The Best Food and Drink in Colorado for 2018 from The Best Food and Drink in Colorado for 2018 (Gallery)
The Best Food and Drink in Colorado for 2018 (Gallery)
Dreamstime (Green/Sandwich)_Photos Modified: Dreamstime
The Best Food and Drink in Colorado for 2018
Known for its hiking and early legalization of marijuana, Colorado is a stunning and serene state. The state’s food is rumored to be just as awe-inducing as its scenic views, stretching from the culinary hotspot of Denver to the less populous regions near the mountains, and we’ve rounded some of the state’s best eats as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Some exciting things have happened for food in Colorado recently. In-N-Out decided to open its doors in the mountainous state, building 50 new restaurants as part of the chain’s westward expansion. And though some deceivingly shaped gummy edibles are now banned, some restaurants in Denver are allowing people to smoke marijuana and enhance their dining experience.
While you’re skiing in this snowy state, make sure to take advantage of the myriad of dining opportunities residents have to offer. The state has doughnut delivery, damn good tacos, and some classier restaurants hiding in the depths of Colorado’s desert. Amidst the Rocky Mountains, you’ll find pockets of culinary prowess and delectable eats.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and farmers markets to its best dive bar and craft brewery in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state. Here is where to look to find Colorado’s must-try foods and drinks.
Photo by Rachel L. via Yelp
Best Bar: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver)
Located within an old foundry building-turned-marketplace called The Source, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project has 22 taps filled with a variety of sour beers, wild ales, and saisons. The industrial-chic bar’s sour beers have gained a cult following, and their “Tap-it! Tuesday” is extremely popular as well. Cocktail lovers are out of luck here, but there are plenty of beer and kombucha blends like Happy Leaf Kombucha, which can be blended into one of the brewery’s core brands of beer (Surette Provision Saison, Vieille Artisanal Saison, and St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier). The taproom features stainless steel gates, brick walls awash in old graffiti, a custom wood tap tower, stave tap handles, and colorful murals. There’s no food, but that isn't a problem as allow customers are more than welcome to carry in food from two restaurants also within The Source (Acorn and Comida), and Mondo Market prepares cheese and charcuterie plates for customers on weekends.
Best Beer: WeldWerks Brewing Company’s Medianoche
Colorado is home to many, many beautiful beers, but WeldWerks Brewing Company’s Medianoche takes the cake for 2017. Brewed to celebrate the brewery’s first anniversary, this full-bodied imperial stout has deep notes of vanilla, bourbon, oak, and cocoa.
Best Burger: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Steuben's, Denver
Opened in 2007, but named in honor of a famous restaurant and nightclub co-proprietor Josh Wolkon's great-uncles owned in Boston for several decades in the middle of the last century, Steuben's is a neighborhood diner serving American regional specialties. Representing Colorado's neighbor, New Mexico, the menu presents what is regularly named the best green chile (or chili, as Steuben's puts it) cheeseburger in Denver. Said to be inspired by the classic version at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico, it's a fat burger patty topped with American cheese into which green chile strips seem to melt. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and mustard ornament the burger, which is served on a challah bun.
Yelp / Mike Y
Best Chicken and Waffles: Steuben’s, Denver
The chicken at this old-school Denver diner is brined in buttermilk and seasonings for 24 hours before being breaded and fried to order, and the Belgian-style waffles are also made to order and served alongside a pool of red-eye gravy made with coffee, Jim Beam, and bacon. A certified pile of fried chicken comes with every order, so make sure you come hungry.
Photo by Jamie L. via Yelp
Best Chinese Restaurant: Star Kitchen, Denver
Yes, great dim sum exists in Colorado at Star Kitchen in Denver. Located in a modest strip mall, Star Kitchen is turning out expert renditions of more than 70 dim sum classics, including pork buns, dumplings, rice crepes, and salt and pepper shrimp. Find more details on Star Kitchen here.
There’s also clay pot rice, roasted duck, congee, hot pots, and countless fresh seafood preparations. If you need a little liquid courage to build up the nerve to try spiced jelly fish or beef tendon, there’s also a full bar.
Oskar Blues Brewery
Best Craft Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont
In 2002 Oskar Blues Brewery starting canning their Dale’s Pale Ale, which “began the craft-beer-in-a-can craze.” They now brew numerous beers year round, such as Priscilla, Old Chub, and Gubna, an Imperial IPA brewed with “the most potent, unique and mind-bending hop varietals of the season.”
Best Cupcake: Happy Bakeshop, Denver
This small, family-run bakery began as a passion for cookies but quickly grew into a gourmet cookie and cupcake destination. The delectable cupcake creations come in a variety of flavors like Boston cream pie, PB&J, red velvet, and tres leches, to name a few. They also offer French macarons and “sumptuous cinnamon rolls” along with their growing list of cupcakes and custom cookies. For a Red Velvet Cupcake recipe you can make at home, click here.
