So you landed those tickets to A Christmas Carol, Jersey Boys or the Australian Bee Gees Show, you've got your outfit picked out and you're ready to go. Except for one thing: You haven't been downtown in ages and you have no idea what's happening in the dining scene, especially around the Denver Performing Arts Complex. The show starts at 7 p.m., giving you scant time to find a parking spot and wolf down something tasty before the performance; you certainly don't have time for an extravagant multi-course meal.
Our restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurtz, advises picking something light to keep you comfortable for the next couple of hours, someplace close so you only have to park once, and somewhere that's accustomed to efficiently dealing with hordes of fellow ticket holders. With that in mind, here are ten of our favorite places to grab a bite before a show.
10) The Kitchen 1530 16th Street 303-623-3127 Take a seat at the bar for the Kitchen's "community hour," which runs from 3 to 6 p.m., and splurge on a seafood platter or select from a number of other fresh shellfish options and a range of charcuterie, light nibbles and upscale sandwiches. At just over a half-mile from the Denver Center, it might be a little far for hoofing it, especially in those new shoes, but just jump on the free 16th Street Mall bus to cut that distance in half.
9) ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro 1555 Blake Street 303-353-5223 Larimer Square is less than a half-mile from the theater complex, making it an easy walk in all but the worst weather conditions. ChoLon's menu of Asian-inspired small plates are perfect for mixing and matching without filling you up. One of our favorites, the French onion soup dumplings, may be a little dangerous for a new outfit, but Kaya toast with coconut jam, pork belly steamed buns and fried-rice carbonara are quick dishes big on flavor but not on portion size.
8) Osteria Marco 1453 Larimer Street 303-534-5855 Osteria Marco's fun and lively atmosphere and great cocktail menu make for a festive pre-theater choice. Choose from a wide range of salumi and cheeses -- don't skip the house-made burrata -- or opt for a salad from a list that features light but filling choices, like a chopped rotisserie chicken and pancetta mix.
Keep reading for more great restaurant to hit before a night at the theater.
7)The Corner Office 1401 Curtis Street 303-825-6500 The Corner Office has two advantages: it's right across the street from the Denver Center, and it features a swank, retro ambiance to put you in the mood for a night out. The menu hops around the globe, with everything from Indian lamb kabobs to bibimbap in a sizzling bowl to poutine with duck gravy. As a bonus, there's a second happy hour from 9 to 11 p.m., so you can grab another drink after the show.
6) Rioja 1431 Larimer Street 303-820-2282 Rioja offers a more refined and elegant atmosphere, with cuisine to suit a dressed-up night out. While dinners could stretch on if you go all out, get an early reservation and stick with the "delicious beginnings" on the menu to give yourself time. Bar seating may be the best bet, but the staff is accommodating and efficient in the dining room too, so just let them know you're on a tight schedule.
5) TAG 1441 Larimer Street 303-996-9985 TAG is another Larimer Street destination eatery where you could spend the whole night, sampling bite after bite of Troy Guard's menu of Pacific Rim specialties. For theater night, though, skip the omakase tasting menu and stick with a variety of sushi rolls and small plates: pot stickers, fat scallops and a dragon roll should fill the bill.
4) Edge Restaurant and Bar 1111 14th Street 303-389-334 This steakhouse inside the Four Seasons hotel is also right across from the theaters and it knows people will come for the location alone. For that reason, the kitchen offers a three-course "sport and stage" menu for $60 per person from 5 to 6:30 p.m., with a small selection of appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts. Expect steak, but in manageable eight- and ten-ounce cuts, as well as fish and chicken options. The Edge has the routine down, so you won't be checking your watch as dessert arrives.
3) Pizza Republica 890 14th Street 303-623-2811 Pizza may not be the first choice for a tony night out, but Pizza Republica sets the stage with a dining room that's several steps above the standard pie parlor. The wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas combine rustic charm with top-tier ingredients, but the menu also includes a selection of pastas and reasonably priced entrees like pan-seared monkfish and flatiron steak with eggplant caponata. It's also tucked into the main floor of the Colorado Convention Center, so you're just a couple of steps from a Light Rail stop and a block away from the Denver Center.
2) The Nickel 1100 14th Street 720-889-2128 The Nickel, on the main floor of the Hotel Teatro right next to the theaters, offers a wide variety of seating options: an ample bar, long community tables and cushy booths. A reservation is strongly recommended since the place fills up quickly, but once a seat is secured, the kitchen turns out wood-roasted meats, hand-made pastas and flavorful appetizers with a rare combination of speed and attention to detail. For an artistic evening, artistry is on display on every plate -- a chickory and persimmon salad or a grilled octopus plate with olives and miniature potatoes will set the mood for dazzling stage design or music later in the evening.
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1) Limelight Supper Club and Lounge 1335 Curtis Street 720-227-9984 The Limelight is only open on performance nights, so the staff is geared toward the pre-theater crowd. Because it's actually located in the middle of the Theater Center, you can drink and dine until the last minute before show time. Restaurateur Kevin Taylor's menu will never disappoint, and you can even take your last drink with you to your theater lobby.