Earlier this year one of my best friends from childhood moved from Brooklyn to Denver, Colorado with her husband and their then 7-month old son. We’ve missed them terribly but know they’re enjoying a more laid back lifestyle with views of the Rocky Mountains.
This fall we had the chance to visit Denver so we could see their new lives, including their now 1-year old who was, as if out of nowhere, on the verge of walking and talking, and explore the Mile-High City for our first time.
In just a few short days we ate and drank a bunch (shocker!); here are some of the spots we really enjoyed.
Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen
As soon as we landed in Denver we were on the lookout for lunch and coffee and ended up at Stowaway, not far from our friends’ place. We walked through a front patio to make our way inside, where you can order coffee and pastries to go at the front counter. Beyond that is ample seating in a minimally decorated but cozy space with lots of plants. Our first impression of the staff was “they’re so friendly!”, and then we felt bad that we rarely exclaim such sentiments back home in New York. The food cheered us right back up.
Stowaway’s food menu consists of pastries baked fresh daily, breakfast items that include house-made granola and creative egg dishes with lots of veggies, and sandwiches served after 10AM. We shared two sandwiches that were both on point. The first was the “Kara-age Chicken Sando” which was made with perfectly Japanese fried chicken, Jojo's Sriracha mayo and a carrot and ginger slaw on a brioche for $10. The other was their “Prosciutto + Caramelized Fennel Sandwich” with arugula, granny smith apple and goat cheese on a fluffy and light ciabatta for $11. We had the options of 2 sides, so we got one of each — an arugula and chickpea salad and a beet and carrot slaw.
After our great lunch experience we came back to Stowaway the next day for breakfast. Again, we shared, since neither of us could decide on just one item. We had the “(Welcome to) Colorful Colorado” under the “bigs” menu section, which started with a salt and vinegar potato hash and was topped with Niman Ranch ham, pickled radishes, asparagus, spicy adobo sauce and 2 poached eggs for $13. We also had the “Pea + Feta Tartine”, which was a green pea and edamame mash on a couple slices of Grateful Bread country batard loaf topped with tzatziki feta, fresh mint and a poached egg for $9. Both were delicious and so pretty to look at.
Stowaway carries a rotating selection of local and other domestic roasters. We shared a pourover using beans roasted locally at Boxcar.
City, O’ City
Our friends took us to City, O’ City for brunch one day and not until we all sat down did we realize the menu is vegetarian. Unless you take a really close look at the menu you won’t be able to tell what you’re missing, because their options are filling, delicious and plentiful. We all started with some local draft beers while kids got to color with soy crayons. All dietary options were clearly marked and they’re transparent about not using a separate fryer for gluten free items. I ordered the chicken and waffles at $13, which is somehow vegan and gluten free, with chicken-fried cauliflower, bourbon maple syrup, chive creme fraîche and carrot bacon; it was delicious. Prem ordered the huevos rancheros at $11, which is gluten free with the option of vegan, served with refried beans, eggs, green chile (unique to Denver, we learned), queso fresco, cilantro, corn tortillas and quinoa.
On our own for lunch one day Prem and I took a long walk past several condo building construction sites to The Source, an indoor marketplace with a variety of vendors (more on this space later). We grabbed a table at one of the two restaurants with outdoor seating, Comida, which was perfect on a warm and sunny day. The canned and bottled beer selection are standard Mexican options, but they have a rotating tap list of local Colorado brews, so I tried an Avery Brewing pilsner. For food, we started with guacamole and chips, which were warm and generously salted, at $8. Prem ordered two griddled tacos at $4 each, a pork and a chicken, which I wish I had gotten; they are essentially tacos folded closed and slapped on the grill so everything is warm and gooey. I got a regular old taco, still delicious, with sweet potato puree under slow cooked pork shoulder. Prem had to rush to a table indoors to take a video meeting while I sat in the sun, sipping my beer, reading my book and finishing off the guacamole. #blessed.
A good amount of Denver’s demographic is made up by Hispanics, so it’s no surprise we ate at more than one Mexican restaurant and that both were awesome. On this night our friends got a babysitter so we went wild.
Just kidding, with or without kids we don’t party as hard as we used to!