Best Dive Bar: Ace-Hi Tavern, Golden
Two happy hours a day? Say no more. The Ace-Hi Tavern in Golden, Colorado, caters to the third shifters by opening up at 7 a.m. and running a special drinks menu, which is truly in the dive bar spirit. This bar has been around for over 130 years, with 60 years under this moniker, so its reputation as a world-class dive bar is well earned.
Best Doughnut: Glazed and Confuzed, Aurora
Glazed and Confuzed is baking some incredibly creative doughnuts made with local, organic, and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. The inventive and often surprisingly delicious flavors range from maple bacon (with two strips of bacon on top), to root beer float, to Nutter Butter fluff with chocolate-covered bananas, to blackberry pecan cobbler. But go for the mojito doughnut: The yeasted dough has been coated in a rum-infused glaze made with fresh lime and fresh mint. It’s as good as it sounds.
Courtesy of Boulder County Farmers Market
Best Farmers Market: Boulder County Farmers Market, Boulder
The Boulder County Farmers’ Market is an iconic gathering place in the community and a produce-only market. All 120 vendors set up shop Saturdays and some Wednesdays between April and November. The market features everything from locally sourced crafts, potted seedlings for the home gardener, prepared foods from local bakeries, gourmet cheese, small-batch honey, and artisan salsas.
Best Food Truck: Basic Kneads Pizza, Denver
We are suckers for a good pun and even more so for a good pizza. Basic Kneads operates four different units (each with punny names) around Denver. Basic Kneads eschews strict Neapolitan guidelines for D.O.C. pizza so that it can integrate local ingredients, experiment with toppings, and use the family dough recipe its team developed over the years: a mix of organic whole-wheat flour and refined Colorado flour (Basic Kneads also does a gluten-free crust). There are eight pies on the menu, starting from the basics (Margherita, pepperoni, fennel sausage) to more extreme pies like sweet Thai chile chicken.
Riza H. C. via Yelp
Best Grocery Store: King Soopers, Multiple locations
King Soopers is the go-to for many in the Denver area, and in general has a significant presence in the Rocky Mountains. It has a large selection of goods and is cheaper than the high-end markets, making this store a local favorite. One shopper said, “This location is always fully stocked, clean, and always has super friendly employees. I go a little out of my way to shop at this location.”
Yelp/ Brian F.
Best Homemade Ravioli: DiFranco’s, Denver
This tiny, low-key Italian spot in Denver’s Golden Triangle is about as casual as it gets (the seating is primarily confined to one communal table), but chef Ryan DiFranco runs what’s been rated the city’s best Italian restaurant. The ravioli on offer changes with the season, but you can always depend on it being freshly made and filled with (and sauced with) fresh, seasonal ingredients. In the spring, for example, look for sweet pea ravioli with herb butter sauce, peas, ricotta, and arugula.
Michael U. via Yelp
Best Hot Dog: Biker Jim's, Denver
Once upon a time, Jim Pittenger repossessed cars. Now? He splits hot dogs right down the center, chars them on a gas grill, and tops them with Coca-Cola-soaked grilled onions and a "swizzle of cream cheese unloaded from the front end of a caulking gun." Some of the dogs on the menu at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs include rattlesnake and pheasant, linguiça, duck cilantro, southwest buffalo, pheasant, and Louisiana red hots, but the elk, wild boar, and reindeer have specifically been attested to by none other than everyone’s favorite gastrogrouch, Anthony Bourdain.
Yelp/ Carlos M.
Best Inexpensive Steakhouse: Columbine Steak House & Lounge, Denver
This low-slung, no-frills Denver legend has been going strong since 1961, and its main claim to fame is how amazingly inexpensive it is. Fried chicken costs $8.75, a steak sandwich costs $7.95, pork chops $11.25. And most impressively of all, there are six steaks on the menu, and the most expensive one of the bunch, an absolutely massive porterhouse, costs just $20.75. As for the rest: the large fillet is $18.25, a T-bone is $16.25, sirloin and New York strip are $13.95, and a small fillet is $12.75. Tax is already included in the price, and all steaks also come with salad, potato, and toast.
Frasca Food and Wine/Yelp
Best Italian Restaurant: Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado’s unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining. They offer three unique menus that change daily – a four-course menu for $85 (with dishes also available à la carte); a “Friulano Tradizionale” menu of Friulian regional specialties for $115; and a $55 four-course Monday tasting menu. Just be sure that you don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Tacos Tequila Whiskey, Denver
Originally a taco truck, chef Kevin Morrison’s Tacos Tequila Whiskey puts a modern twist on comida de la calle (Mexican street food), along with small-batch tequilas. You’ll want to start with an order of queso fundido con chorizo and homemade chips, but from there it gets more difficult to choose. Carnitas? Pollo a la crema? Asada, lengua, or rajas con crema y maiz? There are also chipotle-and-beer-battered fish tacos and citrus-grilled shrimp.
