The recently-opened Citizen Rail on 16th & Wewatta in LoDo has brought an awesome new happy hour to the area — and it definitely stands out among all the other downtown options with the quality of the food and drink options.
Happy hour runs daily 2:30pm – 6pm, but get there early, because it gets packed!
During happy hour, you can get select specialty cocktails for $7, beer for $4, wine for $5, or a “combo” such as a glass of rose + mezcal (or a glass of stout + bourbon) for $7. What I like is that the happy hour wine options aren’t your typical Chardonnay and Merlot, but a Spanish Albrarino and Garnacha.
A must-order during happy hour is the Crispy Artichokes & Dungeness Crab (photo at the top of this post). Not only does it look like a work of art, but it’s also delicious. They get those artichokes perfectly crispy, which goes so well with the tender crab. And it’s only $9 during happy hour, vs. $16 during dinner.
Another amazing happy hour option is the Hickory-Braised Oxtail & Rice Grits (below) — $6 during happy hour instead of $13. Oxtail is generally my favorite cut of meat, because of how tender and juicy you can get it if you cook it right — and this is cooked right.
A little less unique, but no less delicious, are the Mesquite Fired Mussels ($8 during happy hour, or $14 during dinner).
What Citizen Rail is actually known for is it’s dry-aged steaks — which are butchered in house and displayed in a glass room for everyone to see. And what a beautiful sight it is. I love what lengths they go to for sourcing their meat, too:
“When it comes to sourcing proteins, Chef Graves is meticulous. He searches out wild venison from Texas, tender Sonoma ducks, cattle raised on spring water and pristine Wyoming pasture. Adjacent to the grill, you’ll find sides of pasture-raised beef and house-butchered Colorado lamb slowly maturing in Citizen Rail’s dry-aging room alongside hand-cut venison and pork steaks, rabbit and fowl.”
One of the in-house dry aged options is the 36oz Tomahawk steak (for two). If you like your steaks with that salty bit of crust and a good amount of marbling, this is for you.
Or you can go the 18oz bone-in rib eye route, which I think was my preference. For sides, I highly recommend the duck fat roasted potatoes (let’s be real, you can’t go wrong roasting anything in duck fat).
To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what dessert we ordered, but it had chocolate and ice cream — and it was delicious. I have no idea how we managed to eat it after everything else, but we did. From appetizer to dessert, I really can’t point out any down sides with the meal.
If anything, I would say the chicken entree isn’t for everyone: I tried my friend’s, and it had a little too much of a smoky flavor and not enough crispiness on the outside for me. But if you come to a steakhouse to get chicken, you’re probably doing it wrong.
I know, some of you may be shocked. The Tavern Downtown?! And yes, I normally I consider the entire stretch of bars/clubs around 20th & Market to be “frat row central” — as I like to put it. However, the Tavern has a really nice, quiet, open rooftop patio if you decide to venture there for lunch (and the misters are great during the summer). It’s hardly the packed, thumping, V-neck T-shirt and mini-dress filled place it can be at night — as you can see on the right below.
The Tavern is also both the University of Miami bar and the San Francisco 49ers bar — so it’s pretty much my 2nd home during football season.
And Monday through Friday, 3pm – 7pm, you get buy-1-get-1-free house wine, well drinks, and all draft beer.
What may surprise you, is that the food here is actually quite good. It’s always great for a burger and a beer (I personally love that they have Alaskan Amber in bottles), but I also have 2 favorite plates here that I think are pretty unique:
1) The Tavern Nachos
Guys, they’re pre-portioned! And melted! Every little nacho has the perfect amount of chicken, refried beans, melted pepper jack cheese, and a jalapeño on top. You can also get this with ground beef instead of chicken, but I really like the chicken. You can also get them vegetarian, but then what’s the point? (The guacamole you need to order separately, but it’s worth it.)
Who else do you know that does this? No really, cause if you know, tell me. Normally you eat the few nachos on top that have all the good stuff on them, and then you’re digging for the last tiny bit of meat with the 100 nachos you have left over.
