Taste the West: Denver
Killer dumplings, craft cocktails, and booze-filled ping pong—the Mile-High City’s foodie delights go way beyond the microbrew
There’s no shortage of great craft beer in this thirsty town, but the Great Divide Brewing Company’s big beers and—and casual taproom—top our list. The Yeti, a stout aged with cocoa nibs and oak, is one of the most recognizable (check out the yeti sign above the taps) but, if the rarely seen Peach Grand Cru is offered, order it immediately. A new, bigger brewery is in the works, tentatively slated to open in 2015 in Denver’s hopping River North neighborhood.
Established in 1893, the two-story Buckhorn Exchange is original Denver’s original steakhouse and the very first tavern in Colorado. Not much has changed over the last 120 years: Prime beef steaks are still the signature dish, though the Buckhorn also offers buffalo and other game, all served in a dining room filled with more than 500 pieces of taxidermy. The upstairs bar is the best place to nurse a glass of whiskey during performances by singing cowboys.
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Southeast Asian snacks + cocktails + ping-pong? Game on! Three of our favorite things come together at Uptown’s Ace. Come hungry for the bao buns, tiger wings, dumplings, and whole crisp snapper to wrap in scallion crêpes, all washed down with cocktails like the Girl with Green Eyes, made with St. Germain, lime, and Thai chile sugar. When your chopsticks need a rest, there’s a wicked game of ping-pong waiting for you at one of the 10 regulation-size tables.
The Washington Park bistro Bittersweet is in full bloom. Alongside the climbing roses and the hydrangeas, the restaurant now grows edible blossoms like society garlic, chives, and even Parisian micro marigolds (inspired by chef Olav Peterson’s recent European adventures). Peterson snips the flowers daily and works them into his menu. Tonight, they may add sweetness to a crunchy salad; tomorrow, a delicate finish to a dessert.
Trendy LoHi, located just west of downtown, was recently voted one of America’s “best hipster neighborhoods” by Forbes. But, on sunny days, Little Man Ice Cream becomes LoHi’s de facto town square, serving handmade ice cream, sorbet, and gelato to families, old-timers and, yes, the skinny-jean set, beneath the shop’s distinctive giant milk-jug edifice.
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ChoLon is named after a Chinese market in Saigon, and the pan-Asian influences are obvious all over the menu. From chili crab rolls with charred corn salad to wok-fried pork with Brussels sprouts and mint, plates both large and small showcase chef Lon Symensma's way with traditional Asian flavors and local Colorado ingredients. Diners flip for the spiced doughnuts served with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and condensed milk.
It’s got all the marks of a speakeasy: the ambiguous sign, an entrance through the back door of a pie shop, and that feeling that you’ve just stumbled into something top secret. But Green Russell is more like fine dining—for cocktails, with mixologists who are more like chefs (ask for the Bartender’s Choice for a surprise). And while it’s dark, moody, and denlike, the joint still manages to grow its own mint, lavender, and rosemary in a back room turned greenhouse. We recommend reservations—ordering drinks requires a seat, plus you don’t want to miss the American small plates.
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You don’t have to be a guest at the Brown Palace to indulge in its afternoon tea, which takes places in the magnificent lobby from noon to 4:00 each afternoon. Order the Royal Palace for the full experience, including your choice of tea, a champagne cocktail, scones with Devonshire cream, miniature cakes and pastries, sandwiches, and more. Service is impeccable, and a talented pianist tickles the ivory—tunes range from Etta James to Jeff Buckley—while you sip your tea. Reservations are recommended.
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Strip malls on South Federal Boulevard have incredible Mexican and Vietnamese food, but you might want to skip them to go to the crown jewel: the tiny, mind-blowing Lao Wang Noodle House, known for its pot stickers and soup dumplings (xiao long bao). Mouth-wateringly tender, the dumplings are filled with meat and broth and served by the ten in bamboo baskets.
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A foodie-meets-artist haven in the booming River North (RiNo) arts district, Crema Coffee House serves frothy cappuccinos, fresh juice, and quiche to local techies and other creatives. Outlet-free walls are a new feature, designed to prevent folks from camping out all day with laptops. We recommend ditching the computer entirely and, instead, popping in with a book or to or simply sit and sip while admiring Crema’s rotating artwork—and façade mural—from local and international artists.
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