Signature Dishes Across Colorado Restaurants

From lobster macaroni and cheese at Denver’s Mizuna to salted-caramel tarts at Boulder's Mouse's Chocolates, there’s no shortage of delicious signature eats in Colorado. Here are a few sure to get your mouth watering.

plate of dessert at salt bistro in boulder
Dessert at Salt Bistro in Boulder, CO
The yurt at Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Nordic Center near Leadville, CO
Two colorful slices of the Granny's Pesto Pizza at The Hot Tomato in Fruita on a paper plate.
Granny's Pesto Pizza at Fruita's The Hot Tomato
Queso fundido at Tamayo in Denver, CO
626 On Rood's buffalo tenderloin, Grand Junction, CO
Making toffee at Mouse's Chocolates in Ouray, CO
Lobster mac and cheese from Denver's Mizuna
Broiled Black Cod at Matsuhisa Aspen
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1. Matsuhisa in Aspen

With its world-class ski runs, plush resorts and upscale cultural events, it’s no wonder that Aspen is well known as a luxury destination. After a long day of hiking incredibly scenic trails or riding down powder-covered slopes, you’ll want to venture downtown for another indulgent experience: dinner at Matsuhisa.

Created by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, this eponymous restaurant features an exotic menu of Japanese, Peruvian and Argentine ingredients, fused together for a truly innovative dining experience. Past indulgences have included melt-in-your-mouth sashimi, colorful ceviche, marbled washugyu beef and Asian-inspired cocktails, all prepared with artful flair. Despite the lineup of extravagant dishes, Matsuhisa’s pièce de résistance is something surprisingly unassuming: the broiled black cod with miso.

Before it’s cooked, the black cod is marinated for several days in a mixture of mirin (sweet rice wine), sake, white miso paste and sugar, which results in a sweet and savory flavor, as well as a delicate layer of char and glaze. It’s garnished simply: with a banana leaf, a few dots of miso sauce and a shoot of pickled hajikami, a Japanese ginger plant with hot-pink ends.

No knife is needed to enjoy this dish; the succulent, white meat flakes off with the glide of a fork, making it easy to enjoy and to share — if you don’t eat it all first, of course.

2. SALT in Boulder

Nearly any review you read about SALT in Boulder will tell you to try the dark chocolate caramel salt tart. It’s no wonder — the already-decadent confection is served alongside a dollop of coffee ice cream infused with crackly cocoa bits, and any one who tastes it is likely to be up late writing about it.

The tart itself starts from the bottom up with a soft crust, a thick layer of gooey caramel, a dark-chocolate coating and a dusting of sea salt.

Hungry for more? The restaurant’s menu is built around fresh ingredients that are grown as close to its Pearl Street Mall location as possible. SALT’s farm-to-table principle, which is shared by a growing number of stellar restaurants in the area, is no doubt one of the reasons Boulder has been honored with accolades such as being named the foodiest town in the U.S. by Bon Appetit.

3. Mizuna in Denver

Any gourmand can tell you that Denver has its fair share of splurge-worthy restaurants, but for a raved-about locals’ favorite (and a truly unforgettable meal), make your way to the Governor’s Park neighborhood. This bustling enclave of small bars, quaint restaurants and historic landmarks is home to Mizuna, a dinner-only spot where you’ll find chef Frank Bonanno’s decadent version of mac ‘n’ cheese.

With one bite, it’s easy to see why this indulgent dish was once a "Food Network Challenge" winner. It features enriched elbow macaroni and tender chunks of poached lobster, swathed in rich, creamy beurre blanc (white-wine butter sauce) and soft mascarpone cheese. 

It’s then topped with delicate tendrils of parsley-like chervil and finished with a brilliant, red-orange swirl of paprika-infused lobster oil. Balance out the richness of this dish by pairing a selection of crisp white wine from the extensive list.

After dinner, meander over to nearby Governor’s Park, where you’ll find two sprawling, historic estates: the Neoclassical Grant-Humphreys Mansion (Eighth Avenue and Pennsylvania Street) and the Georgian Revival Boettcher Mansion (the Colorado Governor's residence at Eighth Avenue and Logan Street). Both built in the early 1900s, they offer a peek into Denver's early high society.

4. Tamayo in Denver

Don’t expect the queso fundido at Tamayo in Denver to mimic the Super Bowl party staple of melted Velveeta. Queso fundido at Tamayo is a three-cheese fusion meant to be stuffed into homemade flour tortillas for a mini enchilada sent from the cheese heavens.

