bagel in Denver, and their freshly baked bagels and creative menu make me question how Rosenberg’s isn’t in New York right now.
Their bagel and lox is comfort food at its finest, so if you want a truly good bagel, going to Rosenberg’s isn’t even a question.
13. Kokomo Bowl at Berriegood Co.
The açaí bowl trend took a little while to make its way over to Denver, but it’s finally here. Berriegood Co., while not the first açaí bowl company on the market, is certainly one of the best. Their Kokomo Bowl, so simple, but so good, is just one of the great combinations they have to offer.
And for all the pitaya (dragon fruit) lovers out there — don’t worry, they have a bowl for you, too.
14. Irish Cream Cinnamon Rolls at Duffeyroll Cafe
These are freshly baked cinnamon rolls with cream and sprinkles on them – what can be better than that? They are flaky on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and just small enough so you can justify having two….or five.
15. Crispy Chicken at the The Plimoth
The Plimoth is a quaint farm-to-table restaurant that makes the simplest food somehow taste so darn good. They quite literally do everything right, and while they constantly change the menu to accommodate seasonal availability, do yourself a favor and order at least one dish with chicken because somehow they make it so crispy, yet so tender.
These chefs are chicken miracle workers.
16. Beignets at Lucille’s Creole Cafe
These rival Cafe Du Monde and no, we’re not kidding. Lucille’s has some of the best New Orleans inspired food available, and we say this having spent a good amount of time in New Orleans. Lucille’s truly offers the best southern, comfort food in the entire state of Colorado, offering both classic cajun items and creative combinations.
These beignets come out hot and sugary, with a crisp outside and perfectly soft dough interior. No one can go to Lucille’s without ordering these to start or end the meal, and I recommend following these beignets with Lucille’s creamy Rice Porridge or Cajun Breakfast plate (their red beans and rice are a must, too).
17. Italian Sandwich at Spinelli’s Market
Spinelli’s Market is a quaint Italian market and butchery in the heart of Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. They have their own tomato sauce brand, and offer fresh meat, cheese, local produce and prepared meals.
But the best part of Spinelli’s is their homemade sandwiches — you can choose one from their menu or make your own, and all are prepared right on the spot using their fresh and local produce. As a family-run Italian market, you can imagine just how darn good their Italian sandwiches are on fresh baguette.
This is the ideal place to grab a quick lunch or sit outside and savor these fresh sandwiches with friends. Spinelli’s is a neighborhood gem, and their homemade mozzarella alone is reason to come in.
18. Mussels at Potager
Potager is a Capitol Hill staple. With no reservations and only seasonal specials, Potager promises its customers a unique dining experience every time. Last time I was there, the mussels with grilled bread were the absolute highlight of my meal.
19. Doughnuts at Glazed and Confused
Glazed and Confused is easily Denver’s best doughnut destination. Their genius name is right on par with all of their creative flavors and options, and they only use local and sustainable ingredients for the delicious balls of goodness. No preservatives equals healthy, right?
Go in and try a PuffyNutz — it’s their version of a cronut and it blows New York City cronuts right out of the park. And unlike NYC cronuts, the PuffyNutz comes in a ton of flavors… which is probably why they made the list of top 21 donuts in the country.
20. Anything and everything at Work & Class
Work & Class is the essence of a good Denver restaurant. There are large communal tables, no reservations, friendly staff, a kick ass bar and even better food. The menu is mostly gluten-free by nature and the dishes are designed to be shared plates.
Their blue corn empanadas and sweet potato fries are the best in the game, so go here with a lot of people so you can try the entire menu. We promise there is not one thing you won’t want to order.
21. Chicken and Waffles at Devil’s Food
Southern fried chicken with smokey maple syrup and sausage gravy, all over a Belgian waffle. How could you not want to order this?
I can only assume that the service at the restaurant is so slow because of how much care they put into making their food as delicious as it looks.
22. Seasonal specials at Acorn
Acorn, also known as the #1 restaurant in Denver according to 5280 Magazine, offers simple, but creative shareable plates. They have everything from fried pickles to oak smoked bone marrow.
No matter what you order, the restaurant will deliver on not only taste, but on presentation. Get ready to take some bangin’ Snapchats and Instagrams.
23. Cavatelli and Spicy Sausage at The Populist
24. The Pancake Flight at Snooze Eatery
Snooze is the cornerstone of the Denver brunch scene. It has everything from eggs to French toast to Benedict’s. But Snooze is best known for its pancakes. With daily specials and forever classics, Snooze never disappoints.
If you’re a first-time Snoozer, the best treat of all is the Pineapple Upside Down Pancake. Buttermilk batter is loaded with caramelized pineapple and drenched in a vanilla crème anglaise and cinnamon butter. No pancake, no matter how delicious, can hope to compete with this one.
Our recommendation is to order the pancake flight with the Pineapple Upside Down, the daily special, and the Sweet Potato pancake. Talk about a holy trinity…
25. Coffee and a French Macaroon at Steam Espresso Bar
I am not much of a coffee drinker, but Steam is one of the first places I go when I’m home. I don’t trust any other place — sorry to all of you Starbucks drinkers — to make coffee quite as well as Steam does. Pair it with one of their French Macaroons and you are good to go.
