We may not be New York or L.A., but Denver’s foodie scene is on the rise. And the best way to experience it just might be on foot. No, we’re not talking about food trucks, but Culinary Connectors, a local company that crafts intimate neighborhood walking tours of four restaurants -- complete with tastings and chef interactions.
The tour begins at Gaetano’s, an unassuming Italian restaurant in the Highlands. A cornerstone of the neighborhood since the Smaldone brothers opened it in the ‘40s, Gaetano’s mafia history is as rich as its sauces. You’ll sample cucumber salad and pork medallions courtesy of Rhonda, the easy-going but passionate chef who comes out of the kitchen to describe her creations in detail.
A few blocks south, the next stop is Rosa Linda’s, an authentic Mexican eatery. Oscar Aguirre, who was a young boy when his parents opened the restaurant and whose mother, Rosalinda, sits a few tables away, chats with each group over sampler plates of tamales, cactus tacos, sauces and margaritas.
“This is my ‘hood, this is where I grew up.” says Oscar, describing his family’s long-time roots here. “This is North Side to me; this is Highlands to you. The one thing that makes a neighborhood a neighborhood is the businesses that stay through the transformation and go through the rough times and the prosperous times.”
The food, too, has transitioned over the years, reflecting family members’ dietary needs. When healthier options were necessary, lard was cut out of the ingredient list; gluten became a factor, hence, the red chile went gluten-free and has been since. The needs of the community are also heavy on the mind of the family as they serve thousands of meals to less fortunate folks in massive annual events.
Around the corner, the Laughing Latte offers a pick-me-up with unusually smooth espressos and fresh, natural fruit smoothies along with scrumptious sticky bread and pastries. One of the newer establishments in the Lower Highlands neighborhood, this family-owned java joint easily fits into the easy-going vibe. Eclectic art covers the wall, including a bold-colored mural that differentiates categories of tastes and aromas (pictured).
Final stop: Cellar Wine Bar. With a theme of Spanish wines, Evan, the bar manager and sommelier, expertly guides you through an Iberian flight tasting describing flavors to expect as well as regions where the grapes grow and how to choose food pairings. He carefully points out the pineapple and peach tinges in the Casamaro, suggesting a bite of Manchego – a cheese from a nearby Spanish region – to better bring out its full-bodied flavor. It’s true, he says, that which grows together, goes together. He continues to pour generous glasses of Fillaboa and Costaño, paired respectively with goat cheddar and thinly sliced Jamón Serrano.
In all, the tour runs two hours. Expect to leave full.
Tickets available online.
Gaetano’s, 3760 Tejon St.; 303-455-9852
Rosa Linda’s, 2005 W. 33rd Ave.; 303-455-0608
The Laughing Latte, 2001 W. 32nd Ave.; 303-993-3115
Cellar Wine Bar, 2556 15th St.; 303-455-9463