I decided to take a break from the angst, self-help and midlife awakening posts this week to feature a curated Denver experience. If you love to explore new neighborhoods by eating and drinking your way up, down, across, around and through them, this post is for you. My boyfriend and I spent a fun-filled weekend checking out what’s new in RiNo and visiting some old favorites as well. This curated experience is great for any day of the week; it just depends on the size of your appetite, the health of your liver and how much free time you have to get to know RiNo. Here are seven places that make me exceedingly happy to be living in Denver:
- Denver Central Market: This place has it all. You could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here while roaming around to shop for high-quality meat, fish and produce and drinking everything from coffee, cocktails and beer in between. I suggest starting with a meat and cheese plate from Culture Meat & Cheese and then grabbing an insanely delicious meatball sandwich from The Local Butcher. If meat isn’t your thing, try one of Vero’s wood-fired pizzas. Afterwards, walk over to Temper Chocolates and admire these delicious treats that are (almost) too pretty eat. Get over the guilt and bite into one of their glossy, perfectly tempered chocolates oozing with fillings like honey lavender, pinot noir and green apple yuzu ganache, salt and pepper caramel, and many more. Then you can wash it all down at Curio Bar with beer, wine or a selection from their carefully crafted cocktail menu. I had the Curious Sunrise (reposado tequila and St. Germain): it looks very dainty when it’s served with a twist of lemon in a coupe champagne glass, but this cocktail packs a boozy punch that’s anything but delicate.
- The Preservery: Hopefully you didn’t eat and drink everything that I suggested above because you’re definitely going to want to save room for what’s in store here. You can walk the half-mile from the Market on Larimer and check out the colorful and creative murals that are all over the neighborhood buildings (or click on the gallery of murals accompanying this post). The Preservery defies definition: it’s a restaurant, market place and bar, but it also has a great patio, an outdoor bar, a collection of shops and a live music space. In my opinion, the heart and soul of this place is the food. I recommend two of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had: the fried chicken sandwich (I know, I know – every restaurant has one these days, but this chicken is expertly cooked to melt in your mouth after you crunch into the fried coating and then smother your taste buds in just right amount of buffalo sauce) and the country ham sandwich (sliced ham with pickles, swiss cheese, garlic aioli and outstanding house made sourdough that’s the perfect combination of firm and chewy). Executive Chef Derrick Cooper is killing it!
- Beryl’s Beer Co.: Walk a block over to Beryl’s and grab one of their barrel-aged or other craft beers to enjoy on the shaded patio. I had the refreshing Mila Rouge, a petite sour saison with guava and black currant.
- C Squared Ciders: You’ll be in a need of a walk, and the 13-minute stroll to C Squared Ciders is perfect for freeing up some digestive room. I admit that I’ve never been a huge cider fan, but that was before I tried one of theirs. I had a Lila from their Siren Series and it tasted like the perfect combination of white wine, apple juice and kombucha. The official description is “An elegant, off-dry cider infused with Colorado lavender, local honey, juniper berries, and rose hips.” One glass and I’m a cider convert. I no longer feel pity for my glutard friends.
- Finn’s Manor: This place has something for everyone. There’s a large colorful outdoor space with a mix of seating options up front, and a patio with benches, tables and misters in the back that’s perfectly situated right next to a “pod” of food trucks. There’s definitely a college bar/dive bar feel to the place, but that changes when you walk inside: it’s like being transported to a dimly lit speakeasy, complete with a featured punch, 16 taps and an overwhelming amount of spirits to choose from.
- Work & Class: This is an old favorite because it’s been around for a few years, and technically I think it’s on the edge of Five Points and RiNo, but better to split apps than hairs on this one, especially if those apps include blue corn empanadas and the pork and duck meatballs smothered in a spicy tomato sauce on top of poblano grits. I love sitting at the bar up front or at the chef’s bar in the back where you can watch the action, but there’s also plenty of table seating inside and on the covered patio. It’s a relatively small space and they’re always busy (no reservations), but I’ve had pretty good luck snagging seats. Everything on the menu, which is a fun combination of Latin American and Southern American, is delicious, whether you’re just grabbing a small bite or going for a combination of roasted meats and sides like fried sweet plantains, cilantro rice, chickpea croquettes or a stand-out cheddar mac and cheese made with pasta shells.
- Nocturne: This list wouldn’t be complete without a proper verbal ovation for Nocturne. I don’t know of anywhere else in Denver (or most other cities for that matter), where you can listen to really high-quality jazz music and eat delicious food in a diverse crowd surrounded by a warehouse/speakeasy setting that’s topped with an “acoustically magic” wooden ceiling. It’s a winning combination, and Nocturne does it so very well. I highly recommend their ever-changing five-course tasting menus inspired by different musicians. The portion sizes are just right and each dish is inspired in some way by the artist the menu is named after. They also know how to source musical talent; every band or musician I’ve heard play at Nocturne is clearly talented. Live music is from 7:00-10:30 PM nightly with an intermission between 8:30-9:00 PM, and they have late night music on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 PM-12:30 AM. Nocturne also hosts an “Artist in Residency” program where musicians or bands play every Tuesday for eight weeks, giving them the chance to build-up their Denver fan base. This place is perfect for a date night or to take friends or family who are visiting Denver so you can show them how truly awesome this city is.