26. Basil Pasta at Pasta Pasta Pasta
Pasta Pasta Pasta is a hidden gem located in Cherry Creek North. They specialize in pasta (if you couldn’t figure that one out), fresh veggies, multiple types of chicken, and anything else Italian you can think of. The Basil Pasta is their most renowned pasta dish. Who knows how they make the simplest ingredients — parmesan cheese, spaghetti, and basil — taste so good, but somehow they do.
27. Butternut Squash Risotto at Root Down
Root Down is without a doubt one of Denver’s trendiest and most innovative restaurants. Their menu is full of creative dishes and is the prime spot for date night, happy hour, or a night out on the town.
While their mainly gluten-free menu highlights fresh produce and is full flavorful and delicious combinations, their butternut squash risotto is must. It’s the healthiest and freshest spin on comfort food you will ever eat, and we’ve never had risotto that’s cooked so perfectly. This is the ideal balance of creamy and fresh, so you better not miss this one.
28. Cake and Shake Dessert at D Bar Denver
Food Network’s Celebrity Chef Keegan Gerhard and his team have created a culinary masterpiece with this restaurants. D Bar offers upscale comfort food and insanely good desserts. The Cake and Shake is a combination of the best two desserts out there made with the highest quality chocolate and milk.
If you eat any dessert in Denver, this is it. But before you indulge in the Cake and Shake, check out the Kobe Sliders and Crispy Brussels.
29. Pizza at Kaos Pizzeria
Located in a quaint converted house on Denver’s hip Pearl Street, Kaos is serving up some of the freshest pizza in Denver. 100% of their food is handmade, and their motto is garden-to-table, so how can you not want to go here?
The fresh veggies on their pizzas make all the difference, and whether you build your own or choose one of their perfectly crafted menu options, this place does not disappoint. Hands down one of our favorite pizza stops in Denver — I had my graduation dinner here for a reason, people.
30. Homemade Pop Tarts at Sugar Bakeshop
Growing up on frosted Pop Tarts, I know a good one when I see one, and Sugar Bakeshop’s homemade pop tarts are seriously out of this world. They’re crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and have the freshest fillings… not to mention the perfectly sweetened glaze on top. Go channel your inner child and eat one of these. Ah, nostalgia at its’ finest.
31. Hot Dogs at Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs
Steve’s Snappin Dogs has the best combination of hot dogs in Denver, not to mention the Frozen Hot Chocolate or Deep Fried Green Beans. Whether you want an old fashioned hot dog, a spicy one laden in Colorado green chili, or a gluten-free or vegan version, this place has ya covered. It’s when fresh and natural meets fast food… why yes, you’re right, this can only happen in Denver.
32. Ice Cream at Little Man Ice Cream
Strawberry Balsamic and Toffee Coffee have always been my go-to flavors at Little Man Ice Cream, but order whatever sounds good to you because it is absolutely impossible to get a bad tasting scoop from this phenomenal ice cream shop. Housed in Denver’s hip Lodo area, this is the ideal place to hang out on a summer’s nights. Little Man is constantly changing their flavors and coming up with hip and trendy combinations, making their flavors nearly as cool as the hipsters that frequent this great place.
33. Egg Skillet at Olive & Finch
A breakfast, lunch, and dinner place on 17th, Olive & Finch should be your new go-to spot. My favorite dish happens to be the classic egg skillet. I’ve learned over the years that the simplest things are often the hardest to do right, but Olive & Finch turns out a great one. For the more adventurous eaters, they also offer specials like braised beef tongue and toasted s’mores on ciabatta.
34. Bao Buns at Bones
Bones was the first place to introduce me to my all time favorite pepper, the Shishito Pepper, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. From Crispy Brussels Sprouts to Spicy Beef Yakisoba, Bones excels at thinking up modern twists on classic Asian dishes. Order their Bao Buns with duck confit and thank me later.
35. Bacon Basil Brie Waffle at Waffle Up
Sweet waffles are so cliché. I say out with the old and in with the new. Let’s welcome the modern era of savory waffles. Head over to Waffle Up and get their bacon, basil and brie topped waffle. Yum. If this sounds a little too adventurous for you, don’t worry, they have sweet toppings, too.
36. Tacos at Comida at The Source
What’s better than one protein? Three proteins! The Taco Trifecta at Comida at The Source, offers polidori chorizo, spicy shrimp and griddled pork. And for all of you Chilaquiles fanatics out there, they have that, too.
37. Any Sandwich at Snarf’s Sandwiches
What once was just a Denver sandwich shop, has since branched out to Missouri, Illinois and Texas. If its expansion isn’t testament enough to its deliciousness, try their French Dip with Au Jus and form an opinion of your own.
38. Nutella Waffle at Waffle Brothers
Everyone loves waffles. At least I hope everyone does. At Waffle Brothers, you can get vegan waffles, traditional waffles, whole-wheat waffles and gluten-free waffles with toppings ranging from fresh cut strawberries to marshmallow cream cheese. My personal favorite is a combo of Nutella and strawberries. What’s not to love?
