Chef Nobu Matsuhisa brought everything we expected when he opened a branch of his namesake restaurant in Cherry Creek in 2016. The space is opulent and stunning, the reservation list tight, and the plates executed with an artist's skill and mastery of color and form. Yes, this is destination dining for the most special of occasions, but you can still drop in unannounced at lunch for donburi or hand-cut noodles almost Zen-like in their simplicity.
When it opened in December 2016, restaurateur Jeff Osaka’s 12@Madison quickly won our hearts with its thoughtful, intelligent menu filled with dishes as spare and striking as the dining room itself. Grains and vegetables are given the utmost respect, with starring roles written for each season. Meats match the seasons, too, with slow-cooked bison or lamb making winter appearances, for example, and brighter, livelier preparations filling the roster of ever-changing small plates in the spring.
In the four years since Abejas opened in downtown Golden, the intimate eatery has become a standout for fine dining in the western suburbs. The name is Spanish for "bees," after the founders, Brandon Bortles and Barry Dobesh, who were called "the Bs" by their friends. An eclectic, seasonal roster of clever yet grounded dishes incorporates influences from Italy, North Africa and even a hint of Mexico, and the food is bolstered by an excellent, value-based wine list. Whatever you decide to eat, it's clear that these Bs are killer.
Ace owners Josh and Jen Wolkon (who also run Vesta and Steuben's) had a smash hit on their hands when they opened their ping-pong hall and pan-Asian eatery in 2012. Matching the allure of table tennis (and exotic drinks), the menu at Ace has just gotten better over the years, especially since chef Thach Tran joined the team, adding a Peking duck special, hearty noodle soups and new flavors from Vietnam, Thailand and China.
Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski's 2013 followup to their Boulder hit, Oak at Fourteenth, has thrived like no other restaurant along Brighton Boulevard, drawing national attention and a horde of local fans. Amid soaring ceilings and graffiti-covered brick walls, the aroma of wood-fired cooking fills the room, and a hint of oak smoke adds depth to the Southern-tinged cooking of executive chef Ian Palazzola, who signed on in 2017. Once young and brash, Acorn is now solid and mighty.
Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo launched their second eatery at the beginning of 2019, bringing their unique, delicious cooking to Lakewood after the success of their Green Valley Ranch location. You'll find bold spices flavoring uncommon dishes representing Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations, as well as warm service from the owners and their family. Start with familiar samosas, meat pies, wings and fried plantains before exploring the wide range of porridge-style dishes that go by various names — fufu, sadza, kenkey, banku — depending on the main ingredient (cassava, cornmeal, plantain or yam, for example) and country of origin. Slow-cooked greens, braised meats and mouthwatering sauces round out plate after plate. African Grill and Bar is an unforgettable journey for vegetarians and meat lovers alike.
Located in Stanley Marketplace, Annette is a beautiful restaurant flooded with light and dotted with natural elements that make the room feel sophisticated, not stark. Chef/owner Caroline Glover cooks seasonal ingredients over a wood-fired grill with equal parts reverence and panache, turning out dishes that read as home cooking, even when venturing into such chef-driven ingredients as beef tongue, octopus and heirloom vegetables.
When Arcana opened in 2016, the mission was to explore “the true identity of American cuisine,” putting out elaborate, special-occasion fare. The restaurant goes to extra lengths to do so, baking its own bread and making cultured butter, and sourcing ingredients from the country’s top artisans and purveyors. Nearly every bite from the kitchen and sip from the bar contains a taste of American culinary history.
For a chef who's been in the restaurant business as long as he has, Radek Cerny still manages to bring a sense of fun and whimsy to some seriously French cuisine. At Atelier, you can luxuriate in rotating classics like rillettes, escargot, foie gras and lobster, but Cerny also has a way with Western favorites such as elk, salmon and bison. Be sure to bring a few extra bucks for a bottle of wine; the list here is dazzling, and the food is built to match the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Longtime general manager Ryan Fletter purchased Barolo Grill from his former boss, Blair Taylor, who founded the Italian eatery in 1992. Since taking over, Fletter has modernized the service and menu, designed by chef Darrel Truett, and built a formidable wine cellar while still maintaining a touch of the classic. As a result, today Barolo Grill is informed by its past without being weighed down by it.
Since it opened in 2010, Basta has evolved from a simple, wood-fired pizzeria to an evocative Italian kitchen favoring Colorado ingredients over imported products. The restaurant is tiny and hard to find, tucked away in a Boulder apartment complex, but chef/owner Kelly Whitaker’s reputation for honoring tradition while experimenting with new ideas has become a beacon for locals and visitors alike.
There may not be another restaurant in Denver that’s used its history to such great advantage, keeping everything noteworthy from the past — from the mid-century aesthetic to the quality steaks that meet the expectations of modern diners. The family-run business dates back to the 1930s, but the current incarnation was constructed in 1958, in distinct Googie style from the roofline to the neon sign. Inside, dinner in the bird’s-nest loft feels intimate and old-school, and a sugar steak — served no more than medium-rare — gives a taste of Colfax Avenue’s swingin’, stylish earlier days.
