Colorado in the summertime is a music lover’s dream. Between peak Red Rocks season, Phish’s annual Dick’s run, and the dozens of shows and superjams that go down in Denver and Boulder on a nightly basis, there’s really no place like it. The culinary scene in Denver and surrounding areas has really exploded in recent years, making no pilgrimage out there complete without some solid grub. Whether you live in the area or are planning your next trip, here are some of our favorite Denver spots to grab a bite before a show.
Best for Vegetarians: Watercourse
Whether or not you prefer the carnivore life, Watercourse’s cauliflower and seitan “wings” are more than comparable to the real deal. Both the buffalo and Korean BBQ sauces are crack, so we recommend getting a mix of both for the full experience. The whole menu consists of elevated, next-level vegetarian and vegan food that qualifies this as one of the best restaurants in Denver, veggie or otherwise. Plus, they serve breakfast all day, every day, which is always a tasty bonus.
Runners Up: City o City, Vital Root
Best Brunch: Root Down
We love Root Down for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and would gladly come for all three meals on any given day. But their brunch is one of the best in town. Chef/owner Justin Cucci is a mastermind of farm fresh, innovative, mostly healthy-ish and plant-based dishes that will leave you feeling satisfied without the guilt.
Runners Up: Sassafras, Lucille’s Creole Cafe
Best for Groups: Avanti F&B
This elevated food hall has something for everyone, so skip the dreadful process of getting a whole group of people to agree to one category. A spacious patio with killer views makes this the perfect spot for pre-show eats or drinks with a group in the summertime.
Runners Up: Linger, Postino, Recess Beer Garden
Best Italian: Bar Dough
Bar Dough offers a wide array of pizzas, pastas, proteins, and veggies with a mix of traditional and slightly out-of-the-box dishes. The food is always fresh and delicious, and the pasta can be ordered in small or large portions, so that you can carb up before a show without hating yourself after.
Runner Up: Coperta
Best Views: El Five
This newest venture from Justin Cucci sits five floors up and offers the best view of the Denver skyline we’ve yet to find. Sit on the patio on a nice evening for sunset cocktails or tapas-style small plates. Drawing flavors and styles from all around the Mediterranean region, Cucci celebrates and reinvents cuisine from Spain, Italy, Greece, Israel, and beyond in completely new and unique ways.
Best Date Night: Fruition
Save this one for the night before or after the show, as it should be the main attraction of the evening. A cozy, romantic atmosphere paired with an impeccable food menu consisting of fresh, seasonal dishes makes for a fantastic experience every time. This is hands down one of the best spots in town.
Runner Up: The Way Back, Potager
Best Deli: Masterpiece Delicatessen
This quick, casual spot has some of the best deli sandwiches Denver has to offer. The chicken salad is to die for.
Best Venue Food: Ophelia’s
Ophelia’s is just awesome in every possible way. Most nights, they’ve got a killer calendar of live music lined up. The space is located in a former brothel that maintains a swanky, vintage vibe, with dim lighting and provocative artwork lining the walls. Another one from the Cucci empire, everything on the menu is creative and interesting, including an impressive cocktail selection. Go with a crew, order a bunch of stuff, and enjoy the music right from your seat.
Best Mexican: Los Chingones
Via Los Chingones
Los Chingones is a colorful, vibrant spot with graffiti-covered walls and a relaxed vibe located on Larimer, making for a great meet-up spot before heading out to Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, which is a few blocks away. Good for groups and pre-show margs and tacos, and to top it all off, they’ve got a great rooftop patio situation going on.
Best of Boulder: Oak
A New-American favorite that’s nice enough to bring your parents to yet laid back enough for some pre-show grub with a group. It’s conveniently located just next to the Boulder Theater. Reservations recommended.
Runners Up: Frasca, Salt, Leaf
Best for Carnivores: Beast + Bottle
True to its name, Beast + Bottle’s creative, clever meat dishes parallel an impressive wine selection. Chef/owner Paul C. Reilly is a visionary of farm to table, with a rotating menu to reflect their relationships with local farmers and seasonal availability. If pig heads are your thing, you can call ahead to reserve yours, though there are a number of seafood and veggie dishes for non-meat lovers. They’ve also got one of the best brunches in town.
Best Sushi: Sushi Den
Denver isn’t generally known for having the greatest sushi, but Sushi Den is where it’s at. The restaurant was actually one of the first in the US to buy their fish directly from Japan, and it’s flown in from a Japanese fish market daily, so you could say it’s pretty fresh. Don’t skimp on their daily specials.
Runner Up: Izakaya Den
Best Coffee: Black Eye Coffee
This is a great neighborhood spot located in the up-and-coming LoHi area with quality coffee and tea options and a solid all-day menu for breakfast and light bites.
Best Bagels: Rosenberg’s Bagels
The brainchild of a New York native, Rosenberg’s actually mimics the water filtration system of NYC to achieve the perfect crispy/chewy ratio. It’s the only place to get a true New York-style bagel in Colorado, and it lives up to the hype.
Best Pizza: White Pie Pizzeria
White Pie Pizzeria is just down the road from the Odgen Theatre and the Fillmore Auditorium and offers up some of the best pizza in the city. With first-come, first-serve seating and no reservation, it’s not a bad idea to head there early to give you plenty of time to sample their delicious gourmet pizzas. Favorite pies include the Porky Porkorino, which is topped with mozzarella, soppressata, pickled chiles, and hot honey, and the restaurant’s namesake, the White Pie, which sports crème fraîche, mozzarella, garlic, bacon, crimini mushrooms, and a sunny-side-up egg.
Runners Up: Hops & Pie, Cart-Driver
Best Ramen: Uncle
This one may not be your best bet for pre-show eats, as Uncle doesn’t take reservations and you can usually expect a wait. But their ramen is some of the best out there. Their menu changes frequently, but the Spicy Chicken Ramen is on another level.
Runner Up: Bones