Food Matters: Super Fly — Six Ways to Get Grounded at DIA
May 17, 2018
… Aside from strapping dynamite to your torso and sauntering up to security? Ha.
No, I mean via food experiences. Airports everywhere are offering more eateries, amenities, and retail outlets in an effort to enhance the travel experience in places where visitors share the same reason for being there: to go somewhere else.
Considering that the Mile High City's food scene has completely blown up in recent years, it's not too surprising that Denver International Airport (DIA) is ahead of the pack in catering to a captive audience.
In fact, DIA placed highest out of any U.S. hub — 29th globally — at this year's prestigious annual Skytrax World Airport Awards. That Denver bested at least 471 others in a customer survey that narrowed a list to the 100 most pleasant airports is proof positive that DIA is a happy landing spot. A few of my favorite stops:
1. ROOT DOWN
I've long been curious about Root Down DIA, a spacious, globetrotter-funky second outpost of restaurateur Justin Cucci's 10-year-old LoHi restaurant. Problem is, I haven't been through Terminal C since the restaurant opened in 2013. Literally every single flight I've boarded out of ASE has been operated by United, which flies to Terminal B, alas.
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So when I found myself at DIA on a midday layover longer than three hours recently, I jumped on the train toward opportunity.
While the bar at Root Down DIA pours a solid selection of craft beer and cocktails to enjoy on a clear counter over vintage suitcase displays, I chose a table by the windows. Here is a hodgepodge of upcycled ephemera: old globes dangle from the ceiling and a "living wall" of green moss is bordered by a metal mosaic of tin-can lids.
The menu is classic Root Down: creative fare with interesting ingredients, vegetables galore, and brunch (waffle Benedict; sweet potato-oat pancakes; fried-egg sandwich on croissant with Romesco and Tender Belly bacon) available until 2 p.m. daily. For lunch and dinner find Root Down's famed lamb sliders, five salads, and sharable plates of chicken tacos or Colombian griddled cheese on corn cakes with poblano-pistachio pesto. It's all served with a view of bright blue-and-red Southwest birds swanning about the tarmac. Open daily 7 a.m to 9 p.m.
On a recent visit to the bustling steakhouse named for the former quarterback and current GM of the Denver Broncos, a bartender told us that peaks are frequent, round-the-clock. Indeed, the place was standing-room-only at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the rare occasion I haven't been passing through Terminal B before early afternoon. Reasons are obvious: the circular bar is a glowing beacon, with a wide wooden edge for comfortable elbow-resting and hip energy. A good wine list matches seafood, salads, steaks, et cetera. The food is done right; pulled chicken on my Cherry Creek Salad was mixed with plenty of dressing and crushed pecans, ensuring nuts in each bite of baby spinach, which I appreciate. Always professional in my experience, some Elway's employees look like former football players, too, which doesn't hurt the atmosphere. Open daily at 7 a.m.
Perhaps not as bustling as the three 24-hour McDonald's in each terminal (some of the busiest branches of the chain anywhere, that same Elway's bartender told me), Chick-fil-A at the center core of Terminal B is still a fast-food hotspot that hits a certain nerve. What is it about these chicken sandwiches? That the chain lacks locations near Aspen might make them so alluring. Crispy or grilled, a cheap handheld meal with a side of crispy waffle fries proves that those sneaky cows in the "Eat Mor Chikin" advertisements are on to something… Open Monday-Saturday, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday per corporate policy.
4. PLACES STARTING WITH 'W' IN TERMINAL B
Wolfgang Puck's express ovens turn out the chef's original thin-crust pizzas, plus sandwiches and salads; Woody Creek Bakery & Café sells a selection of pastries and baked goods, coffee beverages, and deli foods; Wetzel's Pretzels out of California pushes hand-rolled sweet and savory twists (cinnamon, almond crunch, cheddar cheese) as well as pretzel dogs and lemonade. Yum. Open daily 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., respectively.
5. THE BODY SHOP
While I was happy to discover a branch of the ethical skincare boutique in Terminal C across from Root Down, I must admit: You won't find a meal here. However, the company's cult-favorite original beauty products, such as banana conditioner and mango body butter, make sweet olfactory substitutes for those abstaining from airport snacking. Open daily 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
6. COMING SOON…
Denver Central Market will open a version of its RiNo food hall in DIA in 2018, reported to include a pizzeria, charcuterie shop, rotisserie counter, cocktail bar, and sushi stand. Shake Shack, Snooze, Great Divide Brewing, Osteria Marco, and a Veuve Clicquot bar may crop up by next year as part of a 10-year plan to make DIA an even better food destination.
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