The Denver dining scene is heating up, with hot new eateries joining old favorites that are rolling out fresh ideas. Lately, we've been on an eating binge of barbecue platters, Thai comfort food, savory bakery pastries and out-of-this-world desserts. Join us on a tour of the ten restaurants on our watch list for April — and what to eat when you get there.
4122 East Colfax Avenue
Kyla Love took over the East Colfax space last occupied by a Thai Monkey Club outpost, with a goal of serving her favorite childhood Thai comfort food. The menu is small by Thai restaurant standards, but the heart and soul of the kitchen shine big in menu items like deceptively simple Hainanese chicken rice, a dish popular throughout Southeast Asia. Consider it deconstructed chicken soup, with boiled white meat and rice on one side and a profoundly chicken-y broth on the other. A spicy ginger dipping sauce provides a hearty back-slap with typical Thai gusto, but the dish stands out for its singular focus on chicken. For something a little more adventurous but no less comforting, go for a bowl of nam tok moo, a noodle soup loaded with sliced pork, pork meatballs and fried pork rind.
4850 East 39th Avenue
Every day is Pie Day at Hinman's, where baker/owner John Hinman and his crew turn out some of the most delicious pies you'll ever sink your teeth into. But breakfast and lunch need to be taken care of first before you can descend on dessert, and Hinman's now offers both from a small but well-stocked retail room. The selection varies, but egg sandwiches and deli-style constructions on house-baked breads are part of the program. Flaky ham-and-cheese croissants and savory flatbreads loaded with cheese, bacon and veggies are a wise choice, too — in fact, they're just what the Park Hill neighborhood needs.
1890 Wazee Street
Kachina debuted at the end of March with a modernized take on Southwestern cuisine, with plenty of turquoise and desert chic in the decor, but nary a howling coyote to be found. Instead, the menu straddles the line between fun and finesse, with elegant seafood crudo and Native American ingredients sharing space with ridiculously craveable Navajo fry-bread tacos. Fluffy, fried rounds hold a variety of fillings, from traditional carnitas and braised beef to tender duck confit with crunchy duck-skin chicharrones. If you can't decide, bring your friends and fire up a dozen so that you can try a little of everything and save a few bucks in the process.
1705 South Pearl Street
Spring has sprung, and garden flavors don't get much fresher than at Little Spoons, a four-seater sandwich shop and juice bar inside an Eastern wellness center. Relax and slow down the pace of your day with a burrata salad packed with young spinach, avocado and blackberries and drizzled with a vibrant salsa verde. And don't leave without indulging in one of owner Amelia Di Marco's traditional Italian desserts, like a slice of torta Caprese, a naturally gluten-free treat made with nothing but ground almonds, chocolate and duck eggs. Buon appetito!
Lola Coastal Mexican
1575 Boulder Street
Chef Jamie Fader likes to mix things up at his pioneering Mexican eatery, which ushered in a thriving dining scene in the LoHi neighborhood — before anyone called it LoHi. A new menu boasts both traditional and innovative small plates and big platters, so go hungry. Start with shrimp and pork-cheek pozole, a humble dish that Lola promotes to star status not by messing with the basics, but by perfecting them. Then hop on the hot-trend train for a little fried chicken — hardly a Mexican classic, but here grounded with a beautiful mole verde that'll have you licking the plate long after the chicken is gone.
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Poka Lola Social Club
1850 Wazee Street
After your fry-bread tacos at Kachina, wander across the lobby of the new Maven Hotel to Poka Lola, which seamlessly integrates upscale with down-home. The setting is swank, but the bar exudes an atmosphere of a small-town soda fountain, complete with phosphates and other curious throwbacks. If you're too full to partake in a boozy egg cream, opt instead for something light, refreshing and sophisticated like the Windsor Highball, made with nothing more than navy-strength gin, house tonic and seltzer. Here's mud in your eye, kid.
241 Columbine Street
This New York transplant has the Cherry Creek neighborhood abuzz with clever takes on Italian-American classics; try to snag a table during peak hours for chicken parm pizza (a breaded and fried disk of chicken sausage served like a thick-crust pie) or lasagna for two with rosettes of pasta replacing the standard layered look. Or you can head over a little later for a luxurious dessert disguised as an Italian cheese. The burrata cheesecake looks like a standard burrata (fresh mozzarella stretched around creamy straciatella), but QI ditches the mozz and sweetens the straciatella with sugar and vanilla, serving it with tart blood orange and tangerine cream. And to fit in better with the Denver scene, Quality Italian just added brunch, complete with a bellini cart, breakfast pastas and a dry-aged Bloody Mary — which, using some form of dark magic, incorporates the essence of dry-aged steak into an a.m. cocktail. The inaugural brunch launches this Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
802 South Public Road, Lafayette
When we think Ethiopian cuisine in Denver, we generally head to East Colfax Avenue or Havana Street, but Ras Kassa's has been serving injera bread loaded with spicy stews for nearly thirty years in Boulder County. Since losing its longtime lease in Boulder, Ras Kassa's has been a takeout-only operation for the past couple of years, but a new home in Lafayette means that faithful fans and curious newcomers can sit down and enjoy Ethiopian hospitality while dining on yebeg alecha (lamb stew), kitfo (spicy minced beef traditionally served raw) or lentil wot.
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Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que
2387 South Downing Street
The only downside to this South Downing smokehouse is that the meats are usually gone well before the dinner hour; if you haven't loaded up at lunchtime, you're usually out of luck. But owners Coy and Rachael Webb want to feed the neighborhood dinner, too, so they've come up with a smaller supper menu with specialties you won't find at lunch. Choose from molasses-glazed Cornish hen served halved or whole, a smoky slab of salmon, or a thick slice of slow-smoked prime rib in an eight- or twelve-ounce cut. A side and dinner roll come with each order, with prices ranging from $12 to $31.
Shin Myung Gwan
2680 South Havana Street, Aurora
We discovered this Korean barbecue purely by accident while heading for another one, Sae Jong Kwan. That old favorite turned out to be closed, but Shin Myung Gwan more than makes up for its absence with a tongue-boggling array of the little pickled and marinated appetizers called banchan, powerfully marinated meats for grilling at your table, and bubbling hot pots in several styles. We recommend the tteokbokki, a tangy casserole loaded with rice cake, fish cake and ramen noodles. The salty, spicy flavors make for perfect drinking food, so be sure to keep the rounds of Korean beers and soju coming.