27 Best Things to Eat and Drink This Summer in Denver

Luaus, barbecues and picnics — it's time to celebrate the season in the sun
June 6, 2016
by Ruth Tobias

Some of these 27 dishes and drinks whisk you off to exotic, faraway lands, while others transport you to backyards and ball parks from coast to coast. Some help you beat the heat with sweat-inducing spice, others with loads of ice. But in one way or another, they'll send you on mini-vacations all summer in the Mile High City.

Curried cauliflower and pickled fries at Chow Urban Grill
At this stealth Congress Park newcomer, chef Chase Wilbanks serves gastropub grub with style. Two of our current faves to enjoy on the killer patio? The zesty, fried cauliflower with Asian-Mediterranean accents — shishito peppers, raisins, pine nuts, agrodolce, curry spice — and the pickle-brined fries (see collage above), to which addictive yellow BBQ sauce and chipotle ketchup lend extra zing. 

3570 E. Colfax Ave.; 303-597-0624

Patio Pinks and Plates at Beast + Bottle
Starting today, this beloved farm-to-table fixture reprises its outdoor-only happy hour, Patio Plates. Stop by Monday–Friday from 5–6:30 PM for an array of ever-changing $3 nibbles that range from salt-cod fritters to crudos to bison-red wine salami, pea-avocado toast and oysters in salsa verde (all pictured). And there's an added treat this year: Patio Pinks, including your choice of a featured rosé or Moscow Mule for $6. 

719 E. 17th Ave.; 303-623-3223

Kalua pork sliders at Ohana Island Kitchen
It’s all of a week old, but we already heart this husband-and-wife-run Hawaiian lunch counter in LoHi. Grab these mouthfuls of drippingly-juicy​, Sriracha aïoli-drizzled, pulled pork-topped King’s sweet dinner rolls at the take-out window in back of The Truffle Table. Then enjoy 'em at the sun-drenched picnic table out front.

2556 15th St.; 719-659-1003

I’d Buy That Drink a Drink and a Frozen Daiquiri at The Way Back
Make a quickie escape to the islands with these tiki-esque potions. The former, frothy with vodka and almond milk, comes in a copper pineapple for two; the latter combines banana and ancho-chile liqueur for a splash of sweet heat. 

4132 W. 38th Ave.; 720-728-8156

Blueberries and sweet corn at the plimoth
The berry patch, the cornfield, the ballpark – at this neighborhood date-night haunt, you can revisit all your summertime happy places via a single dessert. Pastry chef Kelsie Berens balances bright, tart bursts of blueberry and lemon gel with the wholesome sweetness of cornbread gelato, a vanilla cream-smeared cornmeal cookie and a few nuggets of maple-caramel corn.

2335 E. 28th Ave.; 303-297-1215

West Indies crab salad at RiNo Yacht Club

Perhaps the most unlikely delicacy ever to come out of Alabama, this exquisitely simple dish of marinated lump crab was a no-brainer for Southern-bred couple McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright to put on their inaugural snack menu at The Source’s centerpiece cocktail bar. Chef Theo Adley ups its natural elegance with a sprinkling of agrumato and flowering herbs. 

3350 Brighton Blvd.; 720-485-5581

Northern Thai fish laab at Cho77

A pungent, herb-packed Laotian and Thai staple, the meat or seafood salad called laab is surefire in warm weather; we love how the kitchen at Lon Symensma’s hip shrine to Southeast Asian street eats punches it up even more with turmeric-spiced catfish in galangal vinaigrette. Try it alongside a vodka-based Raspberry Oasis, aromatic and tart with kalamansi, lemongrass and coriander. 

42 S. Broadway; 720-638-8179

Grilled smoked quail at Rebel Restaurant
By the standards of Bo Porytko and Dan Lasiy, the wild-and-crazy guys behind the aptly named Rebel, this Southern-tinged dish of smoked quail with hoe cakes and collard greens — served in a pool of “rhubarbecue” sauce — is practically tame. But it’s a brilliant spin on down-home BBQ tradition nonetheless. (Also pictured, two more summertime favorites reimagined: “Cracker Jacks” with gochujang-sambal oelek caramel and watermelon sashimi with pickled eggs.)  

3763 Wynkoop St.; 303-297-3902

Spirit pairing at Frozen Matter
With licenses to operate as both a dairy plant and a liquor service, the bar — hidden behind a freezer door in the back wall — will open any day now to take this chic Uptown ice cream shop to the next level. Scoop-and-booze combos range from pineapple-peppercorn crumble with Averna amaro to almond-toffee with Dolin Blanc vermouth to challah French toast with amaretto-spiked bourbon.

530 E. 19th Ave.; 720-600-6358

Jam drink at there… 
This quirky LoHi retreat is full of surprises, and so are its signature jam drinks. You pick the spirit and the preserves (say, tequila and red-pepper jelly or rye and pumpkin butter), and the bartenders take it from there. They'll whip up a drink that changes before your eyes and on your tongue as the jam settles. 

3254 Navajo St.; 720-500-3254

Picnic basket at Spuntino
Imagine yourself frolicking in the Italian countryside with this selection of meat and cheeses: Barolo salami, buffalo-milk Taleggio, homemade focaccia and ever-changing accoutrements (think ramp mustard, strawberry-rhubarb jam and candied pepitas).

2639 W. 32nd Ave.; 303-433-0949

Tofu with preserved egg at China Jade
Fear not the freaky hue of the chopped century-egg topping. Cool, creamy, salty and tangy all at once, this Shanghainese specialty couldn’t be simpler or more refreshing. 

