Jay Fox's Dining Guide

Best bets for Democratic dining in Denver

Read closely, because the next several paragraphs may change your life – or, at least they’ll change the outcome of your day on Saturday, April 12 when the Democratic State Assembly is held in downtown Denver at the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theatre. Denver, as you probably know, is fast becoming a foodie mecca with eateries that rival anything you might find in New York City or San Francisco. Lucky you, you’ll be right in the middle of this smorgasbord of flavor when the convention ends early with few, if any, contested races for delegates to linger over. Here are a few suggestions on some of Denver’s finest, trendiest and most mouthwatering restaurants.

If you like (world-famous) Latin American food…

Tamayo

1400 Larimer St. • .5 miles from Convention Center

720-946-1433

Entrée prices: $13-$29

Hours: Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.;
lunch, Mon.-Fri, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.;
dinner, Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat., 5-11 p.m.

Tamayo is one of over 30 Latin American restaurants founded and owned by Chef Richard Sandoval, a Mexican-born and Culinary Institute of America-educated chef, who has won countless awards, including being named Market Watch’s “On Premise Player of the Year” in 2013, and gained tons of recognition for his modern, Latin American cuisine. On a political note, Tamayo was a major gathering place for VIP Democrats when the 2008 Democratic National Convention was in town. Local bigwigs reserved the second floor patio weeks in advance to keep track of all the hustle and bustle below on Larimer Square, the oldest block in Denver (dating back to about 1858), which became Denver’s first historic district in 1971. It was sold to its current owner in 1993, after which it began its transformation into a bustling, urban destination for upscale food and drink and trendy shops.

Tamayo has the food of a high-class restaurant and the business sense of a chain ($2-taco night and $35-brunch with bottomless margaritas). Stop by before you head over to the Jefferson Jackson Dinner Saturday night and sample some of the best guacamole (made tableside) and other appealing Latin appetizers such as mahi mahi ceviche and squash blossom quesadillas. Entrees include adobo pork or beef tenderloin tacos, huitlacoche and wild mushroom enchiladas, and three simply delicious cazuelas (similar to the French cassoulet and the American casserole).

If you’re really, really hungry…

The Corner Office Restaurant & Martini Bar

The Corner Office Restaurant & Martini Bar

1401 Curtis St.

.5 miles from Convention Center

303-825-6500

Entrée prices: $11-$32

Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 6 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Fri., 6 a.m.-11 p.m.;
Sat., 3-11 p.m.; Sun., 3-10 p.m.

The Corner Office, or TCO as it is known, is located at the corner of Curtis and 14th Street, attached to the Curtis Hotel. Awarded “the best place in Denver for parties and private events” by a local mag, it is a regular gathering spot of politicos for Happy Hour and also plays host to larger parties of both political persuasions. And if you’re an early riser, it’s an established place for a power breakfast. You might even find restaurant owner Walt Isenberg there with other downtown business mavens.

TCO is impeccably decorated and full of trendy little details: for instance, a wall of clocks in the front dining area. The clocks are labeled with different regions of the world, but they are all, for some unexplained reason, set to the same time. This might be a reference to their wildly global comfort food, which unites flavors and dishes from the farthest reaches of Asia to the wilds of the American South. Appetizers include Saffron Arancini (Italian rice balls), Baja Fish Tacos (Latin America) and Duck Poutine (a signature Canadian dish that resembles nachos, but with French fries for chips, cheese curds for queso, and meaty gravy for salsa). Entrees are equally all-over-the-board; some standouts are the Shanghai Ramen with three (yes, three) preparations of pork and a soft-boiled egg; and the Southern chicken ‘n waffles with Applejack maple syrup whose aroma and taste rival the best fair food you’ve ever had. The lobster mac and cheese uses cognac cream, mascarpone and grana cheeses, and there are several meatless dishes on the menu such as a grilled corn-infused veggie burger, and tokugawa soba salad with buckwheat noodles, edamame, shitake mushrooms and a sesame vinaigrette and sweet chili sauce. The plates are hefty and guaranteed to sate the largest of appetites. Some dishes, like the chicken ‘n waffles, are almost impossible to tackle with a knife and fork. Either watch what you order, or be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get a little messy. The Corner Office also has a wide selection of cleverly named martinis and cocktails. How would you feel about ordering an “I Love Juicy” (limoncello, aperol, peach bitters, prosecco) or a “Johnny Boy,” which mixes caramel and jalepeno. Bottom line is, you won’t be bored at The Corner Office, whether by the food, décor or drinks; but most importantly, you won’t be hungry when you leave.

If you believe dinner should be mixed with a good amount of political brainstorming…

Mercury Cafe

Mercury Cafe

2199 California St.

.9 miles from Convention Center

303-294-9258

Entrée prices: $10-$16

Hours: Dinner, Tues.-Sun., 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch, Sat. & Sun., 9 a.m.-3 p.m.;
nightclub, Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., until 1 a.m.; Fri. & Sat., until 2 a.m.

