The Fifteen Best New Restaurants in Metro Denver in 2014

The slow-cooked meats at Work & Class are a labor of love.
The slow-cooked meats at Work & Class are a labor of love.
Danielle Lirette

This year may have set a record for new restaurant openings in metro Denver. Trendspotting became difficult, as so much volume led to multiple variations of almost anything good, whether it was fast-casual service, tiny dining rooms, fried chicken, wood-fired everything, restaurants with their own attached markets, or simple typographical symbols representing a common conjunction (we're talking about you, ampersand). Still, our favorite new restaurants of 2014 started trends or elevated them to the highest form, rather than merely following the pack. Among them you'll find two fast-casual joints turning out creative and delicious dishes worth of fine-dining establishments, several kitchens relying on wood-burning ovens and grills, some of Denver's smallest bistros, a couple of eateries peddling house-made products from their own mini-markets -- and even a sprinkling of ampersands. Because whatever the trend, it's the chefs, restaurateurs and staff that truly make a restaurant great, not the concept -- or the typography. Keep reading to see (in alphabetical order) the fifteen best new restaurants of 2014.

See also: The Ten Best Hotel Restaurants in Denver

Argyll's bar has one of the best whisky (and whiskey) selections in town.
Argyll's bar has one of the best whisky (and whiskey) selections in town.
Danielle Lirette

15) Argyll Whisky Beer 1035 East 17th Avenue 303-847-0850

Those of us who lamented the closing of restaurant mogul Robert Thompson's groundbreaking Argyll in Cherry Creek worried about how the concept would survive the transition to Uptown, where the restaurant finally reopened in June 2014. Would his gastropub -- now named Argyll Whisky Beer -- feel passé? After all, hundreds of restaurants have opened in town since Argyll 1.0 fell prey to Cherry Creek's cramped, subterranean location. Had the city moved on -- even if the owner hadn't, as evidenced by the words "non oblitus" (Latin for "not forgotten") written on the new bar? But as it turns out, Thompson has re-created a fine gastropub that reflects the way we eat -- and drink -- in Denver now, not in Cherry Creek in 2008. The space is spacious, with a sunny atrium and a decor made of odds and ends that fit together in fun ways. The menu, too, is every bit as fun and comfortable as pub fare should be, with the requisite seasonal, high-end touches expected of a gastropub --- and a bit of British cheekiness, too. Fortunately, the menu still includes the Scotch egg, as well as the original Argyll's housemade potato chips with malt-vinegar gastrique. But there's also duck-liver mousse, cauliflower curry, an updated version of bangers and mash, and even savory-leaning desserts, like a chocolate mousse touched with masala and tempered by salted almonds. "We wanted to create a gastropub that...reflects the way the Brits eat today," says Thompson. It's the way we want to eat, too.

Chef-Owner Jon Robbins scoops out a taste of the pot de crème.
Chef-Owner Jon Robbins scoops out a taste of the pot de crème.
Danielle Lirette

14) Bistro Barbes 5021 East 28th Avenue 720-398-8085

If Denver were a different city, or if dining trends had gone in a different direction, Bistro Barbès might have ended up a higher-end restaurant. Chef/owner Jon Robbins's original vision was to create a brick-and-mortar, prix-fixe-only version of Gypsy Kitchen, a pop-up supper club that he'd hosted around town. "But no one's eating Michelin-star food," he says. "It might be going out of fashion." Good food never goes out of fashion, though, and so Robbins turned the former Park Hill home of Pary's on 28th into Bistro Barbès, a tiny eatery filled with big, big flavors. Robbins's experience with classic technique shows in his elegant sauces (his nickname is Beurre Blanc), and his time in Paris is reflected at this restaurant, which feels like an intersection of French and North African cultures with a little Denver thrown in for good measure.

Hosea Rosenberg's version of shrimp and grits at Blackbelly Market.
Hosea Rosenberg's version of shrimp and grits at Blackbelly Market.
Mark Antonation

13) Blackbelly Market 1606 Conestoga Street, Boulder 303-247-1000

"Under-promise and over-deliver." That's chef/owner Hosea Rosenberg's way of describing the straightforward menu at Blackbelly Market, the latest extension of his Blackbelly brand that has grown from food truck to catering company to local farm -- and now to this understated restaurant in a less-than-trendy east Boulder neighborhood. But it's not just a restaurant; Blackbelly is also a salumeria making fresh sausage and cured meats, a butcher shop and market selling housemade packaged foods, and a deli counter serving grab-and-go breakfast items starting at 7 a.m. every morning. The details in the dishes that make good on over-delivering quality and flavor include head-on shrimp and meticulously sourced cornmeal in the shrimp and grits, smoked pork and Hatch chiles (delivered, roasted and peeled at the height of the season) in the green chile posole, and a strikingly fresh chimichurri siding hanger steak (or other cuts of the day) perfectly cooked to temperature.

Chef Lance Barto (left) and owner Christopher Sargent (right) are serving up bold food at Brazen.
Chef Lance Barto (left) and owner Christopher Sargent (right) are serving up bold food at Brazen.
Danielle Lirette

12) Brazen 4450 West 38th Avenue 720-638-1242

Christopher Sargent opened Brazen with the goal of "downtown food and service in a neighborhood setting," striking a balance between local appeal and chef-driven panache on the border of West Highland and Berkeley. A menu big on flavor but low on pretension -- what could be called bruschetta with toppings like roasted mushrooms or pork belly with cauliflower puree are simply referred to as toast -- features only a handful of small plates and even fewer large plates built for two. But those limited choices mean guests can mix and match, choosing from a variety of seasonal vegetable sides, selections of braised and roasted meats and expertly handled seafood. A late-night menu, served after 10:30 p.m, leans a little more international, with bowls of ramen, chicken pate and pork belly banh mi, and flatiron steak tacos. Seating is limited in the tiny, strip-mall space, but try for a seat at the chef's counter and feel like you're in the middle of the action. It's dining the way chefs want to dine when they're not cooking for others. Keep reading for eleven more of the best new restaurants in Denver in 2014.



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