The Denver Guide
LA may be filled with New Yorkers seeking better weather and quality of life, but for real progress in the area of work/life balance, you’ll want to book a trip to Denver. After all, how can anyone justify hanging around the office past five when there are three hundred days of sunshine and some of the country’s best skiing less than two hours away? In addition to the ski resorts, the front range is an easy drive from sight-seeing and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, fly fishing and rafting in Routt National Forest, and the sand dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Southern Colorado. The laid-back, active style and unmatched natural amenities have made Denver one of the country’s fastest growing cities for the past several years. On your way in from the airport, keep an eye out for all of the cranes looming above the city: In the past ten years, there’s been a complete transformation of the downtown area, a process that was bolstered by a redevelopment of the historic Union Station—now home to several new restaurants, a sleek bar, and a new hotel. Luckily, the food and culture in the Mile High City have more than kept up with the influx of newcomers—expect plenty of future updates to this guide, as great restaurants and hotels continue to open at an inhuman pace. And since nearby Boulder, a thirty-minute drive or bus-ride north, is a gateway to accessible hiking and home to a dynamic food scene of its own (note Frasca Food & Wine, which is often cited as the best restaurant in the state), we’ve included our favorite picks there, just for good measure.
Alfalfa’s1651 Broadway, Boulder | 720.420.8400
Boulder's original natural foods store has an extensive selection of organic produce, premium versions of just about every item you can think of, a great selection of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly products, plus a slew of gluten-free products (including a whole case dedicated to gluten-free pastry). Locals and out-of-towners alike come for the shop's deli and sushi stand at lunchtime; and their wine shop is a must-stop (they offer happy-hour tastings, 5pm to 7pm, on Tuesdays and Fridays).
American Cultures3233 Tejon St., The Highlands | 720.402.8394
Like many great specialty spots, American Cultures started as a food truck before landing in a permanent brick and mortar spot, which is on the first floor of a residential building in The Highlands neighborhood. The kombucha taproom serves an impressive array of flavors, and then there's the crowning kombucha float—topped with organic frozen yogurt (only in Denver...). You can also come here for a quick breakfast and cold brew.
Amethyst Coffee1111 Broadway St., Downtown
This dreamy Denver coffee shop was opened by barista, Elle Taylor—her dad's birthstone is amethyst, which is not coincidentally an apt name for the brightly lit, chicly decorated space. The coffee game here focuses on mainstay local roasts (i.e Commonwealth Coffee), as well as a rotating line-up of specialty options. Photos: Paula Klimas, shop photographer
Bellwether5126 E. Colfax Ave., Park Hill | 720.398.9251
This cooly masculine café is a hipster-esque mash-up of concepts done really well: It's part coffee house and minimalist whiskey bar, part retail space—and, in the back, a members-only event-space (you can join the club for just $10 a month) that doubles as a work station for local freelancers and entrepreneurs. Also available to members Tuesday through Saturday: the Bellwether barbershop.
Biju’s Little Curry Shop1441 26th St., RiNo | 303.292.3500
This fast-casual joint serves South Indian food, a bit different from what you'd see at typical Indian restaurant—in the place of chana masala, saag paneer, and naan, you'll find light, often spicy, and frequently vegan curries served over steamed rice. Regulars love the place because it's the kind of easy lunch spot that's never a gut bomb—and for good reason. Before starting the line of restaurants, chef/owner Biju Thomas spent most of his career in the cycling world, as a cyclist himself, and then as a chef for Team RadioShack during Lance Armstrong's eighth and final Tour de France bid. After that, he and Allen Lim, the team's director of sports science, went on to found Skratch Labs (a sports nutrition company) and write the FeedZone cookbooks, which were famous for fueling cyclists and long-distance runners with organic, ingredient-packed rice patties rather than chemical-laden gus. Considering his existing reputation, it's no surprise that business is booming—there are already second locations on Tennyson and in the Boulder Whole Foods, with more on the docket for the upcoming year.
Black Eye Coffee800 Sherman St., Capitol Hill | 303.955.1205
This cute little coffee shop first opened on Navajo in the center of a residential neighborhood, offering table space for workers, a small-but-perfect menu of snacks like yogurt and granola or pastries, and tons of natural light streaming in through wide windows in the front. They recently opened a second location in Capitol Hill with a totally different identity, swapping their rustic hipster aesthetic for a more contemporary feel, and staying open into the evenings to serve small bites and alcohol. The one thing that's consistent: Perfectly roasted Boxcar espresso in the hands of expert baristas.
Boulder County Farmers’ Market13th St. between Canyon & Arapahoe, Boulder
It will surprise nobody that Boulder's farmers' market is excellent—and the real-life experience completely delivers on what you'd imagine, as you'll find everyone from yuppie moms serving gluten-free granola to hippies selling vegetables to an old-school beekeeper who's been selling honey sticks to generations of Boulder kids. In the fall, you'll also find gorgeous peaches from Western Colorado. For travelers who aren't interested in a full haul of produce, check out the prepared foods area, where there's live music on Saturday mornings, and a beer garden on Wednesdays (the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is right here, too, for a cultural diversion). Favorite vendors include The Orange Tent (order the eggs benedict over rice and the iced chai), Amazing Corn Tamales, and Tres Pupusas.