39. Charcuterie Board at Atticus
The Chef’s Board at Atticus goes above and beyond with three types of cheese, two different meats, bread and accoutrements. A charcuterie board connoisseur myself, the version at Atticus is one of the best I’ve ever had.
40. S’mores Dessert at Euclid Hall
Stuffed full of house-made graham crackers and marshmallows, the S’mores Pot de Crème is everything you think it will be and more. This is one of those desserts you see on Instagram and always wish you could eat, and Euclid Hall is not only making this possible, but they do it so darn well.
41. Mini Doughnuts at Jelly Cafe
While Jelly Cafe is full of both inventive breakfast combos and typical classics, the mini doughnuts take the cake as the best menu item. They’re hot, fresh, and come in a ton of different flavors. Who doesn’t love doughnuts, and who doesn’t live miniature food? This is a match made in heaven.
42. Brunch at Beast and Bottle
Beast and Bottle is a cozy, upscale American restaurant serving up some of the best brunch and dinner items in Denver. The warm avocado tartine with a poached egg on top is everything you imagine it would be and more. This restaurant even has their own flock of chickens that lay fresh, organic eggs for your consumption on a daily basis — talk about farm to table, am I right?
43. Ice Cream Taco at Nuggs Ice Cream
Do ya’ll remember getting Choco Tacos from the ice cream truck that were most likely stale but you loved them anyways? Well I have finally figured out what a Choco Taco should taste like and it was better than I have ever imagined.
Nuggs‘ amazing homemade ice cream surrounded by a fresh waffle taco and topped with sprinkles is like summertime and childhood and nostalgia all wrapped into one little, perfect treat. This is a must.
44. Detroit-Style Pizza at Blue Pan Pizza
These authentic Detroit-style pizzas are baked in blue steel pans imported from Detroit, but have the perfect Denver spin on them by incorporating the freshest ingredients available, and the most unique combinations.
We recommend the classic Pepperoni or the Southwestern BBQ Chicken if you’re feeling adventurous — the combination of spicy BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, smoky bacon, grilled chicken, chopped cilantro and an optional drizzle of honey is next-level genius. On second thought, we will take 10 of those please.
45. Vegan Donuts at Beet Box Bakery and Cafe
If you’re wondering if a vegan doughnut would be good, this bakery will absolutely blow your mind. Their all-vegan baked goods are moist, flavorful, and taste like they’re full of unhealthy butter, eggs, and cream. These baked doughnuts are a much healthier alternative without sacrificing taste or texture — I’m not a vegan and I easily prefer these doughnuts any day of the week.
The pumpkin-chocolate is my absolute favorite, and they offer a wide selection of vegan flavors and vegan and gluten-free flavors daily. If you’re with a big group, get a lot of flavors to share, and don’t forget to also get a peanut-butter cookie. Definitely the best vegan bakery in Colorado… and I would argue the country, too.
46. Chilled Rice Noodle Salad at City, O’ City
City, O’ City is easily the best vegetarian restaurant around, proven by the fact that non-veggie heads not only constantly eat here, but Instagram it, too. They won both.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Best of Denver 2015 and Denver’s 25 Most Instagrammed Restaurants 2014 — need we say more? Their salad is so good that I actually order a salad at a restaurant, and their breakfast arepas are out of this world.
47. Brunch at Punch Bowl Social
Punch Bowl Social brings old school entertainment to upscale dining. This restaurant is filled with old arcade games, a happening bar, and an inventive menu with incredible truffle kettle chips and the best cauliflower nachos.
Their breakfast drinks alone are reason enough to come here for brunch, but the Monkey Bread French Toast and Huevos Rancheros are a close second. Once you come, you really will never want to leave.
48. Tiger Wings at Ace Eat Serve
Ace Eat Serve is one of the hippest restaurants in Denver with a ping-pong hall nestled right in between its expansive outdoor patio and indoor dining area. Pair some ping-pong with asian fusion dishes such as these tiger wings or spicy pork ramen for the best culinary experience of your life.
Yes, this is in fact where I will be spending the majority of my summer food outings.
49. Croissant Sandwiches at Mercantile Dining and Provisions
Mercantile Dining & Provisions is located in Denver’s Union Station and has both a freshly stocked market and casual dining area with high-end comfort food. This quickly became one of Denver’s best lunch spots with the best croissant sandwich and homemade chips you will ever have. We love anything on a croissant, so this place holds a special spot in our hearts.
50. Crab and Avocado Bruschetta at The Kitchen
The Kitchen will forever be one of my favorite restaurants. It is the epitome of simple done right, and their fresh ingredients and flavorful menu will never disappoint. While I am obsessed with their tomato soup and homemade pasta when I go for dinner, their crab and avocado bruschetta is one of a kind. Crispy bread, creamy avocado and the freshest crab makes this a no brainier.
If I could choose one place to eat at every day, it would be here.
If you haven’t already bought a plane ticket to Denver, then get on it. These dishes are most definitely worth it.