Set inside Denver's flagship Whole Foods store at Union Station, Birdcall is a good fit with its focus on local and seasonal. It's fast but not fast food. Even better, it has wine and multiple taps of craft brews to pair with its sandwiches, salads and sides. It's in a class of its ownâ"one that's hard to define. You are sitting in a grocery store, yet Birdcall channels the energy and vibe of its LoDo location. It has become a go-to for quick lunches as well as lunches to linger over for patrons working on their tablets, conducting interviews or meeting friends or colleagues for a working or fun lunch. Getting your meal is super quick and easy. Order at the kiosk, find your name on the board and watch to see how long before your order is ready and then which bin it's in. Grab it and enjoy.
Recommended for Lunch because: Birdcall offers good food at a good price in an excellent location.
Christine's expert tip: If you need a (slightly) quieter space, walk up the stairs to tables perched on the sunny second-floor balcony.
On a busy corner of South Broadway, Maria Empanada is an oasis of deliciousness and charm, and you're likely to see every sort of patron, from business types to families. 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. Choose from chimichurri, Asado grill, green onion sour cream or sweet chili mayo salsas, all perfect to accompany your empanadas. Expect a warm atmosphere and friendly service.
Recommended for Lunch because: Maria's focuses on one thing, empanadas, and does so with artistry and perfection.
Christine's expert tip: In the mornings, go for excellent coffee and sweet pastries, such as the delectable ricotta cake or any empanadita with dulce de leche, or go bold with breakfast empanadas stuffed with egg, cheese and a variety of meats including chorizo.
You'll find Denver Biscuit Company in a space shared by two restaurants and a popular bar. Denver Biscuit 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 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."
Recommended for Lunch because: Love and butter. Does it get any better than that when you're talking flaky, down-home biscuits for breakfast, brunch or lunch?
Christine's expert tip: In addition to the Colfax location, Denver Biscuit Company can be found on Tennyson, South Broadway and at Stanley Marketplace.
You gotta love a dog-burger-and-beer place that puts an emphasis on plant-based options for the vegetarians and vegans among us. That's not to say you won't find your favorite meat-based dogs, brats and burgers. You will, and you'll love them because they combine the best of tradition and creative takes on old favorites. Case in point: the Soooo Cali dog with wild arugula, avocado, tomato, crispy fried onions and spicy basil aioli. Another is topped with pineapple, a sweet ginger glaze and pickled jalapeños. (Don't knock it till you try it!) There are a variety of sausages to choose from and everything you'd expect on a hamburger and more. Way more, such as the burger piled high with pastrami or any of them topped with a fried egg. The hardest decision: Tater tots or onion rings on the side and a shake or local craft beer to wash it all down.
Recommended for Lunch because: Dog Haus is all about dogs, brats and burgers yet offer plant-based versions as well so vegetarians and their meat-loving friends can dine together.
Christine's expert tip: Eat happily. All meat used is certified humanely raised, vegetarian-fed, with no added nitrates or nitrites and always hormone- and antibiotic-free.
Union Station, Denver's transportation hub and an energy-infused hotspot for gathering, is a fine choice for lunch. Ultreia, the station's eatery devoted to foods of the Iberian Peninsula, offers a respite from the outside world with its cozy interior, spacious patio and plenty of unusual choices for a mid-day meal. If you're not sure what to order, consider the Chef's Feast for which the chefs choose a selection of their favorite tapas for you. If you don't have to go back to work (or maybe even if you do), pair your lunch with a nice wine or sherry from the Iberian region or one of the restaurant's creatively crafted gin-tonics (no "and" in the Spanish version).
Recommended for Lunch because: If you're not familiar with the foods of the Iberian Peninsula, Ultreia's lunchtime menu is the perfect introduction to these flavorful dishes.
Christine's expert tip: When the seasonal Union Station farmer's market is running, Ultreia opens at 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
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 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 outpost of the small group. Beer lovers, not to worry: This wine bar has an excellent selection of craft brews, too.
Recommended for Lunch because: With its patio offering panoramic views of downtown and a nicely targeted menu, Postino offers a sweet spot for lunching in the Highlands.
Christine's expert tip: Check out the wall on the left as you enter. It's ingeniously made of books, a cool nod to the building's past as a bookbindery.
Best known for its expansive selection of whiskeys, Hearth & Dram is also making a name for itself with revitalized kitchen staff, a couple formerly of TAG, that has ramped up the menu. Dishes here can easily compete with any in the culinary-centric LoDo neighborhood. To start, the burger has rightly been voted best burger in the Denver Burger Battle People's Choice category. No ground round here, it's shank and as tasty as steak. The shrimp salad with its multiple textures and intriguing flavors gets my vote for best salad, and the delectable smoked tofu on the smoked tofu banh mi is made in-house and well worth a try. Fans of avocado toast will find a version here that raises the bar on this of-the-moment dish. The salmon roe on top is unexpected and perfect. Of course, you can pair your lunch with a whiskey flight, too.
Recommended for Lunch because: The chefs have created a lunch menu that is a cut above
Christine's expert tip: Take the deal: Choose one course from the top of the lunch menu (bites) and one course from the bottom (mains) for $16
At lunchtime, it's all about creative sandwiches and salads, and even those guests who think they 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 beet, 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.
Recommended for Lunch because: Olive & Finch is an eatery-bakery-market that delivers good food and a casual European-style ambiance.
Christine's expert tip: Love the cake? Order a whole one for your next family gathering and enjoy it at home but remember to order 72 hours in advance.
Call raises the bar on lunch restaurants with its elevated, community-oriented approach. Expect the usual and unusual here from the same chef who developed the dinner extravaganza that is Beckon next door. Call started as a breakfast and lunch spot and that's still its focus, although it's now open for happy hour and evening bites as well, all the better to enjoy its inviting patios. If you haven't had a tartine before, France's popular open-face sandwich, you should have it here, especially if the salmon version is on the menu. One of the breakfast staples also available at lunch is Aebleskiver, a Danish pancake "puff" with fruit and ricotta that's well worth the calories. The menu features more traditional lunch fare including multiple salads as well as a chicken salad sandwich. You can sub gluten-free bread on any sandwich for a small upcharge.
Recommended for Lunch because: Plain and simple, the food at Call is creative, carefully crafted and delicious.
Christine's expert tip: Call has two premier patio spaces, one in front and another in back. Sit in the front for the RiNo vibe and people watching along Larimer Street, in the back for a more secluded (and romantic) ambience.
The ambiance is industrial chic with exposed bricks and pipes and graffiti on the walls. The menu is contemporary creative with comfort-food overtones. Acorn is one of the anchoring businesses at The Source, one of Denver's early multi-vendor halls for food and drink. An offshoot of Boulder's popular Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn excites and satisfies with an unexpected combo of flavors and textures. If you're a burger lover, go for the oak-grilled double cheeseburger with shallot aioli and provolone. You can add avocado, bacon or a fried egg if you like. Lunch plates include vegetarian selections such as kale and apple salad and endive and blood orange salad, as well as heartier fare such as pork belly pastrami and Korean grilled chicken. There's an expansive beer and cocktail list. Acorn is open for dinner only on Sundays.
Recommended for Lunch because: Acorn has held its own in a neighborhood where new restaurants pop up every week, and the reason is simple: It's really good.
Christine's expert tip: Ride your bike along the South Platte River from downtown Denver and reward yourself with lunch at Acorn.