Lunch in Denver might be grab-and-go at The Market at Larimer Square, a power confab at Charcoal or ChoLon Bistro, or simply a reason to sit down and enjoy the surroundings–think Palettes at the Denver Art Museum. It can be outdoors on a view-sweeping patio or within a cozy interior, intriguingly ethnic such as Maria Empanada or as American as the flakiest biscuits served north of the Mason-Dixon line, which is what you get at Denver Biscuit Company, along with southern fried chicken worthy to accompany them. Some restaurants invite long, slow meals and excellent conversation, such as the aptly named Linger, housed in a former mortuary in Denver's trendy Highlands neighborhood. Others, including Acorn in the art-centric RiNo district, inspire diners to explore before or after the meal. Best of all, many of Denver's restaurants offer excellent selections of the city's well-known craft brews to complete the dining experience. We've picked our Top 10 lunch spots. Try them all.
The former mortuary building seems an unlikely place for a restaurant, but chef/owner Justin Cucci (of Root Down fame) has done it again with another Highlands restaurant, Linger. A nod to the space is found in the tongue-in-cheek reference to Linger as an "eatuary." Whatever that is, we like it. The menu is a creative and eclectic ode to global street food and there's definitely something for everyone, no matter which part of the world your taste buds prefer. Tempting options include a Mongolian BBQ duck bun, Mojo pork Cubano sandwich, falafel lettuce wrap, sweet potato waffle fries and a Spanish omelet. It's all a happy global feast in an urban setting with non-stop views of the Denver skyline. On weekends, try the brunch. ((303) 993-3120)
This self-titled modern Asian bistro takes typical Asian fare and raises it to new levels, and perhaps more important takes presentation to soaring heights. Consider sharing several small bites with your dining companions so you can experience the fabulous range of tastes and textures. Good bets: The soup dumplings, beef skewers, tuna crudo and pork belly buns. Lunch plates, offered weekdays, include such interesting items as Korean fried chicken sliders, lobster Saigon crepes and a "Hanoi-style" fish taco. There are also wok dishes to consider. Set just off the 16th Street Mall on Blake Street, ChoLon is easily accessed via the free 16th Street Mall bus and is just a few blocks from Coors Field. (303-353-5223)
Palettes at the Denver Art Museum
When it opened in 1997, Palettes was one of the first chef-driven restaurants to be located in a museum. Now a staple at Denver Art Museum, Palette's is one of chef Kevin Taylor's great Denver successes. For one thing, its floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the architectural wonder that is the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind, and that is a fine accompaniment to any meal. Contemporary in focus, Palettes has an excellent brunch menu and a main menu with so many worthy choices it will be hard to decide. Lunch offerings include charbroiled salmon salad, Colorado lamb burger and rock shrimp enchiladas. On the brunch menu: carrot cake French toast, classic benedict and a breakfast burrito. The three-course prix fixe menu is an excellent way to go. Palettes stays open until 8 p.m. on Fridays. (3035341455)
Olive & Finch
At lunchtime, it's all about fabulous sandwiches and salads here, and even those guests who don't love sandwiches will be tempted by such gourmet-inspired creations as the Nanner's (prosciutto, poached figs, brie and arugula on a baguette) or the Jamal (blackened fish, citrus tartar sauce, capers, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, avocado and roasted tomato on ciabatta, served hot). The sandwiches come on focaccia, ciabatta, baguettes, panini or bread. There are also quinoa, roasted beets, and Caesar salads, among others, and a compact but perfectly fine beer and wine list to choose from. The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, too. (303-832-8663)
Part wine bar and part Italian cafe, Postino is an ideal spot to linger over lunch, especially on a perfect Denver afternoon. The food menu is targeted with a focus on bruschetta, panini, artisan cheese boards, soups and salads. The dishes are satisfying and filling and go beyond the ordinary by combining unexpected flavor pairings, such as prosciutto, fig and mascarpone; ricotta, dates and pistachios; or smoked salmon and pesto. Founded in Arizona by owners passionate about cheese and wine, Postino is the first Colorado version of the small group. Beer lovers, not to worry: This wine bar has an excellent selection of craft brews, too. (303.433.6363)
