20 Things to Eat and Drink This Summer in Denver

Wine slushies, cotton candy cones, rooftop dim sum and all
May 29, 2017
by Ruth Tobias

Sure, April showers brought May showers, but with our stormy spring finally coming to an end, we’re all raring to take a bite out of summertime. From the frostiest treats to the hottest items around, these 20 dishes and drinks give you a taste of the season in the Mile High City.

Buffalo blowfish tails at Fish N Beer
Just because farmed fugu is nontoxic doesn’t mean this dish isn’t dangerous. A cross between two laid-back classics — the clam-shack basket and the wing platter — Aniedra Nichols’s crunchy, firm-fleshed, unapologetically funky blowfish tails coated in Buffalo sauce and cooled by blue cheese dressing prove highly addictive at first bite. (Fries and coleslaw are just a bonus hook.) 

3510 Larimer St.; 303-248-3497

A fountain drink at Poka Lola Social Club
Lactart, citrate and phosphate may sound like things that belong on a chemistry quiz rather than a drink list — but at this smoking hot new cocktail bar in LoDo’s Dairy Block, Sage Restaurant Group beverage director Brandon Wise incorporates them into soda fountain–inspired treats that take you back to a much happier part of childhood than science class ever was. The difference, of course, is that as an adult you get to enjoy them with booze, be it a Fernet-spiked chocolate egg cream or a rye–ginger ale float (pictured).

1850 Wazee St.; 720-460-2725

Cheesy Gordo Crunch at Señor Bear
While his dinner menu blends Latin American influences to sophisticated effect, chef Blake Edmunds is taking a cheekier approach to happy-hour eats at this LoHi sibling to Bar Dough — opening any day now — by drawing inspiration from fast-food staples. This salty, crunchy, just-greasy-enough homage to Taco Bell is an irresistible example right down to the charming description: After the two tortillas (one flour, one fried corn) are stuck together with three cheeses, they're “stuffed with mom’s taco meat and topped with a farmhouse sauce.” If only Señor Bear offered late-night drive-thru.

3301 Tejon St.

The Cherry Bomb Frosé and the Buttermilk Flip at Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar
From margaritas to Negronis, frozen drinks are shaping up to be the wink-wink bar trend of the summer, with pink-wine slushies leading the pack. Our favorite so far comes from Tupelo Honey's Michael Echeveste, who makes an invigoratingly tart, only slightly sweet version ​called the Cherry Bomb Frosé with maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and a drizzle of bourbon-infused cherry juice (pictured top). But if you're just not down with the whole sno-cone thing, we’re equally enamored by the frothy, lip-smacking Buttermilk Flip (above).

1650 Wewatta St.; 720-274-0650

Sushi burrito at Sushi Cup
We can’t logically defend the fusion fad that is the sushi burrito, but we can’t pretend we don’t get a kick out of it either, especially as presented at this new fast-casual nook in Capitol Hill. More like poke hand-rolls, these jumbo babies stand out for their wide variety of creative but not excessive fillings; right now we're digging the combination of purple rice and either crispy salmon with pineapple, fried onions and Sriracha mayo (pictured) or ahi tuna with more pineapple, Fuji apple, nori flakes and yuzu sauce.  

208 E. 7th Ave.; 303-832-8008

Salty Pomme at Stem Ciders
Made as a one-off to celebrate The Real Dill’s fifth anniversary, this extra-crisp blend of dry-hopped apple cider with the pickle producer’s fresh cucumber juice and sea salt has been such a surprise hit that head cider maker Ian Capps is bringing it into rotation as of June. Order a glass (or two), and you can do good while you drink well: Stem’s donating a portion of its Salty Pomme sales to the nonprofit farm Growhaus.

2811 Walnut St. #150; 720-443-3007

Corn crème brûlée at Quality Italian
Though this side dish is available year-round, it's especially apropos in the season that calls for corn the loudest. Imagine creamed kernels mixed with vanilla custard and a hint of the char from grilled cobs, and you’ve got the decadent, almost dessertlike idea.

241 Columbine St.; 303-532-8888

Tartare di pesce and the cola float at Spuntino
The frutti di mare antipasto changes daily at this intimate Italian gem in LoHi, so we can’t guarantee chef Cindhura Reddy’s pristine yet luscious fish tartare will be available at any given time. But when it does appear — once a week on average — snap it up, especially if it’s buttery steelhead belly. Bonus pick: Cap off your meal with the delightful labor of love that is the cola float, which Reddy’s husband-partner Elliot Strathmann says “highlights the parallel histories in cola and amaro development between the U.S. and Italy.” He’s happy to give you the “long, nerdy explanation,” but the short version is that it combines cola he makes with local herbs, Alpine amaro gelato and cherries macerated with — get this — four different amari, three different cherry liqueurs, bourbon and orange peel.

​2639 West 32nd Ave.; 303-433-0949

Matzo ball soup dumplings at El Five
Hefty as they may sound, these Jewish-Shanghainese mash-ups are actually quite light and delicate, with their proper thin skins, sips of chicken broth and gentle hints of lemon and dill. Truth be told, they count among the most sensational creations we’ve encountered in the whirlwind of spring openings — so get ’em at Justin Cucci's fab new tapas bar while they're hot hot hot.

