The Fifteen Best New Restaurants in Denver in 2015

Charcuterie boards like this one from Ophelia's capture the spirit of Denver's top restaurants this year.
Charcuterie boards like this one from Ophelia's capture the spirit of Denver's top restaurants this year.
Danielle Lirette

From mom-and-pop barbecues to flashy dinner clubs, the diversity of Denver's restaurant scene grew with almost exponential vigor in 2015. While the sheer number of openings this year didn't match the incredible pace of 2014, the variety and depth filled in gaps to make our city a competitor among the country's top food cities, with new-American small-plates eateries vying with pizza joints and Asian noodle counters for Denver diners. Here are the fifteen best restaurants to open in metro Denver in 2015, in chronological order of openings.

A pile of slow-smoke meat on bread at Roaming Buffalo.EXPAND
A pile of slow-smoke meat on bread at Roaming Buffalo.
Danielle Lirette

15) Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que
2387 South Downing Street
Why on earth would a native Texan leave home and move north to make barbecue in Denver? For Coy and Rachael Webb, owners of Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que, which opened last January, Colorado's culinary history is more than just Rocky Mountain oysters and steakhouses. It also includes the barbecue tradition of smoked lamb that the Webbs have resurrected under the designation of Colorado craft barbecue. There's lamb (shank), brisket, pulled pork and bison short ribs, too. All are delicious, lightly smoked and perfectly juicy. This isn't a re-creation of Texas-style barbecue; this is something altogether unique to Colorado, and we're lucky to have it.

Congee at Onefold is proof that breakfast doesn't have to look like a McMuffin.EXPAND
Congee at Onefold is proof that breakfast doesn't have to look like a McMuffin.
Danielle Lirette

14) Onefold
1420 East 18th Avenue
Onefold isn’t like other breakfast spots in town. It doesn’t make a living on eggs Benedict and oversized pancakes soaked in syrup, and it doesn’t serve lattes. Instead, the simple eatery focuses on a handful of quirky dishes that showcase the Chinese-American and Filipino roots of owners Terese and Mark Nery. Don’t miss the bacon-fried rice or the congee, with jasmine rice cooked until the grains form a thick, comforting stew that’s finished with poached eggs, chicken confit, soy sauce, chile oil and ginger. The Nerys grew up in metro Denver, so they know that any breakfast joint must offer a burrito — but theirs stands out in the crowd, with potatoes crisped in duck and pork fat, scrambled eggs, Tender Belly bacon and green chile. And this fall, the restaurant branched out into dinner, offering drinks and a tight menu of small plates for the nighttime crowd.

Huevos rancheros with crunchy tortillas at Four Friends Kitchen.EXPAND
Huevos rancheros with crunchy tortillas at Four Friends Kitchen.
Danielle Lirette

13) Four Friends Kitchen
2893 Roslyn Street
This family-friendly breakfast-and-lunch spot opened in March in Stapleton. It's not a trendy place to see and be seen; it isn’t around the corner from the Denver Art Museum or Union Station or anyplace you’re going to spend the rest of your day, unless you’re headed to your kid’s soccer game on a nearby field. Rather, the Southern-inspired fare is the draw at Four Friends. Don’t miss the buttery drop biscuits, beignets with crème anglaise and berry compote, the open-faced chicken-and-waffle sandwich topped with apple coleslaw, or the Down South Trio, with green-chile macaroni and cheese, peanut-crusted chicken tenders and collard greens. The huevos rancheros, a lasagna-like stack of whole corn tortillas, refried beans, avocados, cheese and eggs, strays from the Southern mold but charms nonetheless.

Cho77 brings the street food of Southeast Asia to South Broadway.EXPAND
Cho77 brings the street food of Southeast Asia to South Broadway.
Danielle Lirette

12) Cho77
42 South Broadway
Lon Symensma’s first venture, ChoLon, distinguished itself as one of the city’s very best restaurants from the get-go. In March, Symensma opened Cho77, a more casual eatery on South Broadway that focuses on street foods from Southeast Asia. Decor beautifully emphasizes the theme, with hanging plants and lights strung between exposed-brick walls exuding an outdoor vibe. Even the chairs are red, a nod to Saigon’s ubiquitous red street stools, which are filled at all hours with people nose-down in noodle bowls. The compact, noodle-heavy menu is rife with dishes modeled after foods that Symensma and chef de cuisine/partner Ryan Gorby enjoyed on their travels throughout Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia: a roti wrap reimagined as a pizza, with lentils, lamb bacon, a fried egg and tomato curry; Thai coconut curry soup served in a two-tiered tiffin; chilled rice noodles with pork and a refreshing herb salad; and a vegetarian version of hokkien mee, with mushroom gravy and wok-charred vegetables. Save room for dessert: You won’t want to miss the decadent coconut-green-tea milkshake with passion-fruit boba and sweet fried crisps molded into the shape of lotus blossoms.

