Mark Manger
What? You actually got a second date? Well, good for you. Now the trick is to make the new love of your life think that you're a person of sophistication and taste — the sort who knows not to comb his hair with the salad fork or challenge the hostess to a drinking contest in the middle of the dining room. And where better to prove (or pretend) that you know your stuff than at Fruition — Denver's ultimate melding of casual and upscale sensibilities, of comfort food and classical technique. Chefs Alex Seidel and Drew Inman and partner/FOH man Paul Attardi have used their years of experience to a create a restaurant that serves the kind of food your mom might've made if your mom was Betty Crocker, Julia Child and Alain Ducasse all rolled into one, in an atmosphere that's charming, accessible — and intimate.
Meat candy. That's the only way to describe the thin, crispy, lacy rind of caramelized beef juice that fries up around the edges of a perfectly smashed smashburger at Smashburger — the new, homegrown chain that actually came up with a different way to do burgers, smashing them down on a very hot grill, then letting customers pick from a DIY list of add-ons. In retrospect, it's no surprise that this innovative mix of a Chipotle-style fast-casual operation and gourmet burger-making sensibilities came together in Denver. We are a cowtown, after all, and arguably the birthplace of the cheeseburger, so it's only fitting that the next evolution of the hamburger should occur right here in the Mile High.
Sushi Den
Sushi is simplicity personified in a culinary tradition that already values the most basic, the most unadorned, the most spare presentation of ingredients imaginable. Yet any meal at Sushi Den is complicated by the fact that owner Toshi Kizaki has worked for the past twenty years to institute a system whereby the sushi we get in Denver is almost as fresh and pure (and occasionally, expensive) as what's being eaten at the same moment thousands of miles away. With a buyer in Japan, an account with FedEx, a team of expert sushi chefs and a commitment to freshness that broaches the bounds of common sense, Sushi Den serves the very best sushi in Denver — a fact that becomes plainly obvious from the first bite of meltingly soft uni, gleaming o-toro or any one of the house's daily specials.

Best Sushi in the Last Place You'd Expect It

Mori Sushi Bar

There are people who have been going to Mori for decades, since long before Coors Field and LoDo existed, people who somehow happened on this sushi bar in the back of an old VFW hall and got hooked. Although Mori has gone more upscale in recent years — even adding a sake bar — it's still a comfortable spot, with booths patched with duct tape and an extensive, inexpensive roster of sushi.
Linnea Covington
Sushi Sasa seemed perfect the minute it opened. Odd, then, that it seems to only get better. Or maybe not, because chef/owner Wayne Conwell is the sort of person who strives to best even himself. From the gorgeous white-on-white dining room (which is usually packed) to the sushi bar at the back and the product of the cooks working behind it, nothing here is less than coolly and confidently excellent. Though not entirely traditional, the menu is firmly grounded in the years of classical training that Conwell went through before striking out on his own. To experience Denver's best sushi restaurant at its best, surrender to the chef, the kitchen and the season, order the omakase tasting menu, then sit back and let the night unfold as it will.
Mark+Manger
Denver is a taco-lover's paradise. Between all the taquerías and taco trucks, pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a taco within fifty feet. But finding a good one is something else entirely. And that's why when we're craving tacos, we head for Tacos y Salsas on South Federal (which, unlike the original outlet in Aurora, serves alcohol). Not only does this joint whip up a mean barbacoa taco or plate of carne asada, but it does so with style. The meat is fresh (in some cases, carved straight off the enormous meat stick towering over the hot line), the tortillas pressed by hand, the kitchen crew one of the fastest and best in town, and the final product endlessly customizable from the salsa bar at the front of the restaurant.
Naturally, when we're hungry for a great tamal, we head to a restaurant owned by a couple of Brits, with a kitchen commanded by an ex-Floridian just back from France, set in the middle of a privileged suburban enclave. We head for Agave Grill, which is run by the Master family, and where chef Chad Clevenger oversees the creation of a stunning tamal. Achiote-braised pork is wrapped inside a delicately steamed fold of creamy, light, sweet masa, then touched with a New Mexican-style green-chile sauce. Taken all together, it adds up to Denver's least likely best tamal.
Eric Gruneisen
Great Divide's tap room was the last space finished in the brewery's remodel, but it was worth the wait. The old tap room — the starting and ending point of tours at Great Divide — had a chilly, concrete decor, and it's difficult to enjoy even free beer samples when you're shivering. Its reincarnation is much warmer and features two large windows into the production area that let you see where the beer you're enjoying was made. The tap room is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday; the brewery occasionally offers special Tap Room-only releases available nowhere else in the country. Bottoms up!
Julia Vandenoever
Three years ago, Frasca won Best New Restaurant honors — and since then, it's continued to rack up kudos on both a local and a national level. This year, it takes our prize for Best Taste of Colorado because Frasca, more than any other restaurant in the area, has become both the standard of excellence for local operations and the embodiment of what makes the Colorado restaurant scene — and Colorado in general — great. This is a state where people come to start over, to start fresh, to start something. Frasca's owners, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey — both ex of the French Laundry, one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world — did just that. They came to Colorado to do what they loved, and to do it on their terms. With Frasca, they not only created a restaurant that could easily rate among the best in any city, but confounded all expectations of what's meant by a "Colorado restaurant" — raising the bar for everyone in the process.
Courtesy L'Atelier Facebook
Chef Radek Cerny has never been an easy guy to pin down. In his earliest days in Colorado, he was just another French-trained classical chef who had a few weird tricks with potatoes and a string of gigs that pointed up those talents. But lately he's been venturing down some pretty strange culinary avenues and coming back with absolutely brilliant dishes, including lobster in potato foam and duck rillettes with potato Napoleon. He can do the classics (lobster meunière), the modern (smoked Scottish salmon with liquid horseradish), the bizarre (chicken and moonshine) and the simple (a sashimi board). But the best thing he does may be a killer Monday "staff meal" prix fixe, which offers some of the best tastes of the back of the house for just $25.

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