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Colorado’s dining scene has come a long way since the state was founded in 1876, with an influx of new restaurants keeping pace with the state’s population growth over the last few decades. Today, new restaurants are cropping up monthly and established ones have received some of the culinary world’s biggest accolades.
But there are still historic eats interspersed among the trendy restaurants of today. And while they’re more likely to present taxidermy decor and hearty bison burgers than a prix fixe tasting menu, they still have the chops to prove they belong for the next century—or longer. Here, 12 of Colorado’s most famous restaurants (and what to order at each).
The Buckhorn Exchange is Denver’s oldest restaurant, having operated since 1893. Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz—who, in his teenage years, was the youngest scout for Buffalo Bill—founded the taxidermy-filled restaurant as a haven for rovers of the Wild West and a bootleg destination during Prohibition. Across its 130-year history, Buckhorn has served a host of famous diners: four presidents, including big game hunter Theodore Roosevelt; top stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age like Bob Hope and Charlton Heston; and Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull, who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show with Zietz and allegedly gave him his nickname. Guests today can dine on hearty meals that harken back to Colorado’s cowtown days, including rattlesnake, elk medallions, quail, and of course, Rocky Mountain oysters. 1000 Osage St.
This 150-year-old establishment is Denver’s oldest watering hole, though it feels perfectly at home in modern LoHi. Sidle up to the wooden bar to rub shoulders with longtime patrons and tourists alike, sipping on a selection of rotating local brews. The real draw, however, is the lineup of juicy pub burgers, which arrive at your table wrapped in wax paper and accompanied by a clear box of accouterments, including pickles, onions, pepperoncini, and the usual ketchup and mustard. Purists will fall in love with the no-frills cheeseburger, but the Johnny burger, a dairy-forward offering topped with jalapeño cream cheese, American, Swiss, and grilled onions, is a gut bomb in the best way. Build your perfect burger and add new memories to the storied establishment. 2376 15th St.
Located inside the 95-year-old Colburn Hotel, Charlie Brown’s didn’t have a liquor license when it started serving alcohol post-Prohibition in 1946. This ignited a feud with city officials that resulted in restraining orders, arrests, and a Colorado Supreme Court case against the establishment. Luckily for Denverites, the courts sided with Charlie Brown’s, and it became a Capitol Hill staple, attracting the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Bennett, Bill Murray, and Jack Kerouac, who wrote his seminal novel On the Road while living in Denver. Today, it’s easy to get lured off the street by the bar’s expansive patio serving two-for-one domestics from 4 to 7 p.m. daily, and once you’re in, you might as well stay for the nightly piano music performed live in the dining room. 980 Grant St.
Located on 50 acres of Front Range prairie along US Highway 235, the Fort was built in 1963 and modeled after Bent’s Old Fort in southeastern Colorado where settlers, trappers, and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans met to trade buffalo robes. This spirit of fellowship is now evident in the Fort’s menu, which features ingredients historically enjoyed by Indigenous residents and settlers of Colorado and New Mexico. Scoop the buttery marrow out of roasted bison bones and spread it over crostini, or indulge in several Mountain West delights with the game plate: a bone-in elk chop, buffalo sirloin medallion, and grilled teriyaki quail served with wild Montana huckleberry preserves. 19192 CO-8, Morrison
The self-proclaimed birthplace of Colorado-style mountain pies, Beau Jo’s—whose original Idaho Springs location celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—slings hearty pizzas ringed by pillowy, braided crusts that are sized by the pound rather than by their diameter. A one-pound, or “small,” Sky Hawk comes with pepperoni, Hatch green chiles, mozzarella, and feta cheese and comfortably feeds one to two diners. If you’re coming with a crowd of meat lovers, though, go for the extra-large five-pound Motherlode—a melange of salami, pepperoni, meatballs, bacon, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and mozzarella cheese. Whatever your choice, make sure to drizzle your crust with the honey provided on the table for a sweet ending to every slice. Various locations
The iconic pink palace is back, and whether or not you approve of its upgraded kitchen and grimeless tables, there’s no debate that Casa Bonita has been one of Denver’s buzziest eateries since its opening in 1974. If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the scoop on the new food menu helmed by Dana Rodriguez (of Work & Class, Cantina Loca, and Super Mega Bien fame). Out are the bright yellow queso and rubbery tortillas of old, with build-your-own carnitas tacos, chicken mole negro, and shrimp ceviche taking their place in the cafeteria line. A dinner seat will set you back $40 per ticket (kids aged three to 12 can enter for $25), but make sure to get your name on the restaurant’s email list for a shot at that reso. While the restaurant is in “beta testing” for the foreseeable future, the chosen few are emailed a unique link to reserve a table for up to eight guests. But yes, the classic sopaipillas will be waiting for you—and they’re totally worth it. 6715 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood
Bastien’s has been family-owned and operated since 1958 and is even on the National Register of Historic Places for its Googie-style architecture, characterized by its neon signs and sweeping canopy roof. But the two-story steakhouse is also known for its filet mignons, bone-in ribeyes, and New York strips—which you should order with Bastien’s famous sugar rub, a blend of sweeteners and spices which caramelize atop a rare or medium-rare cut. Those seeking something more savory can choose from the dozen other topping combos, such as the Ring of Fire (mushrooms, bacon, jalapeño, and pepper Jack) or Tryst (balsamic reduction, hollandaise, Gorgonzola crumbles, pistachios). Whatever your choice, wash it down with a house martini, which is shaken tableside and served in a chilled metal cup. 3503 E. Colfax Ave.