Crema2862 Larimer St., RiNo | 720.284.9648
This hipster coffee shop was an early comer to RiNo, and it's still a reliable neighborhood caffeine-pump all week long—you'll always find people typing away on laptops, or local artists and business owners getting together for meetings (particularly in the summer, when you can sit on a lovely outdoor patio). They're known for great coffee, but it's a mistake to skip the food here, particularly the brunch—we love the sweet potato waffles, the pork belly banh mi sandwich, and the everything cookie, which is packed with Oreos and pretzels.
Cured1825 Pearl St., Boulder | 720.389.8096
Will and Coral Frischkorn's adorable little shop on the east end of Pearl Street is a one-stop-shop for picnicking, with a gorgeous selection of imported cheeses, cured meats, prepared snacks, and some really amazing hand-picked wine selections. If you're too lazy to do the shopping yourself, Will and Coral will happily put together a basket for you (they also do great catering for small parties—ask about the perfectly crispy roasted chicken). Chautauqua, Red Rocks, and Flagstaff all make great destinations once you've got your foodstuffs in hand.
Huckleberry4301 Pecos St., RiNo
This local coffee roaster began without a brick and mortar shop open to the public, but soon expanded into this flagship space thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign. True to their creed, you’ll find some seriously good coffee inside, as well as a comfortable, bright space with colorful accents and outdoor seating. If you’re interested, you can also sign up to take one of their coffee workshops, which are designed to teach everything from brew methods and extraction basics to milk steaming to sensory evaluation.
Little Man Ice Cream2620 16th St., LoHi | 303.455.3811
It's nearly impossible to miss Little Man, not only because of the line that snakes around the block, but because it's housed in a two-story silver milk carton. The mix of flavors here is delightfully all over the board, with nostalgia-inducing fluffernutter and whopper malt alongside strawberry balsamic and Earl Grey—though, in our not-so-unbiased opinion, you're doing it wrong if you don't get the famous salted Oreo. Regulars know that when the lines get unbearably long in the summer, you can fast-track by ordering from one of two small stands that they set up on the sidewalk, which offer a smaller selection of flavors (almost always including salted Oreo).
Marczyk’s Fine Foods770 E. 17th Ave., Uptown | 303.894.9499
Pete Marczyk is something of a hero to Denver foodies. His tiny, long-standing, homegrown grocery store stocks locally grown produce, imports the very best cheeses (plus a selection of great local options), and bakes their own breads, but Marczyk is probably best known for being one of the area's finest butchers, as he does everything in-house and flies in gorgeous cuts of fish. The deli section has excellent sandwiches and delicious pre-made foods, and on weeknights in the summer (check the calendar) they grill hamburgers on the sidewalk outside. There's a second location up the street, too.
Masterpiece Deli1575 Central St., LoHi | 303.561.3358
Hands down, Masterpiece Deli makes the best sandwiches in Denver, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, you'll find lines out the door for the many hangover-curing items on their menu. The guys here (the same people who are behind Old Major, just up the street) care deeply about sourcing, finding the very best cured meats and cheeses, many of them imported. While the breakfast sandwiches (you can pick from a bunch of different meats) are a universal favorite, we also love the Italian, the Cubano, the smoked turkey and brie, and—so heavy but so absolutely, definitively worth it—the 12-hour braised beef brisket. The original's in LoHi, but they also have a location in Uptown.
Sweet Action Ice Cream52 Broadway, South Broadway | 303.282.4645
This quirky spot on South Broadway makes their own ice cream on site (using local Colorado dairy, no less), and they're known for great, quirky flavors like Stranahan's whiskey brickle, Vietnamese coffee, and champagne and strawberries. They've been on South Broadway for years, and though they don't have another location, you can find their ice cream in many of the smaller groceries around town. Their vegan ice cream is excellent, also.
The Source3350 Brighton Blvd., RiNo | 720.443.1135
Culinarily—and culturally—speaking, The Source is probably one of the most important developments Denver's seen in the past few years. Occupying a spacious former brick foundry, it's packed with some of the best restaurants and food vendors in town, and topped off with a few office spaces (Slow Food makes their Denver headquarters here), so depending on when you arrive, you'll see people going out for drinks or dinner, doing their daily shopping, or heading to work. Right when you walk in, you'll find Comida, a Mexican spot with a great happy hour and tacos, and Acorn, the Denver restaurant from Oak owner/chef Steven Redzikowski that's easily one of Denver's top fine dining establishments. There, ask for a seat in the mezzanine, which has beautiful views of the mountains during the day. People drive from across town for the baguettes and ciabatta at Babette's bakery, and you can see cuts of meat hanging through the plexiglass from her next-door neighbor, Western Daughters Butcher. Across the way, there's a small-but-mighty art gallery, Svper Ordinary, and Mondo Market, where you can pick up spices, oils, vinegars, and other pantry items. Meanwhile, in the back, Crooked Stave Brewery pours drafts of their unique sour Belgian beers. Other notables include Boxcar coffee roasters in the center of the space, Beet & Yarrow (for stunning flower arrangements), and Proper Pour (for locally made wine and spirits).
Wooden Spoon2418 W. 32nd Ave., Highlands
Everything in this family-run, neighborhood LoHi café is amazing, from their breakfast pastries (prepared fresh on-site each morning, they typically sell out quickly) to their coffee, to their flour-less apricot oatmeal bars. Their egg sandwich, served on toasted brioche—which you can customize with add-ons like bacon, Swiss, or arugula—gets a special shout-out. The space itself is as charming as you would expect, and the absence of WiFi fosters a community vibe you didn’t realize you were craving.