When Mark Fischer turned Phat Thai into Harman's eat & drink, which Gretchen Kurtz reviews this week, he was working off a great model -- his Pullman in Glenwood Springs. There was just one obstacle, Kurtz reports: the space's Cherry Creek location. Cherry Creek was once the heart of Denver's dining scene, but those days are long-gone. Still, while many of Cherry Creek's dining offerings today range from lifeless chains to uninspired independents, there are definitely good restaurants in the neighborhood.
Here, in no particular order, are ten that Cafe society writers return to again and again.
10) Ondo's Spanish Tapas Bar 250 Steele Street #100 Ondo's is a must for tapas enthusiasts. The husband-and-wife duo of Curt and Deicy Steinbecker got their training in San Sebastian, and their traditional Spanish small plates include such classics as jamón ibérico, imported Manchego and San Simon cheeses, and patatas bravas served with Romesco, a spicy roasted red bell pepper sauce. And Ondo's has killer specials to boot: Drop down into this subterranean space on a Monday and all bottles of wine are 50 percent off, Tuesday is three-dollar paella night, and on Wednesdays, patrons can order a wine flight for only $15.
9) True Food Kitchen 2800 East Second Avenue True Food Kitchen, Cherry Creek's health-boosting newcomer, follows the anti-inflammatory food philosophy of Dr. Andrew Weil. As a result, its menu is free of most things butter and fat but still full of inventive dining options, with dishes like a hearty spaghetti squash casserole and seasonal autumn salad with roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts. And the sleek, modern interior is usually packed with sleek, health-conscious Creekers.
8) Aviano Coffee 244 Detroit Street After months of renovation (following a surprise move), Aviano's beautiful new space is stunning, with rustic, wood-planked walls and a central bar system. Aviano pours cult-favorite Intelligentsia Coffee, a rare thing in Denver, using several different brew methods. And it serves up pastry and other snacks to cut through the buzz.
7) Second Home Kitchen + Bar 150 Clayton Lane Second Home, the JW Marriott's in-house bar and restaurant nestled in the heart of Cherry Creek, is an oasis that exudes nostalgia -- in a swank, but understated way. The home-cooked philosophy -- executed through classic comfort dishes like chicken and waffle and lobster pot pie -- permeates the atmosphere, which is perfect for a leisurely meal or lingering over glasses of wine at the bar. Head over during the social hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and try the "Chips and Dip," a decidedly upscale take on the two with roasted potatoes and warm cheddar dip and ranch potato chips paired with a French onion dip.
6) Patxi's Pizza 185 Steele Street Every neighborhood needs a solid, go-to pizza joint, and in Cherry Creek it's Patxi's, a link in a California chain that feels more like a neighborhood hangout. Although known for its deep dish, Patxi's offers several crust styles -- everything from a crunchy cornmeal pan crust to a "00" super-thin crust. The kitchen offers gluten-free fare and vegan mozzarella, too.
5) So Perfect Eats 278 Fillmore Street This charming little lunch haunt is a great spot if you're in the market for a fresh salad or sandwich on just-baked bread -- and it also has an abundance of breakfast pastries, desserts and to-go appetizers. Denver's namesake "The 5280," pairs sliced beef tenderloin, balsamic caramelized onions and country mustard on a rustic baguette -- and to finish off the perfect meal to fuel an afternoon of shopping, opt for a handpie made with whatever's in season.
4) Sushi Tazu 300 Fillmore Street There are hipper sushi spots, there are newer sushi spots, but there are few as consistently good as Sushi Tazu, where classic dishes comfortably share space with more modern interpretations. Here, the sake is served warm in wooden boxes, the green tea is a deep and smoky jade, and any discrepancy between one plate of salmon maki and the next would have to be measured with a micrometer. It's the perfect spot for some perfect bites.
3) Cherry Cricket 2641 East Second Avenue This former trucker bar is an icon not just in Cherry Creek, but in metro Denver. For decades, Cricket loyalists have made a beeline to this spot for the famous, half-pound Cricket burger. And even as the neighborhood boomed and the Cricket itself grew, and grew, the burgers have remained a consistent hit. The rest of the menu brims with more tried-and-true pub fare, everything from baskets of wings to great green chili to mac and cheese wedges, and the kitchen stays open until midnight. The Cricket is a breath of burger-scented air in a sometimes stuffy neighborhood.
2) Elway's 2500 East First Avenue Elway's was born out of a friendship between John Elway and partner Tim Schmidt: Both wanted to create a comfortable gathering place that elevated Colorado dining. Elway's now has four locations, but the original in Cherry Creek remains the flagship for an all-out, white-tablecloth steak dinner experience. Diners can choose from all manner of prime hand-cut steaks and an array of crustaceans, complete with a dazzling list of mouth-watering (and heart attack-inducing) sides. For more casual gatherings, there's the great bar. And brunch at Elway's always scores, too.
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1) Harman's eat & drink 2900 East Second Avenue When renowned restaurateur Mark Fischer came down to Denver from the mountains, he opened Phat Thai, an Asian-fusion venture that never quite took off. This summer, he turned the spot into Harman's eat & drink, taking inspiration from The Pullman, his award-winning restaurant in Glenwood Springs, but also taking some cues from the Cherry Creek neighborhood. The result is an inviting, comfortable space that serves inventive dishes at affordable prices: handmade agnolotti, melt-in-your-mouth hanger steak, tender braised pork and a roasted-beet salad that's one of the most memorable dishes of the year.