On the hierarchy of dining offerings, airport food typically falls only one degree above gas station hot dogs and a sad notch below the 3 a.m. gyro cart.
But Colorado's main airport, Denver International Airport (DIA), is at least trying to do things differently. It wouldn't be true Colorado style without some healthy options. And although the prices still exist on the Airport Sliding Scale (sliding way up, that is), if you're stuck at DIA, you don't have to choose between going hungry and wrecking your stomach.
In fact, DIA has consistently ranked in the top airports for healthy food, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
One downside of DIA is its remote location next to only fields of expansive nothingness, so if you have a layover, your only logistically intelligent options have to be within the airport's walls. So plan your meals on site wisely, and opt for one of the healthier dishes.
Here are our six favorite places to eat at Denver International Airport.
1. Denver Chophouse. Try a salad with mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds or Kung Pao salad, with added noodles. Seeking something filling? You can even find sirloin and filet mignon here, or the citrus salmon for a lighter protein.
Some of the healthier options here include grilled portobello mushrooms, citrus salmon with tomatoes and a side of roasted asparagus. Stay away from dessert (ooh, that New York cheesecake, though), the big beer and cocktail list and those French fries.
Even vegetarians and people on a gluten-free diet can find dishes. The Chophouse is an extension of the local Rock Bottom Brewery Co.
Root Down DIA. Root Down is a popular, hip restaurant in Denver, and its airport branch maintains some of that flair that locals love so much. The menu is vegetable-focused. Salads here are legitimately delicious; the Caesar with scallions and miso dressing is a best-seller. Don't miss the roasted beats or the Thai carrot curry soup.
In a hurry? Grab a bento box, with gluten-free salmon, coconut multigrain rice, an edamame salad and miso. Root Down even serves raw foods and seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
Modmarket. DIA boats two different Modmarket locations, both with gluten-free and vegetarian options. This chain makes fast(er) food from scratch using sustainably sourced ingredients. Skip dehydrating coffee and snag a kombucha here. The salads are among the healthiest offerings (always get the dressing on the side), but they boast interesting flavor combos, like the Thai coconut with sweet potato and peanut-mango dressing.
Looking for a big bang? Order a Superfood salad: spinach, kale, quinoa pilaf, grapes, feta, carrots and nuts, served with a vinaigrette.
4. Elway's. John Elway continues to be the king of Colorado, and his high-end steakhouse in downtown Denver is one of the city's best places to eat. Don't expect as luxurious of an atmosphere at the airport (although do expect a higher price point), but the hand-cut prime steaks and drinks are still made with Elway's quality and recipes. The offerings here include fresh fish (such as smoked trout) and a full bar (uh, skip that if you're on the healthy train).
5. Pour La France. Despite the fancy name, this restaurant is still totally relaxed, but its French-inspired menu means healthier, lighter fare.
Fresh salads, quiches and paninis stuffed with veggies are a highlight. Pour La France also has two DIA locations. Looking for something light? Order a fruit bowl served with plain yogurt or an organic energy bar. Need to take the edge off? Pour La France serves mimosas with breakfast, although an organic tea is undoubtably a healthier choice. The menu here centers around breakfast dishes, but the express restaurant is open until 10 p.m. This restaurant has vegetarian options, too.
6. Colorado Sports Bar. If you were looking for a healthy option, you'd likely walk right past this spot. The name "sports bar" is far from connected to health and fitness. But check out the menu closer. While Colorado Sports Bar has plenty of greasy (chili cheese fries) and sugary (cream cheese brownie) offerings to regret later, it also has a reasonable selection of salads, a veggie burger or steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast, so you can put down the smelly Egg McMuffin. Other options: sweet potato fries, a turkey sandwich and a bowl of fresh fruit.
This is also one of the cheaper options. You can fill up here for less than $10 — a fast-food price without too much slimy regret.