Take our tour of the latest and greatest food and drink tastes across the state.
It’s a funny thing about food trends. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have a hankering for something until suddenly it’s popping up everywhere (think cupcake shops and food-truck tacos). Fortunately, Colorado’s culinary pioneers are ready to show us the way to our next big cravings.
Did you know Colorado is home to the current season of Bravo's "Top Chef"? Learn more >>
1. All Hail the Food Hall
So much to sample under one roof, so little time! Check out these food halls and markets where culinary craftspeople are bringing new flavor to the word “community” — and new tastes to your palate.
Renovate a cool, old building, fill it with shipping containers that are each fully equipped to operate as a mini restaurant, and you have Denver’s next great chef incubator. Order up some uncommonly good farm-fresh cuisine, noodle bowls, savory arepas, shawarma, pizza, tortas or tapas; then grab a local beer and enjoy at a seat in the common area.
Being sent to the principal’s office has never been more fun. That’s because it’s a craft cocktail and espresso bar, which joins a bakery, brewery, deli and several more foodie favorites inside the creatively repurposed Ivywild School, an elementary school that closed in 2009. Come for the food but also to attend movie showings in the gym and live music nights.
The Source, Denver
In Denver’s ever-evolving RiNo (River North) district, The Source is a gastronomic adventure inside a converted warehouse. Restaurants Acorn and Comida anchor the deliciousness, complemented by a bakery, butcher, brewery, wine shop, cocktail bar and coffee roaster — all helmed by true artisans and experts at their crafts.
Another community-minded urban-rehab project is underway at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. Inside the sprawling building (a former aviation plant) are a coffee and wine shop, cupcake stand, beer garden and restaurant by famed Denver chef Kevin Taylor.
Zeppelin Station, Denver
Gelato, poké, banh mi and more all reside under one roof in RiNo. With 100,000-square-feet of food hall space, Zeppelin Station near the 38th/Blake RTD station is a group-of-friends-going-to-dinner haven. Everyone can find something to snack on at one of the nine stalls in the hall. On a cold night have No Vacancy’s veggie ramen or take your laptop and get some work done with a matcha latte at Dandy Lion Coffee.
This historic farmland has been revitalized to incorporate the farm-to-table and farmers’ market movements in one artisan village. Walk under the twinkle lights, sit by a fire pit and enjoy your surroundings while you sip a barrel-aged beer. Pick up home supplies at Knapsack, check out Heyday, a playful retail shop and schedule a beard trim at Lucky 27. Or take a meal in the 130-year-old building, The Farmhouse; make sure to get the sweet-potato fries!
2. A Mindful Grind
Craft coffee might just be the logical next phase of Colorado’s brewing obsession. A new generation of meticulous, passionate coffee pros are taking things to unprecedented levels: personally sourcing beans, roasting them in house and devising new ways to brew the perfect cup.
Don’t get in line at Boxcar expecting a standard caramel mocha with whip. Perfection takes time, and Boxcar’s baristas are happy to answer your questions about why they use science-y looking beakers and burners to patiently produce the best-ever cups of coffee, one at a time.
Roasting their beans in small batches at high altitude (10,152 feet above sea level) rounds any bitter flavors off their coffee, say the folks at City on a Hill. Smooth, frothy lattes and cappuccinos are just the ticket for a crisp day strolling Leadville’s historic main street.
You gotta love stumbling upon a cozy, out-of-the-way coffee shop. And in this case the added bonus is that they roast their own beans to brew a seriously mean cup of joe and have a bookstore attached.
Buying coffee beans above fair-trade prices is indicative of how First Ascent approaches their coffee: Average just isn’t good enough. They even make their own organic nut milks and syrups to ensure every ingredient that goes into a drink is handcrafted.
3. Small Plates, Big Flavor
Tapas and small plates are making a big comeback as diners look for a casual, social sharing experience, without the commitment of entrée-sized meals. These local hot spots get the small-bite menu just right.
Four, Colorado Springs
This spot by Brother Luck, finalist on “Top Chef Colorado,” focuses on four themes near and dear to lovers of top-quality ingredients right from the source — those from hunters, fishers, farmers and gatherers. Each of the four sources have a delicious spot on the menu. Try the Ute Tribe blue cornbread, a bacon-jam burger, the shrimp potstickers or the chef’s cheese board to get a taste of them all.
With an acclaimed list of 80-some wines, what more perfect accompaniment could there be than snack-able, shareable savory bites? From chili-candied almonds to apricot and prosciutto scallops, this menu satisfies every craving along the way.
Django’s, Crested Butte
Work up an appetite on the slopes, then watch as plate after plate of delicious creations arrive from the geniuses working in Django’s kitchen. The Brussels sprouts and crispy arancini (risotto balls) are hits, but there’s always more to try, such as the polenta-dusted baby artichokes.
4. Beer Inspired
Colorado’s craft beer industry never sits still, staying right at the cutting edge of what’s new in brews. Here are a few trends to try.
Pucker up, my friend. Sour beers are brewed to allow wild yeast strains into each batch, making them intentionally tart and acidic, just as beers might have been in the days before modern brewing called for a sealed environment to prevent yeast strain crossovers. Among the breweries experimenting with sour beers are Crooked Stave, located in The Source in Denver, and Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs.
Though this trend took hold in Colorado long ago, more and more brewers are now looking to cans for their air-tightness, which prolongs beer’s freshness. Drinkers love the portability, perfect for a camping trip or hike. Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons and Longmont is often credited for advancing the canned-beer movement nationwide, and Bonfire Brewing in Eagle uses cans for the majority of their packaged beers.
The idea behind session beers is that lower-alcohol brews can be enjoyed for a longer period of time without the ill effects of over-indulging. They tend to be thirst quenchers that keep the good times rolling. Try Breckenridge Brewery’s Agave Wheat in Denver or Upslope Brewing Company’s Craft Lager in Boulder.
Beers are joining spirits in cocktail glasses across Colorado, providing a bit of fizz and a balance of flavor. The Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins, which has 100 beers on tap, serves a GPA, similar to a gin and tonic, but with IPA. Colt & Gray’s expert mixologists are always experimenting with beer cocktails in Denver; just ask to taste their recent inventions.
5. Pie, Please
Everything old is new again. Homemade pies have made a big return, perhaps because there’s hardly a more fundamental way to let fresh fruits and simple ingredients shine.
Mom’s Kitchen Café, Otis
This family-run roadside café in the one-stoplight farm town of Otis on Colorado’s northeast plains is the real deal. Everything is made from scratch, including the luscious pies. Plunge your fork into the coconut cream, lemon meringue or pecan.
The Humble Pie Store, Denver
Insisting on supreme freshness, Humble Pie’s inventive pie selection changes daily at their new location on Colfax in Denver. BuzzFeed included their chocolate, peanut butter and pretzel pie in their list “24 of the Most Delicious Pies In America.”
“You need pie!” shouts this bakery’s sign to passersby in downtown Estes Park. If you agree, step inside to be treated to a slice of fresh fruit or dreamy cream pie. Each fruit pie contains at least five cups of fresh fruit, with not a can in sight.
On Louisville’s booming Main Street, The Huckleberry is an old standby. Cozy oak booths and a glinting glass pie case right up front welcome you to settle in and try a few flavors. The restaurant is run by a family who owns a farm about 3 miles away, and you can bet freshness is paramount here.
Discover the 10 must-eat foods in the state.
Read about Colorado food and beer pairings.