Siblings Aileen and Paul Reilly have built a beautiful operation since they opened Beast + Bottle in Uptown in 2013, with an emphasis on warm, gracious and genuine service to bolster a brief but ever-changing slate of beast-based bites. The plates that fly from the tiny kitchen have an artistry that matches their creative flavors, from verdant vegetable dishes to local lamb and heritage pork presentations. And, of course, a meal wouldn’t be complete without the fig + pig flatbread made with house-milled flour.
Beckon stands out as unique in Denver because the entire restaurant, at under twenty seats, is one big chef's counter stationed inside a modest RiNo bungalow. Seatings are twice nightly, with a set multi-course tasting menu that puts your faith, and your entire dinner, in the hands of executive chef Duncan Holmes, who exudes quiet confidence as he and his culinary team deliver exquisite bites – compiled from seasonal ingredients – to guests gathered round the open kitchen. This isn't a rushed experience designed to get you fed and out the door. Dining at Beckon feels more like a dinner party, complete with multiple bottles of wine, at a close friend's house -- if that friend happens to be the best cook you know.
How does a humble hot dog cart rise to the status of one of Denver’s top dogs in the restaurant business? Chalk it up to the creative and obsessive mind of Jim Pittenger, who started out with Coca-Cola-braised onions and cream cheese as a topping combo that elevated his wieners above the competition. Wild-game and specialty sausages have drawn food celebrities including Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Andrew Zimmern, as well as long lines of tube-steak tourists and frankfurter fanatics.
Linda Hampsten Fox, the Bindery’s chef/owner, lived and worked in Italy for decades, and her elegant dinner menu reflects her intimate knowledge of that country. But the menu ranges farther afield than Italy, with Mexican and New American influences that reflect experiences throughout Hampsten Fox’s nearly thirty-year career, as well as her penchant for unusual proteins — tuna ribs and rabbit — and brash flavor combinations.
Black Cat offers the ultimate farm-to-table experience, because chef/owner Eric Skokan runs his own farm, which provisions his restaurant year-round. You’ll find heirloom tomatoes, bold peppers and plenty of greens, as well as difficult crops such as sweet potatoes, artichokes and peanuts. Pasture rotation, organic farming and biodynamic practices result in the highest-quality produce and meats, all expertly utilized by Skokan and his team.
Chef Hosea Rosenberg turned his 2009 victory on Bravo’s Top Chef into a growing culinary business that started with a food truck and catering company and turned into a full-fledged restaurant in 2014. The butcher-driven eatery encompasses all of the chef’s passions: charcuterie, top cuts from locally raised animals, and Southwestern flavors from his childhood in New Mexico. A sense of humor and easygoing demeanor have kept Blackbelly grounded, even while the kitchen delivers steakhouse-caliber dry-aged beef, delicate pastas and seasonal vegetables with a locavore mentality.
Denver embraced Detroit-style pizza when Blue Pan Pizza debuted in 2015 in West Highland. Chef Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch and partner Giles Flanagin now run two Blue Pan locations serving rectangular pies built on a traditional base — an airy, crackly crust, Wisconsin brick cheese and a thick, tangy sauce — with toppings that modern customers crave. But you should try all of the styles here: award-winning Italian thin-crust, an even thinner Chicago cracker crust, and big slices of New York-style pizza.
Run by the Dire family since 1934, Bonnie Brae Tavern is far more than just a restaurant. Regulars and neighbors from every walk of life come in to enjoy a solid meal, a familiar face and the slow pace of change. Favorites like the green chile, wonton-wrapped rellenos, hefty burgers and home-style pizzas (new to Denver when the tavern introduced them shortly after World War II) show the range of Italian, Mexican and American influences that have shaped Denver’s eating habits for decades. The Bonnie Brae isn’t a relic stuck in the past; it’s a living tribute to this city’s history and an ongoing reminder of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
At 3 a.m. on a chilly Denver morning, the dining room of the Breakfast King feels like a movie set. The wood paneling, orange vinyl booths and swiveling barstools evoke the diners and roadhouses of a different era. Waitresses in crisp white shirts and pumpkin-hued aprons hustle platters of food to bar-hoppers out after last call, long-haul truckers and other denizens of the night. Every town has its 24-hour diner, but the Breakfast King rules in Denver; only in this town can you find green chile thick as country gravy and the oddly named toro pot (which is actually more of a burrito) — a Denver diner staple made well at the Breakfast King.
The Buckhorn Exchange delivers a Wild West experience as a true, old-timey spot that still has meaning for today’s diners. Before Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz opened the Buckhorn in 1893, he rode with Buffalo Bill; in 1905, he fed President Teddy Roosevelt, then headed off with him to hunt big game. The menu is loaded with big game to this day, meat that demands a pretty big price tag. If you’re on a nineteenth-century budget, head to the historic bar on the second floor, where you can snack on Rocky Mountain oysters, enjoy entertainment and gaze upon all the taxidermied specimens distantly related to what might arrive on your plate.
Chef Elise Wiggins finally opened her dream restaurant, Cattivella (which means "naughty girl" in Italian), creating a place that reflects her many experiences traveling, working and eating in Italy. The wood-fired pizza oven is used for far more than pizzas, and an adjustable charcoal grill gives meats (many of them brought in whole and butchered on site) and vegetables a rustic, old-world depth of flavor. Housemade breads and pastas separate Cattivella from the standard bistro or trattoria, too, making for a sensuous experience — whether you’re naughty or nice.
