Denver’s Rioja: Fabulous Mediterranean Bistro Fare

rioja artichoke tortelloni

Half Portion Artichoke Tortelloni, Rioja’s Signature Dish

Since I often travel for work, I am fortunate to be able to sample wonderful restaurants all over the country.  Last week I traveled to Denver for the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference and was able to stop in again at Rioja, easily my favorite restaurant in the Mile-High City.  I stumbled upon it a couple years ago thanks to Yelp (I don’t know what I did before that app) and have been back every chance I’ve had.

Rioja situated on quaint, artsy Laramie street among other trendy shops and restaurants.   It’s dimly lit, and packed with a young, successful, upwardly mobile young crowd.  Jennifer Jasinksi, Executive Chef at Rioja, has the credentials and experience to back up her creative menu and adventurous flavors.  Before creating Rioja, she worked in notable restaurants from California to New York City to Paris, under culinary all-stars like Wolfgang Puck.  In 2012, she was a James Beard Foundation “Best Chef Southwest” finalist.

Rioja is known for incorporating Mediterranean flavors with local meats and produce.  Flavors are earthy and rich.   They’ve got a fantastic array of cheese and meats and is a charcuterie lovers’ dream.   But carb lovers won’t be left out.  Rioja’s free bread basket alone is reason to visit, with choices such as goat cheese biscuits and rosemary rolls.  Simply delicious.

Order small plates and half portions if you’re interested in creating your own sampling menu.  Don’t miss their signature dish, Artichoke and Goat Cheese Tortelloni: Little delicate pillows of handcrafted pasta filled with goat cheese nestled in a warm bath of artichoke broth and truffle essence.  Mmmmmm.  The half portion shown above is just $11.50, a true culinary bargain.  I was able to sample the pork belly, tortelloni, bread, and salad along with a beer for well under $30.  You won’t leave stuffed (this isn’t Old Country Buffet), but you’ll definitely be satisfied.

Frugal Tips: If you can’t book a table, ask if they have room near the kitchen in the back.  You’ll get a glimpse of the sous-chefs in action, and may get some special treatment (read: free samples).  I was treated to a bite of the blood orange and goat cheese salad pictured below.  A tiny bite packed with fresh local flavor.

blood orange with goat cheese

Blood Orange and Goat Cheese


rioja denver

Bread Basket Goodies


rioja denver

Cardamom-Crusted Pork Belly on Garbanzo Bean Pureee (a.k.a “Fancy”Bacon)