Okay, so I know most people don’t travel to Denver just for the food (maybe the beer) but let me say, every meal I had there was phenomenal. And I was only there for three nights (but I was armed with the perfect three days in Denver itinerary thanks to extensive planning) I barely scratched the culinary scene surface. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised since Denver is a thriving and growing metropolitan area (i.e. you know there’s going to be some top notch restaurants).
We stayed in Denver’s downtown (a bit dead on the weekends/evenings), a brisk 15 minute walk from the iconic Union Station. Of the restaurants we ate at, two were in Union Station, the third was a pleasant 20 minute walk, and the fourth, about a 15 minute ride via Lyft. And being such a multi-ethnic city, Denver has restaurants for just about every palate and craving.
Of all the restaurants I made reservations for, this was the one I was looking most forward to. The fact that it was a former mortuary (turned eatuary-get it?) was super cool, but I was most intrigued by its global small plates offerings. I mean the menu is even broken down by regions of the world and if there was ever a restaurant meant for me, Linger would be it.
Linger is located in a very hip and happening part of Denver so I highly recommend making reservations prior. They have (what looks like in pictures) a very cool rooftop bar. I had hoped to get there early to try and get a drink pre-dinner but we had a big filling lunch paired with an extremely early wakeup that day so we got there just in time for our dinner reservation. On a nice night, the bar would be phenomenal.
For drinks I got the Green Tea Collins ($10) as I love each of those things. Well, together with alcohol they didn’t make the greatest pair, providing a very strong taste. The drink comprised vodka, matcha, lemon, and soda. And the glass it came in was quite large too. D opted for the 5 Spiced Old Fashion ($11) which consisted of bourbon, Chinese five spice, bitters, and orange oi. He liked it but didn’t find it anything overly special from your standard old fashion.
Here’s a roundup of everything we ordered and split:
Korean Fried Chicken Bao Bun (all bao buns are $5-$6). This was delicious and comprised kimchee, pickled fresno chilis and Korean chimichurri.
Tom Yum Soup ($9). This was definitely not your usual Tom Yum soup flavor-wise. It featured coconut, forest mushrooms, asparagus, cipollini onions, kaffir peanuts, and shoyu bean curd.
Chicken b’stilla ($12). There’s no Moroccan restaurant in Pittsburgh so I was happy to see this on the menu. It’s essentially Moroccan chicken pie ( in Morocco it’s more common with pigeon) with the most delectable of North African spices ensconced in phyllo dough. As I said, my favorite.
Dahi Puri “Perfect Bites” ($9). This was the only thing I really didn’t care for and D concurred. I thought the chickpeas would be fried or breaded with something. No, they were basically just raw chickpeas inside a very light and fluffy outer dough which evaporated upon contact with a fork. While there were Indian spices inside, it still just tasted like raw chickpeas.
Even though we were both full and more so tired from the early and long day, I absolutely wanted to order dessert, specifically from the Taiwanese Snow Ice section of the menu (all selections are $9). I was most intrigued by the Matcha option but D had his heart set on the Coconut one so we ordered that. I’m not quite sure how to describe this except it was odd but tasty. The coconut option came topped with chocolate, coconut jellies, and chocolate syrup.
Even though the restaurant was ridiculously busy, service was great and all of our food came out nicely spaced. I know that if I lived in Denver, this would be a regular dining venue for me.
2030 W 30th Ave
I had a hard time deciding whether to dine here for brunch or dinner but ultimately settled on brunch as it better suited our later touring plans. And let’s just say brunch was definitely a good choice. Rioja is located in the very trendy and pedestrian friendly Larimer Square and serves up “imaginative” Mediterranean fare. While there was outdoor seating, at 10:30 in the morning it was already incredibly hot so we opted for the very refreshing inside.
Although many of the cocktails sounded intriguing, with it being such a hot day and a lot of being outdoor touring ahead of us, I chose a still quite tasty virgin cocktail, a cucumber spritzer ($7). D did go the alcohol route and ordered the Wake Up Call ($12.24) which consisted of dickel rye, averna, Grand Marnier, and cold brew.
Although they presented us with fresh bread/muffin selections to choose from I couldn’t resist a special of the day which were the most beautiful donuts I have ever seen, especially since they came topped with an edible flower and rested on a bed of sugar crumb topping (a favorite indulgence of mine).
We were also given a tasty amuse-bouche that featured baked granola and yogurt, I think.
For my entree I couldn’t turn down a personal brunch favorite of mine, Rioja Benedict ($11.22). Instead of an English muffin, these came on a goat cheese biscuit, and included bacon, spinach, tomato, poached eggs, and Parmesan sauce. The portion size was also perfect (even though I would totally end up entering a bloated state once the dessert came).
D ordered the very fun sounding dish, the Hangover Cure ($17.34). Even though he was not in need of a hangover cure, it featured a lot of food which is what he was interested in, including braised pork belly, tater tots, scrambled eggs, cipollini onions, oyster mushrooms, avocado, and Adrian’s green sauce.
