RiNo could be the hottest culinary destination in Denver, especially with the addition of the Denver Central Market, bringing eleven separate food and beverage vendors together under one roof. But the elevation of the industrial zone began years ago with hip eateries finding footing where artists and musicians had already paved the way. Now the choices for where to spend your dining dollars are mind-boggling, almost as dizzying as the number of new residents who call the condos, apartments and townhomes of the area home. To help you find your way to a great meal, here are the ten best restaurants in RiNo, listed in alphabetical order.
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Bryan Dayton and Steven Redzikowski, the team behind the acclaimed Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, continue to impress since Acorn opened in the Source in 2013. Acorn's dedication to seasonal, wood-fired cooking with a focus on small plates — and a few very large plates— put the restaurant at the forefront of Denver kitchens. While some standards keep a loyal customer base happy (oh, those tomato-braised meatballs!), there are plenty of frequent changes to draw new fans with each menu iteration.
2500 Larimer Street
Cart-Driver's trendy shipping-container location, smaller than some studio apartments, seems almost a quaint reminder of design elements past even after only two years, but the pizzas coming out of the tiny kitchen are anything but dated. Although the spot takes the fast-casual approach, with counter service, a tightly edited menu and a handful of small plates, the ingredients are top-notch and the food is produced with care. Bargain hunters should be sure to hit the two happy hours.
3500 Larimer Street
No new restaurant captured the zeitgeist of Denver's dining scene quite like Hop Alley when it opened last December as the second eatery from Tommy Lee, whose noodle bar Uncle was no less of a hit when it debuted three years earlier. How did Lee repeat the success of his first go-around? With a slate of rare, regional Chinese dishes — many borrowed from his childhood visits to Hong Kong — tied to tradition by wood-fire cooking and amplified by the funky flavors of vegetables fermented and pickled in-house. The name Hop Alley honors Denver's original Chinatown, but the cuisine wanders far from standard Chinese-American fare, with a rotating menu that visits the food centers of China, from Shaanxi province to Sichuan to Hong Kong. Alternating cooling and warming elements keep the palate stimulated — from jiggly chilled tofu to earthy char-siu pork belly with braised mustard greens. The eatery's instant success is proof that Denver diners are ready to be challenged, titillated and rewarded with a whole new world of gustatory experience.
3033 Brighton Boulevard
After years of opening all manner of restaurants, executive chef/partner Troy Guard returns to his roots with Mister Tuna, a high-energy spot in RiNo’s Industry building. And what a fun restaurant it is — but not in the default-casual way, with free-flowing craft beer, wings and cornhole on the lawn. Here the best tables are inside, not out; the patio along Brighton Boulevard is often too hot and noisy. Besides, the room comes into its own as night falls: Under the cover of darkness, the long, narrow space becomes increasingly grown-up, with a dynamite mural of a woman’s face and a black-and-gold color scheme that totters between sexy and elegant. Divided into the categories of raw bar, appetizers and entrees, the menu reflects influences ranging from Hawaiian to Vietnamese to Indian. This being Guard’s house, the most memorable fare involves the sea: kampachi with mint, Thai basil, chiles and cilantro; ahi poke with buttery avocado and quinoa; and corvina with kimchi-tossed wheat berries. But other dishes shine, too, and many capture the best of Guard’s fusion-rich background, including carrot agnolotti with a Thai carrot-herb salad, grilled pizzas, and rotisserie pork collar with lavender mustard.
1330 27th Street
Nicole and Scott Mattson set out to bring back the Five Points jazz era with Nocturne, a supper club just off Larimer Street featuring jazz six nights a week. But a supper club wouldn't be much without supper, so a crack kitchen crew provides nightly bites and regularly changing tasting menus inspired by classic jazz albums. Add a swanky art-deco bar, and you've got a combo that swings with as much energy as the music itself. Nocturne isn't content to rehash classics, but instead crafts beguiling dishes from disparate flavors of Africa, the Deep South, New Orleans and beyond.
2611 Walnut Street
RiNo denizens and Denverites descending on the neighborhood have gotten used to the unassuming entrance to Osaka Ramen. They know that heading down the stairs into the austere basement space leads to rich, complex ramen bowls made with long-simmered broths and perfectly springy noodles. 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, chef/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. Be sure to save room for Osaka's wife’s mochi doughnuts — she'll be very disappointed if you don't.
3163 Larimer Street
The Populist may be named for the common man, but the food is anything but common. One of the first eateries to land on a stretch of Larimer Street that seemed all but deserted back in 2012, the restaurant, operated by Noah Price and chef Jonathan Power, still exudes a hip vibe amid a slew of newer arrivals. You never know quite what Power – a philosophy major in college – will add as a flourish to each dish, all free of the constraints of first course, second course and sides. Plates are meant to be shared, so you can order two courses or seven, traveling from France to Korea to Latin America and back.
3040 Blake Street
Perhaps no other restaurant captures the direction of Denver’s food scene as much as the Preservery, the brainchild of wife-husband duo Whitney and Obe Ariss. The restaurant balances the vibe of the turbo-thrusted neighborhood around it with an overarching Colorado farm-to-table ethic. Gratuity is built into the pricing, in line with the owners’ socially minded outlook. Live music happens on a regular basis, including classical piano from Obe himself. The Arisses are clearly the heart and soul of the place. But it is chef de cuisine Brendan Russell who translates their vision and lifts the Preservery out of the realm of the super-trendy and into the much narrower category of places you’ll want to return to even after you’ve checked them off your list. The seasonally inspired menu is full of choice – think octopus to vegan salads to wagyu – but salads and desserts are particularly strong. Fried green tomatoes are plated off-center in a white bowl dotted with aged balsamic and green purée cleverly made with nasturtium leaves, cucumbers and agar. In another salad, roasted asparagus is topped with bacon, a Scotch egg and pickled cantaloupe. This is cooking for right now, in this adventurous, booming heart of the New West.
3763 Wynkoop Street
From the outside, Rebel Restaurant looks a lot like the dive bars that once occupied the nondescript building; in fact, you can still see the faded letters for Flynn’s Inn, the occupant several incarnations back, on the brick. But what’s happening inside symbolizes just how far Denver’s restaurant scene has come over the past few years. This is food that challenges rather than comforts, with everything from half a pig’s head to whole octopus to creamed chipped beef made with heart and garnished with gold leaf. In a nod to the chef-owners’ Ukrainian-American heritage, the ever-changing menu always includes some kind of pierogi, but rather than stuffing them with traditional fillings, the kitchen changes things up with foie and mushrooms or pork green chile. Like the dishes themselves, the concept isn’t for everyone, but its authenticity and unpredictability are refreshing in an era when too many menus look the same.
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Work & Class
2500 Larimer Street
Like Hop Alley, Work & Class won our Best New Restaurant award the year that it opened. But nearly three years later, there's something about this American/Latin American eatery that still seems so right now — and so right, especially if you like rooting for the underdog. Delores Tronco, owner-buckstopper, as she jokingly calls herself, left a job in communications to take a risk in the food industry. Tony Maciag, owner-general manager, hails from Detroit, an underdog with a capital U. Dana Rodriguez, owner-executive chef, grew up on a farm in Mexico without running water or electricity, moved to the United States with three young daughters, and worked her way up from dishwasher at Panzano to chef de cuisine at Bistro Vendôme. Equal parts humble and audacious, Work & Class captures the spirit of the upstart RiNo district that has sprung up from an industrial zone to become one of the city's top dining destinations.