Over its almost eight decades, the Cherry Cricket has morphed from smoky bar to burger institution, consuming adjacent storefronts along the way to grow into the warren-like beer-drinkers’, game-watchers’, everyone-is-welcome-here watering hole that it is today, even as Cherry Creek gentrifies around it. But this isn’t just a place for a game of darts and a brew. As anyone who’s been in Denver for a month or more knows, the Cricket is a classic burger joint, beloved by chefs, musicians, Creekers, night creatures and neighbors for its smoky, char-grilled patties and the lengthy list of toppings with which you can personalize them, from sauerkraut to salsa to raspberry jam. (We prefer standards such as green chiles and cheese.) True, the beef isn’t dry-aged or grass-fed, and the lettuce and tomato slices aren’t organic, but that doesn’t matter at the Cricket, where burgers taste the way they did when you were growing up.
Chef Lon Symensma moved to Denver from New York City to unveil ChoLon in 2010. It wasn’t long before every soul in town had tried — and swooned over — Symensma’s French onion soup dumplings and kaya toast with coconut jam and egg cloud. ChoLon gave Denver something new: a menu that balanced the exotic with the familiar in dishes built for sharing. After a decade, the restaurant feels like a mainstay of the Denver dining scene, and the chef just added a location with a family-friendly menu in Stapleton.
Chow Morso isn't breaking new ground or inventing a new cuisine, but as a spin-off of Barolo Grill, one of the most consistent providers of culinary excellence in the city, this more casual osteria provides the same level of perfection and reliability in each plate of pasta and glass of wine. You know you're in good hands as owner Ryan Fletter attends to every detail, making sure that customers leave thinking of nothing other than their next visit.
Citizen Rail has proven that inventive, chef-driven fare can work in a hotel setting, in this case at the Kimpton Hotel Born by Union Station. The kitchen focuses on artisan food production, with dry-aged steaks (some aged for up to a year) and handmade bread and pasta. The heart of the restaurant is an open kitchen with several wood-burning grills, where everything — from those flavor-packed steaks to cocktail garnishes — is kissed with flame and smoke.
Comal is a restaurant on a quest: The RiNo lunch spot opened in late 2016 with the goal of training low-income women (many from Mexico, El Salvador, Syria, Ethiopia and Iraq) in restaurant and business skills. Catch the distinct, regional Mexican cooking for lunch Monday through Thursday and then return on Friday for Syrian cuisine. It’s the best thing you can do to lift your spirits — and fill your belly.
Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly couldn’t have done a finer job with Coperta, their followup to Beast + Bottle a few blocks away. Knockout dishes culled from little-known regions and towns in Italy, an enticing bar program built on Italian spirits, and warm service equal to that of its older sibling combine to give Uptown residents one of the best dining experiences in the neighborhood.
Alex Figura and Spencer White elevate pasta’s status as an oft-abused filler to the star of the plate, one handmade noodle at a time. But rather than taking an overtly refined approach, as you’d expect given their backgrounds in kitchens where success was measured in awards and Michelin stars, their pasta joint is a minimalist fast-casual spot, with unadorned white walls, black chairs and a stark-white art installation on the ceiling. Step up to the counter to order what will surely be the best pasta dish you’ve had in ages.
Few Denver restaurants are as transportive as Domo, a fantasy land that’s delighted diners for two decades. Decorated as a traditional farmhouse, the sizable but dimly lit dining room features wall-ensconced Japanese porcelain and other artifacts, flagstone tables and an actual tree trunk, around which the walls and ceiling were built. Enjoy country-style Japanese cooking here or in the Japanese garden outside for a tranquil experience just a stone’s throw from busy downtown.
El Five isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience. Perched atop a five-story building in LoHi, the restaurant commands breathtaking views of downtown and the mountains. But the views inside are just as mesmerizing: mirrors, gleaming black tile, vibrant foreign-movie posters and people everywhere. The Mediterranean-themed menu skews toward tapas, making for a great way to share a meal with friends.
Perhaps no Mexican spot in the Mile High is as beloved as El Taco de Mexico, a no-frills joint that offers little in the way of ambience and even less in the way of service. But that hasn’t deterred the crowds that have been coming here since 1985 for tasty tacos and anything smothered in the lip-tingling green chile, be that a burrito or tamales, enchiladas or chiles rellenos.
Bigger may be better for certain things, but smaller and louder are no-brainers when it comes to instant ambience — and Fish N Beer, from Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey fame, has it in spades. The menu is as compact as the fifty-seat space, offering oysters, shrimp and mussels plus wood-fired entrees, seasonal sides and a killer chocolate cake for dessert. The kitchen hums with confident precision, paying as much attention to Buffalo-style blowfish tails as to the signature grilled whole bass.
Old-world elegance, attention to detail, an award-winning wine cellar and a great view from its perch above Boulder have all contributed to the staying power of the Flagstaff House, opened in 1971 by the Monette family, which still runs the place. Not content to rest on its laurels, the Flagstaff House keeps its menu updated and seasonal while still making use of such high-end products as foie gras, morel mushrooms, Japanese wagyu beef, Maine lobster and fresh truffles. Dinner’s a splurge, but you’ll be treated like nobility from the front door to the last glass of dessert wine. Even a seat at the bar is an experience in hospitality the way it’s rarely practiced anymore.
