Dining Out: Citizen Rail and Owlbear Barbecue

Wood-fired grilled meats and a beloved food truck's first brick-and-mortar

Citizen Rail

Wood-fired grilled meats and seasonal veggies

Courtesy Citizen Rail

If you want to describe Citizen Rail, the sleek restaurant attached to Union Station’s Kimpton Hotel Born, as a steakhouse, executive chef Christian Graves can work with that. “Our dry-aged meats are the best I’ve ever had,” he says. “But that’s not what I came here to do.”

What did he leave San Diego to do? Educate the latest generation of restaurant goers in the art of cooking fresh, seasonal cuisine over wood in a pair of ovens where he grills everything from ribeye to escarole, and plenty of meats and vegetables in between.

Courtesy Citizen Rail

That generational thing explains the vibe on a summer Friday night. The music was, well, not your father’s steakhouse piano. Dance music poured into the 150-seat space, inspired by railroad dining cars with mirrors, paneling, and leather. Patrons could choose from watching the high-energy cooking show from their seats around the kitchen, braving the threat of showers on the patio, taking traditional four-tops or banquette seats in the small dining room, or browsing the full menu from the adjacent bar.

We chose a table for two along the banquette, where I could flash a thumbs-up to the kitchen or look up at mirrors reflecting the rain on the street. The music drowned out neighboring conversations without making us shout, and our expert server, Nicole, steered us capably around the menu.

Courtesy Citizen Rail

She led us into temptation with an inventive cocktail list, including the savory Geronimo (house-blend amaro with Maker’s Mark, $10) and Far From Yokohama (featuring Japanese whisky and Benedictine, $14), and started us on the right path with the Wood-Grilled Oysters in cilantro butter ($14) and the gorgeous Spring Farmer’s Cheese ($13), house-made cheese sprinkled with English peas and fava beans.

We shared the Grilled Escarole Salad ($11), dotted with black currant, toasted hazelnut, and toasted hemp seed and surrounded with yellow beets. Then we opted for, and loved, the Bone-In Smoked Shortrib ($40), delightfully sided with tempura friend green beans and horseradish potato puree, and the Oak Charred Yuzu-Marinated Hamachi Collars ($32).

Courtesy Citizen Rail

If we had had dessert, it would have been the Decadence ($10) layered chocolate mouse, or maybe the cinnamon and pine nut-brittle ice cream ($10).

Notice, we skipped the 18-ounce in-house dry aged New York Strip ($54) and Bone-In Rib Eye ($56). Oh darn—we’ll just have to go back. —Susan Fornoff

Citizen Rail
1899 16th St.

Owlbear Barbecue

A food truck favorite sets up shop

Courtesy Owlbear Barbecue

Owlbear Barbecue, the beloved food truck that has drawn crowds in the courtyard of Finn’s Manor since 2015, has opened its first brick-and-mortar location on Larimer Street, just a block from its former home.

Denver has buzzed about this place for years, and with good reason. Owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius cut his teeth at the legendary Franklin Barbecue in Austin, studying under Aaron Franklin himself, before relocating to Colorado.

His new counter-service restaurant seats 18 and looks just like a barbecue joint should—stripped-down and aggressively unpretentious. The meat is sourced locally from Tender Belly and available straight or as 1/4-lb. sandwiches: pulled pork ($20 per lb.), pork tenderloin ($28 per lb.), pork spare ribs ($20 per lb.), pork belly ($24 per lb.), and the all-important brisket ($2 per lb.), which Fallenius rubs with coffee grounds, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and celery seeds. The sides—including a cucumber salad ($2 per 4 oz.), a peppery coleslaw ($2 per 4 oz.), pinto beans ($2 per 4 oz.), and mac ’n’ cheese ($3 per 4 oz.)—are all vegetarian, and there are some larger meatless offerings too, like the smoked Portobello and jackfruit ($20 per lb., $5 for 1/4-lb. sandwich), for those who might otherwise never set foot in a barbecue joint.

“We always say the secret ingredient in our barbecue is black magic,” says Fallenius, “because really there is no secret ingredient. The secret is just labor. You’re taking something that’s difficult to cook and turning it into something that people love. It’s an alchemy of sorts.” —Andrew Weaver

Owlbear Barbecue
2826 Larimer St.