DENVER & BOULDER: 8 FARM-TO-TABLE RESTAURANTS
Denver and Boulder are like heaven for a farm-to-table foodie like myself. There’s a real commitment to this movement in the Front Range, and it shows in the variety of locally grown options available. There are so many awesome places to choose from — too many choices and too little time!
In this post you’ll find descriptions of eight farm-to-table experiences in Boulder and Denver. They range from very casual and affordable to casually elegant and fairly expensive.
BOULDER DUSHANBE TEA HOUSE
From here on out, any time I travel to Boulder, a visit to Dushanbe Tea House will be required. And so it is decreed. I could write an entire post just about this tea house (ooh…maybe I will!).
They source their food from local sources as much as possible, and their teas come from the Boulder Tea Company. Their breakfast is amazing, with inventive dishes that are also delectable. I can honestly say this is one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a long time. It was just the right amount of food to be filling without feeling stuffed (unless you also order a side of scones and drink an entire pot of tea . . . not that I did).
They also offer an afternoon tea service that was quite impressive, especially given how hard it is to find a good tea room these days (I mean seriously, what has happened to all the cute + delicious tea rooms?!). Afternoon tea is offered between 3-5 pm daily, and reservations MUST be made 24 hours in advance. I LOVE going to afternoon tea, so this was a real treat.
If the weather permits, I highly recommend having breakfast outside on their covered patio area overlooking the creek — I can’t think of a better way to start your day. So much so, in fact, that I broke my rule of not eating at the same restaurant twice, and had breakfast there two mornings in a row. Yeah, it’s that good.
Located at 1770 13th St., Boulder. 303-442-4993, www.boulderteahouse.com
Metered street parking is available in front of and behind the tea house.
After eating a big breakfast at the Dushanbe Tea House AND going back there later that day for afternoon tea (I know, I’m a total hog), I admittedly wasn’t feeling too hungry by dinner time.
But, I was on a mission to try as many farm-to-table restaurants as possible during my trip and wasn’t about to miss a meal and, more importantly, the chance to find another restaurant to report on (the things I do for you!).
So, my next stop was at Salt for dinner. They’re committed to locally sourcing their ingredients, and their kitchen is 99% GMO free (yeah!).
Because I was painfully full, I picked up my food and took it back to my hotel room, where I could put on my pajamas (the ones with the expandable waist band) and eat my food in bed. I wanted something on the lighter side (can’t imagine why?!) so I got the Vegetable Tasting, which is a staple on their dinner menu and changes based on availability. My dish had lentil corn salad, roasted summer squash, caprese salad, seared greens, and marinated eggplant.
I love a good veggie plate, even when I’m not stuffed to the gills, and this one did not disappoint! Even after sitting on my nightstand for an hour while I convinced myself that I had room for one more meal, the food was still delicious.
Located at 1047 Pearl, Boulder. (303)444-7258, www.saltthebistro.com
THE SQUEAKY BEAN (DENVER)
The next day I had a meeting in downtown Denver, so it was the perfect opportunity to check out The Squeaky Bean, which shows up on a lot of the farm-to-table lists for Denver.
The weather was still warm enough to eat outside. They have a small patio with about four tables, so I was able to get tucked into a nice little corner and do some people-watching while I ate. I only took a brief look at the inside of the restaurant, but it looked warm and inviting.
The lunch menu was fairly limited (which is kind of the norm when basing your dishes on what’s available locally), with a selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches. After great debate, I went with the Tuna Conserva Sandwich (sashimi grade tuna, avocado, giardiniera, celery, aioli) and greens (I REALLY wanted the fries, but after my gorgefest the day before, I felt like I needed to behave myself).
But, I overheard the server telling folks at another table that their Fried Chicken BLT is the way to go. They took her advice and did not seem disappointed!
As for me, the food was fresh and tasty and I enjoyed my meal, but wasn’t blown away. I think it’s a solid choice if you’re downtown looking for some fresh locally sourced food, but I probably wouldn’t make a special trip downtown to eat at the Squeaky Bean (especially considering it cost me more to park in the deck two blocks away than the entire cost of my meal. Literally.)
Located at 1500 Wynkoop St., #101, 303.623.2665, www.thesqueakybean.com
Duo was a lovely little find in Denver’s Highland neighborhood. It sits on the corner of an idyllic street with a brick front, flower planters out front, and big store front/plate windows. The inside has a bit of a French farmhouse feel to it, with a rustic warm feeling to it. The huge plate windows on the front keep it from being too dark, letting in in lots of bright light and providing ample people-watching.
