USA Today 10 Best Gameday Eats – (hint) Guard and Grace is #1

By Becca Blond – Denver Local Expert

Denver is fanatic about its sports teams — did you know it is the only city in the country to host seven professional teams? But no team draws bigger crowds or more passion than the Broncos, who play their home football games at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

If you’re going to the big game, you’re probably going to tailgate beforehand (it’s a time honored tradition after-all), but should you be in town for a few days, and staying near the stadium, or hungry after the winning touchdown is thrown, there are some great restaurants within a 10-minute taxi ride of the stadium, which is located on the west side of I-25 and not far from some of Denver’s trendiest neighborhoods — LoDo is located just across the highway to the east, while LoHI and the Highlands are just a few minutes drive north.

If you’re in the mood for a perfectly cooked steak in mod posh environs then head to Guard and Grace, which focuses on 22 different options in three cuts. For New American West cooking, including delectable game and seafood, check out Range in a fantastic space in the historic Colorado National Bank Building, which now houses the just-opened Renaissance Downtown City Center Hotel. It also has a bar with flat screen TVs to view the game, should you not have tickets. While vegetarians will dig the three-course tasting menu at Old Major, which also does excellent meat. So regardless of what you’re craving, these 10 restaurants will indulge.

10 1515 Restaurant
Named for its street address, 1515 entices diners with low lighting, a romantic atmosphere, and tantalizing grilled meat and fresh seafood dishes. For a starter, try the Maryland crab cakes or duck leg confit both of which stand out. Follow them with sizzling beef tenderloin accompanied by vegetable gratin and leek frites, or maybe smoked venison, duck breast, Kobe sirloin, or lamb shank. It’s also popular at lunch time, when burgers rule. Regardless of what you order, you can expect consistently good food that is locally sourced when possible. The unique atmosphere is enhanced after dark with live jazz and blues playing nightly. (303-571-0011)

9 Range
Range, the just opened restaurant in the brand new Renaissance Downtown City Center Hotel in the former Colorado National Bank building, is so masterful with its culinary creations it can make a brussels sprout taste good to a person who normally can’t stand this vegetable. Executive chef Paul Nagan is that good. The New West menu is creative and quite varied including everything from inexpensive wood-fire pizzas that truly stand out taste wise to deletable meat and seafood entrees. We loved the sea scallops with sweet potato mashers and Tasso ham. The shellfish was seared to perfection and the flavor was divine. If you like game meat, the ancho cocoa elk rack is the menu’s star attraction. Also don’t skip the equally creative cocktails — for something different try the Sage & Berries, it’s a rum drink that tastes exactly like a sipping tequila. If possible save room for dessert. (720-726-4800)

8 Randolph’s Restaurant & Bar
Located in Denver’s uptown neighborhood, inside the Warwick Hotel, Randolph’s serves contemporary American fare paired with classic cocktails in a dining room that feels comfortable yet elegant. It’s known for having one of Denver’s best happy hours as well as an excellent Sunday brunch buffet that includes an option for mix-and-match bottomless mimosas and bloody mary’s. The menu created by chef Jesper Jonsson is artful, yet unpretentious and changes seasonally, but always includes a half dozen pasta options (recommended) as well as farm-to-table and plenty of fish and seafood entrees. These are complemented by an award-winning wine list. When the weather is nice, down outside on the patio. (3033187272)

7 Tamayo
Tamayo is one of the most popular restaurants on historic Larimer Square with good reason. Richard Sandoval–of Zengo and La Biblioteca fame–has created a posh, airy space in which Mexican is reimagined as an artful, surprising cuisine yet true to its roots. Among the starters are a wild-mushroom flatbread with goat cheese, black-bean puree, caramelized onion and truffle oil, and a chile-encrusted calamari served with Napa cabbage salad and a chipotle-blood-orange reduction. La Tampiquena is one of the chef’s specials, a dish featuring filet mignon and served with poblano-chile potato gratin, mole-cheese enchilada, cactus salad and guacamole. A variety of tacos and enchiladas round out the menu, and there are also cazuelas–traditional braises of chicken, pork shoulder or short ribs accompanied by warm tortillas, Mexican-style rice and crema fresca. Don’t skimp on the delectable sides here, especially the caramelized plantains with chipotle butter. (720-946-1433, 646-285-0796)

