Best New Restaurant 2013 | Uncle | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy Uncle

Fifteen years ago, if someone had said the city's best new restaurant was a ramen shop, you might've asked, "What's a ramen shop?" But we're living in a post-Momofuku era, where the virtues of minimalist decor, cloudy broth and curly noodles are commonly extolled, so today most Denver diners would shake their heads knowingly and reply, "I know, isn't Uncle terrific?" Even before you've pushed back from the bustling counter, belly full of steamed buns with avocado and mint, crispy Brussels sprouts, spicy chicken ramen and pear cider, you're contemplating your return to Tommy Lee's breakout hit. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait longer than you'd like: Uncle isn't open for lunch, which might be the only thing we don't like about the place. Lee's idea may not be new, but his execution is superb at Uncle, with consistently excellent service and food.

See also: A look at the last decade of Best New Restaurant winners

After opening last November amid a flurry of industry- and hipster-driven buzz, this tiny jewel of a restaurant has settled into a pattern of turning out ridiculously good food to a packed dining room night after night. We were delighted to discover that the Populist's wine program was just as unassuming — and satisfying — as its menu: by-the-glass pours (five white, five red, two bubbly) somehow cost only $4 each, yet showcase marvels like La Spinetta's juicy Il Nero di Casanova sangiovese and the bracingly mineral-driven Laurenz V. grüner veltliner. Bottled selections should thrill both wine geek and novice alike; familiar zinfandel cozies up to esoteric godello without fanfare or frills. The best thing about this small but mighty list? It never seems to take itself too seriously — always remembering that at the end of the day (or meal, as it were), wine is all about having fun.

Courtesy Uncle

Say Uncle! Tommy Lee, a 32-year-old Denver native of Chinese descent, didn't have a lot of experience in the restaurant business, but he knew he wanted to open a noodle bar — even though he worried that what he wanted to do was "too obscure." So he listened to customers' ideas — even before they were customers. "In the middle of construction, customers would keep stopping by to check out what kind of place was opening," he recalls. "When I told them a noodle bar, they would ask if I was doing ramen." He wasn't planning to, but ramen was on the roster when Uncle opened last August. He was equally attentive to the other dishes on the menu — as well as impeccable service — in his sleek LoHi spot. And the resulting noodle bar has bowled over not just the neighborhood, but the entire city.

Best Official Snack Food for Colorado


Cassandra Kotnik

From turkey legs to Rocky Mountain oysters, Denver is stacked with snack foods — and those who can't get enough of them. But the single best way to feed your snack attack is to stuff your gullet with the porkerific Steubie Snacks from Steuben's and the Steuben's food truck. Chef Brandon Biederman's addictive bites of braised pork shoulder are deep-fried until they crackle, then liberally dusted with powdered sugar. The result could be swine crack — Colorado style.

Root Down Instagram

It could have been the stunning cocktail program at Root Down that made us overlook the wine list for years. But that changed last summer, when we spent a magical, wine-soaked evening on the patio falling head over heels in love with its delightfully eclectic vinous selections. What makes Root Down's list so bewitching? First, the variety. Root Down is killing us softly with old- and new-world choices that seem simultaneously familiar and flossy, interesting yet always approachable. Second, (eco)credibility. If you thought only the food here was organic, think again; Root Down's commitment to all things green extends to its wine list, which boasts one of the most respectable groupings of sustainable and biodynamic grape juice in town. Last but not least (to us) is price: The vast majority of wines on offer can be had for less than $50. Need yet another reason to swoon? The list features a handful of food-friendly sakes and half bottles, too.

Lauren Monitz

When Snooze opened its first location in 2006 in the Ballpark neighborhood, restaurateurs in Denver — and soon, across the country — woke up and took notice. Today there are four Snoozes in the metro area, with more to come both inside and out of Colorado. With its retro dining room, hipper-than-thou clientele of club kids and big weekend crowds, Snooze can sometimes be a very annoying place to eat. But it can also be a very good place to eat, especially if you crave pancakes. The sweet-potato version is particularly satisfying, but if you're craving sugar, there are many sweet offerings on the table. Make them even sweeter by adding an innovative breakfast cocktail.

Mark Antonation

Fans of pho will stick up for their favorite joints like a couple of old-timers hashing out the finer points of Ford versus Chevy. When it comes to being the best, though, the tiny details add up to unquestioned excellence. Pho Duy gets those details right: the multi-layered complexity of the long-simmered beef broth, the fresh and artfully sliced rare steak, and the delicate and mild strands of tripe. If the dense fragrance of the spices isn't enough to end the argument, one spoonful will be. Pho Duy's noodle soup doesn't need advocates; it hushes the doubters with the subtlety, balance and integrity that come from years of doing it just so. Stir in your basil, your saw leaf and bean sprouts; add a slice of jalapeño and maybe a squirt of lime. But let the pho speak for itself and you won't need the sriracha or hoisin. It's not about the horsepower; this pho is the finely tuned engine of a master builder.

Molly Martin

If you're one of those types who search out the latest and greatest and then move on, you might have overlooked Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, which opened on Larimer Street when this stretch of Larimer wasn't cool. Even those who do settle into one of the two-tone booths and gape into the fiery mouths of the wood-burning ovens might be swayed by pizzas loaded with artichokes, coppa or Limoncello chicken. But newer and bigger isn't always better, as the simple Campania shows. Dotted with bufala mozzarella and leaves of fresh basil, this classic Neapolitan pie outshines the competition with its fruity, not overly sweet or spiced sauce, made from San Marzano tomatoes; an impossibly thin crust; chewy, doughy edges; and just enough blackened blisters and charred speckles to add the depth most cheese pizzas lack. Marco's has a second location in the 'burbs, but its Larimer location is really the best.

Little Anita's is an institution in New Mexico, where its locations spread across the state and its history stretches back forty years. In the Land of Enchantment, foodies in the know generally consider it a destination of last resort; they respect its longevity, yet think of it as a place to stop if you want to kill an afternoon making fun of tourists. But in Denver, where authentic New Mexican fare is hard to find, Little Anita's is a must-stop for sloppy breakfast burritos slathered in either green or red chile. This is the best red chile you'll find north of Raton Pass: a serious, honey-sweetened red that's fiery enough to convince Denver's green-chile addicts to change their allegiance.

Other parts of Denver — Ballpark neighborhood into RiNo, Broadway and points south — are becoming hot dining destinations. But the LoHi restaurant scene continues to be red-hot — with no sign of cooling down. At the end of 2012, the LoHi Merchant Group did a count of the restaurants, eateries, bars and coffee shops in this quadrant at the edge of Highland — from I-25 to Federal Boulevard, West 38th Avenue to Speer Boulevard — and the tally topped fifty, more than double what it was six years ago. And the restaurants keep coming. Every time a space opens up, eager restaurateurs pounce. And they're not bringing in pre-fabbed, fast-casual joints; the businesses that opened in LoHi last year — including Jezebel's, Central Bistro & Bar and Uncle — are some of the most exciting in the city, with Old Major already upping the ante for 2013.

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