Best. Nachos. Ever.
2) The Chicken Caesar Salad
So I don’t know if the photo does it justice. Hell, I don’t even know if that’s home-made Caesar dressing or something out of a bottle (I’m betting the latter). But I have to be honest, this is my favorite Caesar salad in town — and has been for awhile. They take an entire head of romaine, split it in half, and grill it. And they give you a very generous amount of shaved Parmesan and Caesar dressing (you don’t have to use it all if you don’t want). And then one of my favorite parts: you can choose between chicken breast and chicken thigh. And if you’re any kind of foodie or home chef worth your salt, you know the chicken thigh is where all the juiciness and flavor is at! I can’t believe more places don’t do this.
And yes, I don’t know where the hell the croutons are at… normally they have them on there. I should have said something, but I was too excited for the rest of it. Surprise.
You may be surprised to see me writing about the Hard Rock Cafe — and I am a little, too. I don’t usually frequent chains, other than maybe small chains that are all about good sourcing and from-scratch kitchens (e.g., Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar). However, I did find myself at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Denver the other day, because it was chosen as one of 12 cafes out of the 175 Hard Rock locations worldwide to be part of their “Test Kitchen” program.
That means that Hard Rock Cafe Denver and its Executive Chef Hans Andersen have been hard at work evolving the menu to feature fresh, responsibly-sourced, local ingredients. And starting on July 25, 2017, they started serving dishes such as Colorado Striped Bass and the Mile High Bison Burger — all locally sourced through vendors such as Seattle Fish Company, Freshpack Produce, and Rocky Mountain Natural Meats.
It’s nice to see the Hard Rock Cafe making these changes — especially it being a large chain. I think here in Colorado many of us are big on sourcing ingredients locally when possible, or at least I am.
Now for the part most of you probably care about, pictures of the food. These are my 2 favorite little sample bites I had at Hard Rock the other day: the aforementioned Colorado Striped Bass, and the Mile High Bison Local Legendary® Burger.
If you’re curious what these look like when they’re served as a normal portion, I got photos of those too!
This is the seared striped bass served atop a risotto corn cake, lemon beurre blanc, and fresh seasonal vegetables (in this case, asparagus). They’ve done a really amazing job with the fish, which I really wasn’t expecting from Hard Rock. It’s extremely tender and moist under that crispy skin. Even people who weren’t huge loves of fish said they really liked this one. And I’ve never had a risotto corn cake before, but this one was pretty perfect: super creamy on the inside, but crispy on the outside. It’s definitely a dish I would come back for — and it’s perfect for a work lunch downtown.
As for the Mile High Bison Local Legendary® Burger, it’s a house-made bison burger served open faced on freshly baked, grilled bread and topped with creamy mashed potatoes, Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale gravy, and crispy onions. This thing is pretty huge, so I’d probably do it for dinner (unless you can take a nap after lunch). However, I’m still definitely coming back for it. It’s a perfect representation of some of the ingredients that make Colorado unique, and it’s also the perfect comfort food if you’ve had a shitty day. If any of you remember Jonesy’s back when it was open in Uptown, they had these fantastic little happy hour sliders with thick slabs of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy that were just to die for — and this is better.
Note: the last few times I’ve been here, this hasn’t been on the menu, so I would call to see if these are in season if you’re going to The Kitchen just for the mussels.
As someone who used to work in LoDo (and still frequents it for all my client meetings), I have visited pretty much every restaurant in the area for lunch. And one of my favorite lunch options in downtown/LoDo is the mussels dish at The Kitchen.
The “Maine Mussels” (garlic, fresno chili, thyme, grilled bread) are listed as a “starter,” but I think they’re enough for a full meal — although they’re not as big as some of the mussels pots you may be used to. At $16, they’re a little pricy, but that’s The Kitchen for you. I’m pretty sure there might be an entire stick of butter in that broth, and I so don’t care. Plus these are some of the biggest, juiciest mussels I’ve found in Denver. Unfortunately, they’re only available when they’re in season.
