Hundreds of restaurants opened in metro Denver last year, including everything from little neighborhood sandwich shops and upscale taquerias to ambitious and strikingly decorated American spots. And which was the best new restaurant to open in 2013? That's what we'll reveal in the Best of Denver 2014, which hits the streets on March 27. To whet your appetite for that unveiling, we've come up with our list of finalists, the ten best new restaurants -- restaurants that have opened within the last twelve months -- in Denver (and yes, that's metro Denver)...presented in alphabetical order. (And keep reading for the five finalists for Best New Restaurant chosen by Westword readers.)
See also: Ten best new Denver bars of 2013
1) Acorn 3350 Brighton Boulevard Bryan Dayton and Steven Redzikowski, the team behind the acclaimed Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, signed on early to put a second restaurant in the Source. And Acorn, which opened this past September, doesn't fall too far from the original Oak. The space is different, of course: Acorn takes full advantage of the ultra-urban, industrial-chic feel of the Source, with plenty of exposed brick, metal ducts and graffiti - but little of the warmth of the Boulder original. But the menu embodies the same "wood-fired seasonal cooking" that's made Oak one of Boulder's most inspiring -- and popular - restaurants.
2) Beast + Bottle 719 East 17th Avenue Brother-sister duo Paul and Aileen Reilly opened Beast + Bottle last March, and although they'd already run Encore together, this spot in the Uptown neighborhood is the restaurant "conjured in our heads since we were kids," Paul explains. It's a seasonally inspired farm-to-fork operation, a nose-to-tail restaurant -- and while you might think Beast + Bottle has come a little late to that party, rather than seeming passe, the restaurant feels expansive, quirky and worldly, as the menu travels from Colorado to Maine to Italy to North Africa in the span of twenty dishes.
3) The Curtis Club 2100 Curtis Street Created by musician-turned-restaurateur Scott Bagus in the former home of the Old Curtis Street Bar, the Curtis Club exudes a vibe that would be hard to imagine outside of the West. Walls are decked out with cedar-fence wood, horseshoes hang by the tin ceiling, and a mural of a lake backs the bar. In other towns and in other hands, such touches might verge on kitsch; here they feel like a part of our heritage. "I was going for the Old West, but with a classy feeling," explains Bagus. Welcome to the mild, mild West.
4) Harman's Eat and Drink 2900 East Second Avenue Edward Harman was a pioneer in what would become Cherry Creek, and Harman's eat & drink is exploring new culinary territory in that now-upscale neighborhood. Legendary Colorado restaurateur Mark Fischer, whose first foray into the Denver dining scene was Phat Thai, determined early last year that the Asian-fusion concept wasn't working, and after a quick renovation, he rebranded the space as Harman's, a comfortable, New American restaurant designed as a regular hangout for the neighborhood.
5) Lower 48 2020 Lawrence Street "I've worked in restaurants my whole life," says Mario Nocifera, who co-owns Lower 48 with his business partner and executive chef Alex Figura, like Nocifera a veteran of Frasca Food and Wine. "I've always wanted to build a restaurant -- that's been my dream for years -- and our goal is to continue to make Denver a great dining destination; we're striving to be great regionally, and we want to be a part of why people go on destination food trips." And since Lower 48 opened late last year, it's definitely become a Denver destination.
6) Old Major 3316 Tejon Street Chef Justin Brunson spent months working with a dream squad of cooks and chefs, bartenders and wine geeks to put together Old Major, the restaurant he opened in Highland in late February 2013. And diners immediately fell for the place named after the old pig in Animal Farm, a place that's dedicated to "seafood, swine and wine," according to the menu. Old Major strives to be a confluence of unassailable "elevated farmhouse" cuisine (with gorgeous compositions to match), served in a striking setting that's neither too pretentious nor too casual. Instead, it's hog heaven.
7) Olive & Finch 1552 East 17th Avenue Mary Nguyen, the chef/owner of Parallel Seventeen and Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, opened her third spot in early December, the lovely, casual Olive & Finch that's a cafe, not an upscale restaurant. "I want people to come in, get a cup of coffee and plug in their computers, and if they want to camp out for three or four hours, that's perfectly okay," says Nguyen. "This is a community-driven cafe, and we want people to feel like they're a part of that community."
8) Plimoth 2335 East 28th Avenue Peter Ryan, former executive chef/instructor at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, is proof that those who teach can also do. In October he opened his own restaurant, the forty-seat Plimoth, in an off the-beaten-path spot in North City Park. "We're doing approachable and classical European food in a relaxed and chill space," says Ryan. "This is simple food -- there are no spun sugar towers here -- done really well, and I have the most amazing staff with me. We're cooking the food we like to eat, and we hope that everyone else will want to join us."
9) Session Kitchen 1518 South Pearl Street Session Kitchen, which the Wynkoop-Breckenridge group opened this past October, is a stunning space, with enough art installations and independently designed drinking and dining spaces to make it look like a contemporary museum; it's the creative embodiment of "disparate things together." The menu, buzzing with ingredients from milk jam to black-truffle vinaigrette, is equally adventuresome, incorporating the creative concept director's "East-meets-West vibe" and what chef Scott Parker calls "the way people used to eat...preserving, pickling, fermentation, curing."
10) Sugarmill 2461 Larimer Street Upper Larimer is experiencing a serious case of sugar shock now that Sugarmill, the dessert bar and lounge that Noah French, pastry chef of TAG, opened in late November, is teasing everyone who walks through the door with extravagant display cases of cookies and cupcakes, French macarons and fat muffins, cakes and croissants, parfaits and tarts. The alluring sweets, all of which are created in an open display kitchen where French is front and center, are complemented by a lunch menu of sandwiches and salads and a dinner menu that highlights heartier dishes like turkey pot pie and short-rib tortellini.
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