2930 Umatilla St. Fifth Floor; 303-524-9193

Almond gin & tonic at Mizuna
Gin-and-tonics are a warm-weather no-brainer. Unless, that is, virtuoso barman Austin Carson is making them. Then a whole lot of intellect goes into the glass. In this case, Carson experimented with almonds in place of citrus — infusing gin with Marconas dissolved in acid for a week until, in his words, “the richness of the nuts came through without any oiliness,” complemented by “some saltiness on the palate” via saline solution. The captivating end product is one you too will be thinking about long after you’ve tasted it.

225 E. 7th Ave.; 303-832-4778

Fried mushrooms at Dio Mio Handmade Pasta
Nothing says summer like deep-fried foods — though we’ll take Spencer White and Alex Figura’s elegantly punchy twist on breaded mushrooms over your average state-fair novelty any day. You’re probably not supposed to pick up the blossoms of maitake tempura with your fingers and dunk them into the chicken-liver mousse as though they were chips and dip, but do it anyway for the sake of carefree indulgence, enhanced by a smattering of beech mushrooms pickled in soy sauce and sherry vinegar as well as a sprinkling of crumbled fried chicken skin.

3264 Larimer St.; 303-562-1965

Michelada pop at Lola Coastal Mexican
As if the adorable chile-citrus popsicle on top weren’t enough, this LoHi fixture’s spin on a cerveza preparada — a longtime brunch staple — now features Top Rope Mexican Lager from its sibling The POST Brewing Company

1575 Boulder St.; 720-570-8686

Dim sum at Departure Elevated
Now that Departure’s lounge on the rooftop of the Halcyon in Cherry Creek has taken off, we can’t imagine a sexier place to see and be seen — never mind to do dim sum. The selection from the rolling carts changes daily, but you can count on Gregory Gourdet’s stylish approach to standards like dumplings and buns as well as kushiyaki and other smart snacks, such as miso deviled eggs. Better still, you get to pair them all with splashy cocktails rather than tea.

249 Columbine St.; 720-772-5030

Truffletini at Jack's Uptown Grille
Let the martini purists balk. Involving nothing but shaken and stirred Woody Creek vodka, a cocktail onion and just enough truffle salt for aromatic intrigue, this drink's as cool in every sense of the word as it looks — just the thing to spend a chill afternoon sipping on the patio. So long as you pace yourself, that is — one goes a long way. 

1600 E. 17th Ave.; 303-399-0988

Tamales federales at Cochino Taco
On this mod Englewood taqueria’s recently launched brunch menu, exec chef Bryant Reyes’s twice-cooked tamales are the breakout star, tender and zesty as could be stuffed with asadero cheese, poblanos and onions, then topped with green chile and fried eggs. Their astonishing backstory renders them all the more memorable: Reyes makes them with crushed corn chips in honor of a recipe he picked up in federal prison, where Spam cans became cheese graters and razor blades chef’s knives. (As he remarks, “The skills I learned selling drugs are the same in the restaurant: grams add up. In the dope game you don’t want to throw away the crumbs.”) So he's tickled when diners, detecting something unusual about the dish, ask him about his masa — the secret ingredient is inspiring resourcefulness.

3495 S. Downing St., Englewood; 720-573-6174

50/50 burger at Next Door
A healthful burger may be a contradiction in terms, but this one comes close to reconciling it — and far from skimping on flavor, it just might surpass the average burger in its umami oomph. That’s because the patty’s a half-and-half mix of beef and crimini-mushroom duxelles, salted by Swiss and sweetened by balsamic onions on a locally baked bun. Throw in an order of the kale chips that Next Door was serving before they were cool, and you’ve got all the fun of a backyard cookout with none (or at least less) of the empty-calorie guilt. 

Multiple locations

Dry-hopped Sauvignon Blanc at Infinite Monkey Theorem
Why should brewers have all the fun? Mirroring the trend toward hybrid beers infused with grape must, IMT founder Ben Parsons began experimenting with dry-hopped wine a couple of years ago, and the canned result is a porch pounder par excellence. After all, both high-acid Sauvignon Blanc and bittering citra hops are known for their notes of tropical and citrus fruit, making for a juicy quencher with an edge.  

3200 Larimer St., 303-736-8376; 2501 Dallas St., Aurora

Coconut semifreddo at The Populist
Custardy coconut semifreddo, almond-shortbread crumble, savory basil foam, juicy passion fruit curd: This dessert from executive chef Kathryn Gillette presents a study in contrasts that’s somehow as refreshing as it is complex. But since it won’t be around all summer, best to scoot on over to The Populist sooner rather than later.

3163 Larimer St.; 720-432-3163

Pork bulgogi at Shin Myung Gwan
'Tis the season to grill meats, but once you've had your fill of burgers and brats, consider this new Korean BBQ joint in Aurora that Asian-food expert Laura Shunk turned us on to. The well-marinated pork bulgogi (pictured right with galbi) can and will cause permanent cravings, and the array of banchan that accompanies it may be the largest and most varied around — beating the heck out of the endless store-bought chips and pasta salads at your average family barbecue.   

2680 S. Havana St., Aurora; 303-751-7787

A waffle cone at Sweet Cooie's
Did you really think we'd forget to include an ice cream parlor here? Not only is this Congress Park newcomer the cutest ringer for a midcentury soda fountain you ever did see, but it's got the goods to make you feel like a kid on vacation again. So you'd better make the moment last with a double scoop on a chocolate-dipped, sprinkle-rolled waffle cone — or even a cone lined with cotton candy for the ultimate sugar high.

3506 E. 12th Ave.; 303-993-2751

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