See Why Boulder is Colorado’s Top Restaurant Foodie Utopia
Back when I attended university there, Boulder was affectionately referred to as a “granola” hippie town, a “New Age” community, and even the “People’s Republic of Boulder.” While it may still carry some of that reputation, the city has evolved dramatically since my college days. Today’s Boulder can be better described as “sophisticated” and “cosmopolitan,” as well as affluent, outdoorsy and internationally diverse.
For me, the most enticing description is “culinary paradise”—and Boulder was, in fact, named America’s “Foodiest Town” by Bon Appetit magazine in 2010.
This smallish city (just over 108,000 residents) boasts the uber-popular Boulder County Farmers Market, named the best in the country by a USA Today readers poll in 2022. The festive and colorful producers-only market, where some 150 local vendors sell Colorado-grown produce from their own land, began in 1975. Operating from April to November, Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings in Boulder, the market can draw up to 10,000 visitors on a single day. Boulder is surrounded by farms—one-third of the land around the city is leased to or owned by farmers, many of them growing organic and/or sustainable produce. The Boulder County Farm Trail (bouldercoloradousa.com) offers details on 20 local farms open to visitors, many with U-pick options.
Launched in 2012, the Flatirons Food Film Festival brought 127 food-related feature films and shorts to the Boulder community before its demise in 2021, aiming to teach viewers about the world’s food systems and to honor the origins of the food they eat. Its founder and director, Julia Joun, notes, “Twin loves of food and film inspired the creation of the Flatirons Food Film Festival. The Boulder food scene was so vibrant with the natural foods industry, creative restaurants and superlative local food.”
Bryan Dayton, formerly bar manager at the James Beard award-winning Frasca Food & Wine and now co-owner of equally renowned Oak at Fourteenth and Corrida, says,
“I’ve lived here over 30 years, and Boulder has been considered Colorado’s best restaurant district for a long time.”
Such multi-starred fine dining as Frasca, Oak at Fourteenth, Corrida, Salt, Black Cat, The Kitchen, Blackbelly and Santo (the latter two owned by Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg) and Cafe Aion (the short list!) are in Boulder, as well as myriad lesser-known, yet very worthy, dining spots.
Boulder also hosts two upscale, creative food halls—Avanti F&B and Rosetta Hall, both offering incredible rooftop views of the Flatirons. Happily, several oldies but goodies still thrive, such as the student- and alumni-beloved The Sink (100 years!) and the 55-year-old Flagstaff House (winner WHEN? of the Wine Spectator Grand Award).
The iconic Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse looms beautifully OVER? in the downtown area. This intricately handcrafted and decorated teahouse was given to Boulder by its sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 1990. After three years of construction it was carefully transported to Colorado. Offering more than 100 types of tea in a beautiful space, it’s a must-see. Not a tea-drinker? No problem; Dushanbe serves complete meals, coffees and even alcoholic drinks.
Speaking of tea, Bill Capsalis, executive director of the nonprofit economic development agency Naturally Boulder, theorizes that the city’s natural-products scene originated in 1969, when Mo Siegel started Celestial Seasonings, the wildly successful tea company still based there (although now owned by Kraft Foods).
“There’s been a culture derived from early founders like Mo and Steve Demos of White Wave Tofu [now owned by Danone]. You know, ‘I want to save the world with tofu,’ ” he chuckles. Capsalis adds that the roots of the industry in Boulder came from a desire to make more plant-based products. “People started to flock here from other places to launch their own natural products, and they found help, advice and support.”
Today, 95 percent of Naturally Boulder’s 1,000 or so members are Boulder-based; indeed, some call the town the “Silicon Valley for natural products.” Companies such as IZZE sparkling waters, Bobo’s oat bars and Justin’s peanut butter are a few of the many successful businesses launched in Boulder.
A fun way to discover and enjoy Boulder’s culinary scene is with Local Table Tours’ “Taste of Boulder Culinary Tour,” a walking tour of some of the town’s best independently owned bars and restaurants for cocktails, dinner, dessert and specialty food shopping.
Boulder just seems to have a unique food culture. Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier and co-owner of Frasca–the only restaurant in the nation specializing in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region–says that he and chef/co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson did not expect to have the kind of success they have enjoyed. “We just happened to luckily show up when the community was ready to see new things,” he says modestly. “But I realize that part of it was serendipity. I could never have imagined what would happen!”
Stuckey adds that in Boulder, “All ships rise. We have such a great spirit of community and camaraderie here.”
And, to be sure, great appetites!