May is heating up with seasonal and local ingredients, great outdoor cooking and plenty of new restaurants to check out. Peas and carrots are at their peak sweetness — making them perfect even in a dessert! And new potatoes and spring lamb are making appearances on menus, too. Here are seven Denver eateries offering bold new dishes and old favorites, some utilizing spring's bounty and others sticking to craveable comfort. Once you've whet your appetite with this week's watch list, keep reading for a complete rundown of all the restaurant openings and closings for May 1-5, 2017.
5280 Burger Bar
500 16th Street
This downtown burger bar just got a new chef, Derek Baril, who brings a fine-dining perspective to cooking up America's favorite sandwich. Most recently at Wild Standard and Salt in Boulder, Baril has already been tweaking the sauces and other housemade ingredients at 5280 and will soon roll out some new menu items of his own. There's the Perfect burger, with habanero bacon jam, Gruyère, pickled red onion and roasted-garlic aioli; the Vaquero, with guacamole, chimichurri, queso fresco and mango-habanero aioli; and the Truffle burger, with truffled aioli, mushroom duxelles (that's a flavor-packed paste, if you're not familiar with culinary lingo), Parmesan and arugula. The chef is an advocate of The Flavor Bible, one of the top tomes for professional cooks, so his ingredient combos come together like well-composed dishes rather than zany concoctions. The new menu doesn't roll out until May 15, but if you're looking for something new to try, head over for a pour of 5280's new collaboration with Resolute Brewing. Bar manager Tom Sutcliffe got to spend a day at Resolute brewing up a batch of 5280 Lager, the burger bar's new signature beer, which comes in a distinctive, custom-designed glass. Everything from the buns to the ketchup to the American cheese are made in-house, so the new beer fits in perfectly with 5280's DIY ethic.
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Acorn has been known to fire up the smoker outside the Source for occasional barbecue pop-ups, but starting this Sunday, May 7, the meaty affair will become a regular weekly tradition, at least through the summer. Indulge in brisket, pulled pork, half chickens, wings by the pound, housemade sausage (two different kinds!) and half-slabs of ribs, or opt for a sandwich — burnt ends or Carolina pulled pork — along with country-style sides done with Acorn's typical panache. Join the picnic from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a smoky alternative to Sunday brunch.
5021 East 28th Avenue
If you live in Park Hill, you've probably enjoyed a peaceful stroll over to Bistro Barbès, one of Denver's most hidden gems. If not, it's time to drive over to find out what you've been missing. Allow a little extra time to take in the well-manicured gardens and quaint cottages surrounding the restaurant, but make sure you get there in time for the bistro's brand-new happy hour, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Small plates range from $4 to $9 and include salads, pasta, seafood and meatier bites like the lamb en croute (pictured above), drizzled with demi-glace and sided with a tangy escabeche. Like the restaurant's full dinner menu, the happy-hour offerings are hyper-seasonal, like the spring-pea agnolotti with delicate spears of grilled asparagus. Drinks are also cheap, from the selection of $3 beers and $8 cocktails to wines by the glass and bottle — including a Hungarian tokai for only $28. You probably won't want to leave, so peruse the dinner menu for ramps, morel mushrooms and more of those spring peas before they're gone until next year.
1390 South Colorado Boulevard
Broken Rice opened on South Colorado Boulevard in February with a selection of noodle bowls, stir-fries and rice dishes encompassing Vietnam, China, Japan and Thailand. The fast-casual restaurant just brought on new executive chef Tyson Wong Ophaso, who once battled Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America. Ophaso has expanded the menu with several new dishes that speak to his experience in fine dining while remaining true to Broken Rice's street-food mission. Case in point: the Malaysian roti pancakes, which sport a crackly, toasty outer layer over a toothsome, chewy interior. Dipped in a nutty, spicy curry sauce, the roti wake up the palate for other Southeast Asian specialties like Singaporean curry noodles, moo shu wraps and a surprisingly hearty cauliflower fried rice bolstered with kimchi and egg. While the model here is counter service, the menu would be at home in any of downtown's hot restaurant zones.
Keep reading for more of the Westword Watch List...
Just Be Kitchen
2363 15th Street
Dietary restrictions don't have to mean dull food or a constant feeling of hunger. Just Be runs a gluten-free, grain-free and mostly dairy-free kitchen (there's raw-milk Parmesan on the Caesar salad and pastured butter for your paleo coffee), but the food is soulful and satisfying, thanks to chef/co-owner Carrie Baird's recipes. Take the breakfast burrito, nicknamed "Fulfilled" on the menu. Scrambled eggs, sausage and hash browns come wrapped in a thick, chewy tortilla made mostly from almond flour. Tangy pork green chile (there's also a vegetarian option) carries extra heat to warm you up on a cool morning. The dish is a prime example of how Just Be presents familiar, comforting flavors while sticking to its mission. But in case this burrito isn't enough for you, grab a coconut macaroon for a sweet treat on your way out the door.
Next Door American Eatery
10155 East 29th Drive
The newest member of the Next Door family debuted last week in Stapleton's hot Eastbridge development, where it shares a plaza view with Concourse, Cattivella and the soon-to-open Los Chingones and Hashtag. Along with the new restaurant, which feels fast-casual but offers full table service, Next Door has rolled out a new menu and identity (gone is the confusing reference to The Kitchen, its more upscale sibling). But among the new dishes, an old favorite lurks that we're surprised hasn't become a daily staple in Denver's dining habits. Smashed potatoes aren't a new thing, but here the smashers achieve star bar-food status, with a crunchy, golden jacket most baby potatoes only dream of possessing. Eat them plain or get them loaded with classic baked-potato toppings, a contribution from a Next Door staffer named Kevin, whose name is now indelibly printed on the restaurant's menu.
1431 Larimer Street
Rioja presides over Larimer Square with grace that comes from maturity, even as Denverites flock to neighborhoods considered hotter, hipper and younger. But it's hard to ignore the fact that Rioja is dedicated to staying fresh — whether that's with seasonal ingredients or up-to-the-minute culinary creations. A new dessert captures both, managing to combine spring peas and carrots into a stunning and modern plate that straddles the line between savory and sweet. We're all familiar with carrot cake, but pastry chef Eric Dale saves the carrots for the accompaniments rather than the cake itself. A normally almondy financier pastry gets a tint of green from fresh peas, while bright-orange marmalade and marshmallows carry the sweet carrot flavor. Dabs of cream cheese icing bring the dessert back into carrot-cake territory, while a foundation of chocolate streusel brings the whole dish together. Rioja proves that it's still a culinary leader while giving you a new way to eat your peas and carrots.
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RESTAURANTS/BARS OPENING THIS WEEK:*
The Chocolate Lab, 2504 East Colfax Avenue
Concourse Restaurant Moderne, 10195 East 29th Drive
Curds Cheese, 2449 West Main Street, Littleton
El Five, 2930 Umatilla Street
Szechuan Tasty House, 1000 West Evans Avenue
Tupelo Honey, 1650 Wewatta Street
RESTAURANTS/BARS CLOSING THIS WEEK:*
Country Buffet, 7407 East 36th Avenue
La Güera, 1610 Little Raven Street
Zengo, 1610 Little Raven Street
*Or earlier, and not previously reported by Westword.