If you're looking for what's new, what's hot and what's adventurous in the Denver dining scene, you've come to the right place. We're scouring the city for the best bites in the most exciting or unexplored eateries for the weekly Watch List. This week, we have two seafood dishes that are trending — octopus and poke — as well as Latin American flavors from Mexico and Honduras. And if that's not enough, we're bringing it back home with a taste of old-school Denver. Keep reading for five great places to eat this week, plus our roundup of all the restaurant openings and closings for the week of May 8 to 12, 2017.
Honduran pastelitos are similar to empanadas.
1443 Chester Street, Aurora
While cruising for new eateries on the vast stretches of Colfax Avenue, we stumbled across this bright little Honduran joint just off the main drag. The menu is big and filled with Central American specialties both familiar and new, from a long list of seafood to a slate of homey and hearty soups. We picked out an antojito called a pastelito because the description fit just what we were searching for. These crunchy pockets made with corn masa make for a great starter sided by a cold beer. The filling is nothing more than lightly seasoned ground beef and onion, so the crackly, corn-flavored shell does most of the work. Hit them with a few drops of hot sauce or fish some housemade pickled onions from the jar at your table to add a zesty kick. Once you've demolished a plate of these, you can move on to the rest of the menu.
Il Posto's octopus carpaccio is a work of modern art as well as a lovely appetizer.
2601 Larimer Street
Our restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurtz, first reviewed Il Posto in its original uptown location more than four years ago. Back then, she loved the stuffed and sauteed calamari, unbesmirched by deep-fried breading. Chef/owner Andrea Frizzi pulled up roots and sprouted a new version of Il Posto on Larimer Street earlier this year, and this time, it's another sea creature that's one of the stars of the show. The restaurant remake is a glamorous, sexy reincarnation of the rustic and charming original, so it makes sense that the food, while still grounded in Italian tradition, would receive a similar makeover. While orbs of light dangle tentacle-like on copper arms over the dining room, Il Posto's octopus (or polpo, as the Italians call it) carpaccio glows with its own beauty. Here's what Kurtz wrote in her review earlier this week:
Sliced as thin as a whisper, the polpo stars in one of the loveliest dishes you’ll ever eat: white octopus circles pressed into purple potatoes like stained glass, finished with lemon and topped with bands of orange kumquats, red chiles and crinkly purple potato chips.
Here's a good way to get your recommended daily allowance of Denver omelet.
Punch Bowl Social
Leave it to a Canadian chef who specializes in Southern cuisine to make a version of a Denver omelet that's actually appealing. PBS teamed up with chef Hugh Acheson last year to revamp the company's menu with upscale Southern staples that bolstered the existing roster of booze-and-games-friendly food. Acheson recently added a few new items for spring and summer, including the toasted Western sandwich. Nobody in Denver really eats Denver omelets (we're all too busy snarfing creative brunch Benedicts), but in sandwich form, the blend of peppers, onions and — in this case — sharp cheddar becomes something new and enjoyable while also tipping a hat to history. You see, the Western (or Denver) sandwich was supposedly invented right in our city more than a hundred years ago at a restaurant hotel, but its roots may go back even further — to Chinese railroad workers who tucked egg foo young between two slices of bread for an improvised lunch on the go. Our only complaint? The PBS version doesn't automatically come with ham, which is de rigueur for any Denver omelet worth its salt. Fortunately, the kitchen offers it as an add-on, but it's not listed on the menu.
Whether you say poki or pokay, this poke is more than okay.
2231 South Broadway
Poke isn't hokey in Denver; it's a hot new trend that should have staying power, because the fresh flavors, light-but-protein-packed ingredients and overall liveliness of the dish fit perfectly with the Colorado lifestyle. So unlike other food trends (back away slowly, kale), we welcome poke in all its variations — whether you pronounce it pokay or pokee. At Turtle Boat, owners Jeremy and Darren Song aren't picky about your pronunciation; they're just happy to put their Colorado-style spin on the Hawaiian classic for a growing entourage of customers on South Broadway. If you want to keep your poke local, order it with Colorado striped bass, a hybrid fish being raised in geothermally heated artesian spring water near Alamosa by Colorado Catch. Pick the house dressing for a light, zingy flavor and add your choice of several toppings and sides. Crunchy fried garlic, Japanese furikake seasoning and radish sprouts all add pep. And we're generally guacamole purists, but a dash of wasabi in Turtle Boat's wasab'amole makes for a surprisingly addictive Japanese-Mexican fusion. The Song brothers have also finally figured out what to do with the curious kohlrabi; they turn the pale-green bulb into tangy kohl-slaw.
Costillas de cordero with frijoles de olla at Villagran.
1215 West Alameda Avenue
For more than a year, we drove past the dark Villagran building on West Alameda weekly, hoping to see the "Open" sign flicker to life. That day finally happened on May 1, and the family-run Mexican eatery is now turning out top-notch dishes for hungry neighbors who have gotten to know the Sonoran-style cooking over the years by lining up at Villagran's precursor, the Villa Real taco truck. But the new restaurant offers far more than tacos. The Friday night special is costillas de cordero — otherwise known as lamb chops. Here, the little lamb lollipops are smeared with a red chile rub and then grilled just through so that the centers are a touch pink and the thin strip of meat along the bone is crackly and delicious (go ahead and pick up the ribs with your fingers; we won't tell). A side of slow-cooked beans and a nopal salad fill out the dish — and don't forget about your side of corn tortillas; they're made in-house daily and are some of the best in town.
Here are all of the bar and restaurant openings and closings this week:
BARS/RESTAURANTS OPENING THIS WEEK:*
Departure Elevated (Halcyon Hotel rooftop), 245 Columbine Street
Growler USA, 1071 Courtesy Road, Louisville
Goed Zuur, 2801 Welton Street
Turtle Boat, 2231 South Broadway
Villagran, 1215 West Alameda Avenue
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BARS/RESTAURANTS TEMPORARILY CLOSING THIS WEEK:*
Ratio Beerworks (licensing issues), 2920 Larimer Street
BARS/RESTAURANTS CLOSING THIS WEEK:*
Lucky Cat, 7559 East Academy Boulevard
Mellow Mushroom Streets at Southglenn, 2154 East Commons Avenue, Littleton
*Or earlier, and not mentioned in a previous Watch List.