Editor’s note: This Vs. That is Travel Boulder’s weekly comparison guide designed to help you pick the activities, food, drinks, hotels and events that best fit your preferences. It’s like if a traditional newspaper review had a love child with Yelp, except always reliably researched and experienced firsthand by our local writers. Because sometimes you can best understand an option by seeing what it is not and by placing it side by side with something else.
With delicious views like these, it’s a shame to not spice up your meal with them. The majestic Flatirons, one of the most popular attractions in Boulder, make the perfect dinner backdrop year-round.
Two restaurants on Walnut Street in Boulder take advantage of their direct Flatiron panorama with rooftop dining areas. Corrida, at 1023 Walnut St., Suite 400, is the newer restaurant on the block, and it designed a rooftop deck into its architecture. A block away, The Rio Grande, at 1101 Walnut St., has been sweeping in foothills views for decades.
While it’s hard to argue which angle of the Flatirons is better (they’re both incredible), each rooftop experience is different. Which is right for your dinner depends on the vibe you’re going for. Here’s how they’re unique.
Corrida opened mid-May just a block away from The Rio; that’s technically a block farther west and therefore closer to the Flatirons, although the difference is hard to notice.
Whereas the Rio serves Mexican fare, Corrida specializes in food from Northern Spain — and yes, there’s a major difference. The emphasis at Corrida is wood-fired steak and seafood. While the average price for a dinner here is around $25 per person, your meal can be quite elevated if you wish (figuratively and literally, as Corrida is on the top floor); you can order a Japanese Wagyu steak for $55 per ounce.
Regardless of your budget, the tapas are a hit here, like the remolachas marinadas. That’s coal-roasted beets, basil, Mitica goat cheese, pistachio and almond crumble for $13.
Now that your stomach is grumbling, let’s talk atmosphere.
Corrida is only located on the top floor, and it’s only accessible via an elevator, which can feel a little like going to a secret hideout. When you first enter the building, you file into a sterile hallway and are greeted by an elevator attendant, who calls the elevator for you. At the top, you’re immediately greeted by a small section of the rooftop patio. This space is actually open to anyone in the public who wants to come check out the views before 4 p.m., when the restaurant opens.
Turn the corner and you’ll end up in the restaurant, which is lined with oversized windows. Even if you eat inside, you feel like you’re outside. Every table has a view.
You must walk through the restaurant to access the huge rooftop lounge on the other side. The dining area seamlessly flows from inside to outside, and it’s spacious — about 3,100 square feet. The rooftop can seat more than 40 people, although technically the legal capacity is up to 300 people.
Outside, you will find a bar and a roaming gin-and-tonic cart that makes to-order, fancy gin and tonics tableside.
Obviously, the star here is the unobstructed view of the Flatirons.
Although outside and more casual than inside, with cream leathers and walnut wood, Corrida’s rooftop is still sophisticated enough for a nice date. Sit at a table, on cozy couches or around the firepit. The patio is open most months, depending on the weather.
Corrida was designed by local architecture and interior design firm, Arch 11.
You can’t directly compare The Rio with Corrida because they’re so different. The Rio has been a downtown Boulder staple for almost 30 years now (it opened in 1989), and it’s part of a small, family-run chain. The first branch opened in Fort Collins in 1986, and now there are six Colorado locations.
The Boulder Rio has been at its current location since 1996. The roof deck was built in 2006.
The Rio is all about classic Mexican food made from scratch: nachos, chile rellenos (with green chiles roasted in-house), enchiladas, quesadillas and tacos (including some innovative variations, like the tequila shrimp taco served with poblano slaw, avocado crema and steamed veggies). The fajitas are our favorite menu item, and there’s even a version for vegetarians: the grilled portabella and squash fajitas.
The food is casual and so is the atmosphere. No need to dress up here. However, the menu isn’t exactly cheap. The average price for a dinner is about $20.
Unlike Corrida, which only serves dinner, you can get lunch at the Rio. It opens at 11 a.m. on most days, and even has a weekend brunch with a casual menu. We’re talking breakfast burritos, huevos, breakfast tacos.
But the Rio’s most famous for its margaritas — made with a “secret formula” that’s extra delicious and deceptively strong. In fact, the Rio has a three-marg max (and rightly so). The strong drinks are popular among college students and at happy hour, and can turn a night at the Rio into a bit of a party atmosphere.
Try the margarita on the rocks or frozen or in different flavors, like mango, strawberry or “manberry.”
The Rio’s rooftop, with direct Flatiron views, is nearly as famous as its margs. There’s often a wait to get a seat up there, but it’s worth it. The dining area on the main floor is colorfully decorated but not as exciting as the roof, which has its own bar and a large, lovely, Mexican-tile fountain as the centerpiece.
At 1,200 square feet, it’s smaller than Corrida’s rooftop lounge, and it’s more of a sit-down-and-eat-at-a-table experience than a place to gather, stand around and clink cocktails. In large part, that’s because the Rio can get so busy and there may not be room for lingering. The rooftop is festive and upbeat; it can be loud and you may end up tightly packed in, due to limited space.
It can get pretty hot, too, so in the summertime, request a table with shade (not all of them have it). Sometimes the restaurant turns on misters to keep you cool.
The Rio is casual. You dine on wooden benches, smaller wooden tables or Emu patio furniture. Some are topped with umbrellas. There are also standing heaters to keep it warm when temps drop.
The bottom line: If you want an inexpensive dinner experience with a priceless view, wait for a rooftop spot, grab an inexpensive marg (one is enough), enjoy the free chips and salsa and watch the sun set behind the Flatirons.