The Cherry Cricket has been a Denver institution since 1945 when it first opened in Cherry Creek. Now a black sheep among the neighborhood’s swankier dining options, the joint still satisfies with its belly-filling burgers, beloved milkshakes, and wide draft beer menu. In truth, the Cricket has only gotten better with age—consistently winning accolades at the Denver Burger Battle and growing to include three locations in the Mile High City. You can’t go wrong with any of its beefy options, but we like the Jammin’ Poblano burger: a juicy, half-pound patty topped with pimento cheese, crispy pork belly, fried poblano peppers, and a tangy sauce of cherry peppers and raspberries. Various locations
Ask any local about the best tamales in town, and they’ll probably point you toward Tejon Street and 36th Avenue, where you’ll find fluffy, husk-wrapped masa steamed fresh daily at 49-year-old La Casita. Selling out daily during the holiday season, the team keeps the recipes simple, offering only tamales filled with green chile, red chile, or a mix of the two, plus whatever toppings you prefer. Our favorite combo: red-chile-stuffed tamales smothered with green chile and melted cheese. Shrewd eaters know to order ahead a dozen (or two) cold tamales to freeze and eat at home with friends and family—or pick up a pre-flight snack at the DIA location. 3561 Tejon St.
Denver isn’t a late-night town; most eateries close well before bars do with few exceptions. And when Breakfast King closed in January 2022, Pete’s Kitchen became the last bastion for 24-hour weekend bites. The diner, which has been operating since 1942 and was purchased by Pete and Liz Contos in 1981, serves up comforting diner fare including eggs, pancakes, and burgers alongside Greek vittles such as gyros and souvlaki (meat skewers). Recognizable by the friendly neon sign that ushers Colfax Avenue patrons inside, this haunt—and the faces within—is worth a visit, day or night. 1962 E. Colfax Ave.
It’s no secret that Denverites love breakfast burritos, but one restaurant seems synonymous with the foil-wrapped delights that garnered their own official day (the second Saturday in October) from former Mayor Michael Hancock in 2017: Santiago’s. Founder Carmen Morales opened the first location in Brighton in 1990 and has since expanded to 29 locations along the Front Range. She uses her mother’s green chile recipe, which can (and should) be splashed inside or smothered atop your made-to-order rollup. We like the half-and-half mild and hot green chile combo, but adjust to suit your preferred spice level. Various locations
Mountain-savvy epicureans know that a trip to Aspen is all well and good, but the real party starts and ends 20 minutes north of the ritzy ski town at the Woody Creek Tavern, a humble haunt that was a favorite of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson when he lived in Woody Creek in the late ’60s and ’70s. The eatery, located in a log cabin off of Colorado State Highway 82, serves a small but mighty menu of burgers, enchiladas, and wings, which pair well with a few fingers of Colorado whiskey. Enjoy your meal under the gaze of countless Polaroids of patrons and photos of Thompson himself—who once ran for sheriff of Aspen in 1970—and raise a glass to one of Colorado’s most eccentric residents. 2858 Upper River Road, Woody Creek