What defines an essential restaurant? Several opinionated friends and I were recently discussing that topic during dinner at a trendy newcomer that's amassed a flurry of flattery since opening its doors. It's a restaurant-of-the-moment, but will it still be relevant in six months? Will the crowds continue to jam the doors? More important, will it have made an indelible mark on Denver's dining landscape ten years from now? As a prelude to our annual Best of Denver issue, we're spotlighting, in no particular order, fifty restaurants -- old and new, classy, cool and conventional, strip mall and belle of the ball -- that are the Mile High City's most essential places to eat. These are the places that every foodnik in Denver should have on his or her feed-me list.
No. 50: Vesta Dipping Grill: "My dream in high school and throughout college was to own my own restaurant," says Josh Wolkon, who owns Vesta Dipping Grill, the sixteen-year-old restaurant that he opened in LoDo -- back when LoDo was a rather unappetizing swamp of isolation. But it's largely because of Wolkon, who has since opened Steuben's and ACE, that LoDo has exploded into a bona fide culinary destination, and Vesta -- the Goddess of the Hearth -- has managed to stay at the top of her game for reasons that may even surpass its years.
See also: - Vesta Dipping Grill owner Josh Wolkon reflects on fifteen years of success - Exec chef Brandon Foster on Vesta's new menu, Matt Selby and coping with a tragic death - Photos: Happy birthday to Vesta Dipping Grill
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It all started with those famous irresistible sauces -- dozens of them -- that even now continue to be an integral part of the Vesta experience. And the rest -- the sexy, romantic decor that's inspired numerous marriage proposals, the dignified, elegant lighting that makes just about everyone look like they've stepped off the runway, the convivial bar and elevated cocktail program, the progressive menu that pops with genuine passion, and the affable staff -- just goes to prove that while other restaurants come and go, Vesta's staying power seems destined to last. And if there's a better cheese plate in town, I've yet to find it.
Don't-miss dinner deal: Every Monday night, Vesta features a three-course spree -- which changes every month and often highlights past Vesta favorites -- at the Denver Restaurant Week price of $52.80 for two. Can't beat that.
Fashion tip: Vesta's eye candy is cool and hip. While orange is the new black in the pokey, black is still in vogue here -- and the crowd is as stylish as any in Denver.