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A First-Timer’s Guide To Eating And Drinking Your Way Through Denver, Colorado

In Uproxx circles, Denver is known for its panoramic Rocky Mountain views, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, access to incredible National Parks, and being early adopters of legal weed and mushrooms. But while these aspects of Denver certainly all ring true, it was the restaurant and bar scenes in the Mile High City that really stood out on my first visit. Every food and drink spot I went to seemed to have its own unique theme, decor style, menu selection, and overall vibe.

More importantly, the standard of dishes was exceptionally high, and that’s coming from someone who is spoiled by the eclectic LA scene. Each location added more character to the already vibrant city. In fact, exploring the different dining and bar options turned out to be my favorite part of the entire trip. It was totally worth the extra few pounds and two-day-long hangover I came home with.

If you’re planning a trip to Denver and want to fill your itinerary with food and drinks that you’ll be thinking about for weeks (or months) after your visit, keep reading my guide below. I’m sharing the best Denver restaurants and bars that every first-time visitor needs to try.

PART I — WHERE TO EAT

Root Down

Best Denver Restaurants
Chloe Caldwell

Brunch is the most important meal of the day, especially when it involves bottomless mimosas and boozy morning cocktails. Root Down is a local Denver favorite, and for good reason. Walking into the restaurant feels like stepping back into a classic ’60s diner adorned with garage sale vintage finds. I’m not sure there’s any real theme to Root Down, but that’s what I loved about it. From a wall full of rainbow dial-up phones to the old school photographs hanging in the dining area, Root Down’s ambiance makes for an eclectic start to the day.

As for the actual food and drinks, Root Down offers exactly the kind of fare that I personally always look for and appreciate. The restaurant uses responsibly-grown, veggie-forward ingredients to curate a diverse menu that includes a number of organic and vegan items. All animal proteins used in the non-vegetarian dishes are certified humane, pasture-raised, and vegetarian fed, so you can trust that what you’re actually putting in your stomach is good for you (or at least free of chemicals and hormones). I ordered the Tofu “Paneer” Scrambled — made with harissa, carrots, eggplant, kale, goji berries, chili paneer sauce, tomato, and cilantro chutney. The tofu and veggie medley was surprisingly flavorful and gave me that full belly satisfaction without feeling totally gluttonous.

I paired this with a blood orange mimosa, which was refreshingly delicious, but the menu also serves more eccentric morning cocktails. The Dark Side of the Moon is made with citrus vodka, blackberry liqueur, hibiscus cinnamon syrup, cranberry, and lime juice. That’s one way to start your morning on the right foot.

Check out the full Root Down brunch menu here and make a reservation here.

Barcelona Wine Bar

Best Denver Restaurants
Barcelona Wine Bar

Barcelona Wine Bar is a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant that feels like a piece of New York City in the middle of Denver. With dim lighting and an industrial design, the elegant restaurant is the perfect place for a date night or celebration. The dinner menu features more than 30 sharable tapas, as well as charcuterie boards, a few large plate options like paella and pimientos, and desserts. My favorite tapas items I tried were the patatas bravas, crispy brussels sprouts, and roasted delicata squash. For how nice the restaurant is, Barcelona Wine Bar’s menu is surprisingly affordable since every plate is easy to split among the table.

Of course, the wine list is the real selling point. It offers an award-winning selection of wines from Spain and South America. Not only that, but Barcelona Wine Bar has one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the U.S. If you’re in the mood for a nice glass of pinot or chardonnay, there really is no better place. I ordered one of the wine flights, which is a great option if you want to try a few different variations without stumbling out of the restaurant.

View the full menu and wine list here.

Avanti

If you’re not sure exactly what you’re in the mood for when hunger strikes, head to Avanti. It’s a modern-day food hall inspired by European-style marketplaces. Here, you’ll find seven different restaurant concepts housed in modified shipping containers, along with a couple of different bars. From pizza and burgers to fresh poke bowls and arepas, Avanti has something for everyone to enjoy.

Overall, Avanti is affordable, diverse, and casual, making it a great spot to grab lunch and a beer in between activities. It’ll give you the energy you need to explore all the wonders of Downtown Denver.

Learn more about Avanti’s rotating marketplace and stay updated on what’s being served here.

The Corner Office

Best Denver Restaurants
Chloe Caldwell

If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast, mimosas, and efficient service, book a table at The Corner Office. The popular breakfast joint is a part of The Curtis Hotel, and the entire property is full of quirky color and character. This is the kind of place you want to go on a Sunday morning after a late night out of one too many drinks.

The menu is packed with classic brunch items like steak and eggs, breakfast burritos, breakfast sandwiches, and omelets. I was tempted by the Boston Cream Pie Pancakes, but I ended up going with the Chilaquiles. I devoured my Mexican breakfast that consisted of corn tortilla chips, eggs, salsa verde and guajillo, pepper jack, roasted corn pico de gallo, and crema Mexicana. It was the spicy, carb-loaded concoction I needed to cure the next-day headache. Make sure to order a side of “Office Browns” — AKA, breakfast potatoes. I’m not exaggerating when I say these were some of the best potatoes I’ve had. They’re spiced and deep-fried to crispy perfection. I honestly could have just eaten two plate fulls of these and been happy with my meal.

To drink, you can order mimosas, breakfast cocktails, or a full-on glass of wine first thing in the morning if you really wanted to (I’m not judging!). The brunch drink menu even offers a selection of signature martinis, such as the Morning Meeting, made with New Amsterdam gin, lime juice, house raspberry syrup, and house ginger syrup, or the Flight Delay, made with Knob Creek bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice.