12203 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora; 303-755-8518

Naranja paleta at LEÑA
Blood-orange caramel, almond brittle and mini-churros add textural oomph to a smooth, soothing scoop of orange-vanilla semifreddo in this jazzy Latin twist on a Creamsicle

24 Broadway; 720-550-7267

Jarred cocktails at Salt & Grinder 
We’ve heard of all-day happy hours, but how about all month? To start the season with a boozy bang, Frank Bonanno’s Highlands Square sandwich shop is serving up its margaritas, mules and other batched concoctions for $4 a pop instead of the usual $6 throughout June.

3609 W. 32nd Ave.; 303-945-4200 

Pork and scallops at Stoic & Genuine
Shellfish and pork: a classic combination from China to Portugal to New England. Shellfish and pork (in this case bacon) with salt-fermented rhubarb, fresh herbs and dried coconut chips in a banana-almond brown butter that chef Jorel Pierce, inspired by an Art Culinaire recipe, calls “bubblegum curry”? Totally madcap – and all the more exhilarating when sampled alfresco alongside a granita cocktail.

1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474

Tostaditos de hongos at El Chingon Mexican Bistro
A recent trip to Guadalajara inspired chef David Lopez to create this vibrant vegetarian dish of flash-fried corn tortillas topped with sautéed wild mushrooms, queso fresco, roasted tomatillo-avocado salsa and pickled onions. As the temperature rises, says Lopez, it’s proving instantly popular – fresh and light yet deeply earthy at the same time. 

4326 Tennyson St.; 303-248-3641

Karaage at OTOTO
Much as we dig America's own regional, seasonal fried-seafood traditions – from clams in New England to walleye in Wisconsin – we're downright obsessed with Japanese karaage. At their Platt Park tavern, Toshi and Yazu Kizaki offer at least one version of the dish almost every day, depending on market availability; right now that could mean squid, black cod belly, monkfish or – if you're really lucky – the infamous fugu (blowfish).   

1501 S. Pearl St.; 303-733-2503

Goat pepper fry at Paradise Biryani Pointe
For all its velvety richness, this South Indian stir-fry gets the adrenaline pumping pronto with a blast of hot pepper.

9678 E. Arapahoe Rd., Greenwood Village; 303-247-9264

Strawberry slushie at The Inventing Room
At Ian Kleinman’s eye-popping dessert circus, everything from the Twizzler space foam to the floats with exploding whipped cream is a treat. But on a hot day, the pure flavor of fresh, ripe strawberries swirled with mint condensed milk makes for an especially punchy pick-me-up. (Also pictured, the salted-caramel milkshake.) 

2020 Lawrence St.; 303-885-2802

Lao sausage platter at The Asian Cajun
In addition to the shellfish boils it’s best known for, this little getaway to the Gulf Coast (where Asian immigrant-run seafood shacks are indeed a thing) also makes a mean plate of sai krok. Redolent of lemongrass, chiles and myriad other herbs and spices, the sliced pork sausage makes for a sizzling start to a crawfish feast washed down with buckets of ice-cold beer. 

2400 W. Alameda Ave.;  303-922-0699

Salmon Newburg at FIRE
Anyone who spent summers eating seafood up and down the East Coast as a kid no doubt has a soft spot for old-school lobster Newburg. ART Hotel chef Chris Jakubiec makes it shiny and new with succulent salmon in shellfish emulsion. 

1201 Broadway St.; 303-572-8000

Mezcal flight and chapulines at Palenque Mezcaleria
At this low-lit, rustic hideaway in back of Adelitas, you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled upon a cantina in some sleepy Mexican village. Make the most of it with a mezcal sampler (owner Brian Rossi stocks more than 100, so ask your bartender for guidance) and a few handfuls of the house snack mix, featuring peanuts and, yep, crickets. 

1294 S. Broadway; 720-984-8752

Shrimp shumai at Lucky Cat
Pastel-colored, silken-textured and delicately flavored, the shrimp-and-spinach shumai at Troy Guard’s new Chinese kitchen in Lowry come as close to garden flowers in bloom as dumplings can. 

7559 E. Academy Blvd.; 303-364-2025

Beef-fat candle at EDGE Restaurant & Bar
Come summer, everybody likes to eat light – but the Four Seasons steakhouse’s Wagyu beef-fat candle gives a whole new meaning to the phrase. This month only, chef Simon Purvis is sending out a complimentary candle with every bread basket. Lit at the table, it melts onto your plate, scented with rosemary and garlic, to make for the most decadent dipping ever. (As of July, it will likely be available for a supplemental charge.) 

1111 14th St.; 303-389-3343

Summer lobster dinner for two at The Palm
Though this long-standing outpost of a national chophouse chain in the Westin Downtown recently got a fresh, airy makeover, some things never change – like the annual tradition that is the summer lobster special. Now through August 31, the date-night feast includes two appetizers and a side dish as well as the whopping four-pound centerpiece.

1672 Lawrence St.; 303-825-7256

Taiwanese shaved ice at Linger
In flavors like green tea and mango, with toppings that range from coconut jelly to dulce de leche, this is the sophisticate’s answer to snow cones.

2030 W. 30th Ave.; 303-993-3120

Happy hour wings and beer at The Crafty Fox
It isn’t summer until that first afternoon you spend sucking down wings and suds on a hopping patio. Our current pick for fulfilling the rite of passage? This Sunnyside taphouse, where wings in flavors like smoked chile go for 50 cents a piece during multiple happy hours, and the beer deals are sweet too (pictured: Weldworks Cherry Gose).

3901 Fox St.; 303-455-9666

ice cream
troy guard
golden triangle
highlands square
jennifer jasinski
frank bonanno
congress park
platt park
toshi kizaki
greenwood village
downtown denver
justin cucci
athmar park