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Seattle vs. Denver: The Food Bowl

By Zagat Staff
January 29, 2014

While the bookies and sports writers are concerned with Peyton Manning's age and Richard Sherman's mouth, here at Zagat, we've got a more urgent Super Bowl-related thoughts on the mind: Which is the better food city? To try and settle the matter, we asked our Seattle (Leslie Kelly) and Denver (Ruth Tobias) contributors to make the case for their gustatory greatness of their respective hometowns. To judge the face-off: The national editors in Zagat's impartial NYC office. Read on for the results.

  • Top Rated Restaurants

    Denver

    Though there are only nine restaurants in the Denver-Boulder area with Zagat food scores of 28 and above, there are 20 restaurants that make the cut across the state. We've got celebrity chefs (Nobu Matsuhisa in Aspen and Vail), luxury destination dining (Beaver Creek's Splendido at the Chateau), but also hidden gems like Boulder izakaya Amu and Indian vegetarian specialist Masalaa in Aurora. Culinary diversity isn't a coastal privilege anymore.

    Seattle: 

    The city has a grand total of 18 restaurants with Zagat food scores of 28 and above. In terms of price, geography and cuisine, they are all over the map - from Downtown (Il Terrazzo Carmine and Shiro's) to Capitol Hill (Spinasse); from splurge-only spots (Canlis) to Tat's Deli and Paseo, wildly popular sandwich shops where the tab is typically under $20. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that diversity is a reflection of the joyful of the 12th Man spirit currently raging at a fever pitch across the city. 

    The Verdict: Based on the stats, it's clear: The Seahawks win this one - and beat the spread. 

  • Signature Dish

    Denver: From lamb, bison and beef to Olathe corn, Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford melons, Colorado’s ranching and farming history has yielded a cornucopia of homegrown treasures. But if there’s one thing we can’t get enough of morning, noon and night, season in and season out, it’s green chile. Be it thin or thick, with pork or without, ladled over burritos or showcased in a bowl, its variations are endless and its addictiveness incurable. 
    Where to Try: There’s not a street in Denver where you won’t find it, but El Taco de Mexico remains our go-to for green chile at its most simple and pure. 

    Seattle: While Denver might be famous for its Rocky Mountain Oysters, we’ve got the real deal in the Northwest - some of the best, or maybe the best, bivalves in the world.  Pacific oysters grown plump around the Puget Sound are smaller, sweeter and more delicate than their East Coast cousins.
    Where to Try: For raw oysters on the half-shell, try
     Elliott’s Oyster House - where dozens of variations from different producers are on display on ice near the entry -  Seatown Seabar, The Brooklyn and at Blueacre, which also serves an updated of a Rockefeller with wilted spinach and apple-smoked bacon.  

    The Verdict: Legendary food writer Calvin Trillin once wrote an entire essay about the joys of green chile, calling it a "bowful of dreams."  While we agree 100% with that statement - even the most soul-warming dish of chile-smothered enchiladas can't take away the fact that an oyster is one of nature's perfect foods. It is as good, if not better, raw, than cooked, and the shellfish's haunting, umami-packed flavor and has inspired not just magazine articles, but many, many books. Another win for the west coast. 

  • Photo by: Leslie Kelly

    Bizzare Bites

    Denver: Though Rocky Mountain oysters aren’t the ubiquitous Denver bar snack outsiders seem to wish or fear they were, it is true that Wynkoop Brewing Company released a stout made with roasted bull testicles last year. And if you simply must sample them for curiosity’s sake, the historic Buckhorn Exchange will fry you up a whole pile.
    Where to Try: The Buckhorn Exchange: 1000 Osage St., 303-534-9505;

    Seattle: Take a walk on the wild side with the giant clam called geoduck (pronounced "gooey-duck"). This suggestive looking bivalve (above) has a surprisingly mild flavor and a delicate crunch. They’re indigenous to the region, growing nowhere else on the planet, which means geoduck rarely show up on menus elsewhere. Little bit of geoduck trivia: The giant clam is the Evergreen State College mascot!
    Where to Try: The Capitol Hill outpost of Taylor Shellfish turns out an excellent geoduck sashimi. 

