The Colorado Food Experience
Working Up an Appetite is Easy in Colorado
Options are practically endless regarding activities and sights in Colorado, so is it any surprise that restaurants, bars, and dining choices are just as varied? From fine dining to food trucks, Colorado has got you covered when it comes to the best Colorado food in restaurants and cuisine.
The best places to eat in Colorado aren’t necessarily the ones that appear on every online blog or magazine; sometimes they’re the ones you discover while exploring a new small town, chatting with a local on a chairlift, or just stumbling upon a deli after a long day of hiking. It's easy to work up an appetite here with all the high-energy activities that we all look forward to doing. This driving appetite has created more than 12,500 eating and drinking establishments, and with the ever-growing population of the state, that’s a number that is certain to increase. For locals and visitors alike, this means that there are practically endless options available when deciding where to go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
With an abundance of rooftop bars and patio seating to accommodate the year-round sunshine, as well as a vast variety of swanky, creative, or intimate dining rooms, everyone eating out in Colorado will find something to suit their tastes - and their taste buds. Historic hotel eateries, quaint coffee shops, classic greasy spoon diners, and loud, hole-in-the-wall food joints are all within easy reach, and each has something unique to offer its guests.
Famous Food in Colorado
Colorado is known for a number of dishes, drinks, and specialties that are unique to The Centennial state. From produce to meats, here are a few delicacies that everyone - whether a tourist or native Coloradan - should add to their list of things to try while in Colorado.
This one is a hot topic - pun intended - because this spicy green chili is something that is vehemently claimed by both Colorado and New Mexico. The Hatch Green Chili, grown in the Hatch Valley in New Mexico, and its slightly hotter counterpart, the Pueblo Green Chili, grown in Pueblo, Colorado, are very similar, and the delicious sauce made from them can be found all over Colorado. Green chili is often made vegetarian-style or with pork, and can be served as a soup or a topping. You’ll most often find it served on top of a burrito, and to order it like a local, make sure to ask for it to be ‘smothered’.
Colorado is one of the top producers of lamb in the United States, and Rocky Mountain lamb can be found at restaurants everywhere from New York to California. The Colorado Lamb Council (yes, that’s actually a thing) promotes the local livestock to restaurants and vendors everywhere, encouraging them to buy meat from domestic, mountain-raised sheep. Unlike producers in most other places around the world, which breed their sheep for wool, Colorado lamb is bred for the meat. The difference is remarkably clear in the quality of the lamb, which is rated among the best in the country.
In the Western Slope region of the Rockies, just east of Grand Junction, there is a small town called Palisade. In the 19th century, Palisade was rocky and desertlike until a man named John Harlow created a canal to redirect part of the Colorado River and irrigate the land. In 1882, he planted his first peach trees, and thus a Colorado legend was born. Palisade Peaches can be found all over the country, and every year this one small region, with its sunny Western climate, produces thousands of pounds of delicious fruit that can be found at road stands, grocery stores, and farmer's markets all over the state. For a special treat, visit Palisade each summer during August for the annual Peach Festival.
With less fat, a lower number of calories, and none of the hormones or fillers that are often found in cattle beef, bison is a lean, delicious, and flavorful meat that is frequently offered on the menus of Colorado restaurants. The grassy plains of Colorado are perfect for raising bison, and Colorado is the fourth largest producer of animals in the country. Whether ground and molded into a burger with a myriad of delectable toppings, or hand cut and grilled as a perfectly cooked steak, Colorado bison is something that can be hard to come by in other parts of the country, and should definitely be on your list of food to try while visiting.
Mountain Style Pizza
There’s a classic pizza joint that originated in Idaho Springs called Beau Jo’s, which has created a genre of pizza all its own, called the Mountain Pie. Beau Jo’s now has several locations throughout Colorado, where you can order your pizza by the pound, and it comes packed with toppings and edged by the thickest, most decadent braided crust you’ve ever seen. As if that’s not enough, they serve their pizza with a bottle of local honey, so you can drizzle it over the massive crust after you’ve eaten the rest of your pizza slice. A true Colorado food favorite!
Rocky Mountain Oysters
Colorado may be a landlocked state, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have access to great oysters! Despite the misleading name, Rocky Mountain Oysters don’t actually come from the sea. In reality, these little Colorado food delicacies are - and stay with me here - deep-fried bull or bison testicles. Go ahead and take a moment to let the ‘eww’ factor sink in, but really, they’re packed with protein and are actually quite tasty! Rocky Mountain Oysters are a popular snack or appetizer in bars, and they usually come served with a delicious array of dipping sauces. If you can get over the idea of exactly what you’re eating, you might just find your new favorite food.
The Best Drinks in Colorado
Whether you’re looking for a pint of beer after a hike or an artistic, handcrafted cocktail on a patio with friends, Colorado is home to a multitude of bars, breweries, distilleries, and other businesses that are ready to serve. From historic saloons in mountain towns to rooftop nightclubs in the heart of the capital city, visitors will love the drinking culture in Colorado.
Just name the kind of bar you’re looking for and Colorado probably has it. There are bars that have been slinging drinks since the Gold Rush, bars that feature nightly live music from local, nationally, and even internationally touring musicians, and quiet wine bars where you can sip your drink and catch up with a friend. There are dive bars with dusty neon signs and cheap drinks, pool halls lined with tables where you can rent balls and cues by the hour, speakeasies hidden behind bookshelves or the facade of an ice cream shop, and swanky lounges where one-of-a-kind cocktails are crafted by mixologists and served with impeccable presentation. Looking for a wide variety of destinations during your visit? Plenty of walking, biking, pedal bar, and bus tours will happily guide you and your [legal drinking aged] friends or family to all the best local breweries, bars, and spots you’d never find on your own.
Dining and Nightlife in Colorado
Visiting Colorado means you’ll have a constant stream of options at your fingertips, whether you're looking for a quick bite to eat, a refreshing drink, a casual family dinner, a savory meal, or a gourmet four-course dinner cooked in a backcountry yurt.
When it comes to wetting your whistle and even dancing as well, Colorado is renowned for its saloons and nightlife. The state’s ski resorts have more choices than you can shake a ski pole at for bars, musical venues, and unique meals and drinks. Nightlife sparkles all over the state, with great fun to be had in the city, along the front range, or up in the mountains. It doesn’t matter if you’re here for business, pleasure, outdoor activities, or a family vacation, Colorado has everything you need to keep you fed and make your trip memorable for years after you’ve gone home (but who are we kidding, we know you’ll be back to Colorado).