These Underrated Dining Options In Denver International Airport Have Immaculate Food

For foodies, one of the best airports to get stuck in on a long layover is Denver International Airport, colloquially known as DIA. You may have heard about the public art that inspired the Denver Airport conspiracy theories, but that's just one unique facet of this busy travel hub. At 53 square miles, DIA is an airport the size of a city: bigger than San Francisco or Boston and twice as large as Manhattan. Worldwide, its total area is second only to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd International Airport. This leaves room for plenty of restaurants across its three concourses and one terminal.

Naturally, DIA has some of the same fast-food chains you'd find anywhere else on earth, including three McDonald's and three Starbucks. As a gateway to Colorado, however, it also holds a generous selection of local restaurants, with their concessionaire-run airport outposts representing familiar names in the Denver food scene. Even if you're just in transit here and can't make it into the city proper, you can still get a taste of Denver and the Centennial State at DIA.

In Jeppesen Terminal, you can sample local beers from Colorado's first craft brewery at the Boulder Beer Tap House. The pub-style menu includes bratwurst marinated in Planet Porter, said to be the state's oldest craft beer. For dessert, there's a Planet Porter shake, or you can head over to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. This Durango-based company's chocolates once beat out the likes of Godiva in a blind taste test.

Concourse A

For coffee in DIA, you might be better served going with a local chain than Starbucks. Two options in Concourse A are Dazbog Coffee and Novo Coffee, which started in Denver in 1996 and 2002, respectively. You can also get breakfast, a lunch of lamb meatballs and wagyu pastrami, or farm-to-table entrees like miso salmon rice bowls at Mercantile Dining & Provision. The original, founded by Chef Alex Seidel in Denver's historic Union Station, has received a Michelin Guide recommendation.

With shared vendors like Vero Italian and tasty new additions like Sushi-Rama, Denver Central Market is a smaller version of the food hall in the city's RiNo (River North) Art District. Snarf's Sandwiches, meanwhile, has roots in Boulder. The menu offers vegetarian options, while hot giardiniera peppers give the scrumptious, toasted sandwiches some extra bite.

Elway's Taproom & Grill takes its name from owner and NFL hall-of-famer John Elway. The former Denver Bronco led his team to three Super Bowl wins: two as quarterback and one more as general manager. Memorabilia from his football career decorates the restaurant, where you can dine on an MVP burger. (Like the Colorado burger, it's topped with green chiles, a food often associated with the Centennial State.) The steak is pricey even at breakfast, and you won't find the classic Denver omelet at Elway's. However, the Mile High omelet — a nod to the city's nickname and elevation above sea level — is a worthy substitute, filled with mushrooms, spinach, bacon, and cheddar cheese.

Concourse B

Denver is where the fast-casual chain Smashburger got its start, so it's only fitting that you would see it in DIA. The one in Concourse B favors Angus beef selections on its location-specific menu. Carnivores will delight in the mouth-watering smoked bacon brisket burger. Pepper jack cheese and a spicy chipotle bun make the Colorado burger here tangier than the one at Elway's, which has a second location in this concourse and serves its own "signature" smash burger.

For those who prefer gourmet hot dogs to hamburgers, Steve's Snappin' Dogs has a Denver dog wrapped in a flour tortilla with chili con carne and other hearty fillings. Like the Steve's on Colfax Avenue in Denver, it uses Thumann's franks from New Jersey as the base for regional specialties such as the Dallas dog and Chicago dog. Just don't expect ketchup on the latter, as it's a condiment tourists will get made fun of for putting on a Chicago hot dog.

If you've heard about Portland breakout Voodoo Doughnut but don't have one near you, it could be a treat to find its first-ever airport location in DIA. Look for the blue alien welcoming customers outside. Elsewhere, Colorado's own Snooze: An A.M. Eatery is open 16 hours a day, so don't let the name fool you. Come for the breakfast burrito, loaded with cheese, eggs, hash browns, and black beans. Stay for the tantalizing "bacon but different," flavored with brown sugar, cayenne, chili flakes, and Sriracha maple syrup.

Concourse C

USA Today named Root Down one of Denver's 10 best restaurants. Located in the city's LoHi (Lower Highlands) neighborhood, it has the aesthetic of an old gas station reclaimed by Mother Earth. If you can't make it out of the airport, Root Down's DIA satellite in Concourse C upholds the same quality standard, with locally sourced, organic ingredients going into every garden-fresh meal. Thai carrot curry, wok-charred edamame, and Colorado lamb sliders are just a few of the delectable items on the menu, which includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Another LoHi staple with a presence in DIA is Little Man Ice Cream. The airport version doesn't operate out of a 28-foot milk can or a 75-foot plane wing like its larger-than-life urban cousins. Yet it's got some fun, offbeat flavors like Purple Cow — black raspberry ice cream with chocolate chunks. The Illuminati milkshake winks at the web of conspiracy theories surrounding DIA.

The Smashburger in Concourse C is more chicken-oriented than the one in Concourse B, and it has Häagen-Dazs shakes. Over at the Silver Bullet Sports Bar, you'll get a taste of the beer being made just outside Denver at the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado. With so many dining options like these, it's easy to see why Food & Wine made DIA its Editor's Pick for one of the best airports for food. For its part, Denver remains one of the best U.S. cities for food lovers to add to their bucket list.