    The Verdict: Nothing beats gonads for pure ick factor. This one goes to Denver. 

  • Beer Scene

    Denver: Colorado and Washington often run neck and neck in rankings of states with the most craft breweries. But according to a recent article in local alt weekly Westword, Denver alone may be doubling its number of producers by the end of 2014, bringing the statewide total closer to 200 than 150. And let’s not forget that we’re home to the oldest and largest industry gathering in the country, the Great American Beer Festival, or that the national Brewers Association is headquartered in Boulder. Given all that, can we pick just one perfect pint? Not a chance - we could name dozens and dozens off the top of our heads.
    Where to Try: With 80-plus beers on tap, Falling Rock Tap House is the grandaddy of Denver beer bars. 

    Seattle: There are dozens of craft breweries - along with a growing number of artisian distilleries - that call Seattle home, but we’re going to give a huge high five to the peeps who helped get this movement started, Rose Anne and Charles Finkel from the Pike Brewing Company. The startup that launched decades ago is still on the top of the heap as far as depth of variety, and its Kilt Lifter - a Scotch-style ruby ale - is the perfect brew to sip while watching the Seahawks trounce the Broncos.
    Where to Try: The Pike has a vast, super fun pub at Pike Place Market. (When you go, be sure and visit the Beer Museum!)

    The Verdict: Like a strong offensive lineman, Colorado's beer scene just crushes the competition. 

  • Photo by: Chad Chisolm

    Local Chef Stars:

    Denver: Where to begin? We've got nationally-celebrated names like Alex Seidel (Fruition, the soon-to-open Mercantile Dining & Provision), Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (Frasca Food and Wine, Pizzeria Locale) and Bonanno Concepts’ Frank Bonanno in our midst. But Jennifer Jasinski (above), of  RiojaEuclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Bistro Vendôme and the upcoming Stoic & Genuine, had a banner year in 2013, making it to the final round of Top Chef Masters Season 5 while taking home the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. 

    Local Chef Stars: Our celebrity chefs shine on Top Chef Masters (Thierry Rautureau, aka Chef in the Hat, of LUC and Loulay) and have kicked tail on Iron Chef America (Maria Hines from Tilth, Agrodolce, Golden Beetle and Rachel Yang from Revel and Joule) and do the Pacific Northwest proud at the James Beard Foundation Awards. Past winners include 2011 Restaurateur of the Year Tom Douglas, as well as Jason Wilson of Crush and Miller’s Guild, Holly Smith from Cafe Juanita and the red hot Matthew Dillon who’s got a full plate guiding Sitka & Spruce, Bar Sajor, London Plane and the Corson Building. Fresh faces getting splashed on the cover of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs issue include Cormac Mahoney from Madison Park Conservatory and Blaine Weitzel from Willows Inn on Lummi Island.

    The Verdict: Not a particularly strong showing by either city in the star power department; but since most of Denver's folks aren't really known beyond their time zone, Seattle eeks out a win.

  • Photo by: Leslie Kelly

    Tailgaiting Tradition

    Denver: See: Hometown Beer. Add to the fact that Denver sees some 300 days of sunshine, and you can bet Sports Authority Field at Mile High is crawling with tailgaters right through the post-season. (But just in case you’re wondering: no, marijuana is not allowed on the premises.)

    Seattle: The 12th Man - the city’s fiercely loyal fans, whether they’re man, woman or child, go big on the pre-Funk, pulling RVs into the parking lots at Century Link Stadium - aka The Clink - and firing up the grill. The bars and restaurants around Pioneer Square overflow on Game Day, and raucous fans feast on everything from killer crab cakes at F.X. McRory’s to fat burgers at Elysian Fields.

    The Verdict: The amped-up crowds at Seattle's CenturyLink Stadium caused actual tremors -  plus the more urban location of the field makes for a wilder, more free-wheeling party. With that, Seattle wins. 

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