Served molten hot in an iron skillet, Tamayo’s queso fundido is a party of three cheeses — queso, Oaxaca and Chihuahua — with optional, but highly recommended chorizo sprinkles and topped off with chile morita salsa.

When in a Mexican restaurant, a margarita must be ordered, right? Tamayo’s prickly pear margarita, the perfect pairing for the savory queso, features house-infused cactus-fruit tequila, hand-squeezed lime juice and Grand Marnier.

5. The Hot Tomato in Fruita

Colorado’s Western Slope is a sacred playground for mountain bikers. When the sun sets and it’s time to replenish and trade tales of the trails, they head to The Hot Tomato in Fruita for several slices of Granny’s Pesto Pizza.

This level of demand ensures the pizza spot always keeps the pie in the rotation. Zesty basil and garlic, tangy parmesan, fresh mozzarella, roma or heirloom tomatoes, crumbly feta cheese and handmade crust dusted with secret spices combine to create the object of pizza-hounds’ dreams. When in season, the Hot Tomato folks strive to source their ingredients from local farms, including basil and organic tomatoes.

Once the pesto pilgrimage has been completed, diners can focus on choosing from a sweet selection of local beers on tap, including hard-to-find, small-batch, experimental series when available.

6. 626 On Rood in Grand Junction

Foodies and wine lovers flock to western Colorado for its abundance of picturesque vineyards, family-owned orchards and annual food and wine festivals. Once it’s dinnertime, however, these culinary connoisseurs seek out a little Grand Junction gem called 626 On Rood, a modern-American restaurant featuring innovative dishes and nearly 40 wines by the glass.

Although the menu is packed with gourmet entrees like butter-poached lobster tails and grilled quail, you won’t want to miss the 6-ounce buffalo tenderloin medallion, a tender cut of meat immersed in a red wine-juniper-rosemary marinade. The medallion is covered with panko (flaky, Japanese-style bread crumbs) and pan-seared for a light, crispy crust. It’s served with roasted fingerling potatoes and finished with a shiitake red wine sauce.

For the perfect wine pairing, peruse the extensive wine list, which offers more than 70 bottles and nearly 40 by-the-glass options. Or you could opt for the Call Me A Cab wine flight, a sampling of three medium-bodied red wines with well-structured tannins and dark berry flavors — a great match for the buffalo tenderloin.

7. Mouse's Chocolates in Ouray

After basking in the visual delights of Ouray's charming box-canyon locale and soaking up the Swiss Alps-like atmosphere, you must visit Mouse’s Chocolates to give your taste buds a little lovin’ with their one-of-a-kind coffee toffee.

Mouse’s begins their coffee toffee (and all of their decadent confections) with simple, natural ingredients and Callebaut Belgian chocolate. This gives the signature sweets their smooth European texture, 100-percent cocoa butter and deep, complex flavor. For almost eight years, the chocolatiers at Mouse’s have crafted coffee toffee by mingling their in-house roasted espresso with butter and cane sugar for a unique concoction with a strong coffee kick.

To really get indulgent and ensure you'll exit the shop in a delicious choco-coma, order the Shameless to swirl. We don’t believe there’s any shame in slurping this mocha coffee topped with crushed toffee, caramel and whipped cream.

In addition to toffee and coffee creations, Mouse’s past confections have included truffles, caramel, fudge, almond bark, nut clusters and their exclusive scrap cookie — Mouse’s homemade cookie base infused with scrumptious scraps such as toffee bits and truffle pieces you would expect from a chocolate shop.

8. Tennessee Pass Cookhouse near Leadville

A trip suitable for all ages, adventurous diners meet at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center at the base of Ski Cooper near Leadville at 5:30pm and traverse a 1-mile groomed trail to a yurt on cross-country skis or snowshoes.

After warming up around the wood stove, guests head to candle-lit tables for your intimate, reserved, four-course dinner of classic Colorado cuisine. With a respectful nod to the area’s Wild West roots, past winter entrees have included elk tenderloin, rack of lamb, rainbow trout, roasted pheasant and vegetarian specials.

While the menu options cycle throughout the seasons, the elk rack is where it’s at: Tender, fall-off-the-bone, grilled elk is paired with hearty, roasted carrots and the cookhouse’s signature mashed potatoes. All entrees are served with a chef’s-whim appetizer, soup or salad, seasonal roasted vegetables and homemade fruit pie for dessert. Two lunch seatings are offered on weekends at noon and 1:30pm.

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