The word "hospitality"seems practically invented to describe the experience at Frasca, which won the Outstanding Service award from the James Beard Foundation in 2019. Of course, the food and wine are also worthy of the restaurant's international reputation, making it not only a top Italian specialist, but one of the best restaurants in any category in Colorado. Book a table at Frasca for beautifully composed plates, perfectly paced tasting menus, and stellar wine service from Master Sommelier and co-owner Bobby Stuckey.
The close quarters of Fruition, chef/restaurateur Alex Seidel’s jewel box on East Sixth Avenue, have forced the chef to look outward for inspiration and expansion, so he relies on his own farm and dairy to provide seasonal produce and artisan cheese for the restaurant. An artist’s focus (combined with a tiny kitchen) results in a menu of only a handful of starters and main courses, but each plate is an unforgettable masterpiece.
Most of the red-sauce joints that once proliferated in northwest Denver have dried up, but Gaetano’s is now more than seventy years old. Of course, it’s gone through some changes over the decades after being founded by the Smaldone mob family, who installed bullet-proof glass in the front door and ran illegal poker games in the basement. Gaetano’s is now run by Ron Robinson as a true neighborhood joint, one flavored by the traditions of the past but still very much ready to go another seventy years as a Denver landmark.
Chef/restaurateur Troy Guard debuted Guard and Grace in 2013, when it instantly became one Denver’s top steak destinations — no mean feat in a town known for its beef. A modern approach to service, plating and the meat itself — grass-fed and dry-aged steaks are offered alongside grain-fed choices — has kept the posh establishment at the top of the steakhouse game, and Guard recently launched a Guard and Grace in Houston, as proof that every cowtown can use a little shaking up.
Building on the success of Uncle, his ramen joint, Tommy Lee opened Hop Alley (named for Denver’s long-gone Chinatown) in 2015. The restaurant’s gritty-chic aesthetic and hip-hop vibe are the perfect setting for exploring Lee’s exhilarating take on Chinese food, with interpretations of Cantonese, Sichuan and Beijing-inspired dishes (among other regions). Equally inspiring is Hop Alley’s thoroughly modern list of wine, beer and cider.
At Il Porcellino Salumi, owner Bill Miner and his staff of butchers and cooks make every meat product themselves: pink hams, fat-streaked bacon, dry-cured salami and other sausages, as well as less common Italian-style meats that hang for months — sometimes upwards of a year — before they’re ready to slice and sell. So every sandwich sold comes stacked with delicious meats you can’t get anywhere else in town.
Il Posto’s Larimer Street location carries on the tradition of great Italian cooking started by chef/owner Andrea Frizzi at his original Uptown spot in 2007. Stellar risotto and masterful pappardelle with pork ragu prove Il Posto’s prowess with the classics, but you’ll also be dazzled by the showy and delicious beef tallow candle with bread. The current Il Posto, which opened in 2017, has the added advantage of wonderful views of the city’s skyline.
More than two decades passed before Sushi Den owners Yasu and Toshi Kizaki decided to expand upon their successful sushi business, but when they did, they went big. While the word “izakaya” means little more than “bar and grill” in Japan, in Denver it has become synonymous with the same style, service and dedication to fresh seafood that Sushi Den customers have come to expect.
Sip, slurp and shuck your way to shellfish bliss at Jax, the fish house and oyster bar that Dave Query launched in Boulder in the ’90s. Start every visit with raw, grilled or fried oysters, including incredible oyster happy-hour deals, which turn the place into a boisterous post-work beacon. Once you’ve had your fill of the mollusks, though, don’t miss the rest of the menu, which focuses on sustainably caught fish and has a surprisingly good burger.
Yes, you can order biscuits and fried chicken at the Southern-themed Julep — and by all means do, because chef/owner Kyle Foster’s versions are terrific. But don’t limit yourself to the country classics. Julep serves sophisticated Southern cuisine that you’d never expect in such a laid-back spot. Foster helps us rediscover a part of the South that we never knew we'd lost.
The Street: There’s no better name for this former bungalow that’s been transformed into an iglesia for the worship of tacos. Stand before the glossy, wall-mounted menu and behold more than a dozen preparations of beef, pork and goat in styles from all around Mexico: cochinita pibil from the Yucatán, shredded pork mixed with pork rinds in the style of Campeche, and carne al pastor to rival the D.F.’s. And every house salsa and condiment has been made to match your taco of choice.
Lon Symensma's French/European restaurant debuted just before New Year’s Eve 2018, and quickly became one of the brightest stars of 2019. Dazzling plates — from the mushroom mille-feuille, which presents a rectangle of mushrooms sliced so thin that they resemble the pages of a book, to the wagyu beef tartare, presented beneath a smoke-filled glass cloche — have become signature items, while duck, lamb and seafood go through seasonal variations. A tribute to the chef's mentors in his younger days, LeRoux proves that the onetime student of European cuisine has now become the master.
If the pastrami is good, the rest of the sandwich is sure to follow. And at Leven Deli, chef Luke Hendricks makes pastrami from scratch, starting with whole beef brisket that's cured for more than ten days before being smoked. Leven loads it up on fresh-baked rye or sourdough bread for an eye-rolling combo of homemade goodness. While Leven doesn’t have the broad range of classic Jewish delis, what it lacks in variety it makes up for in dedication to quality.
