By Ashley Iaccarino, TPA Communications Manager
Meals and Mountains in the Mile High City
With a full-page itinerary set and sent to my two closest girlfriends, I packed for my early morning flight. Weeks before, I scored a $54 roundtrip flight on Frontier Airlines nonstop to Denver, Colorado, and somehow convinced two friends from college - a Dallas and San Francisco resident - to meet me there. The three of us enjoyed the city on the budget and, naturally, ate our hearts out! This is my story:
Still half asleep from a 7 a.m. departure, I trudged through Denver International Airport in search of baggage claim. I passed construction walls with signs reading, “Under Construction? Or Under Tunnels?” and “Construction? Or Coverup?” that were equally clever and creepy, and saw too many locals underdressed for the freezing temps. If you’ve been to DEN, it’s a beautiful Airport, but a little strange, nonetheless.
Once I snagged my suitcase, hopped in an Uber and arrived at my hotel, I could finally relax and prepare for my day. That’s when the altitude sickness hit. Ever feel like you can’t catch your breath and there’s a cinderblock sitting on your forehead with no relief in sight? That’s altitude sickness.
Thankfully, after lots of water, some tea and a couple naps, I was feeling like myself again, and was able to enjoy the trip – which was made up mostly of appetizers, entrees, dessert and a little bit of sightseeing.
Our first dinner was at a highly-revered rooftop restaurant with a vantage point of Denver’s entire skyline and swanky vibes. The unique menu at El Five was full of intricate tapas and an array of paella options from that of rabbit confit to a simple cauliflower rice. We decided on the smoked burrata, seabass and, of course, a paella for the table. The burrata – pictured below - was probably the best I’ve had in my 25 years of cheese-tasting. It landed on the table halved with pickled apple, kale, currants, super seed mix, squash and a spiced honey vinaigrette, and lasted a good two minutes. The cheese was covered in a smoked seed mixture that gave it the perfect flavor, while the honey vinaigrette complemented with a sweet taste. The seabass was cooked perfectly – crispy skin-on – and sat atop smashed potatoes and a tangy onion-jam. As woks full of cheesy paella graced the tables around us, we knew that was our next stop in flavor town. We chose the chicken paella which came with pomegranate, winter vegetables, melty tetilla cheese, almonds and onion jam. Each bite shocked our tongues with a delicious combination of flavors and textures that fit together like they were meant to be. El Five – gets a 10/10.
Coming from an Italian family and having a deep love for food, I’m always a bit skeptical when it comes to Italian restaurants. So when I say Gaetano’s blew me away, I mean it. The Denver icon was founded in 1947 by a mob family, and it has kept its authenticity, history and hospitality ever since. The atmosphere feels like Brooklyn in the ‘80’s, but a little bit warmer and more welcoming. We started with lots of bread and some more burrata – but this time it was complimented with salty prosciutto and a balsamic glaze. One of the well-known ways to combat altitude sickness is to eat more carbs, so we did what we knew best. Next up was the (massive and delicious) chicken parm, a bowl-full of gnocchi with sausage and mushroom smothered in a creamy red sauce and a side of angel hair with the best Alfredo sauce I’ve ever eaten. It was the perfect blend of creamy and garlicy with an unusually thin consistency, but it worked. Like really well. We finished our meals with a double shot of espresso each, and a fluffy layered tiramisu worth the 3 hour flight. We may or may not have made a stop at Gaetano’s on the way to the airport for lasagna to-go…
A mortuary-turned-ethnic restaurant. Hungry yet? This spot is full of history – in fact, it gets its name “Linger Eatuary” by crossing out the “O” and “Mo” in the original sign that read “Olinger Mortuary,” – a funeral home built in 1914. The now two-story brunch spot serves up Asian- and American-inspired “global street food” from bao buns and ramen to a simple eggs in purgatory (get it?) I started my day with the Wagyu sliders with bacon onion jam, aged cheddar, curry-dill pickle served alongside sweet potato waffle fries. I had them throw two over-easy fried eggs on top of my fries because, well, when in Rome, and enjoyed the perfect brunch. The spot – located right next door to El Five – also boasts beautiful views of the Mile High City. Not to mention, $16 for bottomless mimosas? It’s a done deal.
What do you get when you cross three girls from flatlands with a city surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in the U.S.? Lots of wide-eyes, oohs and ahhs! On our second day of travel, we had a Rocky Mountain Tour scheduled to take us up the beautiful snow-tipped mountains, the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the continental divide and Lake Echo. We arrived at Union Station at 8 a.m. sharp, from where we hopped in a passenger van with 6 other first-time mountaineers and one veteran tour guide, Christina. Christina took us up winding roads surrounded by beautiful trees, some wildlife and TONS of fresh snow. We glued our eyes to the windows at the breathtaking sights and shivered in the freezing weather at each stop. Our guide told us stories of Rock and Roll bands at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, (the first to play there was the Beatles!) and taught us how the Rocky Mountain National Park came about. She even shared stories of the legends who some of the tallest mountains were named after as we listened to her “Colorado” playlist with songs like “Altitude Adjustment” by Midland. The tour lasted 4 hours, and was the perfect amount of sight- and snow-seeing. We booked the excursion on Colorado Sightseer for only $75 each.
For a city known for its altitude, outdoorsy population and craft breweries, the food unexpectedly ranked sky-high. From brunch in the afternoons to dinner each night, my trip was full of delicious eats that helped put Denver on the map in my book. The sightseeing did not disappoint, with beautiful mountain views surrounding us at every stop.
Ready to book your trip? Get to Denver nonstop on United, Southwest or Frontier Airlines from TPA.