As much as we reject Denver’s long-outdated image as a cow town, let’s face it: We’ll never relinquish our burgers. And why should we, when we're surrounded by so many winners? Be it an alternative to beef, an unconventional bun or wild toppings, these 10 — all making their debut within the past year — bring something deliciously different to the table. That said, if it's a classic version you're looking for, check out Stanley Beer Hall, French 75, Hearth & Dram and Citizen Rail as the city's newest standard-bearers. And when it comes to daily specials, nobody can top Highland Tap & Burger and its Sloan's Lake sibling, where there's something new and outrageous to try pretty much every day.)
Wayward burger at Wayward
“It came together almost as a joke,” says chef Patrick Kelly of the lone sandwich on the otherwise elegant menu of this brand-new date-night destination — whose owners, after all, have already got comfort food covered at American Grind. “But it’s a banging burger.” The patty alone is special for two reasons. First, Kelly intends to vary the grass-fed beef cuts he uses from Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, taking them from “all over the cow” to yield subtle changes in flavor; second, the grind also contains some lamb for a touch of mouthwatering funk. Aïoli, housemade giardiniera and locally grown lettuce and tomato (when possible) add bright and tangy notes atop a wonderfully chewy ciabatta roll from Rolling Pin Bakeshop. In short, it's definitely no joke.
1610 Little Raven St.; 720-449-8300
Veggie Burg at American Grind
Speaking of American Grind, we're always on the hunt for a good veggie burger, and this stall at Avanti Food and Beverage is home to a current champ. Set on a classic sesame-seed bun also from Rolling Pin, the vegan patty's so punchy with roots and legumes — chickpeas, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots — it hardly needs the housemade ketchup and mustard, though they don't hurt either. And neither does the price.
3200 Pecos St.; 720-269-4778
Elk burger at 5280 Burger Bar
This just-opened Westminster burger joint is serving as something of a test kitchen for the Downtown flagship, which means there may be more to the menu at any given time than meets the eye. Killer case in point: chef Derek Baril’s elk burger, unlisted but available by request. Though the meat is undeniably gamy (an excellent thing in our book), it’s also surprisingly juicy and balanced by all sorts of toppings on a butter-toasted, house-baked bun: salty melted cheddar, crunchy onion strings, sharp sautéed jalapeños and creamy, cooling avocado spread. A glass of pink lemonade–blueberry sangria makes for a proper palate cleanser.
4301 Main St., Westminster; 303-825-1020
The Farm burger at Urban Farmer
This newcomer to the Oxford Hotel has its own butchery and dedicated pastry kitchen, and you can bet chef Chris Starkus makes use of both for this beauty. The grind’s about 30% grain- and corn-fed to 70% grass-fed beef to ensure the ideal fat content, enriched further by white cheddar and aïoli — but the pièce de résistance just may be the crisp-edged, house-baked English muffin that holds it together.
1659 Wazee St.; 303-262-6070
Beef cheek burger at Element Kitchen & Cocktail
Yeah, we get that loose meat on toast does not technically a burger make. But that’s what the acclaimed consulting chef for this hot new sports-bar upgrade, John Tesar, calls it, so who are we to argue — especially considering just how damn good it is? Mushroom aïoli enhances the umami of the intensely rich, tender, red wine–braised chunks of beef cheek; grilled whole wheat toast studded with seeds and nuts somehow supports it all. And the housemade potato chips win too.
1134 Broadway; 303-353-1172
Prime hamburger at Concourse Restaurant Moderne
An 80/20 mix of Niman Ranch prime cuts may make for a foolproof patty, but the truth is we’d eat just about anything if it were nestled in chef Luke Bergman's caramelized onion–tomato brioche and presented with a side of foie gras sauce. Bergman roasts the liver in a pan he deglazes with honey and sherry vinegar, then emulsifies and whips it for an airy texture, putting everyday condiments to shame. (Speaking of burger-related indulgences, here's another tip: Concourse sibling Kaya Kitchen is now slinging bacon-cheeseburger dumplings for your guilty pleasure.)
10195 E. 29th Drive; 720-550-6934
Pimiento & pickle burger at Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar
Why settle for plain old cheese and pickles on a burger when you can have pimiento cheese and fried pickles? That’s a question we never thought to ask until this big boy showed up. (You can always opt for collard greens cooked with pork belly rather than fries on the side if you want to pretend you're making a healthy choice here.)
1650 Wewatta St.; 720-274-0650
Wagyu bulgogi burger at Departure
If a burger isn't the first thing you'd think to order at Halcyon Cherry Creek's contemporary Asian den of swank, don't let that hold you back. This one's a Korean barbecue–inspired knockout, starring Wagyu beef smothered in zesty ssamjang with loads of browned onion and a fried egg to temper the spice but increase the mess (in a good way).
249 Columbine St.; 720-772-5020
QI burger at Quality Italian
As it turns out, there's another must-try at the Italian steakhouse right next door to Departure, distinguished by a blanket of gooey stracchino cheese and a garnish of kicky house-pickled peppers (not to mention steak fries on the side with aïoli for dipping). So maybe this calls for a bang-bang?
241 Columbine St.; 303-532-8888
50/50 burger at Next Door
We counted this one among our 20 things you should eat and drink this summer — but it’ll be every bit as good come autumn. The patty’s composed of equal parts beef and mushroom duxelles to deliver an earthy punch that's softened by creamy Swiss and sweet-and-sour balsamic onions; not only will you not miss the extra beef, you might be spoiled for future burgers devoid of delicious fungi.