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Last year, when 5280’s dining critic Scott Mowbray assessed Denver’s “still-evolving” food hall and market scene, he outlined the three things he desired most from these trendy destinations: “definitive cooking, a convivial atmosphere, [and] great variety.” Zeppelin Station, the new RiNo “creative workplace and culinary concourse” is poised to nail all three of these benchmarks when it officially opens to the public on Monday, March 12. (Hint: It’s open now, if you’d like to swing by.)
Located a pedestrian-bridge-crossing away from the 38th and Blake lightrail station, four-story Zeppelin Station is also just blocks from the Source, Denver’s OG food hall. The newcomer’s bright, energizing aesthetic couldn’t be more different from the Source’s low-lit tranquility, despite both projects being the work of Zeppelin Development and designed by Dynia Architects.
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Zeppelin Station feels thoroughly urban, but also removed from the city hustle. Gorgeous views of Denver’s skyline—and the natural light imparted by all the windows—are a big part of the space’s draw, as are the high ceilings and clean white walls. The vendors’ kitchens flow together without barriers, adding to the feeling of openness. Colored lines on the floor, reminiscent of lightrail maps, serve as a guide to the easy-to-navigate food hall.
The only real difficulty at Zeppelin Station is deciding what to eat and drink from the eight globe-spanning vendors and two distinctly different bars. Trust us—you’ll wish you had a larger stomach and deeper pockets so as to sample more offerings at each visit. While we can’t help you there, we did compile this guide to get you started.
Best Bites: Super-silky hummus; chipotle chicken empanadas
You already know and love Comal, the earning-while-learning food incubator located inside Zeppelin’s Taxi. There, in a partnership with Focus Points Family Resource Center, neighborhood women—some immigrants from Syria, some from Latin America—acquire business skills while cooking and serving their family recipes in a restaurant setting.
Comal is the first occupant of Zeppelin Station’s No Vacancy stall, which will rotate through different tenants every few months. Similar to Comal’s Taxi flagship, the Zeppelin Station menu will vary depending on the day. If you’re craving Syrian shawarma chicken wraps and unbelievably creamy hummus, go on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. If it’s Latin-American fare such as tacos or tostadas you’re after, go on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Every Friday, however, Comal Zeppelin Station serves something you won’t find at the original: Daniel Limache’s fantastic empanadas, which come stuffed with the likes of mushrooms or chipotle chicken with sweet potato. And the pastry is just as delicious as the fillings.
Best Bites: Rocket Man fried chicken sandwich; bibimbap; house kimchi
If you’ve been to one of former Acorn chef Bill Espiricueta’s Smök BBQ pop-ups at the Source, then you know he has a wonderful way with barbecue. Turns out, he’s also a fried chicken whiz. At Injoi (pronounced “Enjoy”), his take on fried bird marries the shatter-crisp batter of Korean-style chicken with the craggy edges and juicy, brined meat of a Southern-inspired recipe. The result—whether you choose to injoi (ha!) the chicken on its own, doused in house sweet-hot sauce, or topped with slaw and pickles on the Rocket Man sandwich, is fantastic and highly Instagrammable.
Best Bites: Crunch bowl
Speed is the name of the game at this Chicago import. If you’re rushing to catch your train, this poke stall is for you as the bowls come together in under two minutes. Considering that the customizable menu offers 200 million-plus permutations of possible bowl combos, you’ll have no trouble creating the poke of your dreams. Or, keep it simple and opt for the Crunch bowl, which combines your pick of ahi tuna, salmon, or tofu with jalapeño, cucumber, scallions, edamame, tobiko, crunch (Japanese fried shallots), sweet soy “samurai” sauce, and spicy aioli. Bonus: There’s no up-charge to add avocado, so go ahead and live your best life.
