Feature

The 5 Most Overrated Denver Food Icons

By Ruth Tobias
August 11, 2014

Over the past couple of years, Colorado cuisine and the Denver dining scene in particular have finally been getting the spotlight they deserve on the national stage. But do all of our local traditions and trends stand up to the increased scrutiny? Here are a few food icons we cherish at their best — and abhor at their worst.

  • Breakfast Burritos

    Why It's an Icon: There may be no better showcase for Colorado green chile than our beloved breakfast burrito, stuffed with some combination of eggs, beans, rice, potatoes, cheese and/or pork. When it's done right — as at Mexican-food institutions like El Taco de Mexico (pictured), Santiago’s and The Original Chubby’s — it warrants all the adulation it receives. 
    Why It's Overrated: But as often as not, you’ll receive a muddy mess of overcooked eggs or tasteless beans, stale spuds or gristly chorizo and, worst of all, acrid or gloppy green chile. There’s simply no worse way to start your day than with a bad burrito.

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Charcuterie

    Why It’s an Icon: Combine Colorado’s ranch-land riches with Denver’s DIY dynamism, and you’ve got yourself a mecca for cured meats. For carnivores, places like Luca d’Italia, Old Major (pictured), Argyll Whisky BeerColt & Gray and its downstairs lounge Ste. Ellie are shrines to sausage, salumi, pâté and all the housemade accoutrements they entail.
    Why It’s Overrated: Far too many restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon with “charcuterie” plates that amount to little more than supermarket cold cuts. If we wanted flaccid, chemical-laden ham and pepperoni, we’d hit up King Soopers ourselves. Guess what: we don't. 

  • Local Farm-to-Table Fare

    Why It’s an Icon: When the locavore movement got underway a decade ago, Coloradans were all over it. (We do have a pristine-green reputation to uphold, after all.) Today, we’re blessed with a number of visionaries who’ve built careers — empires, even — on a commitment to sustainable practices. See: Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk of The Kitchen, Daniel Asher of Root Down and Linger, Alex Seidel of Fruition (and the upcoming Mercantile Dining & Provision) and Eric Skokan of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare, to name a few.
    Why It’s Overrated: Beast + bottle’s Paul Reilly once noted that Colorado's notoriously short growing season makes all-local sourcing nearly impossible. Chefs like him, who uphold farm-to-table ideals while remaining transparent about their practical limitations, are the good guys. But as Ellen Daehnick of Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels points out, “Almost none of this is monitored or measured.” What’s more, she adds, “Just because something really is local or small batch doesn't mean it's better. There are plenty of lousy local and small-batch products.” In short, while the farm-to-table lifestyle is an admirable goal, achieving it isn't so easy.

  • Photo by: Flickr via wallyg

    Rocky Mountain Oysters

    Why They’re an Icon: If we had a dollar for every time an out-of-state visitor asked us where to find deep-fried bull-calf testicles, we’d be rich beyond our dreams. And we don't necessarily resent the assumption that tendergroins consitute a regular part of our diet — there's something flattering, after all, about being associated with such a daredevilish dish.
    Why They’re Overrated: For better or worse, we’ve yet to try a Rocky Mountain Oyster that tastes like much of anything under all the breading. If it weren't for the chance to brag that you’ve tried them, you might as well be eating chicken nuggets. Chefs, consider this a challenge to prove us wrong. 

  • Sour Beers

    Why They’re an Icon: Denver’s not called the Napa Valley of beer for nothing. Like their California-winemaking counterparts, the hundreds of breweries that dot the Front Range are pioneers of their craft, and many were early adopters of the trend toward bracing, juicy sours. Take Odell with its wonderful cherry-raspberry FriekNew Belgium’s famed La Folie and of course the many experiments of Crooked Stave.
    Why They’re Overrated: After trying our share of examples that merely tasted like weird, bad wine, we turned to an expert, beer writer turned Chain Reaction Brewing Company co-founder Zack Christofferson, for insight. As he observes, “It takes a special brewer to know that a sour beer isn’t just adding bacteria; it’s understanding how the beer will react with it. Crooked Stave’s Chad Yakobson is a genius, but I’ve been to other breweries where I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, it makes my mouth pucker, but you kind of missed the boat on complexity.’” Meanwhile, Cafe Society editor Mark Antonation recently tasted a sour brown ale he could describe to us only as “oak water.” Says Christofferson, “We just need to focus first on what good beer is.”

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Places Mentioned

El Taco De Mexico

Mexican • Art District on Santa Fe

Food22 Decor7 Service16 Cost$15
 
 
 
Old Major

LoHi

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Argyll Whisky Beer, A Gastropub

Gastropub • Uptown

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Colt & Gray

American • LoHi

Food25 Decor24 Service23 Cost$48
 
 
 
Ste. Ellie

Bar • LoHi

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Luca

Italian • Capitol Hill

Food28 Decor23 Service27 Cost$54
 
 
 
Kitchen Denver

American • LoDo

Food26 Decor23 Service25 Cost$39
 
 
 
The Kitchen

Boulder

Food26 Decor23 Service25 Cost$39
 
 
 
Food26 Decor23 Service25 Cost$39
 
 
 
Root Down

LoHi

Food27 Decor25 Service24 Cost$36
 
 
 
Linger

LoHi

Food26 Decor27 Service24 Cost$35
 
 
 
Fruition Restaurant

New American • Country Club

Food28 Decor23 Service26 Cost$56
 
 
 
Black Cat

Organic • Boulder

Food27 Decor23 Service26 Cost$56
 
 
 
Bramble & Hare

Pub • Boulder

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Crooked Stave

Bar • River North Art District

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
 
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