When Denver International Airport (DIA) opened in February 1995 I was excited to fly out of this ultra-modern airport. Little did I know the restaurants would be one of the best aspects of this tented airport in the prairie. There was a time when travelers trapped in an airport had only crappy food choices. Over the last ten years or so there has been a quiet revolution in airport dining.
I first noticed this trend shortly after DIA opened for business. I flew mainly on Frontier Airlines out of the A terminal. Chef Jimmy’s broke the mold of the same old crappy burgers, steaks, and fried chicken breast. At Chef Jimmy’s I could order a tasty Kung Pao Salad containing Asian veggies, udon noodles, greens, crushed peanuts with a Thai vinaigrette dressing and move on to a Penne Rustica or Mushroom Fettucine entre. Things were looking up.
A few years later Chef Jimmy opened the Mesa Verde Grill, upstairs in the A terminal. This southwestern style eatery upped the usual blah Mexican food choices. At Mesa Verde Grill I could get hot and tasty green chili on cold winter days. The rest of the year I’d dive into either the Street Tacos or Chicken Adovada Platter featuring chicken breasts topped with red chili sauce, and sides of beans, corn tortillas, guacamole, and grilled jalapeno.
Over the years since DIA opened I’ve eaten at most of the restaurants. Chef Jimmy’s and Mesa Verde Grill are still operating, but there have been a number of new and exciting eateries too. Some of the most notable are Denver Chophouse, Root Down, Elway’s, Root Down, Rock Bottom Brewery, Timberline Steaks and Grill, 5280 Lounge, and Vino Volo Wine Bar.
For travelers in the B terminal, Elway’s is the priciest option. Legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway opened his first restaurant in the trendy Cherry Creek shopping area before expanding to Vail, downtown Denver, and DIA. This sleek steakhouse will fill you up and empty your wallet if you get carried away. Check out the creative salads like Truffled Beet-Mozzarella, or Tyler’s Ahi Salad. For entrees try the steaks, burgers, rack of lamb, or Skuna Bay salmon.
Other great options in the B terminal are Pour la France for breakfast, or the Cantina Mexican Grill. At Cantina Mexican Grill customers can choose the stand and order counter or their sit-down dining room if time is plentiful. Try the burritos and the chicken tortilla soup. At Pour la France the omelets or the French toast are winners. If you have time for wine and snacks 5280 Lounge is upstairs in the center of the B terminal serving fine wines and snacks like their spicy roasted Spanish olives. For sweets, Rocky Mt Chocolate Factory near gate B-52 is my favorite. I go for the chocolate covered macadamia nut clusters and peanut butter buckets.
Moving on to the C terminal a lot has changed since it first opened decades ago. For the high-end try Timberline Steaks and Grille. This popular eatery near the center of the C-terminal is said to be the highest grossing restaurant in Colorado bringing in an astounding 12 million dollars per year. Try their hormone-free steaks and chicken and maybe start out with an order of Rocky Mt. Oysters.
For health-conscious diners try Root Down, also by the center of the C-terminal, serves wholesome fare. Some of the menu items have an ethnic flare like the Banh Mi Turkey Burger with Vietnamese flavors. The beet salad or Greek chicken salad wrap made with edamame and chick peas will please both vegetarian and meat eaters with an ample serving of veggies and cheese. Many of Root Down’s menu items can be ordered in half sizes if needed. One of their best to-go items is the Traveler’s Bento Box with a choice of protein with coconut rice, edamame salad, miso vin arugula, and a fortune cookie.
For beer lovers, the Rock Bottom Brewery near gate C-32 is waiting for you with a frosty glass of IPA, red, dark, wheat ale, or what’s fresh that day. Sandwiches, street food, salads, and soup fill the menu with decent pub fare. Wine enthusiasts will enjoy a stop at Vino Volo wine bar near gate C-29. Several wines by-the-glass and appetizers await the weary traveler. I like the wine flights and a side of Marcona almonds to start. A Tuscan chicken sandwich is my favorite sandwich with fresh green and red pepper aioli.
There are of course dozens of other dining choices. I didn’t mention chain-type restaurants because most any airport has those and life’s too short to eat at chain restaurants. Outside of security are a few decent choices for food like Pour laFrance, Boulder Beer Tap House, and Caribu Coffee. Some other noteworthy tips for DIA are: they have water bottle filling stations, friendly ambassadors with white cowboy hats outside security, and seasonal display along the bridge to the A terminal.
As a frequent flyer, I pay attention to airports for ease of passage, dining, and comfort. DIA scores high in all three areas. I hope my mini-guide to the best Restaurants at Denver International Airport helps you make the most of your visit to the nation’s fifth busiest airport.