C-Span called it “a haven for political radicals” when The Mercury Café acted as the headquarters during the 2008 Democratic National Convention for anti-war group Code Pink. Old political mementos hang on the walls and the place gives off a ‘60’s vibe when you first walk in. Founder Marilyn Megenity emphasizes Mercury’s identity as a congregating place for all types of people and specifically for political activists. She believes it’s critically important that people meet in person to talk, brainstorm ideas and of course, eat the healthy, organic food of the Mercury Café that will fuel them through assemblies, meetings, conferences and rallies. The menu is basic, not fussy in the least, and full of good and good for you dishes that emphasize local meats and produce. Try a little surf with the river salad (greens, striped bass, grilled potatoes and seaweed) or a little turf with bison or elk enchiladas. Or perhaps something from the earth like a sautéed, open face vegetable sandwich with melted cheese. Everything is local and organic, including the wine and beer, so you can feel confident that you’re leaving behind the smallest footprint possible if you dine here. Part of Megenity’s community vision includes live music and shows, so there’s a good chance you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of a jazz or classical music in the lower dining room, or if you venture to the upper level, something a little wilder.

If you want to see where all this beer buzz began…

Wynkoop Brewing

Wynkoop Brewing Co.

1634 18th St.

1 mile from Convention Center

303-297-2700

Entrée prices: $7-$19

Hours: Every day, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

As is widely known, Wynkoop Brewing Company was founded by now-Governor John Hickenlooper in 1988 as part of his efforts to revitalize downtown. And as Travel and Leisure Magazine noted when it named the local watering hole one of “America’s Coolest Breweries” last year, Wynkoop also has a restaurant on premise, a trend they started in Colorado that was followed by many other breweries, including Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, and Oskar Blues, which has brewpubs in Longmont and Lyons. From a brewpub, you might expect plain old pub fare, but Wynkoop’s menu is something quite other. Small plates include traditional favorites like wings and fried calamari, but Wynkoop also offers fragrant roasted mussels with broth and toast to mop it up and a hummus plate with more than just humus and crudités (olive tapenade and sundried tomato relish, to be exact). Entrees and sandwiches range from $9 to $19, and once again include the usual suspects — fish and chips, reuben, burger, mac and cheese — and more exotic dishes like a pork banh mi, a Korean baguette sandwich featuring braised meat and an array of crisp and spicy toppings, and a veg-friendly risotto. Even the salads deviate from the norm with combinations like baby kale, quinoa, apricots, pea shoots, pecorino cheese and a truffle vinaigrette; and roasted turnips with white beans, turnip greens, bacon, grana cheese and an apple cider dressing.

An improv comedy theater sits in the basement of the pub, along with 22 billiards tables upstairs. And for fit politicos, the Wynkoop also caters to the “Hoppy Yogis,” who turn up on Monday nights for yoga followed by tastings and tours.

Beer that’s Colorado-proud, prices for every budget, and food that’s innovative and forward-thinking: sounds just like a certain someone in a certain Colorado office.

If taste always rivals trendiness in your book…

Racines

650 Sherman St. • 1.6 miles from Convention Center

303-595-0418

Entrée prices: $8-$17

Hours: Mon. & Tues., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 7 a.m.-11 p.m.;
Sat., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Racines has long been a gathering place for legislators, lobbyists, politicos and powerful personas in all career paths. Awarded “Best Power Breakfast” by numerous publications over the years, Racines does indeed serve up an enticing, traditional breakfast, including pancakes, eggs benedict and all your other favorites. No matter what time you get there for breakfast, expect to see a large roster of political types slurping up the good fare and engaged in high-level discussions that inevitably lead back to City Hall or the Gold Dome.

But the tasty food and the hungry politics don’t leave after breakfast time. If you’re in the mood for lunch, prepare for a long wait on some occasions. No matter, relax and ogle major players in the political and biz arenas who frequent Racines. Open since 1983, the legendary power house owes its longevity perhaps to their consistent menu that doesn’t follow every food fad or trend. They know what works, and media has taken notice. Try the Solitaire Salmon salad (baby spinach & arugula, berries, feta cheese, curried pecans, red onions and tomatoes with an orange balsamic vinaigrette), which was featured in the National Culinary Review; or the Mile High Nachos (topped with white cheddar cheese, beans, black olives, jalapeños, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole and salsa), which won awards two years in a row in Westword’s Best Of series.

Maggie Tharp pens food articles for The Colorado Statesman. If she could only eat at a handful of Denver restaurants for the rest of her life, it would likely be these. Maggie can be reached at maggie@coloradostatesman.com.