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Iconic Denver Restaurants You Don’t Want To Miss

June 21, 2023 By CityPASS

Some people say that Denver's food scene is now blossoming, while others claim it's been flourishing all along. Regardless of your viewpoint, you can't deny that foodies flock to Denver to sample its local favorites and international taste sensations.

Read on for a look at the Mile-High City's dining record and the iconic Denver restaurants every food enthusiast should visit.

Denver's Culinary History

The region that became Denver was once home to Arapaho, Cheyenne, and other Native American nations. Denver's founding took shape in 1858 as a gold mining base, with settlers keeping up their strength with the four B's: beans, bread, bacon, and beer. As infrastructure took shape, so did the food offerings. The railroads came into the region a decade later, bringing milling, canning, dairy production, and ranching.

From its earliest decades, Denver was also home to transplanted New Mexicans. In sections of town like Auraria, where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte, green chiles became a staple for seasoning sauce. Chinese, Italian, Jewish, and other cuisines soon made their way here, infusing the best food in Denver with a mix of flavors.

Today, these diverse tastes give the region a refreshing food scene. While some foods like craft beer are only now making a comeback, others like steak and lamb have remained long-standing staples and popular menu options at cafes, food trucks, and famous restaurants in Denver.

5 Top-Rated Restaurants in Denver

The best restaurants in Denver keep you coming back for more. Locals and visitors can't get enough of the city's food scene, whether the delicious options come from a seasonal menu or part of a line of classic dishes. Even Denver's wine lists can turn an impressive menu into an out-of-this-world meal.

From special occasions to spontaneous romantic dining experiences, you'll want to make time for these iconic restaurants in Denver.

The Buckhorn Exchange: A Taste of Denver's History

Red-and-white checkered tablecloths, a white-oak bar from 1850s Germany, mounted taxidermy, and a 125-piece weapons collection: The Buckhorn Exchange, founded in 1893, is as much about the experience as the menu.

Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, The Buckhorn Exchange is the original eating spot for railroaders at the Rio Grand Railroad — once across the street. The eclectic dinner menu features everything from alligator tail, rattlesnake, and Rocky Mountain oysters (fried bull testicles) to elk, T-bone steak, and the iconic Gramma Fanny's pot roast.

Now on the National Register of Historic Places list, The Buckhorn Exchange has been a long-standing place of who's-who, with famous diners mingling with the locals.

Rioja: Where the Mediterranean Meets Denver

If you crave elegant dishes presented with warm mood lighting, you'll find Rioja the perfect Mediterranean escape. With luxurious upholstery and a tastefully pared-back atmosphere that retains its upscale vibe, Rioja brings guests a fine dining experience to remember.

The restaurant, which opened in 2004, is in LoDo's Larimer Square — a historic district full of downtown Denver restaurants and shops. Rioja is also one of the best date-night restaurants in Denver, where contented couples can stroll the Square and take in the area's many nightlife events.

Chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski's famed handmade pasta dishes are featured on the menu, along with delicious entrees like grilled octopus tonnato, pan-roasted Arctic char, and grilled Wagyu tri-tip with shiitake mushroom-pickled cabbage skewers. Rioja also offers a brunch, lunch, and dinner menu, with an extensive wine list that favors wines from Rioja, Spain.

The Cherry Cricket: Denver's Burger Institution

Burgers and beers are a quintessentially American combination, and they're on full display at The Cherry Cricket. First opened in 1945, this sports bar has earned a place as one of the iconic Denver restaurants for its relentless commitment to the best burgers in town. Offering 30+ burger toppings — including sauerkraut, green chile strips, and even peanut butter or strawberry jam — The Cherry Cricket lets you build your dream burger to savor while downing a cold craft beer.

You can also enjoy a variety of appetizers, sides, and entrée dishes at this local favorite. And don't forget to look up: The ceiling features a scaled-down hockey rink that complements the many sports sign plates adorning the walls.

Denver Biscuit Company: Home of the Mile-High Biscuit

To enjoy all things biscuits, head to the Denver Biscuit Company. Found along Denver's East Colfax, one of the longest commercial streets in the country, this restaurant features breakfast and lunch specials served on freshly made buttermilk biscuits.

The Denver Biscuit Company brings melt-in-the-mouth Southern biscuits to the Mile-High City, with dishes like the Elmer 2.0, with pork belly, house-made pickles, coleslaw, fried onions, and BBQ sauce, and the Shrimp + Grits, with pork belly, shrimp, and Logan Mill grits filling a biscuit bowl.

With seven locations opened since its flagship opening in 2009, the Denver Biscuit Company is one of the best new restaurants in Denver.

Guard and Grace: A Modern Steakhouse in Denver

An upscale ambiance mixes with curving floor-to-ceiling windows and the pulse of city life outside the door. At Guard and Grace, one of the best restaurants in downtown Denver, you'll find a mission to pair rich flavors with thoughtful presentations. Elegant restaurants like Guard and Grace focus on creating the perfect atmosphere, and the tasteful interior design reflects those goals.

In this 9,000-square-foot restaurant, the menu caters to the steakhouse experience with dishes like prime New York steak, Wagyu, and grass-fed steak. However, Guard and Grace's offerings extend to soups, salads, other entrées, and an expansive raw bar featuring scallop tartare, crisp tuna sushi, and Alaskan king crab.

Immerse Yourself in Denver's Food Culture

Iconic restaurants can be new or long-established. They can also represent some of the best gluten-free restaurants in Denver or the best brunch spots in the Mile-High City. Denver's food culture is long and storied, with many chefs and cultures infusing the region with delicious flavors and local craft beer. So the next time you're in Denver, dine at one of these popular restaurants as you mark another food scene off your list.

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