Linger, built from the bones of the old Olinger Mortuary building, burst onto the scene in 2011 with an international menu and a theme to match the surroundings (cocktails listed on toe tags, tables built from gurneys, water served in apothecary bottles). Although newer buildings have blocked some of the view from the rooftop bar/deck, Linger’s continued dedication to sustainable practices and carefully sourced ingredients have kept the restaurant at the top of the list of Denver dining destinations.
An expansive tequila bar and delicious house margs, signature guacamole, a taco-filled happy hour, fresh oysters and inventive dinner specials are just a few reasons to love Lola, a mainstay in a neighborhood that has vastly changed since the restaurant debuted more than a dozen years ago. Our favorite spot here is the enclosed deck, a lovely place for a solitary drinker to soak up the last days of summer or a group of pals to fortify themselves against the wintry night ahead.
Every restaurant is cooking with wood these days, it seems, but in the Ballpark neighborhood back in 2008, true Neapolitan pizza was unheard of. Owner/pizzaiolo Mark Dym’s obsession with every step of pizza production led him to becoming the only restaurant in Colorado certified by the Italian Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, and the dedication to tradition can be tasted in every slice.
What started out as little more than a cottage-industry bakery working out of a tiny Lakewood storefront in 2011 has evolved into an empanada mini-empire, thanks to the recipes and dedication of founder Lorena Cantarovici. In 2014, the chef moved her Argentinean cafe to a sunny corner on South Broadway, expanding her offerings and adding a liquor license to serve malbec from adorable penguin-shaped carafes called pinguinos. Since then, Maria Empanada has expanded to the Denver Tech Center and Stanley Marketplace, and even appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But Denver diners didn’t need that national nod to fall in love with these half-moon pastries filled with savory meats and cheeses and baked to a golden brown.
More than a decade in, and the master still reigns supreme as the king of Denver sandwich shops. At Masterpiece Deli, you can't go wrong with properly made classics like the Reuben, Cubano or Italian, but you can also step it up with originals like the braised beef brisket or the seared ahi tuna on an English muffin (which somehow works). Founder Justin Brunson does fancier things at Old Major just a few blocks away, but Masterpiece still lives up to its tagline: "Fine dining between bread.”
Two doors lead to the Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant and Grocery. Pick one and you peruse fresh baked goods and packaged Ethiopian specialties in the market before heading for the dining room. Or choose the door directly to the restaurant, where rustic furnishings and the aroma of spice blends welcome you in. Every dish comes with tangy, spongy housemade injera, great for sopping up vegetable stews or wrapping up bites of spicy beef.
The concept for Alex Seidel’s second restaurant was as grand and ambitious as that of Union Station itself, where Mercantile launched in the summer of 2014. The refurbished train station showed off vaulted ceilings, gleaming marble, dark woods and a variety of new bars and restaurants that fit nearly every traveler’s needs. Likewise, Mercantile offered something from morning to night, whether they had a pocketful of change or a lavish expense account: a cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast, some deli meats and cheeses (oh, and throw in a jar of housemade pickles!) for a picnic lunch, or an elegant dinner for an evening of refinement and exquisite service. Even as the restaurant offerings in and around the station continue to grow, Mercantile hasn’t lost its luster.
Chef Max MacKissock is doing something special in the space once occupied by the Wazee Supper Club. The upscale eatery has its roots in modern Parisian cuisine as well as the chef's French family background; MacKissock and his team have put together a menu of original creations built around French ingredients and techniques, but without slavish devotion to tradition. Morin is yet another hit for MacKissock and partners Juan Padro and Katie O’Shea.
Yes, My Brother’s Bar has a fascinating history: The building has held a bar since the 1870s; Neal Cassady hung out here when it was Paul’s Place; and as My Brother’s Bar, it’s survived with no TVs while playing classical music and serving burgers in wax paper until 1 a.m. Across the decades, the place has evolved from a dusty cowtown cantina to a Beat Generation hangout to a neighborhood bar for the entire city. But the most interesting chapter is the current one: After four decades, the Karagas family sold the spot to a longtime employee and her family, who’ve vowed to keep My Brother’s Bar going in its current incarnation, even as developers knock on the door. We’ll drink to that.
This legendary eatery has been holding down this spot on South Federal for over three decades, and it's still always packed with regulars who fill the tables and partake in soup, noodles, grilled meats and excellent curries off the huge menu. The Vietnamese coffee is sweet and comforting; the massive bowls of warming soups prove perfect for a long lunch or early dinner. It could take you years to get through everything on this menu, so you’d better get started: Those build-your-own spring rolls aren’t going to wrap themselves!
While New Saigon offers a phonebook-sized menu with every possible combo of protein, noodle, rice and sauce, its spinoff, New Saigon Bakery, draws crowds with super-sized banh mi on house-baked French baguettes. Salty-sweet barbecued pork, luscious pâté and generous stacks of deli meats make for stellar sandwiches. And once you've eaten your way through the banh mi roster, you can explore the spring rolls, grilled meat-topped salads, pandan waffles and delicate desserts.
Across the alley from Noble Riot, Scott and Nicole Mattson’s Nocturne continues the jazz tradition of the neighborhood with its art deco-style bar, classic cocktails and stage-side dining room. If you’re feeling sophisticated, book a night to indulge in a tasting menu, which gives the kitchen a chance to show off by pairing thoughtfully prepared small plates with music from some of the jazz world’s most intriguing acts.
Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski opened Oak at Fourteenth in 2011, and almost immediately suffered a three-month closure because of a fire. But ever since then, Oak has been atop Boulder’s dining scene, thanks to Redzikowski’s inventive wood-fired cooking and Dayton’s eye for top-notch service. Years later, Oak has settled into an easy groove, turning out seasonal fare culled from local farms and combined in novel platings.
Pork was trendy and bacon sizzled everywhere when chef Justin Brunson opened Old Major in LoHi in 2013. But Brunson went beyond bacon, instituting a cured-meats program that followed difficult and time-consuming old-world methods. Local meats and produce have always been the basis for every plate, even as the menu continues to evolve and, more important, to impress, under a new cast of young chefs Brunson has chosen to carry on his mission.
In 2007, things like burrata, housemade salumi and Sunday pig roasts weren’t part of the Italian-restaurant lexicon in Denver, but restaurateur Frank Bonanno made them household phrases, serving less common regional dishes alongside pizza and panini to help demystify the more esoteric side of Italian cuisine. These days, Denverites swill Negroni cocktails by the carafe and ask for the provenance of their white orb of burrata — all thanks in part to Osteria Marco, which is still among Denver’s best.
The youngest of the Den Corner of restaurants run by Toshi and Yasu Kizaki, Ototo offers a more intimate experience, not to mention robatayaki — skewered meats and vegetables grilled over charcoal. But the concise menu also encompasses other Japanese specialties, whether you’re in the mood for expertly sliced sashimi, a rich bowl of ramen, or whole grilled squid. With 35 years' experience serving the food of their home country in Denver, the Kizaki brothers still know how to keep things fresh.
Perfection is the elusive goal of every pit master cooking meat over wood, tweaking techniques and recipes until the ideal brisket emerges from the smoker encrusted in mahogany bark and dripping with fat. Owlbear founder Karl Fallenius has shown hints of what he's capable of in pop-ups and semi-permanent meat counters, but he's put it all together at his smokehouse that opened in 2019, where pork, beef and other meats attain barbecue transcendence thanks to equal parts oak and patience.
Located in a sea of noodle shops along South Federal Boulevard, Pho Duy still serves the best pho in town. Despite moving one door north to bigger digs in 2015, this place can get crowded. Aromatic broth, fresh and flavorful meats, and options far beyond the standards — there's even a vegetarian broth — keep this pho joint on the top of everyone's list of standby lunches, late-night drop-ins and cold-weather haunts.
Denver clearly has a love for tiny neighborhood eateries that turn out meals on par with the big boys downtown. The Plimoth, under owner/chef Peter Ryan, has captured the hearts of both City Park residents and those willing to take a drive into unfamiliar territory. Classic European technique, local ingredients and regional inspiration give guests something new to look forward to with each visit to the charming spot.
Until the Post Brewing Company came along, it was almost as if the Front Range had no fried chicken at all, so quickly did fans flock here. Quaffable beers and a supporting cast of other countrified fare bolstered the Post’s reputation, and devotees in need of a fix had no trouble trekking to the bedroom community of Lafayette, where the original was located. Thankfully, founder Dave Query, who also runs Jax Fish House and other Denver and Boulder eateries, soon expanded the scope of the Post, adding chicken and beer outposts in south Denver, Longmont and on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
Capitol Hill neighbors who have frequented Potager since it opened in 1997 were worried about what would become of the place when founder Teri Rippeto sold it last spring. But their fears have been allayed by the restaurant’s continued dedication to locally sourced, seasonally driven fare. Potager was a bellwether for a style of cuisine that’s become almost cliché, but few new restaurants are as good or as devoted to simple, honest cooking with premium ingredients.
Traditional Taiwanese and Sichuan ingredients and techniques are at the heart of Q House, which earned a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in spring 2019. The Colfax Avenue restaurant and bar has turned tingly Sichuan peppercorns, head-on shrimp, beef tongue and pig ears from exotic ingredients into craveable everyday fare.
When you only make one thing, you'd better make it right. Igor and Beckie Panasewicz had more than a decade of experience bringing Venezuelan cuisine to the streets in their food truck and at the Avanti food hall when they finally opened their Platt Park brick-and-mortar. As a result, every mouthful bursts with succulent meats, a fluffy corn-flour shell, savory black beans, creamy avocado, sweet plantains and tangy sauces loaded with lime and cilantro.
For more than three decades, Racines has been the meeting spot of first and last resort in Denver. Neighbors and power brokers, college kids and yuppies: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re coming from, there’s room for you at Racines. Busy day in, day out, with an expansive menu that makes this the go-to place when you can’t decide where to go, Racines is the neighborhood restaurant for the entire city of Denver.
In 2004, chef Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch opened Rioja, a game-changer in Larimer Square. Since then, Rioja has only gained in popularity and national praise, even winning Colorado’s first Best Chef: Southwest award from the James Beard Foundation, in 2013. The fare coming out of the open kitchen remains a jumble of Italian, French and Spanish influences highlighted by handmade pastas, exquisite sauces and carefully chosen wines.
