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Buckhorn Exchange's Culinary Safari

Denver's Original Steakhouse Can't Be Tamed!

The Buckhorn Exchange is a masterpiece in every aspect of what they offer. To begin, the menu is a sensory journey through decades, celebrating American history in the form of delicious dishes and storytelling! Since 1893, The Buckhorn Exchange has been serving the finest in ‘Old West fare.’ I want to make it clear that this is a stand-out, spectacular dining experience within itself, but The Buckhorn Exchange exceeds all expectations by doubling as a National Historic Landmark and Western Museum!

Tori was my server (or tour guide, rather!) for the evening. And, boy, did her passion for history shine through! Every mouthwatering dish served was enhanced by her storytelling. I never realized that fine dining paired so well with historical content. There was something about hearing about the legends behind the dishes that inspired me to savor them, to try to taste the rich tradition in each intricate bite. 

First, came The Buckhorn Exchange’s navy bean with ham soup, which they have been serving for 130 years! Back then, the restaurant was across the street from the railroad and a lodge. Cattlemen and railroad workers would stay at the lodge and come over to The Buckhorn Exchange for a hearty cup of navy bean and ham soup, and to exchange their paycheck for gold. They would receive two tokens for one free sandwich and one free beer–although more beers were usually ordered shortly after!

The exotic appetizers that night included smoked buffalo sausage (with red chile polenta and spicy wild game mustard), grilled duck breast (rubbed with lavender and pepper, served with a raspberry red zinfandel sauce), fried alligator tail (with a seafood cocktail sauce), and, of course, the house specialty of ‘Rocky Mountain Oysters’! The eclectic platter was the perfect combination of flavorful and unique tastes with delightful sauces that thoughtfully complimented each appetizer.

For the main event, sinfully savory steaks of all kinds sizzled before me. A wooden platter hosted the Colorado lamb (succulent chops marinated in olive oil with rosemary and thyme, served with red currant madeira sauce), farm-raised elk (broiled medallions with a velvety texture and flavor hinting of grass and cedar), and two variations of the buffalo prime rib–one in its natural flavor and one seared in cajun seasoning (both served with creamy horseradish). Baked beans and garlic mashed potatoes went alongside. 

Dessert was a delectable rush to my head. The hot dutch apple pie was perfection packed with warm cinnamon rum sauce and cool vanilla ice cream. Deliriously delicious!

Between bites, Tori, the server/historian extraordinaire, told us tales of The Buckhorn Exchange’s founder Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz. He was a German immigrant from Wisconsin, who longed to explore the West. While riding across the range, he met Chief Sitting Bull who taught him how to hunt, track, fish, and be mindful of using all parts of the animal in order not to waste. He then went on to scout for Buffalo Bill, and eventually found himself mining for silver in Colorado. Once he saved up $5,000, he took to Denver and purchased The Buckhorn Exchange in 1893, which he viewed as a ‘watering hole’ because it was the last stop on a long empty stretch to New Mexico.

The name The Buckhorn ‘Exchange’ comes from the aforementioned gold exchange, but also Zietz’s welcomeness to bartering. If you had something nice, but no actual money for a hot meal, Zietz was happy to work out a deal.

As one of the best hunters in Colorado at the time, Zietz knew how he wanted to decorate the restaurant. To this day, the grand maroon walls are adorned with trophy antlers, animals, southwest artwork, railroad souvenirs, and charming cowboy and Native American artifacts to showcase Old West culture. The colorful array of decor reminded me of a southwestern Christmas tree–festive and teaming with the spirit of the West!

Tori explained to me that some servers and staff working there are “third generation” employees, who pass down the stories of The Buckhorn Exchange that were passed down to them. You can feel the sparks fly in the air as people enjoy the rich ambiance of the restaurant. The hearty cuisine fills and warms you, as do the layers of Old West heritage. 

To learn more or make a reservation, call 303-534-9505 or visit or buckhorn.com.