Best Bites: Banh mi (duh)
We’ve long had a thing for Vin Xuong Bakery (pronounced “vin-song”), a pair of Vietnamese eateries and an Aurora food truck that have been family-owned and -operated for generations. (Vin Xuong has won “Best Vietnamese” in our annual Top of the Town issue multiple times.) As such, we could not be happier that the Huynh family’s ridiculously good sandwiches have pulled into Zeppelin Station. The soft, fresh-baked baguettes are laden with delicious things such as lemongrass-marinated grilled pork or spicy avocado, plus the requisite pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, and mayo. Topping out at just $8.75, these filling sandwiches are a steal.
Best Bites: Chicken 65; aloo samosa
The culinary power couple behind Spuntino bring Indian street snacks to Zeppelin Station with Namkeen (pronounced “num-kinn”). While Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann focus on regional Italian fare at their LoHi restaurant, for Namkeen, they’ve turned to the bold flavors of Southern India—often starting with handwritten recipes from Reddy’s family. The chicken 65, a crimson-hued poultry dish flavored with fresh curry leaves, green chiles, and yogurt, is sure to be an instant favorite. We can’t wait to work our way through the curries on the menu (chana masala, lamb and beef keema), which are served inside kathi rolls or atop basmati rice.
Best Bites: Montreal smoked bristket; poutine
What happens with a chef with a Texas-style barbecue pedigree marries a Canadian? Au Feu (pronounced “oh-foo”), that’s what. Think of Au Feu as Chicago-based restaurateur Jared Leonard’s love letter to Montreal. His signature smoked wagyu brisket is cured for seven to 10 days in a Montreal dry rub and then smoked for 16 hours in a post-oak-fueled smoker. Enjoy it on caraway-flecked Jewish rye with mustard and pickles or in a market bowl atop fresh greens and roasted produce. Did we mention there’s also poutine, wood-fired bagels, and house-made charcuterie?
Best Sips: Vietnamese iced coffee
Another project from Duc Huynh of Vinh Xuong Bakery, Dandy Lion fuses modern coffee culture with Vietnamese traditions. Wake yourself up with a Commonwealth Coffee Roasters cortado, or go big with the “Midnight in Saigon,” a Vietnamese cold brew chicory coffee with sweetened condensed milk and a double shot of espresso. Oh, and don’t miss the Kyoto-style cold brew or the matcha latte either. Pro Tip: In the a.m. hours, take your coffee and laptop upstairs to Big Trouble, where many of the tables are situated near outlets and there’s a great view of the city.
Best Bites: The Gelato Boy ice cream sandwich
Sweet teeth, take heed. An expansion of Boulder’s beloved Fior di Latte, Gelato Boy’s frozen confections belong at the top of your to-eat-at-Zeppelin-Station list. Husband-and-wife owners Bryce Licht and Giulia de Meo, who met near Venice, Italy, churn out ultra-fresh, creamy gelato in flavors ranging from tame (milk chocolate) to inventive (blood orange creamsicle). Whatever you do, don’t miss the Gelato Boy: a scoop—we recommend black sesame vanilla—sandwiched inside a warm, fried Vinh Xuong Bakery sesame bun.
Kiss & Ride
Best Sips: Sherry cobbler
Located right of the main entrance, Kiss & Ride is sort of like Zeppelin Station’s boozy reception area. This bright bar is the spot for a quick, casual drink; the unofficial motto is “When it trains, we pour.” If you want a low ABV day drink, go for the plum-inflected sherry cobbler.
Best Sips: “We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”
Big Trouble is a vaguely Asian-inspired bar on the second floor of Zeppelin Station. The dimly lit space oozes cool with its red neon sign, planters of green foliage, and permanent DJ booth. There’s also a Suntory Toki highball machine—the only one in Denver—which produces super fizzy bubbles for the whiskey & soda highball. Grab two to four of your closest friends to share the large format “We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat” concoction. Served inside a glass fishbowl set into a literal boat with three-foot-long straws for sipping, this mix of vodka, white port, Midori, makrut lime, lemon verbena, Champagne, and mango pearls goes down far too easy.
If you go: Zeppelin Station, 3501 Wazee St., 720-460-1978