Land-locked Colorado probably isn't the first place you'd think about visiting when you're craving amazing seafood.
But prepare to be surprised. Although Colorado is many miles from any ocean, it still manages to expertly bring underwater delights to your plate — even if that means flying in fish fresh, never frozen, every day. Or in some cases, multiple times a day.
From mountain towns with unique seafood creations (like a lobster stuffed with crab stuffed with shrimp) to more than 20 varieties of oysters right in the big city, Colorado has worked hard to earn a name in the seafood industry. Several restaurants boast national awards for their seafood, and others are headed up by respected celebrity chefs.
Here are the best seafood and fish restaurants in Colorado.
Stoic and Genuine, Denver
Stoic and Genuine, located inside Union Station in downtown Denver, is our favorite place to score supreme seafood in Colorado. No ocean? No problem. This restaurant flies in fresh seafood daily, sometimes twice.
The oysters are the star on the menu here, but a close second is the Hamachi Sashimi. Feeling wild? The Octopus Mortadella with a candied lemon vinaigrette is unusual but surprisingly delicious and a fun way to start your meal.
It's no surprise that Stoic and Genuine boasts a long list of honors, including being crowned one of Gayot’s Top 10 Seafood Restaurants in the U.S. — yes, even with no waves and salt water in sight.
Hooked, Beaver Creek
Hooked, in Beaver Creek, is one of those restaurants you eat at and fantasize about 10 years later.
It's a tiny restaurant, easy to walk past, even though it's located in the middle of downtown Beaver Creek, but it is delicious enough to be the reason, in and of itself, to make this your destination in this ski town.
Hooked has a local cult following, largely thanks to the famous Crimpster. That's a gourmet (yet novel) combination of crab, shrimp and lobster, all in one.
Imagine a lobster tail, stuffed with shrimp that is stuffed with a snow crab leg. All. Wrapped. In. Bacon. It's all of the best things in one.
However amazing you imagine this to be, multiply it by 8 trillion. In fact, the Crimpster is what sparked the beginning of this restaurant. The chef originally sold this funky concoction at farmers' markets, but the demand was so extreme that it naturally led to a successful restaurant.
Crimpster is so amazing that Hooked offers it for every meal. For breakfast, try the Crimpster benedict. Lunch: Crimpster po' boy. Dessert: Crimpster smothered in Oreos.
Everything on Hooked's menu is drool-worthy and fresh and totally unique. If you're near Beaver Creek, Avon or Vail, the Crimpster is a must-try for any proper Colorado vacation.
Jax Fish House, Boulder
Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, in downtown Boulder, is all about sustainable seafood. It vows to only buy from fishmongers who are committed to sustainable fishing, and Jax partners with different sustainable seafood certification groups.
The menu is fantastic, too, and regularly earns Jax local and national awards. For starters, Jax has been named one of the top 25 seafood restaurants by Travel + Leisure Magazine.
The Boulder restaurant is ideally located on the bustling Pearl Street Mall, a favorite tourist destination lined with shops, nightlife and performing street buskers, all with a dramatic view of the foothills.
Lucky for you, Jax has a handful of other locations, too, including Glendale, Fort Collins (also in downtown) and Denver.
Jax is the kind of restaurant you can go to on a fancy date or a casual dinner out, if you don't want to put on a collar but want top-quality fare. The drinks are excellent, too. Jax is known for its happy hour, when you can get inexpensive oysters.
The Fresh Fish Co., Denver
The Fresh Fish Co. in Denver has a long reputation for its seafood: more than 35 years.
Portions here are large and so is the selection of fresh seafood. We're talking more than 20 types of fish (even five different types of salmon), more than 20 varieties of oysters, lobster, scallops, various kinds of shrimp and more. This is the restaurant for seafood-lovers who crave variety or want to try something new.
In addition to fresh fish, this restaurant makes everything from scratch, down to the sauces and seasonings.
As a bonus, The Fresh Fish Company also cares about sustainable and responsibly sourced seafood. And during happy hour, oysters are only a buck each.
Spend time in the Black Pearl Oystery Bar, which is like a restaurant inside a restaurant. This is the place to hang for happy hour or to celebrate. It's a little louder and has more of a bar atmosphere than the rest of the restaurant.
Sunday brunch is big here, too. It features plenty of gluten-free choices, crab legs, shrimp and more, all served with champagne or a mimosa.
Anyone in Colorado who knows seafood knows why every year since 2007, the Fresh Fish Company has landed first or second place on Denver's A-List for seafood.
Matsuhisa, in the middle of Vail Village, is a restaurant run by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and is one of our favorite places to grab sushi and Japanese fare.
The atmosphere is great for both snacks after skiing, with a lengthy, hoppin' bar facing the mountain, and also for a romantic night out. In the summer, grab a table on the patio.
The menu here is influenced by classical Japanese cooking, with influences from other places around the world.
A highlight includes the popular Yellowtail Sashimi with jalapeno. Make sure you try some of the sake on tap.
There are also Matsuhisa restaurants in Aspen and Denver.
Departure, Cherry Creek
Departure Restaurant + Lounge, a restaurant in the Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver, is a popular nightlife destination, as well as a fun place to grab modern Asian food and excellent sashimi.
The head chef here is celebrity Gregory Gourdet, a "Top Chef" finalist, so you can treat your taste buds, as well as get a taste of fame.
While Departure offers more than just seafood (such as delicious, Asian-style, sweet chili wings), it is with its seafood and fish that Departure takes off.
For something extra special, try the caviar sushi. The sashimi is fresh and tasty. For a grand finale, you must try the Big Eye Tuna Poke and the crispy sea bass served with a chili-lime sauce and mango.
The Aquarium Restaurant
The Aquarium Restaurant is a top pick for its novelty and a because it's totally a quintessential Colorado thing to do.
As the name implies, this restaurant is located inside the Denver Downtown Aquarium, in a dining room surrounded by the walls of the massive, 150,000-gallon aquarium. So you can watch the underwater critters swim past while you, er, eat their friends.
Watch more than 100 types of fish swim by, while you dine on fresh fish, seafood and more. Try the grilled Mahi and shrimp or the Bayou shrimp pasta, and wash it all down with a cocktail in the Dive Lounge.
Due to the casual atmosphere, this is a great seafood joint for families. Many of Colorado's fine seafood restaurants are a bit higher-end for kids, but the Aquarium Restaurant welcomes them with open fins.
Range, in downtown Denver, is not a seafood-only restaurant — New American West is how it calls its menu — but its seafood selection rises to the top of what we've tasted in the state.
It's no wonder; Range's chef was awarded Chef of the Year for all of Marriott in 2015, and the restaurant itself was named Restaurant of the Year for all Renaissance hotels that year.
The restaurant itself is hip, sexy and sophisticated, with a fantastic bar. For a more romantic experience, there's a dim, quieter dining area near the open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs prepare your meal.
For a Colorado-influenced restaurant, it's surprising that range's seafood is so supreme. While its offerings are always changing, look for the scallops, if they're available. The pan-seared scallops are served with a perfect cauliflower puree, spinach, bacon and smoked tomatoes that give this dish a more comforting, warm flavor.
Round out the seafood cravings with cedar-planked gulf shrimp served with spicy Tabasco butter, chimichurri, pickled peppers and chile grits.
If you're craving fish, the coriander crusted ahi tuna is a no-miss, served with a unique spicy watermelon gazpacho, cucumber salad, and avocado.