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5 Places for Frontier-Inspired Food in Denver

The Fort/Lois Ellen Frank
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
October 13, 2021
If you aren’t afraid to embrace a little culinary novelty, then the following local restaurants will not disappoint. Recalling the days when pioneers had to make do with what was available on the frontier, some top Denver chefs are preparing wonderful dishes focused on game meats like bison, elk, pheasant and others as well as the Colorado delicacy known as Rocky Mountain oysters—bull testicles breaded and deep fried. Try it. You just might like it.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

2148 Larimer St.
(720) 746-9355
Scarfing down something as common as hot dogs might seem like the opposite of adventurous things to do, but you won’t see wieners like the ones served at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs at your neighbor’s backyard barbecue. Among this restaurant’s very uncommon meat choices are bison, elk, pheasant, reindeer, wild boar and even rattlesnake. Your options for toppings aren’t exactly garden variety either: harissa roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam or wasabi aioli add an extra kick to what is guaranteed to be a hot dog experience you won’t forget.
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Buckhorn Exchange

1000 Osage St.
(303) 534-9505
A culinary landmark packed to the rafters with Old West charm, Buckhorn Exchange is one of Denver’s most historic places to eat. The restaurant opened in 1893, and over the decades it has served a colorful array of characters—not to mention five U.S. presidents. Buckhorn displays its long history on its walls, which nearly sag under the weight of historic items that include a gun collection and hundreds of mounted animals. Many dishes served today have been on the menu since the beginning. Start with rattlesnake or Rocky Mountain oysters for an appetizer and move on to elk or bison. If you’d prefer ostrich or yak, be sure to call ahead to see if those entrees are available.
The Fort/Lois Ellen Frank

The Fort

19192 Hwy 8
(303) 697-4771
A foodie destination in the red rock foothills near Denver, The Fort has been celebrating Colorado history and cuisine since it opened in 1963. The adobe building housing the restaurant—designed to look like an actual 1830s fort in southeastern Colorado—offers sweeping views of the countryside including Denver’s downtown skyscrapers. Menu items inspired by the area’s catch-as-catch-can frontier days include elk, musk ox, ostrich, pheasant, wild boar and yak. The Fort is particularly known for its various preparations of bison, and one of its most popular appetizers is the Rocky Mountain oysters.
Courtesy of Vesta


1822 Blake St.
(303) 296-1970
Grilled meats take center stage at Vesta, a LoDo dining destination where you can choose from a list of a dozen dipping sauces ranging from sweet to savory. Beef, lamb, chicken, duck, pork and fish are, not surprisingly, on the menu, and vegetarians have options as well, but if you’re craving something a bit less conventional, try the pasta with elk sausage small plate or an entrée of grilled venison in a cherry port reduction.

Wynkoop Brewing Company

1634 18th St.
(303) 297-2700
Although you would never know it now, Denver’s LoDo area was once a seedy district most folks avoided after dark. That began to change in 1988 around the time Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub, opened its doors in a historic, five-story brick commercial building across from Union Station. Today, the area is packed with bars, restaurants and other fun places to go, but Wynkoop Brewing still enjoys the reputation as the destination for beer lovers, especially those looking for something a little out of the ordinary. (One beer is made with Rocky Mountain oysters.) Bison also appears on the menu, delicious as either meatloaf or in a burger.