The Ten Best Restaurants to Open in Denver in 2015

Osaka Ramen proves that noodles are just the beginning of great Japanese cuisine.EXPAND
Osaka Ramen proves that noodles are just the beginning of great Japanese cuisine.
Danielle Lirette

In December, we brought you our list of the fifteen best new restaurants in 2015. But there was a late flurry of activity at the end of the year, and the intervening months have given us time to sample, ruminate on and pare down our favorites to a sleek list of ten — with a couple of surprises from eateries that squeezed in just under the deadline. The big winners were Asian cuisine, inventive New American and old-world Italian, with time-honored methods of meat curing and wood-fired cooking earning our respect. Although many eateries that didn't make the final cut are also great destinations, our final ten represent the best of the best, with style and attitude that embody the spirit of 2015...that diners should be enjoying for many years to come.

Here are the ten best restaurants to open last year, in alphabetical order — with the winner of Best New Restaurant in this year's Best of Denver in the number-one slot.

Abejas combines simplicity and elegance in flavors and presentation.EXPAND
Abejas combines simplicity and elegance in flavors and presentation.
Danielle Lirette

10. Abejas
807 13th Avenue, Golden
303-952-9745

Abejas is Spanish for "bees," but this cozy Golden charmer doesn't serve Latin-inspired fare. Instead, the place is named for owners Brandon Bortles and Barry Dobesh — lifelong friends known to pals as "the Bs." Abejas boasts an eclectic seasonal roster of clever yet grounded dishes with French and Mediterranean influences created by chef Nicholas Ames. Among the small plates and entrees, you'll find pork-based specialties like terrines and daily cuts from whole pigs butchered in-house weekly. Vegetables also get the spotlight, with thoughtful preparations like carrot and almond soup with carrot-top pesto and saffron-braised fennel served with seared scallops. The food is bolstered by an excellent value-based wine list and thoughtful house cocktails. Whatever you decide to eat, it's quickly clear that these Bs are killer.

A wood-burning oven is central to the menu at Bar Dough.
A wood-burning oven is central to the menu at Bar Dough.
Danielle Lirette

9. Bar Dough
2227 West 32nd Avenue
720-668-8508

To mistake Juan and Katie Padró's new Italian eatery, right next door to their Highland Tap & Burger, for just another wood-fired-pizza joint would be to miss out on the Italian and Italian-American fare from chef-partner Max MacKissock, who is channeling his younger days as a chef in Italy and New York, creating speidini (skewered meats), fettunta (similar to bruschetta) and handmade pastas dressed in traditional sauces. Add to that a long, stately bar serving Italian wines, beers and spritzes concocted with housemade sodas, and you've got the hottest thing going in LoHi. Not sure where to start? Try the grilled octopus with charred eggplant, which we awarded Best Octopus this year.

Detroit-style is the draw at Blue Pan, but thin-crust pizzas also fly high.EXPAND
Detroit-style is the draw at Blue Pan, but thin-crust pizzas also fly high.
Paul Joyner Photography

8. Blue Pan Pizza
3930 West 32nd Avenue
720-456-7666

Pizza whiz Jeff Smokevitch and partner-in-pie Giles Flanagin brought Blue Pan to West Highland in June after Smokevitch's success with Brown Dog Pizza in Telluride. Rectangular deep-dish pizza is the star of the show and won our award for Best Detroit-Style Pizza this year, but 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. It's so good, you'll wonder how the Motor City kept this style of pizza secret for so long.

Sean Kelly has a hit on his hands with Desmond in Park Hill.EXPAND
Sean Kelly has a hit on his hands with Desmond in Park Hill.
Danielle Lirette

7. Desmond Bar & Grill
2230 Oneida Street
720-542-9035

Not long ago, it was considered risky to open a restaurant past a certain block on Larimer Street. With all the construction dust in that area, though, these days the risk lies in other neighborhoods, such as Park Hill, where noted chef/restaurateur Sean Kelly recently opened Desmond. But if anyone can turn a quiet locale into a hot spot, it’s Kelly, a longtime presence on the Denver scene who’s been involved in a number of high-profile gigs, including at Barolo Grill (where he served as opening chef) and his spectacular Aubergine Cafe. Desmond's mix of classic bar treats, like a juicy burger and by-the-book Buffalo wings alongside soulful Mediterranean flavors, just earned the eatery our award for Best New Neighborhood Restaurant.

The bold flavors and colors of Southeast Asia are on display at Cho77.EXPAND
The bold flavors and colors of Southeast Asia are on display at Cho77.
Danielle Lirette

6. Cho77
42 South Broadway
720-638-8179

Lon Symensma’s first venture, ChoLon, distinguished itself as one of the city’s very best restaurants from the get-go. In March 2015, 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. Dishes change frequently, but look for the Thai coconut curry soup served in a two-tiered tiffin, housemade bao buns and glazed chicken wings good enough to win a Best of Denver award. And on a stretch of one of Denver's best streets for food lovers, Cho77 stood out enough to also earn Best Restaurant on Broadway.

Keep reading for the rest of our ten best new restaurants for 2015...



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