I think the only other dish that comes close is the Panang curry mussels at Jax — but unfortunately Jax isn’t open for lunch. The mussels are on the happy hour menu there, though, so come 4pm — pop on over there!
And if you’re looking for a good white wine, my personal favorite at The Kitchen is the Rebholtz Pinot Blanc (Pfalz, Germany), although the $50 price tag isn’t small.
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox garnered a lot of conversation when it first opened in Denver. It’s the 3rd addition to our city from Justin Cucci, chef-owner of two other popular restaurants: Linger and Root Down. The location’s history also certainly adds to the allure: a brothel that opened in 1889, then turned into an adult bookstore, then turned into a restaurant. And reminders of its history remain in the risqué, retro decor of Ophelia’s.
It’s really impossible to convey online how cool the space itself is. You have to see it for yourself. From the downstairs stage with old cassette players on the wall, to the bar built entirely of mini Jägermeister bottles, to the decadent lounge chairs, to the retro adult movie posters, to the edison lightbulbs — everything has been carefully thought-out. (They also have a HUGE projector TV for NFL games — and apparently for Monday Night Football, they serve a 3-course $30 menu themed around the teams playing. How cool is that?!)
Happy Hour: M-F 4-6pm
Happy hour includes $4 Colorado drafts, $6 wines, $5 cocktails, and $5/$7 food plates (and they’re not small). When they opened, personal favorite HH cocktail was the Diamond Lil’s: Cocchi Americano (an aperitif wine), prosecco, lemon, and orange bitters. I’m not sure if they make that anymore (you can ask), but there’s another awesome option on the HH menu now called a PG13 (Vodka, Dill, Cucumber, Lime, Ginger, Soda).
The bourbon BBQ oysters ($2/each on happy hour) were one of my favorite things here, but I don’t think they do these anymore 🙁
The Gigante Bean Hummus (no longer on HH, but $13 on the regular menu) is pretty awesome. It has roasted carrots, watermelon radish, dates, roasted beets, cucumbers, shishito peppers, and flatbread — which makes it the best hummus plate I’ve ever had. The Spring Cheese Incident and Green Chili Cornbread (which is on the HH menu) are also great options.
If you’re looking for something a bit more filling, there is a $5 mushroom or pepperoni flatbread on the menu (this is the pepperoni, with Biellese Pepperoni, mozzarella, and basil).
The duck wings used to be on the HH menu, and the sauce was a little overwhelming, so I’m looking forward to trying the new jerk chicken wings on their menu.
There are also duck meatballs available for $13, and I think those are much better than the duck wings actually (although the portion isn’t huge).
These are the Dry Rub Ribs (Berkshire English cut pork ribs, Carolina Gold mustard, and apple slaw). I wouldn’t really call them “dry rub” — but if you’re a fan of Carolina style BBQ (a thinner, vinegar-based sauce), you’ll love these.
If any of you know me, you know that I absolutely LOVE a good happy hour. And I’ve been to a lot of them. There’s probably not a place downtown I haven’t tried for happy hour. And one of my favorites has always been Panzano. It’s somewhat of a downtown institution — having been around for years.
I just love the variety of always-changing cocktails they have, as well as the extensive happy hour food options. You can easily have an entire dinner here during happy hour — and I often do. Plus, happy hour is 7 days a week (which is awesome if you’re looking for a weekend option) — and it starts at 2:30pm (sometimes you just need to get away a little early).
Happy Hour: 2:30pm-6pm, 7 days a week
- $4 draft beers
- $5 glasses of wine, or $12 carafes
- $6 cocktails (these are absolutely fantastic and a must-try)
- $9 barrel-aged cocktails (if you’re looking for something fancy)
- $4-$8 eats (I love the extensive selection of Italian small plates)
- See the menus
Make sure you get here by 5pm though, because the entire HH lounge is usually packed by then.
