Lunch in Denver: Best Places to Grab a Mid-Day Bite



Lunch in Denver might be grab-and-go at The Market at Larimer Square, a power confab at Birdcall or ChoLon Bistro, or simply a reason to sit down and enjoy a simple meal–think Maria Empanada and Olive & Finch. It can be outdoors on a view-sweetened patio, within a cozy and stylish interior exuding European charm, an ethnic eatery serving up unusual fare, or it might be as American as the flakiest biscuits 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 such as Ultreia invite long, slow meals and excellent conversation. 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. 

 



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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 and provides excellent people watching any time of day or evening. There's something for everyone here. The drink menu boasts an extensive list of coffees and teas, perfect for sipping at one of the small tables or to go, and The Market also offers a Hot Toddy Menu for those who can't decide between a drink and dessert. But Why choose? Pastries and cakes are made on the premises and well worth the calories. With one or two day's notice you can order a cake to take home. Best of all, when you finish eating, you are in the heart of Larimer Square, where strolling and window-shopping are encouraged.


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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 own—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.


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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.


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ChoLon Bistro
Photo courtesy of ChoLon


 

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 exquisite range of tastes and textures. Good bets: Soup dumplings, beef skewers, salmon 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 Union Station and Coors Field.


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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.


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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."


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Olive & Finch
Photo courtesy of Olive & Finch

 

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.


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RiNo (RiverNorth)


 

When you hunger for a deliciously creative take on Mexican, head to Troy Guard's Los Chingones in RiNo. Lunch specials are served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and there are typically good deals to be had. In warm weather, consider the spacious rooftop bar, one of the best in the downtown area. The menu is all about traditional with a twist, such as flights of salsas to try and garden guac with pumpkin seeds and seasonal veggies. Tacos on offer might include octopus with celery and a sriracha-red-pepper coulis or lamb neck with onion, cilantro and chile pasilla. Whatever you order, start with the Bad Ass Queso with rattlesnake chorizo. Can you have too much rattlesnake? Nah. So order your guac with rattlesnake, too. There are plenty of vegetarian choices and even more tequila and Mezcal options so why stop with lunch? Amp up your afternoon with a marg or two.


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Looking for the ideal place to meet friends for lunch? Union Station, Denver's transportation hub and energy-infused hotspot for gathering is a fine choice. And Ultreia, the station's eatery devoted to foods of the Iberian Peninsula, offers a cozy respite from the outside world and plenty of unusual choices for a mid-day meal. While some items change seasonally, lunchtime patrons get to do something dinner patrons don't, which is combine two different options—half sandwich and salad, half sandwich and excellent Portuguese soup or even two different half sandwiches. Go ahead. Be creative. Enjoy the spices and flavors of Spain and Portugal in a variety of combinations. And 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.


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Acorn
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis


 

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, Denver's pioneering multi-vendor space 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 harissa aioli, gruyere, arugala and tater tots. You can add a fried egg if you like. Lunch plates include vegetarian selections such as kale and apple salad and panang curry, as well as heartier fare like shrimp and grits, to which you can also add a fried egg. There's an expansive beer and cocktail list. Acorn is open for dinner only on Sundays.


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Meet 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,...  More About Christine

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