If you've got one day to pack in as many Denver dining and drinking experiences as possible, we've got your itinerary. These 10 stops — most of which fall within a three-mile radius for convenience — give you a delicious overview of what the city's all about right now.
Breakfast: El Taco de Mexico
In Denver, a day without green chile is like a day without sunshine, which is to say unusual as well as unpleasant. The seasoned (and comically straight-faced) crew at this decades-old Lincoln Park icon makes some of the meanest for smothering their famous burritos in. Grab a stool along the counter so you can devour yours while catching the action in the mesmerizingly efficient open kitchen.
714 Santa Fe Dr.; 303-623-3926
Mid-morning snack: The Denver Central Market
Most of the stalls at this year-old but already firmly established RiNo food hall are open by 10 AM, which means there’s something for virtually every palate. If you’re still in a breakfast-y mood, Izzio Artisan Bakery has you covered with pastries and toasts galore, while Culture Meat & Cheese whips up egg sandwiches. If you’re ready for something different, look to Tammens for ceviche or The Local Butcher for housemade jerky, among several other options — including a pizzeria, a greengrocer and a rotisserie. Of course there’s craft coffee at Crema Bodega. And if your sweet tooth’s aching, ice cream and chocolates await to boot.
First lunch: The Source
Speaking of food halls, this is the one that started it all in Denver, revitalizing RiNo in the process. Occupying an old brick foundry, it’s got gritty charm to spare as well as some of the city's greatest hits for tenants — from the small-plate specialist Acorn and sour-beer pioneer Crooked Stave to mod taqueria Comida and RiNo Yacht Club, the hard-rocking centerpiece bar run by 30 Under 30 alums Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges. So you can’t go wrong, except by self restraint. (If you’re still under caffeinated, Boxcar’s here to help as well.)
Second lunch: Union Station
The landmark train depot Downtown is likewise an embarrassment of culinary riches. Not one but three James Beard Award winners call it home: Jennifer Jasinski operates seafood destination Stoic & Genuine (pictured above) and tapas bar Ultreia (scheduled to open this month), while Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson own Italian eatery Tavernetta. Meanwhile, frequent Beard nominee Alex Seidel and 30 Under 30 alum Matthew Vawter run the New American Mercantile Dining & Provision (which functions as a market and cafe by day, pictured top). Any one of them’s guaranteed to yield a memorable midday meal in a historic setting.
Happy hour: Work & Class
Unless you're standing at the door when it opens at 4 PM, you're going to be in for a long wait at this celebrated Mexican-meets–heartland American fixture in RiNo. So you may as well come for happy hour, when specials like lamb tortas (pictured) and chipotle-chicken pot pie offer a taste of the talent that is chef Dana Rodriguez. Then again, so does the full dinner menu, which provides an array of meats by as little as a quarter pound. Surely a few bites of roast goat or red-chile braised pork won't spoil your dinner, right?
2500 Larimer St.; 303-292-0700
First dinner: Rebel Restaurant
If you’re looking for a highly polished, prestigious gastronomic experience, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for a highly original, outrageous one, you’ve hit the jackpot. High meets low, East meets West, carnivorous meets vegetarian and anything goes in Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko’s RiNo dining lab, where you might sample foie gras–stuffed char siu bao and tikka masala–style butternut squash one night, falafel with lamb liver–lentil hummus and pumpkin-spice creamsicles the next. Restlessly, relentlessly creative yet totally laid-back — there may be no better representative of local dining than Rebel. A terrific craft-beer selection only makes the case further.
3763 Wynkoop St.; 303-297-3902
Interlude: Williams & Graham
Living up to its national reputation, Sean Kenyon’s speakeasy-style LoHi shrine to the art of bartending enchants from the entrance through the “bookstore” onward. It’s not just that the drinks are top-notch in invention and execution alike, it’s also that the staff wears so many hats — service, education, entertainment — so well. In the French tradition of drinking an eau-de-vie like Calvados as an intermezzo (called the trou normand) during a multicourse feast, consider a brandy cocktail — they'll deliver in style.
3160 Tejon St.; 303-997-8886
Second dinner (with a view): El Five
Five floors above the streets of LoHi, this magical Mediterranean haunt is a sight to behold in and of itself (hence its ranking among the year’s sexiest newcomers). But it also happens to boast skyline panoramas to stir and sweeten that pot of rabbit-and-sausage paella you'll be sharing amid a parade of meze and tapas that must include the seafood platter, the matzo-ball soup dumplings and the künefe, a Turkish cheese pastry, capped off by a porrón of wine. Now you know what it's like to be on top of the world in the Mile High City.
2930 Umatilla St.; 303-524-9193
Dessert and a nightcap: Frozen Matter/Retrograde
Open until 11 PM on weeknights and midnight on weekends, this funky Uptown ice cream parlor caters to adults with sophisticated flavors like apple-Brie, blood orange–olive oil and coconut curry as well as optional booze pairings. But you might want to hold the liquor until you've seen what's behind the freezer door in the back of the shop: a small, dark, '60s sci-fi–inspired cocktail lounge serving cheeky, not to mention potent, drinks and sipping spirits. Kick back and soak up the good feeling of being a neighborhood insider.
530 E. 19th Ave.; 720-772-7843
Late-night snack: Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
At Jim Pittenger's practically world-famous Ballpark sausage shack, there's at least one dog with your name on it, be it reindeer with cream cheese and caramelized onions or rattlesnake-pheasant in tomatillo–green chile salsa and Sriracha mayo with bacon bits — and it'll be waiting for you until 3 AM on weekends, along with one last Colorado craft beer. (Not here for the weekend? Then guess where you're going for lunch #3.)
2148 Larimer St.; 720-746-9355