There are tons of fantastic cocktails you can get for happy hour — and they’re just $6 (all the options in the left and right columns). I also highly recommend trying one of the barrel-aged bourbons if that’s something you’re into, since Panzano has a whole back room where they age liquors in mini barrels.
One of my personal favorites on the cocktail list is the “R and R” (Grey Goose vodka, raspberry liqueur, muddled raspberries, rosemary, splash of soda). It’s not always available, but there’s always something similarly refreshing.
Another really great option that’s perfect for summer is the “Cucumber Mint Mule” (Bombay Sapphire gin, lime juice, ginger beer, muddled mint and cucumber).
Holy crap, look at all those food options! I mean really, this looks more like a full menu than a happy hour menu. This is what I mean about easily being able to have dinner here — all for happy hour prices.
These Cavolini di Bruxelles (brussel sprouts) come with an apple cider reduction, pistachios, rosemary salt, and sliced green apple. And despite the lack of bacon, they taste fantastic.
The plates below were 2 of favorites here (sorry for the smartphone photo — I’ve been here multiple times, and not always with my SLR). It’s the lamb ragu and veal scallopini, but I think they’ve been switched out on the latest version of the menu. Not to worry though, there’s now a tortellini bolognese with ground veal short rib — as well as a braised lamb and polenta ravioli. So decadent, meaty dishes will always be a staple here.
What I do wish they’d bring back though, is the Capesante (pan-seared scallop, spinach, ricotta gnudi, spring vegetables, basil leek nage, saffron pecorino, fried shallots, and mint).
The Nickel replaced Restaurant Kevin Taylor a few years ago inside the beautiful Hotel Teatro in the Theatre District — and it’s been a perfect addition to the neighborhood. It’s less intimidating than Restaurant Kevin Taylor used to be, and offers a brighter space with a more trendy atmosphere. The Nickel serves up some really nice cocktails and plates if you’re looking for a bite to eat before a show — or if you need a somewhat upscale lunch spot for a client meeting.
What The Nickel does really well is straddle the line between a fine dining establishment worthy of the space in the Hotel Teatro — and an approachable local restaurant that’s perfect for a cocktail and some charcuterie.
The Nickel is a beautiful space, but you’ll notice it feels a lot more open and approachable than its predecessor. Dark tablecloths and classic, upholstered ivory chairs have been replaced with lots of wood, leather, fun patterns, and industrial lamps.
The 3-5pm daily happy hour here is very reasonable. For just $5, you can get a pretty good glass of wine, or for $7 you can choose from one of two rotating specialty barrel-aged cocktails. There are also draft beers at $2 off, as well as some happy hour bites.
If you’re willing to splurge, the Seven-Nickel ($12) isn’t on the happy hour menu, but it’s one of my favorite cocktails anywhere: Leopold’s small batch gin, lemon juice, prosecco, citrus twist. It’s been at the top of the cocktail menu since The Nickel opened.
Back to the charcuterie. Christopher Thompson is the executive chef and salumaio at San Francisco’s award-winning A16 restaurant — so I had pretty high expectations. The meat and cheese list does not disappoint. I’m just sad that the headcheese I fell in love with at The Nickel’s Cochon 555 station isn’t on the menu anymore (and that’s what I was most excited about).
We had the Jamon Iberico ($11) and Chicken Liver Mousse ($9), both of definitely did not skimp on the portions. If you’ve never had Jamon Iberico before, it’s a must try.
The Shaved Asparagus “salad” had plenty of bresaola (another kind of cured meat) on the side to make the carnivore inside me very happy.
I also recommend the Braised Pork Meatballs ($13), which are very filling for a “small plate.” I mean who doesn’t love them some meatballs?
I’m not sure this was my favorite preparation of Veal Sweetbreads, but if you like fried things, then maybe you’ll be a fan of this. The maitake mushrooms, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips help brighten up the dish, though.