Denver lacked its own barbecue identity until Coy and Rachael Webb opened Roaming Buffalo in 2015. Coy, a trained chef with roots in Texas and a career in professional kitchens, decided early on to capture the spirit of Colorado in smoked lamb shanks and shoulder, bison ribs and game sausage; he also turns out more typical pork ribs and pork, sliced beef brisket and smoky chicken. Roaming Buffalo has almost single-handedly created a style of barbecue that Denver can call its own.
DIY decor with industrial elements and roll-up garage windows have become the norm in Denver restaurants, but it was awe-inspiring and new, as was the menu, when chef/restaurateur Justin Cucci opened Root Down in an old garage in 2009. Bold mashups of international influences, along with a commitment to pleasing vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free customers, remain the draw a decade later.
Josh Pollack brought the East Coast with him when he moved to Colorado, in the form of bagels just like those he remembered from growing up in New Jersey. Stack those bagels with smoked and cured fish (all made on site) or house-cured pastrami, and you’ve got winning sandwiches that still inspire lines every morning at the Five Points deli.
Safta, which means “grandmother” in Hebrew, is a personal project for New Orleans chef/restaurateur Alon Shaya; he opened his first project outside of Louisiana at the Source Hotel in 2018. Inspired by his grandmother's recipes and the cuisine of Israel (where he was born), Shaya has given Denver a new glimpse into Mediterranean cuisine, with wood-fired pita bread, a five-deep hummus menu, and a range of kebabs, falafel, crisp-edged Persian rice, braised lamb shank and duck matzoh ball soup.
Sam's No. 3 — the flagship in an eighty-year-old restaurant empire — finally closed in 1969, but the Armatas family returned the diner to its original downtown home (or, more accurately, right next door) in 2004. The menu is voluminous, with eight pages crammed with specials and sides and extras. Although the core offerings remain the Coney Island favorites that made Sam's reputation back in the 1920s, there are also skillet breakfasts, burgers, breakfast burritos and other Mexican grub.
Chefs Blake Edmunds and Max MacKissock have worked on numerous projects together, but Señor Bear is the purest distillation of their intelligence and adventurousness, combining a variety of Latin American culinary traditions into a tight and lively menu. Puerto Rican, Mexican and Peruvian flavors showcase the creativity of the kitchen, and brunch and happy hour have been given new life.
Chef Bill Espiricueta used childhood memories of barbecue in Austin and Kansas City to build a menu of oak-smoked brisket, ribs, housemade sausage and other mouth-watering meats. Smok offers down-home flavors and familiar smokehouse favorites, all filtered through a chef's detail-oriented lens.
Chef Cindhura Reddy and her husband, Elliot Strathmann, took over Spuntino in 2014, adding their own personal touches to the intimate Italian eatery. Today, hand-rolled pastas and braised meats are the stars, while goat from El Regalo Ranch and creamy arancini (sometimes with Hatch chiles) have become signature items. At the bar, Strathmann has amassed a collection of Italian amari, the bitter after-dinner spirits (including several versions he makes himself) that give diners one more reason to linger.
Steuben’s is named after a Boston diner once run by founder Josh Wolkon’s family. Since 2006, this retro joint has paid tribute to regional American favorites, from well-made lobster rolls to juicy green-chile cheeseburgers. Still loud and energetic, Steuben’s packs the house at the original Uptown location and the newer Arvada outpost.
Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch made the short leap from Larimer Square to Union Station in 2014 with Stoic & Genuine, the oddly named but well-appointed seafood bar inside the refurbished train station. Raw oysters draw seafood lovers with unparalleled freshness, while playful interpretations of tuna melts and chowdah as well as unique presentations of mussels, scallops, shrimp and other delights make for a lively lunch or a serious supper.
Chef Dana Rodriguez brings magic to even the humblest of ingredients at Super Mega Bien, where dim sum carts trundle between tables, offering diners tastes of Oaxaca, Yucatán, Puerto Rico and other Latin American culinary hotbeds. While the small plates are pleasing, big dishes like seafood soup that simmers on an oven-hot stone prove simultaneously sexy and satisfying. Super Mega Bien is a clamorous, irreverent and spectacular followup to the chef’s first restaurant, Work & Class.
A cluster of dim sum parlors surrounds the intersection of Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue, and all of them have their strengths — but the most consistently excellent is Super Star Asian, a bare-bones cavern whose back wall is lined with seafood tanks. Cart-pushers throng the perpetually full dining room, offering barbecue pork buns, shu mai, shrimp har gow, chicken feet and dozens of other Cantonese classics.
Denver has a longstanding love affair with sushi, thanks in large part to Sushi Den, the pristine house of raw fish that brothers Yasu and Toshi Kizaki opened in 1984. As testament to Sushi Den’s status, chefs at just about every other revered sushi restaurant in town have spent time working within these hallowed halls. Rather than resting on reputation, though, Sushi Den continues to rise to the top because of its commitment to the best seafood available.
Wayne Conwell has been slicing fish and finding new ways to turn Japanese tradition on end at Sushi Sasa since 2005. By synthesizing Western technique and current Denver tastes with the traditions of sushi that evolved in isolation long before it hit American shores, the chef has continued to stay relevant in a scene that shifts and changes like an undulating school of tuna. While dinner, especially if you ask for omakase service, can be an elegant affair, lunch is still one of the best raw deals in town.
