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The restaurant king of Denver (International Airport)

[caption id="attachment_1528" align="aligncenter" width="533" caption="Good food and Colorado wine while you, sigh, wait for your flight at DIA."]Timberline Steaks DIA[/caption]

Some people love the restaurant industry in general. Others find a more niche segment to satisfy their culinary profession cravings. Such is the case for Rod Tafoya, who has become, in the last 18 years, the restaurant king of Denver International Airport, an aviation hub that many consider to be one of the best to catch a meal.

Tafoya’s company owns seven restaurants at DIA, including the hallmark Timberline Steaks, with two more set to open within a year. Why the rush to feed every passenger?

“It’s always busy,” he says. “And you are able to have an immediate impact on the outcome of the guest experience.”

Well, who wouldn’t love a captive audience?

Timberline Steaks in Concourse C is as close to fine dining as you can find in the airport. It’s a slightly upscale, Colorado-inspired eatery that serves premium cuts as its name suggests, along with several Colorado favorites to make sure everyone — visitor or native — gets their locavore fill before taking off.

This includes local trout, Mexican favorites, Rocky Mountain Oysters, and both Bonacquisti Wine Co.’s Riesling and Vinny No Neck.

“We’re a steakhouse, but we have a number of local favorites that we put on the menu as well,” Tafoya says.

The sit-down nature of Timberline requires you to be seated by a host (unless you choose the bar) and entrees range from around $10 to $30. It’s the type of place worthy of a stop if you check in way too early. “At DIA, they tell people they should be here two hours in advance; a lot of people abide,” he says. “They come, sit down, relax and have a great meal.”

Same goes for those stuck during a long layover or facing a delayed flight.

Tafoya opted to give it some Rocky Mountain flair to keep his home state of Colorado on the mind of every traveler. “It’s a reminder of Colorado,” he says. “We invite them to try some Colorado favorites that they would expect to find while they are visiting on their way in or out.”

His other DIA restaurants include Que Bueno! Mexican Grille (Concourse B), IItza Wrap! Itza Bowl! (B) and a smattering of fast food chains. By early 2013, Timberline will have some upscale competition, however. Tafoya expects to open a fresh-deli concept under the popular Udi’s brand later this year and an airport version of the famed Root Down early next.

His addiction (which also includes expansion of two Enstein Bros. Bagels at the San Diego International Airport) started innocently enough with a yogurt shop when DIA first opened in 1993.

Though not trained originally in the industry — he actually received a degree in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from UCLA — Tayofa, a Denver native, realized a good thing immediately at the world’s 15th busiest airport.

“It’s good just because the constant influx of travelers and their the constant flow of passengers,” he says.

And he’s able to make a living off the guaranteed passengers, while adding smile to a their face in what is often a stressful situation. Not a bad gig.

When you’re waiting for your next flight:

Try the Colorado Riesling ($8 glass/$28 bottle if you are stuck for awhile) with the Rocky Mountain Oysters ($9). Here’s a classic example of eating with what is grown here. The famed oysters (bull testicals) are deep fried to a salty and crispy goodness, and the hint of sugar in this almost dry Riesling serves as a nice compliment.

Or, try the Vinny No Neck ($8/$28), an easy drinking blend heavy on Sangiovese with the Rocky Mountain Trout ($18). The trout is pan seared in a light batter with almonds lemons and wild rice, and the wine is versatile enough to hang with the seared flavors of this flakey fish.

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