Image courtesy El Rancho.
Chef Frank Bonanno, the Tastemaker and culinary mind behind 13 of Denver’s finest dining and drinking establishments, including Mizuna, Milk Market, and more, is adding to his already impressive lineup. But before we dive into that, let’s take a moment to mourn the loss of his beloved Bones, which served the world’s best lobster ramen that I was absolutely obsessed with and still crave every chilly day of my goddamn life; I need some in my life. With udon noodles, preferably. Please and thank you.
Anyway, back to the point: There’s been news of a new Bonanno Concept bar in Cap Hill opening in February, and today the Denver Post announced that El Rancho—the iconic restaurant, brewery, and music venue in Evergreen that’s been such a fixture in the community since opening in 1948 that it has its own exit from I-70—will be making its fresh debut with a new Bonanno Concept restaurant and brewery very soon indeed. The establishment, which began its life as a cafe and trading post and evolved to include a popular gift shop and even a post office before serving as a lodge and conference center, closed last August amid ownership disputes. In November, commercial real estate developers Jack and Sherry Buchanan of Northstar Ventures and Travis McAfoos of Piedra Peak Properties purchased the iconic locale and enticed Bonanno Concepts to add El Rancho to its already impressive portfolio of Denver area eateries. And the team has been hard at work ever since, relocating some of its Denver staff, including Chef Bryan Rosen, to the restaurant and hiring an executive chef and brewer. And they had to move quick to hit a very quickly approaching target reopening window this month while also creating a fresh new concept that would do justice to this icon.
When the news was first announced, the team expected El Rancho to begin serving food and house-made beer again at the start of the New Year, and today Post reported that Jacqueline Bonanno, creative director of the restaurant group, has said that they’re ready to roll—as soon as Jefferson County issues the reinvented establishment a liquor license.
The new El Rancho concept is inspired by the recently closed Bonanno Concepts’ eateries, Green Russel and Russell’s Smokehouse but infused with Latin flavor. Basically, comfort food and celebratory Western fare served in the same setting Evergreen diners have come to know and love over the last 75 years.
In the meantime, the restaurant expects to start serving breakfast and lunch in the coming weeks, with a menu heavy on pancake, eggs Benny, French toasts, sandwiches, and other worthy options to break the overnight fast (and the New Year diet). Dinner service is a little farther out, but there’s no time like the present to start dreaming about sinking your teeth into elk chili, chicken fried steak, braised bison short rib with polenta, and fried catfish. You’ll dig into the dishes while seated on pine chairs that are just as beautiful and durable today as they were when Trader Jack built them for El Ranch in 1949.
The on-site brewery is being lead by Adam Gurtshaw formerly of Denver Beer Co. fame, and house-made beers should be on tap in the next six weeks. The bar will also serve local wine, beer, and spirits, along with a lineup of on-tap cocktails that will run you $7 each during the clever “tappy hour.”
And listen up: live music is part of the El Rancho revamp plan. Three nights a week, dinner will be set to a soundtrack of live music, and the downstairs Aspen Room will be hosting musical acts every Friday and Saturday starting super soon—January 27 to be exact. But until the liquor license is in hand, this is all still speculation. So keep an eye out for official updates, and we’ll let you know what we find out, too.
Completely unrelated: Here’s a photo of that unrelated lobster ramen from Bonanno’s now-closed restaurant Bones. I had impulse-ordered it off Uber Eats the afternoon after my birthday in 2018, and I can attest that it made for the ultimate hangover cure.