Check out The Corner Office’s full menu here, and book a room at The Curtis here.

Terminal Bar

Best Restaurants Denver
Terminal Bar

Whether you just arrived in town by train or you’re on your way out, the Terminal Bar is well worth a visit. Located within Downtown Denver’s Union Station, which is a 100-year-old historic landmark, Terminal Bar offers a chic place to grab lunch, sip on a libation, and people-watch the hurried travelers pass through. For an appetizer, you need to order the Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus. Made with sage oil, pomegranate, feta crumble, and toasted pumpkin seeds, and served with warm pita bread and vegetables, this sharable dish tastes like everything you love about fall. I also ordered the Harvest Farro salad, which was refreshing, nutritious, and filling. As for the main course, you can’t go wrong with the Crispy Fish Tacos or one of the burgers (classic or veggie).

There’s no shortage of drink options on the menu, either. The Terminal Bar’s extensive draft beer collection features craft beers from many local Colorado breweries and microbreweries. Many of the bar’s selection of spirits are distilled in Colorado as well, so you’ll also want to try one of the signature cocktails. I’m not much of a beer gal, so I ordered the Jalisco Sunset, a combination of Volcan Blanco Tequila, turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, orange juice, lime juice, and beet juice. The mix of bitter and fruity ingredients gave a tart kick that complemented my meal.

To peruse the full Terminal Bar food and drink menu, click here.

PART II — WHERE TO DRINK

Improper City

Improper City doubles as a coffee bar and a taproom, so you can check it out any time of the day. The property features large-scale, beer garden-like seating areas both inside and outdoors, so you can savor your beer no matter what the unpredictable Denver weather might bring while you’re in town. With 36 taps, a full bar selection, and a seasonally rotating menu of specialty cocktails, every kind of drinker will be satisfied. When the drunchies kick in (drunk munchies), head to the food trucks outside for a bite of local fare.

This is the perfect place to kick off a Denver bar crawl, although you may end up wanting to stay here the whole night.

Learn more about Improper City’s beer selection, property, food selection, and events here.

Honey Elixir

Best Denver Bars
Honey Elixir

For an intimate setting infused with good energy, make your way to Honey Elixir — but get there early, as the property is small and the line builds up fast! The bar’s ambiance is immediately compelling, with a luxury funk-inspired aesthetic, sage scents dancing through the air, and crystals eloquently placed throughout the bar.

Honey Elixir’s carefully crafted collection of unique and obscure beverages are, “intended to elevate and enhance the human experience.” That’s a lofty goal for a cocktail, but the beverages I had really did challenge my palate in a good way. I ordered the RiNo Shrub, made with Blanco tequila, ancho cherry shrub, lime, clover honey, and black lava sea salt. The eccentric mix of flavors was confusing and intensely satisfying at the same time.

If you want to skip the booze, order one of Honey Elixier’s non-alcoholic “Potions.” These elixirs are intentionally crafted with “energetic and vibrational” ingredients like flowers and crystals to evoke deeper thoughts and feelings. Not sure if there’s anything to it, because I was already buzzed by the time I tried one of these.

Learn more and browse the full Honey Elixir cocktail and potion menu here.

Sports Column

Best Denver Bars
Sports Column

This is the sports bar I got dragged into to watch the first round of the NFL Playoffs. Fortunately, Sports Column turned out to be a really cool spot, and anyone who wants to catch a game while in town will enjoy their time here. The main area is filled with all the flat-screen TVs, athletic memorabilia, and casual atmosphere you’d expect from a classic sports bar. What makes it stand out is the indoor basketball hoop, the rooftop seating area (a great photo-op spot during sunset), and the live DJ that plays during commercial breaks.

The food and drink menu doesn’t disappoint either, especially if you’re in the mood for some greasy comfort food. Between the loaded tots, wings, burgers, and fried pickles, you’re sure to find something deliciously unhealthy to snack on during the game. You’ll also find a decent selection of draft beers and classic cocktails on the menu. Plus, Sports Column has special happy hour deals during football games.

To browse the full Sports Column menu, click here.

Ratio Beerworks

Beer lovers definitely need to make a stop at Ratio Beerwoks during their stay in Denver. It’s a local microbrewery with a state-of-the-art 20 barrel system. You can get a taste of the Ratio Beerworks brew in the property’s main taproom, which welcomes a crowd of punk and indie enthusiasts, as well as anyone who just appreciates great beer. No matter your style preference, it’s a great casual gathering place to drink a few beers with friends.

On occasion, the taproom features live music by local Denver bands, so you might also get a taste of the city’s music scene while you sip your cold one. If you plan to hit up Barcelona Wine Bar for dinner, Ratio Beerworks is a great post-dinner hangout spot, as they’re right next door to each other.

Learn more about Ratio Beerworks here.

Larimer Lounge

For a late night of live music, classic dive bar vibes, and partying, you’ll want to check out Larimer Lounge. The 1890s cocktail lounge, music venue, and outdoor patio space is in the heart of Denver’s RiNo District (River North Art District), which is known for its happening bar scene. Larimer Lounge mostly puts on punk rock and alternative shows, which are always packed to the brim on weekends.

If you find yourself in town during a concert, you’re sure to be in for a fun time. Aside from the live music, you can also check out Larimer Lounge for daytime drinks, happy hour deals, and chilling out on the outdoor patio.

Check out Larimer Lounge’s event calendar here.

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