Though the craft beer scene in Denver proves famous, most people have no concept what local food is like in the Mile High City. With towering mountains and a culture dedicated to being outside, it shouldn't surprise you game meat is often on the menu. Also, thanks to Southern Colorado's hot temperatures, the meaty green chili is another local favorite. You'll find this pepper lacing all sorts of goodies, from burgers to soup to ice cream. If you're in town, make sure to try it at least once, as well as these 10 tasty dishes.
Bison, or buffalo as many people call it, is a Colorado tradition. A live herd of bison resides on a nature preserve just 20 miles away from Denver, and visitors and locals alike love going there to see the animals. After, head back to the city for a tasty bison steak. The meat proves leaner than other red meats, so it's important to go where chefs know how to cook it well. The 14-ounce buffalo ribeye at Elway's in the Ritz-Carlton hotel is a good bet for this dish. Also check out the Buckhorn Exchange, which is an iconic joint dishing up game meat in the area since 1893.
Bowl of Green Chili
Green chili is not like the Texas-style or bean-filled stew you might find at a steakhouse; no, this dish is something else entirely. Order a bowl of the stuff with a side of tortillas at one of the many Santiago's locations and have your first foray with the smoky, meaty, citrusy green chili so many locals swear by. Usually the capsicum gets mixed with tomatoes, onion and pork, though each place has its own take. Compare the first with the green chili at Sam's No. 3, which also has a few locations. Get it with a side of cheese fries and consider yourself a convert.
You may not be familiar with the Mexican hamburger, it was, after all, reportedly invented in Colorado. Though this dish sounds a lot like the Mexican hamburguesa, it's totally different. Yes, there's still a beef patty involved, but it gets folded with refried beans into a large flour tortilla, quesadilla style. Then the whole thing gets smothered with green chili and melted cheese. This gut bomb will certainly cure any hangover, and you can find a great version of it at La Loma Mexican Kitchen and Mexico City Restaurant & Lounge.
Unlike other styles of pie, mountain pizza has a super thick crust and thinner middle full of cheese, sauce and all sorts of toppings. Usually you rip off that bread-stick-like crust and dip it in a side of sauce or honey. The idea behind this pizza is to fill you up and give you lots of energy for outdoor sports like mountain biking, skiing, hiking and rock climbing. Beau Jo's Pizza started this trend over 40 years ago in the mountain town of Idaho Springs, and now there are five locations. Order it by the pound and choose a white or wheat crust and all the toppings. Another great option is Pizza Pedal'r, which launched in Winter Park and recently opened a spot in Denver.
Game Meat Tartare
There's beef tartare and then there's game meat tartare, something that's fairly common in Denver. At Colt & Gray the chef whips up a succulent lamb tartare with castelvetrano olives, romanesco tapenade, mint, and a soft-boiled quail egg. Despite being raw, the meat doesn't have a gamey flavor at all, and instead imparts a grassy richness. Also try the elk tartare at Spuntino, which gets mixed with ginger and garlic puree, preserved lemon aioli, cured egg yolk and black salt. Not only is it a luscious appetizer, but a unique and stunning way to try elk.
Craft Beer Ice Cream
We had to include craft beer in here, and Sweet Action Ice Cream constantly is teaming up with breweries in town to whip up some excellent sweets. This venture isn't the only one, but it does make small batches of beer ice cream more than anyone else in town. Past flavors have included Almond Butter Pale Ale, Vegan Pineapple Sour and Butter Pecan Maple Porter.
Yes, we know this savory breakfast item can be found in any town sporting Tex-Mex fare, but in Denver you have some of the best versions around, and boy is this dish around. Because there's such a strong Mexican influence, the chilaquiles showcase a range of styles from chips tossed in a classic hot salsa with a fried egg to ones laden with homemade chile verde to chilaquiles with green chili as a base. The options prove endless, but some of the best can be found at Leña, where the dish gets made with roasted chicken, grilled tomatillo salsa, asader and fried eggs. Adelitas Cocina y Cantina also makes a killer Michoacáno version where instead of chips the tortilla is raw, diced and sauteed with egg.
Green Chili Cheeseburger
Forget sauteed onions or bacon, what really makes the cheeseburgers in Denver sing is a hefty dose of roasted green chilies. Most places with a burger on the menu has the option to add green chili, be that chopped up, in slivers or as a whole slab of pepper. The latter gets served at the famous Cherry Cricket, a sports-bar-like place tucked into the ritzy neighborhood of Cherry Creek. Steuben's Food Service also makes a mean green chili cheeseburger and serves it on a brioche bun.
Rocky Mountain Oysters
Yes, Rocky Mountain oysters are in fact the testicles of a bull, and for some reason this part of the animal has a foodie following in Denver. To be honest there isn't much taste, which is why you mostly find the chewy bits sliced, diced and fried. Get them this way at The Fort, a historical restaurant located just outside the city in Morrison, right next to Red Rocks Amphitheater. If you want another way to try this item, go for a pint of Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout by Wynkoop Brewing. Each barrel of the beer gets three roasted bovine balls, and while it does prove gimmicky, the robust stout actually tastes delicious.
The most famous place to get lamb in the United States is Colorado, and it's worth a venture to try this sweet, grass-tinged meat it locally. One great option is the lamb pappardelle ragu or the lamb bacon pappardelle at beast + bottle, a nose-to-tail restaurant that sources their food from the best purveyors around and butchers the animal whole. Check out the coriander-roasted lamb at Work & Class as well, it's a different take on the same meat and one that proves just as addictive.