Their fare is New American and their menu changes regularly, but one thing that’s apparently a staple on the menu are the fried pickled radishes. Who knew fried pickled radishes were a thing? But trust me, they ARE.
They had a vegetable plate special that night (it’s a Meatless Monday tradition there) that sounded creative and unique, using the vegetables that were currently in season. I can’t resist a good veggie plate, so I went for it. How could I resist zucchini stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, Anasazi beans, and tomatoes topped with toasted panko crumbs; served over a chilled asparagus and mint purée, with a quinoa salad with tomatoes, onions, and basil, and accented with a corn salsa?
My pictures don’t do it justice…it was beautifully plated and thoroughly enjoyable.
I did learn from my server, who was very helpful, that at this time of year only about 50% of their veggies are sourced locally.
Duo is an excellent choice if you’re looking for fresh, (mostly) locally-sourced food served in unique and expertly-crafted dishes in a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Note: Unless there was a parking lot hidden away that I couldn’t find, it’s street parking only, so give yourself extra time to find a spot. It was well worth all the circles I made round the block.
Located at 2413 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, (303) 477-4141, www.duorestaurants.com
HIVE GARDEN BISTRO AT THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS (DENVER)
It doesn’t get more local than this . . . The little eatery located inside the Denver Botanic Gardens uses vegetables grown in their Le Potager garden just a stone’s throw from their kitchen. You can see actually the vegetable garden from your table. They supplement with produce from their CSA at Chatfield Farms.
Hive serves lunch until 4:00, plus coffee drinks, smoothies, and local ice cream. It’s an order-at-the-counter set-up, and the food gets to you fast. That said, this is NOT fast food. To be so quick and working in such a little kitchen, they offer a surprisingly large menu and make some really delicious and wholesome food.
The menu consists primarily of a variety of sandwiches, salads, burgers, pizzas, and tacos that are super fresh and not your standard fast lunch food. I had the fish tacos with a side of the slaw, and was very pleased with my meal. Later I had an almond-flavored latte that was SO good. I wish I had one right now.
All the seating is outside, and it’s pure bliss out there. To the back and side of the bistro, the tables overlook a little stream and pond, and you’ll see ducks swimming aby and sometimes walking under your table.
In front of the bistro, the tables overlook the gardens, including my favorite, the Monet Pool. The water lilies there are stunning. I wish all my meals could be had in such a beautiful setting.
I’m SO glad I found this little gem in the middle of the Denver Botanic Gardens. I actually bought an annual membership because I anticipate this being a regular stop for me any time I’m in Denver.
Notes: The cost to enter the garden is $12.50, and that does need to be paid to access the bistro. But it’s so worth it . . . The gardens are like a little oasis right in the middle of the city and it’s definitely a place to visit while you’re in town. Hive closes for the winter at the end of October and opens again in the spring.
Located inside the Denver Botanic Gardens at 1007 York St., 720-865-3501, www.botanicgardens.org
CHAUTAUQUA DINING HALL (BOULDER)
This place is kind of magical to me. Maybe in part because it reminds me of Kellerman’s — the resort from one my favorite movies, Dirty Dancing.
Nestled at the foot of the mountains, there are trails for hiking and picturesque views of the mountains you can enjoy while eating on the massive wraparound porch. It’s absolutely gorgeous there.
The dining hall is part of the Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark, and has been a part of Boulder’s history since 1898. In addition to the restaurant, there’s an auditorium, 58 cottages, and a park.
The dining hall is operated by Three Leaf Concepts (the same company that operates one of my other faves, the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House).
After a short trek on one of the trails, I got a table outside on the porch and took in the beautiful views of the grounds and the Flatirons in the distance. Their menu offers “bistro cuisine,” and it sounded so good I wished I’d had room for more than I did. In the end, I only had an order of Brussels sprouts (I know that’s a big fail on my part, but I just wasn’t that hungry) — but they were bright and delicious, and bode well for the rest of the menu.
The attire was casual and they didn’t seem to mind my sweaty hiking clothes.
It’s like a taste of everything awesome about Boulder all in one place, and I can’t wait to go back.