I was fine with skipping dessert (I felt pleasantly full) but D wanted to get something so we ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter and that’s definitely where I overdid it. You know when there’s peanut butter ganache and dulce de leche ice cream involved, it’s going to be over the top. (All desserts are $9.18).
I truly loved our meal here at Rioja; it might be one of my favorite brunches ever. The food was amazing and service absolutely impeccable. And if you’re wondering about the very odd prices of dishes, so am I. We forgot to ask the reason.
1431 Larimer Street
Wynkoop Brewing Company (lunch)
Although this was the only brew pub we ended up getting to (I’m sometimes too ambitious with my food plans), this was a great spot. It was Colorado’s first brew pub so a neat place to dine at on top of obviously offering some great beers. It’s located right across the street from Union Station and only about a 10 minute walk from Coor’s Field (where the Rockies baseball team plays) so a great spot to hit up.
As we had dinner reservations that night at Linger, I didn’t want to overdo it at lunch so I opted for two appetizers and even then that was slightly pushing it. I ordered the Beer Cheese (a railyard ale three cheese sauce) and Local Pretzel Knots ($9) and a small bowl of the Loaded Bison Chili ($9). Because when in Colorado, there is bison everywhere, especially on the menus.
D went with the Foot Long Bratwurst ($11) which was a pork brat cooked with rocky mountain oyster stout, and topped with bison chili and cheddar cheese. It was a huge portion and all burgers and sandwiches come with your choice of fries, fruit, or coleslaw.
And being the beer aficionado that he is, he ordered the Wynkoop Sample flight.
This was a great introduction to Denver, very Western/mountain feel to it.
1634 18th Street
Snooze: an AM eatery (breakfast)
We did breakfast at Snooze before our day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park as our pickup was right out in front of Union Station and Snooze is located inside said station. Snooze offers breakfast and lunch and it was just about a truly perfect meal. Even though it was hectically busy, we got seated right away, our food came quickly, and service was consistent throughout.
The menu had so many great sounding choices but I went the somewhat boring route and ordered the French Toast Neat. It was basically French toasted brioche with whipped mascarpone cream, fruit, and Slopeside pure Vermont Maple Syrup. Since we were going to be in a van driving for a couple of hours and then hiking etc, I just didn’t want to overdo at breakfast.
D went with a favorite of his, Corned Beef Hash. Although it wasn’t your standard corned beef hash as you can see from the below picture. It consisted of locally made corned beef, caramelized poblanos and onions, and then topped with two eggs and either toast or tortillas.
1701 Wynkoop Street #150
Citizen Rail (dinner)
This was our final meal in Denver although it almost didn’t happen due to getting back much later than planned from Rocky Mountain National Park. Thankfully I was able to move our reservation back without any issue. Located next to Union Station, Citizen Rail’s thing is contemporary wood-fired cooking.
For drinks I started with Pimn’s Cup ($11), a favorite cocktail of mine. And D went with a draft beer selection. Before the night was out, I also ordered the Alaska, which was made up of Beefeter gin, yellow chartreuse, and orange bitter. The latter was good but strong.
We were starving when we got there and began our meal (food wise that is) with the Charcuterie Board ($18). This consisted of truffled chicken liver mousse, fra’ mani salami, Colonel bill newsom’s 12 month ham, CR pickle, grainy mustard, and grilled bread. I love charcuteries as I find they’re the perfect appetizer, varied but not going to spoil your dinner from being too much.
I had been eating a ton by then not to mention it was well after 8PM and we had an early wake-up the next day with our flight home, so I opted to get the Spring Vegetables ($19) for my main course. I figured even a plate full of grilled vegetables would still be a delicious treat. It included grilled asparagus, potato gratin, zuchini salad, spring onion, and green almonds.
While D would have liked to have gotten the 50 Day Porterhouse ($69), he ultimately went with the Hickory-Grilled Flat Iron Steak ($36). This came accompanied by fennel and chive dumpling, spring peas, mushrooms, and in a Parmesan broth. He also got a side of the Cast Iron Duckfat Roasted Potatoes.
Although dessert was very much pushing the bill by then, we ordered it nonetheless. I didn’t fully record what it was, but it was a most delectable orange flavored panna cotta, and quite photogenic to boot.
Although quite different from Linger, it was still a great choice to end our Denver weekend. Always a good thing when you can end your trip on a culinary high note.
899 16th Street
Milkbox Ice Creamy
This was an amazing smelling ice cream shop located right in Union Station so naturally we went here. I pushed D for the Earl Gray ice cream and luckily for me, he agreed (although with much grumbling as I was reminded he doesn’t like actual Earl Gray tea at all). But as I knew it would be, it was delicious.
At least according to their website, some other unique and great sounding flavors included Bhakti Chai and Strawberry Balsamic.
1701 Wynkoop Street
Every single thing I ingested during my weekend in Denver was phenomenal and I already look forward to returning one day to experience more (well, for my stomach that is…).