I have to be honest, I was hesitant about Mercantile Dining & Provision when it first opened in Union Station. Sure, it comes from James Beard semi-finalist Chef Alex Seidel (of Fruition Restaurant and Fruition Farms), but I wasn’t really ready to pay Mercantile’s prices for dinner. I was finally convinced to try it when I ran into Chef Matt Vawter (Mercantile’s Chef de Cuisine/Proprietor) at Denver’s Cochon 555 (which he won that year). Matt Vawter made some amazing pork dishes at Cochon that I kept coming back for — so I figured I now had to go try his other dishes at Mercantile.
And so I gathered my foodie friends and off we went to Mercantile. And I have to admit: yes, it’s expensive, but it’s also totally worth it for a special occasion. It’s a beautiful restaurant with impeccable service, perfectly chosen wine, and melt-in-your-mouth food.
I think Mercantile perfectly rounds out the array of restaurants inside Union Station. It’s somewhat upscale, but still trendy in that non-intimidating “Colorado” way. The dining room is bright, open, and airy — not dark or stuffy:
And the bar area, with its white tile and wood, is perfect for lunch:
When I first came here, I wasn’t too sure about the wine list. I tend to be of the opinion that if a restaurant can’t put more than 1 wine option on the menu for under $40, they won’t be my best friends. After all, I can easily drink 4 glasses of wine on my own over the course of a 2-hour dinner.
So this is where I really have to take my hat off to the Wine Director at Mercantile, Patrick Houghton. He really knows his stuff. On his suggestion, I had the best Pinot Noir of my life here. You can’t get it at a liquor store, you can’t order it online, and you can’t even stop by the winery itself (Rivers-Marie) without special reservations. Sure, it was a $75 bottle, but it was a pretty amazing special-occasion wine that paired perfectly with our food and exposed us to something new.
On to what everyone really cares about — the food. The shishito peppers ($8) were delicious, but I wouldn’t say they were significantly different from shishito peppers other places, other than for the minor addition of a little bit of pigs’ ears. Maybe if there was more pig ear…
If you’re a fan of salad, the Green Strawberry & Rhubarb Salad (with miner’s lettuce and green almond vinaigrette) is fantastic, but obviously there’s not that much of it.
I don’t care that this was $17 — it’s one of my favorite things here: Alaskan Halibut Cheeks with seared foie gras, fava bean fricassée, and celery root purée. I could have had more than one of these.
With all the other options, I wouldn’t really recommend the Marrow Bone Brûlée (with carrot pancakes, black currant jam, and butter poached radish). I think places like Euclid, which cut the bone in half, do a better job because then you can add spice/flavor to not just the ends. Plus, you don’t have to go digging through it.
This was one of the table’s favorites: Toasted Farro Carbonara, with 61° farmhouse egg, cauliflower, pecora broth, and guanciale ($13). The egg was perfect and added just the right amount of creaminess to it.
The Egg Tagliatelle was one of my other favorites, with razor clams & white shrimp escabeche, sea urchin, and house made bottarga ($16).
Onto the entrées!
If you’re a fan of octopus, this is definitely one of the better octopus dishes you will find anywhere: Spanish Octopus à la Plancha, fingerling potato bravas, garlic aïoli, saffron tomato broth ($26). I like that it doesn’t have chorizo (which is what most restaurants pair with octopus) — so the saltiness and spiciness of the sausage don’t overpower the unique taste of the octopus.
Personally, I recommend going with one of the “family dinners” (served with confit fingerling potatoes, roasted cauliflower, arugula & fennel salad). This is the Whole Branzino à la Plancha, with leeks, fresh thyme & oregano, and lemon ($60, but it easily serves 2 people). And yes, it comes like this so you don’t have to get the meat off the bones yourself.
And then there’s the Bone-in Creek Stone Ribeye (36oz), with truffled sea salt, roasted garlic gastrique, and a veal reduction ($98, but serves 3-4 people). If you like steak, you can’t go wrong with this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was gnawing on that bone by the end of my meal.
And the dessert options are of course no less delicious than everything else. Personally, I’m a cheese-for-dessert kind of person, and Mercantile was more than accommodating there. And there are also more traditional desserts, although they look anything but “traditional.”