It's fine dining but in a relaxed, approachable environment. We say yes, yes, yes to that for any meal. Stop in for lunch weekdays and brunch on weekends. The restaurant offers a refined, stylish space, good service and a lunch menu with everything from small-bite delights such as bacon-wrapped dates to free-range chicken breast and pan-roasted salmon. In between is a nice soup and salad section, vegetarian items and such ethnic options as Swedish meatballs. The brunch menu includes brisket hash, mushroom frittatas, potato pancakes and pork green chile with a sunny-side egg, pico de gallo, sour cream and tortilla chips. The bar is a pleasant place to relax but popular for happy hour so arrive early. (303-454-0000)
On a busy corner of South Broadway, Maria Empanada is an oasis of deliciousness and charm. Empanadas come from the ovens morning to night, both sweet and savory. The menu also includes veggie-filled "tartas" made from an old family recipe, as well as Spanish tortillas made with organic eggs. There's a limited selection of wine and beer to pair with these Argentine delights. Nothing fancy here–the empanadas come in a basket that you take to the table yourself. The whole place opens up to the sidewalk and there are tables outside, though the traffic somewhat diminishes the appeal of sitting there. Nothing, however, diminishes the excellent empanadas and friendly ambience of the place. (303.934.2221)
The Market at Larimer Square
Stop by The Market at Larimer Square for a wide assortment of salads, sandwiches and sweets. The casual cafe draws a diverse crowd of locals and tourists (it's great for people-watching), and there's something for everyone. The drink menu boasts an extensive list of coffees and teas, perfect for sipping at one of the small tables or taking along with you. Pair it with a pastry or a rich slice of cake for the best effect. Outdoor dining is a good choice on one of Denver's many pleasant days. Best of all, when you finish eating you are in the heart of Larimer Square, where strolling and window-shopping are encouraged. (303-534-5140)
Denver Biscuit Company
You'll find Denver Biscuit Company in a space that accommodates two restaurants and a popular bar under one roof. Denver Biscuit Company serves breakfast and biscuit sandwiches for lunch, while Fat Sully's offers pizza for lunch, dinner and late into the evening. Atomic Cowboy bar supports both restaurants morning through late night. But nothing says home cooking like biscuits, which are made from scratch here and appear on the menu in a variety of ways. Most decadent: The Franklin, a biscuit sandwich with buttermilk-fried chicken topped with melted cheese and belly bacon, all smothered in sausage or mushroom gravy–egg optional. FYI, we asked and this was the answer: "The secret to our biscuits is love...and tons and tons of butter." (303.377.7900)
The ambiance is industrial chic with exposed bricks and pipes; the menu is contemporary creative with comfort-food overtones. Acorn is one of the anchoring businesses at The Source, the warehouse-turned-retail-and-dining-outlet in RiNo, the River North arts district that has garnered national attention. RiNo is not quite "there" yet, but it's well on its way, and Acorn is perfectly situated to become a favorite for neighborhood residents and Denverites as a whole. Lunch plates include vegetarian selections such as kale and apple salad and an eggplant parmesan sandwich, and heartier options from a grilled beef and farro salad to wood-fired salmon. Acorn is proof that almost anything can have a fried egg added to it, including shrimp and grits, the oak-grilled pork belly BLT and even the oak-grilled double cheeseburger (cardiologists, cover your eyes). Open for dinner only on Sundays. ((720) 542-3721)
About Christine Loomis
Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York, Colorado and California. Today she divides time between the Denver and San Francisco areas.
Christine loves shoe shopping and fishing; walking anywhere; horseback riding (she was on the equestrian team at the University of Oregon); and discovering menus that include small-batch whiskeys, craft beer and lesser-known wines.
She would go anywhere in an RV and believes summer is best when it includes a rafting trip.
Read more about Christine Loomis here.