The Portlandification of Denver

Portland’s famous food scene is slowly spreading to Denver.

May 5 2014, 1:10 PM

This month marks one year since I left Oregon for Colorado. In those 12 months, I’ve gained more than just a better state nickname (seriously, Oregon, the Beaver State?)—mountains, sunshine, new friends, and amazing colleagues to name a few—but at times, I still miss Portland. Especially when it comes to food. Fortunately, a few Rose City staples have slowly made their way to Denver, making it easy for me to get a little taste of home anytime pangs of homesickness—and hunger—strike.

Voodoo Doughnut
Kenneth “Cat Daddy Pogson” and Tres Shannon debuted their Pepto-pink doughnut chain near one of Portland’s grittier urban corridors (Burnside) in 2003 and became famous for their quirky combinations (bacon maple bar, anyone?) and, uh, quirkier doughnut shapes. Ten years later, in December 2013, the duo opened their first Colorado location on one of Denver’s grittier urban corridors (Colfax Avenue). The biggest difference? (Hint: It’s not the line; that’s out the door everywhere.) Here, they serve Novo coffee instead of Stumptown.

Fire on the Mountain
At the risk of sounding like an angsty indie rock fan: I knew about Fire on the Mountain before it was big—back when this beloved wing joint was just a tiny little 30-seat (or so) spot on Portland’s North Interstate. Since then, FOTM’s smorgasbord of sauces—there are 12 on offer (I love hot and bourbon chipotle)—and perfectly crisped chicken led to two more Portland locations, and two years ago, an outpost on Denver’s West 32nd Avenue. Sadly unlike its Portland cousin, the Denver FOTM doesn't brew its own beer. Hint, hint.

Thirsty Lion
I spent many an evening getting my heinie handed to me at the Portland Thirsty Lion’s highly competitive pub quiz. Yet I kept going back, in part because the bar’s dark woods, Harp and Smithwick's on draft, and myriad television screens tuned to soccer (excuse me, football) reminded me of the years I lived in Ireland. Also, the fish and chips were among the best in town. Last week, Denver debuted its own, more upscale, rendition of the Thirsty Lion near Union Station—the fifth location nationwide—and a dangerously short distance from the 5280 office.

Mountain Sun
Oregon can’t claim all of the credit for Colorado’s beloved brewery chain, but it can claim some. Founder Kevin Daly drew inspiration for his community brewpub from Oregon’s McMenamins. During his stint as a student at Lewis & Clark Law School, Daly often visited McMenamins Fulton Pub, and he incorporated many of its components—the craft beers, chalkboard art, community tables, even some of the burger combinations and menu design—into the Mountain Sun when he opened it in 1993. If you’ve been to both, the similarities are impossible to miss. And like McMenamins, which now boasts more than 50 locations, Daly has expanded: In addition to the Mountain Sun, you’ll now find beer and burgers at the Southern Sun in Boulder, Under the Sun on Boulder's South Broadway, and Vine Street Tavern near City Park.

—Image courtesy of Laura Brooks

Follow senior editor Kasey Cordell on Twitter @KaseyCordell.