6 Old Major
The focus at this Highlands-area eatery is on heritage-raised meats from Colorado farms. The restaurant does its own butchering and cures the meats in-house (you can see the charcuterie room from the dining area). While the emphasis is definitely on meals that meat lovers will enjoy, meat is not the only option. There are also seafood selections, including oysters, and there’s a vegetarian three-course tasting menu, so any group with diverse culinary preferences can come together to Old Major and enjoy a meal out. Arrive early for the well-priced happy hour menu and you’ll save a few bucks without sacrificing taste (consider the kimchi pork burger). ((720) 420-0622)

5 Rioja
Mediterranean influences inform the menu that includes extraordinary handmade pastas by Chef Jennifer Jasinski, who is also co-owner of the restaurant. The cavatelli is served with black truffle chicken sausage, morel mushroom, peas and spring onions, while the beet gnocchi has strawberries, hon-shimeji mushrooms, walnuts, tarragon and horseradish-fromage blanc. Among the phenomenal starter offerings are a roasted beet salad and the Rioja “picnic” plate with artisan meats, warm pine-nut-crusted goat cheese, Gorgonzola, olives, fennel salad, orange confit and almonds. It was no surprise to anyone who has had the good fortune to dine at Rioja when Jasinski became the first Denver chef to win the coveted James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest award in 2013. Grab a seat on the patio if the weather is nice, and enjoy people-watching as you sip a glass of wine. The impressive list features selections from Rioja, the Spanish wine region. (303-820-2282)

4 Coohill’s
Located in LoDo, where many of Denver’s trendy new American and more casual restaurants reside, Coohill’s features a menu that is traditional French at heart but with many of the ingredients sourced from Colorado farmers and purveyors. Dishes include duck confit, snails, foie gras, pate and a truffled egg and brioche served with fiddlehead fern. There’s steak, lamb duck, salmon, halibut and scallops, too. Of course, like any good French restaurant, Coohill’s has desserts to die for so plan on indulging. There’s a solid selection of cocktails, craft beers and wine, and the restaurant also offers a nice list of ports as well. If you don’t make (303-623-5700)

3 EDGE Restaurant & Bar at Four Seasons Hotel Denver
A self-titled “progressive American steakhouse,” Edge is sleek and sophisticated as befits its location in the elegant Four Seasons Hotel Denver. Meats here are fire grilled over pecan wood and the contemporary upscale menu offers more than 200 wines by the bottle and 50 wines by the glass. Steaks include a 16-oz bone-in buffalo rib eye and a 32-oz Porterhouse for two. Veal chops and lamb chops, tuna steaks, Scottish salmon and jumbo sea scallops are also offered and grilled to perfection, and there are a variety of toppings on offer, including lump crab citrus Hollandaise and pan-seared foie gras. (3033893343)

2 Palettes at the Art Museum
When it opened in 1997, Palettes was one of the first chef-driven restaurants to be located in a museum. Now a staple at Denver Art Museum, Palette’s is one of chef Kevin Taylor’s great Denver successes. For one thing, its floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the architectural wonder that is the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind, and that is a fine accompaniment to any meal. Contemporary in focus, Palettes has an excellent brunch menu and a main menu with so many worthy choices it will be hard to decide. Snow crab summer rolls with mango, apple herb salad, gold raisins and peanut ginger coulis? House-made mac & cheese? Seared diver scallops with Brussels sprouts, Parma ham, basil, fingerlings, orange and sweet corn chowder? The three-course prix fixe menu is an excellent way to go. Palettes stays open until 8 p.m. on Fridays. (3035341455)

1 Guard and Grace
Opened in April 2014, Guard and Grace is chef Troy Guard’s latest. Steaks are front and center–there are 22 different options in three categories: Prime, Angus and Grass-fed, all made from Colorado-raised beef. It can be cooked however you like it from blue (very red, cold center) to well done. But the creative, distinctly contemporary menu also includes oak-grilled chicken enchiladas and Rocky Mountain trout among the entrees, a starter of oak-grilled carrots (rave reviews), excellent salads, vegetable- and meat-topped flatbreads and all kinds of shellfish in the raw bar, as well as American sturgeon caviar and both tuna and kampachi sashimi. (303-293-8500)