Note: The only thing that isn’t awesome about Chautauqua Dining Hall is the parking. Parking. It’s extremely limited, so expect to make a few circles around before you find a space. Or, it’s just right outside of town, so Uber/Lyft may be an option.
Located at 900 Baseline Road, Boulder. 303.442.3282
ROOT DOWN (DENVER)
Root Down is a cozy little restaurant located in the Highland neighborhood. I went there for dinner after it was recommended by a local who knew I was in search of farm-to-table dining. I can see why she’s such a fan.
They have ample outdoor seating on covered patios, and I was lucky enough to score a table on one of the patios with no reservation (the food gods were working in my favor!).
I could tell almost immediately it’s a favorite of the Highland locals, because (besides being packed) my server seemed to know everyone seated on the patio. And while we’re on the subject of service, he was phenomenal. When I made what I hoped was a helpful suggestion that my dish would be better with more tomatoes, he said he’d pass it along to the chef AND he brought more tomatoes to add to my dish (and it did make it better). He was attentive and knowledgeable, and didn’t seem to mind one bit answering all my questions.
Another thing that really impressed me about Root Down is their commitment to sustainability in all things, locally sourcing their food, and using humanely raised animals for protein. (Click here for more details about their sustainability practices.)
The menu had a good and interesting variety of small and large plates. I was having a hard time deciding, so I went with my server’s recommendations of the beet salad (I love some beet salad, and this one made me happy — though admittedly no beet salad could rival the one I had from the Green Table). For my entree I had the risotto with scallops. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best choice for me since I’m not a huge fan of risotto. But he said it was one of the most seasonal dishes currently on the menu, and it sounded so unique that I couldn’t resist. Once I got my extra roasted tomatoes to go with it, I was really pleased with the dish. It was a little on the heavy side, but I guess one should expect that when ordering risotto.
The dessert was also different and fun — a spin on an ice cream float. The ice cream came out in a cup, and a little pitcher of the lime-flavored soda came with it. It was so refreshing and light; it’s hard to describe and I know I’m not doing it justice. If they have it on the menu, you should try it for yourself — I think you’ll be glad you did.
Located at 1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303.993.4200.
Note: I’d recommend making a rez, and beware that parking is a real bitch here. They claimed to have valet, but I could never find it. After a few circles around the block, I got lucky and found some street parking nearby. This would be a good place to Uber/Lyft to.
Without even knowing it, I saved the best for last. On my last night in the Front Range, I had dinner at Potager and it was DIVINE.
With its big storefront windows letting in lots of natural light (and plenty of good people-watching), the cool combination of industrial elements and exposed brick, with French Provincial decor, and quiet jazz playing in the background, it was an ideal atmosphere to take a breath and relax after a long day (it would also make for an awesome date night).
The service was impeccable, and my server Matt did a fantastic job of guiding me expertly through the menu — every one of his recommendations was on point.
The food itself was creative, expertly prepared, and completely delightful. I started with an heirloom tomato salad that was probably the best I’ve ever had. Now that’s some high praise coming from someone who treasures a homegrown summer tomato almost as much as oxygen. And I’ve had a lot of tomato salads over the years. It was simple and fresh, and tasted like summer on a plate.
I opted to go vegetarian again, and went with Matt’s recommendation of the eggplant dish. I wish I’d been able to get a picture that would showcase it in all its glory. Such a delectable blend of tastes and textures, perfectly balanced and beautifully presented.
By the end of the meal I was really too full for dessert, but because of my selfless and thoughtful nature, I made the sacrifice so that I could give you a full report about Potager (you’re welcome).
Honestly, the dessert was the least favorite part of my meal. I had the peach crumble and it was good, but for me the taste didn’t quite justify the amount of sugar I consumed. But in all fairness, the fact that I was completely stuffed by the time it arrived probably didn’t help.
Underwhelming dessert aside, Potager is currently my favorite Denver/Boulder farm-to-table restaurant and the one I would most highly recommend trying. That said, I haven’t yet tried Black Cat or Fruition, and from what I hear they will be contenders.
I’ll have to save those for my next trip.
Denver and Boulder have so much to offer in the way of fresh, locally sourced cuisine made with sustainably produced ingredients. You’ll be at no loss for places to have fantastic farm-to-table meals in the Front Range. I can’t wait to go back!
Do you have any good farm-to-table food finds in Denver and Boulder to share? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
Photo Credits: Valerie Wong