Frasca Food & Wine/Yelp
Most Expensive Restaurant: Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder
If you decide to celebrate a special occasion at Colorado’s best restaurant, it’ll cost you: The seven-course tasting menu costs $105, plus $95 if you opt for the suggested wine pairings. If you want until Monday, however, a four-course menu only costs $50.
Best Pasta Dish: Pastiche at Panzano, Denver
This popular downtown Denver spot showcases the cuisine of Northern Italy, and its housemade pastas are some of the best in town. But do us a favor and drop by during Happy Hour (from 2:30 to 6 daily), and order the pastiche. It’s a little cast iron pot, filled with meatballs, cheese tortellini, meat ragu, and cinnamon-kicked béchamel, topped with a thyme-accented crust. It’s everything a pasta dish should be – hearty, filling, full of bold flavors, and a lot of fun to eat – and best of all, it only costs $6.
Best Pizza: Pizzeria Locale, Denver
It shouldn’t be surprising that Frasca, one of America’s best restaurants, launched an offshoot that serves some of America’s best pizza. The pizzeria offers 11 “Classics,” (seven red, four white), but you’re probably going to want to build your own from a selection of more than 25 toppings including eggplant, Calabrian chiles, corn, smoked mozzarella, pork meatballs, and prosciutto.
Frasca Food & Wine
Best Restaurant: Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues, while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado’s unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining. They offer three unique menus that change daily – a four-course menu for $78 (with dishes also available à la carte); a “Friulano Tradizionale” menu of Friulian regional specialties for $105; and a $50 four-course Monday tasting menu. Just be sure that you don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Best Ribs: GQue Championship BBQ, Westminster
When food talk turns to great barbecue locales, one typically thinks of places like Memphis, Charleston, Kansas City, and Austin. But Westminster, Colorado? Clearly, this isn’t on most people’s lists of where to go for great barbecue. But at Gque Championship BBQ, owner Jason Ganahl may be changing that perception with his own tried and tested version of barbecue, a mouth-watering effort to put this town on the barbecue map with his pork spare ribs.
Most days, Ganahl can be found out back making YouTube videos for his channel and grilling on the backyard grill, just like his dad used to. –Ron Stern
Yelp/ Dan S.
Best Soup: Croc Soup, Golden
Every day, Golden, Colo.’s Croc Soup rolls out seven or eight scratch-made soups based on what’s fresh and in-season. You might find gumbo, chicken noodle, tomato basil, potato cheese, chicken pot pie, or broccoli gruyere, but their most popular soup is lobster bisque, which is only available on Fridays.
Best Steak for Less Than $20: 4-Ounce NY Strip at Guard and Grace, Denver
Chef Troy Tuard’s modern Denver steakhouse is regarded by many to be the city’s best, and it’s definitely not cheap, with a dry-aged bone-in Prime NY strip costing $54 and an eight-ounce fillet clocking in at $51. But there’s one steak on the menu that’s selling for a shockingly low price: a four-ounce Angus New York strip that will set you back just 18 bucks. Yeah, it’s small, but if you supplement it with a $5 loaded baked potato we guarantee you’ll leave stuffed.
Trent R. via Yelp
Best Steakhouse: The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver
One of America’s oldest restaurants (and the oldest in Denver), the Buckhorn Exchange was opened by Henry "Shorty Scout" Zietz opened in 1893, an era when cattlemen, miners, railroad workers, silver barons, Indian chiefs, drifters, and businessmen all dined under the same roof. The restaurant was given the first liquor license in the state of Colorado and the menu remains mostly unchanged to this day. The Buckhorn is a true Wild West holdout with its circa-1857 antique bar, wooden fixtures, 575-piece taxidermy collection, 125-piece gun collection, and a menu that reflects that good ol’ American desire to eat some red meat. For those who really want to celebrate being on top of the food chain, there are plenty of exotic meats on offer including elk, quail, and buffalo (and sometimes ostrich and yak). But if you’re in the mood for UDSA Prime steak, we suggest you go for the Big Steak, a New York strip loin carved tableside and available for two (two pounds) to five (four pounds) guests.
Photo by Anthony J. via Yelp
Best Taco: Pork Belly ‘Agridulce’ at Tacos Tequila Whiskey, Denver
Pinche Taquería, now known as Tacos Tequila Whiskey because “pinche” isn’t fit to translate on a family website (it’s something you’d say when you’re moved by extreme emotion), was originally a taco truck, and the name of the shop still harkens a bit of street attitude: Given how good the restaurant’s pork belly “Agridulce” is, you too may be emotionally moved. Chef Kevin Morrison has put a modern twist on Mexican street food, serving a sweet-and-sour-braised pork belly with candied garlic, cabbage and cilantro slaw, and a nuanced braising jus to add extra flavor and moisture. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.