The bar is always abuzz at Ophelia's.EXPAND
The bar is always abuzz at Ophelia's.
Danielle Lirette

11) Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
1215 20th Street
Justin Cucci has already experienced wild success with Linger and Root Down, and Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, which opened in April in the Ballpark neighborhood, is even more ambitious. Cucci calls the space a "gastro-brothel," since it occupies the ground floor and basement of the Airedale building, which has been a bordello, flophouse and peep-show parlor during its hundred-year history. Now decked out in ’70s swank and vintage soft-core art, Ophelia's is an adult-themed funhouse showcasing bold, garish colors, low-slung lounges, a giant projection screen and a sunken stage and dance floor. The food isn’t content to be the backup singer, however. The small-plates menu skews eclectic, offering a Colorado ostrich burger, Belgian mussels in saison curry broth, and Scandinavian duck meatballs with parsnip grits. Between the bold menu, the bolder decor and the swelling sounds of live music, Ophelia's is a head-spinning experience.

A carefully constructed plate and seasonal ingredients exemplify the philosophy at Solitaire.EXPAND
A carefully constructed plate and seasonal ingredients exemplify the philosophy at Solitaire.
Danielle Lirette

10) Solitaire
3927 West 32nd Avenue
After a major overhaul of the two conjoined Victorian houses that had housed Highland's Garden Cafe for nearly twenty years, Solitaire opened in April with a brand-new enclosed wraparound porch and brighter, airier dining rooms. There's also a full bar and an impressive fire pit in the spruced-up front garden. Mark Ferguson (who owns the restaurant with his wife, Andrea Faulisi Ferguson) has created a menu of small plates that shift with the seasons, plates that offer delight and whimsy along with serious flavor. If they’re on the menu – and they most likely won’t be, given that the menu changes nightly — try the charred Spanish octopus curled over saffron zabaglione, the unconventional Caprese with stone fruit and tomatoes, and the miniature lamb T-bone atop orzo spiked with watermelon, arugula and marinated cotija cheese. In a neighborhood known more for family-friendly pop-in eateries, Solitaire brings a new level of style and sophistication but keeps the pretension at bay for a fun and lively experience.

Japanese tradition and whimsical execution come together at Osaka ramen.EXPAND
Japanese tradition and whimsical execution come together at Osaka ramen.
Mark Antonation

9) Osaka Ramen
2611 Walnut Street
The entrance to Osaka Ramen in RiNo is easy to miss, with only a small sign above the door and the basement space bordering on cafeteria austerity. Based on appearances alone, you'd never guess that this noodle house's opening in May was one of the most highly anticipated in town. But when you taste one of the rich, complex ramen bowls made with long-simmered broths and perfectly springy noodles, it all makes sense. The milky tonkotsu captures the essence of pork and then adds a jiggly egg and bright notes of pickled ginger, while the salty shio and shoyu versions do the same for chicken, with deft flourishes of mushroom, scallions and bitter greens. Although ramen is the star here, culinary director-owner Jeff Osaka's fine-dining experience shines through in his list of small plates: a simple bowl of chilled green beans dashed with sesame, addictive bacon-fried rice and some of the best fried chicken in town. Save room for Osaka's wife’s mochi doughnuts — she'll be very disappointed if you don't, and you'll be disappointed to miss them, too.

The crust and cheese are a big part of what make Blue Pan special.
The crust and cheese are a big part of what make Blue Pan special.
Mark Antonation

8) Blue Pan Pizza
3930 West 32nd Avenue
Who in Colorado had heard of Detroit-style pizza until dough wiz Jeff Smokevitch made a name for it at Brown Dog Pizza in Telluride? Smokevitch and partner-in-pie Giles Flanagin expanded to Denver when they opened Blue Pan in West Highland in June. Rectangular, deep-dish Detroit pizza isn't the only kind Blue Pan does well, though: The kitchen also turns out crave-worthy and creative classic Italian, Chicago cracker-thin and New York styles. Every batch of dough — even the excellent gluten-free version — is slow-risen for three days, and each style of pizza has its own oven deck and temperature. With the Detroit-style, the result is a light, porous crust with crisp, caramelized edges from the three-cheese blend that bakes directly against the edge of the steel pan.

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