Taste of Thailand was one of metro Denver’s first Thai restaurants when it opened in Englewood in 1994, and since its move to South Broadway in 2015, it’s remained one of the best. Rather than being stuck in time with a set menu of unchanging dishes, chef/owner Noy Farrell visits her home country regularly, touring Thailand for new flavors and trends. So light and vibrant salads share space with blazing hot preparations and complex soups — all with the fresh flavors of Farrell’s kitchen garden.
Frasca Food and Wine founders Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson brought their impeccable hospitality from Boulder to Denver with Tavernetta, creating a more accessible Italian menu than Frasca’s, but not sparing any details in the sumptuous decor or deep wine list. The result is magnificent, bustling and almost overwhelming, with a brand of service that makes you feel as if every one of the dozens of staffers are there just for you.
The Family Jones faces Osage Street like a modernist chapel designed by a visionary architect, but peer through the front window and you'll realize you're looking at a copper still, not a pipe organ, on the mezzanine above the bar and kitchen. Everything served at the bar at one time bubbled away in that still, giving a unique edge to every cocktail and neat pour served. The food, often whimsical and adventurous, serves as a spirited foil for the drinks, making this distillery a destination for more than just booze.
Well-edited: That’s how we’d describe To the Wind Bistro, the restaurant from husband and wife Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson. The space is snug but smartly appointed, the wine list short but clever, and the menu brief but long on winners — no easy feat, given that it changes often. While To the Wind is an ideal setting for a romantic date, we like the chef's counter, where you can watch the action in the open kitchen as you eat.
Don't let the fact that Tofu House is a franchise put you off: This string of restaurants stretches to central Seoul, where multiple locations of a restaurant are an indicator of excellence. True to its name, Tofu House specializes in tofu, cooked into a dozen or so stews bobbing with seafood, brightened with kimchi or made homey with Spam. Piping hot stone bowls keep soups simmering long after they hit the table.
It takes a lot of confidence to take a concept successful in one town and translate it for a new audience in a faraway city. But chef/restaurateur Tyson Cole exudes confidence with his cooking, which re-envisions Japanese sushi-house fare without ever disrespecting its roots. The Denver version of Uchi remains true to the Austin original while adding just enough Colorado originality to entice dubious diners. The result is a tranquil and mesmerizing dining experience that hypnotizes equally with ambience and platings. We'll take this Texas invasion.
Tapas, gin and good times have turned a once-dark corner of Union Station into a destination for folks seeking Spanish cuisine in Denver. While the interior is tight at Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch’s newest restaurant, a table on the mezzanine above the kitchen or a seat at the bar make for a boisterous social outing accompanied by rounds of small plates filled with the flavors of the Iberian Peninsula.
Uncle was Denver’s first modern entrant in the ramen-shop craze, and what an entry it was. Owner Tommy Lee took a less traditional approach to the time-honored Japanese noodle soup, creating intensely complex and tasty broths as a base for a nest of noodles and other delicious accoutrements. Years into this restaurant’s run, the crowds show no sign of abating, even as Uncle expanded to a second location in 2019.
Vesta is a Denver icon. Once on the forefront of the LoDo boom, it continues to evolve and improve two decades after Josh and Jen Wolkon first opened its doors. While the sleek interior and the dramatic bar haven’t changed much, the menu, built from a multitude of global inspirations, is well-honed and elegant, making Vesta worthy of special occasions — or just a fun hangout in the middle of baseball season.
Banh mi are big these days, but the Huynh family that founded Vinh Xuong Bakery served the sandwiches decades before son Duc Huynh opened his stylish and sunny cafe on West Alameda in 2011. He’s continued his family’s banh mi tradition of using baguettes baked in the shop every morning and loading them with barbecued pork and chicken, pâté, meatballs and other housemade meats.
The Way Back managed to reinvent itself after a move from West 38th Avenue to Tennyson Street nearly two years ago. What was once an esoteric small-plates lounge and cocktail bar transformed into a neighborhood eatery, only with an eye to local, sustainable ingredients. Booze and unusual ingredient combos are still the inspiration, but the newer Way Back has a broader appeal for a growing Berkeley neighborhood.
Yes, the Wolf’s Tailor combines influences from Italy, China and Japan, but if your mind is wandering to fusion cuisine, you should know that chef/owner Kelly Whitaker focuses more on what the different cuisines naturally have in common: grilled meats served on skewers, raw-fish preparations, fermented vegetables, and noodles made from fresh-milled grains; most of the food is cooked in a wood-burning oven and on charcoal grills. The results are subtle, strange and often stunning.
What possessed chef Dana Rodriguez and her business partner, Tony Maciag, to open their first restaurant inside a space created from recycled shipping containers is beyond us, but the result is a clamorous, joyous celebration every night of the week. Slow-cooked meats and other dishes that somehow find a balance between northern Mexico and the American South make for bold and filling meals served family-style in tin pans.
Chef Micheal Beary moved his Aspen-based Mexican restaurant to Denver in the waning days of 2018, bringing with him the biggest selection of Oaxacan dishes the city has ever seen. The bold, smoky flavors of Oaxaca are bolstered by chiles and other ingredients that the chef brings from southern Mexico through his own import company, which works with Mexican farmers to grow chiles rarely found outside the region.