At Los Chingones, in the RiNo neighborhood, we sat upstairs at high tables on the outdoor patio. We ordered margaritas and beers and started the eating off with a big plate of nachos at $12. Most of us get enchiladas at $9 a plate, and one friend got arroz con pollo at $12 a plate, which ended up being enough to feed us all. The soundtrack took us back to high school and really hit a high note when a bunch of separate tables started singing along to Backstreet Boys together.
On our last morning we went with a big group of friends to Postino for brunch. What a great place for groups, good food and cheap drinks! They have all day happy hour that includes $5 glasses of wine and $5 pitchers of (craft!) beer. Surprisingly we were able to walk in with our large group and not wait for a table.
Our table shared a plate of 4 varieties of bruschetta on gluten free bread, chosen from their selection of about a dozen, for $14.75. We then all ordered a mix of breakfast and lunch dishes including paninis, soups and scrambled eggs.
Boxcar Coffee Roasters
Little Owl is located at the street level on Blake street, at Sugar Cube, a luxury apartment building, in Denver’s Lower Downtown, the oldest and original settlement of Denver. The small space inside is attached to the building’s lobby, which shares a bathroom with the coffee shop. The sidewalk patio sees great use in this sunny city.
They serve coffee using a rotating selection of locally-roasted beans. We had a well-made cortado during our evening stroll through the neighborhood and returned another time for a cappuccino.
Originally occupied by Huckleberry Roasters, the owners of the roastery rebranded the space to also serve food. Located in Denver’s River North (RiNo) arts district, Port Side is located on Larimer street in a complex built using shipping containers, blending in with the neighborhood’s industrial aesthetic.
Port Side continues to serve coffee from Huckleberry Roasters, of course. We had a well-made iced coffee and an espresso on a warm Denver evening.
Crema Coffee House
Located in Curtis Park, adjacent to RiNo, Crema boasts a huge space with several tables and free wifi, making this prime territory for laptop dwellers. Crema also has a smaller outpost, Crema Bodega, within Denver Central Market.
Black Eye Coffee Shop
Black Eye Coffee has locations in Lower Highlands (LoHi) and Capitol Hill. We visited the relaxed LoHi location a couple times during our visit, when we enjoyed espressos made using beans roasted for their two locations by their roasting operations. Prem was impressed with the barista’s professionalism; he pulled at least a couple of shots before he pulled one he deemed worthy.
Of all of Denver’s roasters, Huckleberry Roasters was the most familiar to Prem — he has had coffee using their beans at coffee shops in San Francisco, New York and Mexico City — so he was very excited to drink their coffee, at source.
Located at a quiet intersection in Sunnyside, Huckleberry Roasters’ flagship café has a clean, sparse design, with plenty of space inside and a large patio out. We enjoyed a well-made espresso one evening and an excellent pourover with a quiche another morning.
One of many Colorado brewers, Great Divide, which makes one of Prem’s go to IPAs, has a small bar inside and sidewalk seating outside. We didn’t venture beyond these two spaces, so it’s possible there’s more! With 3 ounce samples at only $1 each, flights are a great way to try a few different beers. The pizza from a food truck parked out front smelled amazing; we learned that there’s a schedule of a different truck every day, such a good idea!
After dinner at Los Chingones we went to Finn’s Manor, a self-described “cocktail bar and food truck pod”, for one last drink. At 10PM on a Saturday it was hopping and we maneuvered our way through the crowds and maze of rooms to order at the bar before grabbing seats at an outdoor table. With a handful of food trucks, it seems like a good place to meet friends for casual dinner and drinks.
The Source is a giant indoor market, with two restaurants (including Comida, above) that have outdoor seating, coffee, a bar, a meat and cheese shop, a bakery, and more along the perimeters, with communal seating taking up the middle. Aside from eating at Comida and drinking coffee at Boxcar, we picked up meats and cheeses at Mondo Market.
Denver Central Market
A fairly new addition to the happening RiNo neighborhood, Denver Central Market is a giant food hall in a building from 1928 with high ceilings, tall windows and a pretty tiled floor. Find meals, snacks and ingredients in the form of coffee, ice cream, chocolate, pizza, beer, cheese, bread, fish and more. If it’s a sunny day (which, in Denver, is likely) grab a sidewalk table.
If you’re wondering, we did partake of other edibles the Mile-High City has to offer. Quite a trip.
See all these places on our Denver map: