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DENVER: An Insider’s Guide to Food and Drink

The food and bar scene in Denver has evolved beyond sports bars serving typical pub grub. One writer explores the city’s best new restaurants, craft breweries and gastropubs.

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As I’m savoring a perfectly prepared steak at Elway’s, an upscale sports bar at the Ritz Carlton, I meet Amber the bartender, who turns me on to Boulder’s Roundhouse “imperial” gin, the smoothest (and truly best) gin I’ve ever had. We chat about Denver’s recent growth spurt and she kindly gives me a two-page list of where to go during my stay. Here are some of the highlights.

Tasting of 8 Stem Ciders.

8 Stem ciders to taste. Anyone?

Stem Cidery & Tap Room is a funky out-of-the-way bar that does NOT serve food. The Tap Room is dedicated to reviving the cider tradition. Two guys from Michigan moved to Denver to pursue their passion of mixing heirloom apples, dry fermenting them and then aging the apples in a variety of ways, in stainless steel, oak wine barrels and even bourbon barrels. The tasting menu is the way to go to try all eight cider samples — each a refreshing and  generous 2 oz. pour.

Work & Class is a new bar/restaurant on Larimer Street that serves Latin and American food, plus great cocktails. Having opened almost a year ago with the tagline “square meal, stiff drink and a fair price,” Work & Class offers a unique bar selection and intriguing dishes plated in clever ways. The restaurant was partially built out of a shipping container and has a vibe as cool as its’ name, unpretentious and casual.

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Vintage inspired bar at Prohibition.

Prohibition, a classic neighborhood pub located in Capital Hill, ended up being a go-to place for excellent reliable food. It’s gastro-tavern fare by Chef Toby Prout, who takes the basics and cooks them brilliantly with an added twist. It was here that I discovered Gaby, a tiny button of a woman who sat at the table next to us. She started to gab…and it turns out that she’s a long-time food critic and radio show host in town. Gaby confirmed Amber’s list and let me know that Prohibition was featured on Food Network. More importantly, she turned me on to their sister restaurant and one of my favorite Denver finds, Leña.

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Cozy dining space for hot Latin dishes at Leña.

Leña is from Jimmy Callahan, the same owner of Prohibition, and touts the same chef, Toby Prout. Recently opened in August, in the Broadway section of Denver, this Latin American-inspired eatery is truly inspirational. The menu boasts interesting and original ceviches, empanadas and tamales, plus an unbelievable selection of meats and sides that all pair perfectly with their mouth-watering list of tequilas, mezcals and sangrias.

While in town, I had a salon appointment. Lori in the chair next to me turned out to be a foodie. We talked food and drink, and she raved about Lingers in the Highlands, also on Amber’s list. This is a restaurant in an old mortuary that has kept some original aspects without being creepy. There’s something for every mood. Lingers has a diverse menu of small plate street food with cultural dishes from all over the world. You can choose to dine in a more formal setting on the lower level, or go upstairs to the outdoor roof deck, with full service and self-ordering options.

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Saving the best of Amber’s recommendation for last, we hit the jackpot with Old Major, an upscale restaurant in the Highlands area of Denver. With an in-house nose-to-tail butchery, it doesn’t get much better than this. The restaurant has impeccable service, a deliciously obscure wine list, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Every dish was better than the last, plated to perfection, with each item topping the next. The restaurant’s Executive Chef is Justin Brunson, but the daily attention to detail, and perfect pace of service comes from the Chef de Cuisine – Kona Bobeck. Old Major is truly an outstanding restaurant and one among many of Denver’s new dining and drinking establishments.

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