Best New Bar 2015 | Dunbar Kitchen & Tap House | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

After decades of operating bars and restaurants in Grand County, Mike Ayre and Charles Wessels had gotten out of the business — but then they found a spot in Denver that was just too good to refuse, in the heart of Five Points, a part of town that was once jumping with joints. A deal had just gone south on the 115-year-old house and fifty-year-old storefront next door that had been occupied by Dunbar's barbershop; Ayre, who was working in real estate, persuaded Wessels to get back in the game and help put the "bar" in Dunbar. The result is a casual, comfortable spot with exposed-brick walls and a bar made from old wood reclaimed from the house; the original barbershop sign hangs on an interior wall, near old photos of the barbershop and other old Denver scenes. Nearly all of the beer and liquor offered here is local; the food menu is a nod to Wessels's roots, with Southern specials that include a pimento-cheese appetizer. The big Sunday brunch is one of the best-kept secrets in town — almost as big a find as the new patio out back. All in all, Dunbar is a great neighborhood hangout — in a great neighborhood that's making a strong comeback.

Readers' choice: Asbury Provisions

Williams & Graham

If she's not behind the bar at Williams & Graham, Allison Widdecombe is probably winning a cocktail competition somewhere in America. Not content to simply be a part of the stellar team at Williams & Graham — which was recently honored as one of the fifty best bars in the world — Widdecombe has her sights set on even higher summits. In January, she took first place in a national Manhattan competition in New York City...but that's only one of her many victories. Whether it's whiskey, tequila or you name it, Widdecombe can craft a winning recipe with the spirit. The Hawaii native loves Denver, and while on the road, she does her best to rep our city. Not just a skilled and knowledgable bartender, she's also one of the most genuine, gracious and charming people you'll ever meet. Cheers!

Readers' choice: Kari Cummings

If the nature of restaurant service is to take care of people, no one is doing a better job than Nathan Buss, a server at Session Kitchen. Buss took the concept of service to the next level by creating his Tips for Tuesdays program, in which he donates all the tips he makes during his Tuesday-night shifts to charity. He estimates that he's given away over $8,000 so far to local nonprofits such as Urban Peak, Veterans to Farmers, Project Helping and Mile High Squash, to name just a few. What began as a way to help people has attracted guests — sometimes forty or fifty every Tuesday — who dine at his tables for the opportunity to donate to his chosen weekly nonprofit.

So you've settled into your seat at Acorn or Oak at Fourteenth, and you're looking over the menu as your drinks arrive. Look carefully. What you're holding isn't just doing what most menus do — laying out the options and listing ingredients to help you decide what to order. After you've eaten as many meals at these restaurants as we have, you begin to see the menus for what they really are: culinary haiku. Okay, so dish descriptions don't have exactly seventeen syllables, but the way the ingredients come together on your plate is nothing short of poetry — and chef-owner (and 2015 James Beard Foundation semi-finalist) Steven Redzikowski is the reason why. Like any good poet, Redzikowski is a master of juxtaposition, putting together cuisines, spices, flavors and textures in invigorating, unexpected ways. Take carrots, for example. Who else would pair these root vegetables with burrata, blood oranges and chile-almond jam? Or sprinkle togarashi over shaved apples and kale? With an eye to the seasons and a global curiosity, Redzikowski dreams up the food we long to eat, with numerous dishes so good, they've become the standards against which others in town are measured.

Readers' choice: Jennifer Jasinski

In November 2004, chef Jen Jasinski and partner Beth Gruitch opened Rioja, an immediate hit in Larimer Square. But the two didn't rest on their laurels. They took on the nearby Bistro Vendôme, then opened Euclid Hall, a beer-and-sausage emporium around the corner. And they didn't stop there, either. Even while Jasinski was competing on Top Chef Masters and picking up a James Beard Best Chef Southwest award, they were planning their next move: Stoic & Genuine in Union Station. We can't wait to see what the next decade brings.

Over the years, halfhearted attempts have been made to open bars and restaurants inside Union Station, but it took a massive overhaul of the building, including the addition of a high-end hotel, to turn the historic train station into a destination dining area with multiple options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. Whether you’re just looking for a cup of joe — Pigtrain Coffee will fill that need — or going all in for a multi-course meal from one of Denver’s hottest chefs, you’ll find what you’re looking for: weekend brunch at the latest location of Snooze, a beer at the Terminal Lounge, a quick snack at Acme Burgers and Brats, and some of the freshest seafood in town at Stoic & Genuine. Go casual and healthy at the Kitchen Next Door or dress up for a special occasion at Alex Seidel’s Mercantile Dining & Provision (with a stop in the market for some housemade cheeses, salumi and pickles, of course). And if you absolutely insist on going outside, there are more eateries in the brand-new buildings that flank the station, including some of Denver’s best Chinese cuisine at Zoe Ma Ma. All aboard!

Readers’ choice: River North

Molly Martin

When Delores Tronco and Tony Maciag took a chance on a shipping-container development in the Ballpark/RiNo neighborhood for the home of their new restaurant, the area was trending in the right direction — but its success wasn't yet a fait accompli. Work & Class, with its feel-good combination of craveable eats and drinks, sealed the deal, making the neighborhood one of the hottest in town and a seat on the restaurant's patio or at its concrete communal table even hotter. Putting out spectacular Latin and American food that has since nabbed chef-owner Dana Rodriguez a James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southwest, the packed, noisy place is on a perpetual wait, as people can't get enough of the meats such as cochinita pibil, cabrito (roasted goat) and coriander-roasted lamb served by the quarter, half or full pound. Sides and desserts — think custardy chickpea croquettes, Brussels sprout-apple-bacon hash and deeply caramelized butterscotch pudding — reflect Rodriguez's high-end training and unpretentious approach.

Readers' choice: Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery

Courtesy Table 6

Man could live by bread alone, but how much better that life would be with a smear of softened butter. The crew at Table 6 knows this, which is why they start your meals with thick slices of crusty bread and plenty of salt-sprinkled butter. And not just any salt, but an artful trio of the red Hawaiian, sel gris and black Hawaiian lava varieties, all of which add slightly different textures and mineral components. Bread and butter are complimentary, an increasingly rare gesture these days, and yet another sign of the thoughtfulness that makes Table 6 a restaurant to return to, despite all the new kids on the block.

Danielle Lirette

Rarely does a restaurant come along with such grand ambitions as Mercantile Dining & Provision. Even rarer is the restaurant that pulls them off. But under the scrupulous eye of chef-owner Alex Seidel, Mercantile does: effortlessly, elegantly, charismatically. By day, it bustles with the purpose and energy of Union Station, drawing people through its doors for croissants, coffee, perhaps a croque madame to enjoy while sitting in the light that streams through the historic building's windows. By night, the bar fills and guests take their seats with an anticipation that's almost palpable, eager for a meal befitting this repeat James Beard Foundation honoree. Seidel and chef de cuisine/proprietor Matt Vawter clearly relish the opportunities afforded by Mercantile's expansive kitchen, putting out a menu as sweeping as the space. Though it's easy to make a meal of exquisite starters such as cured meats and Fruition Farms cheeses, bone marrow and foie gras with duck-confit blinis, you'll regret it if you do, and this isn't the place for regrets. So give in and order whatever pasta, vegetable and heartier protein strikes your fancy, knowing that the night isn't over until you've tried one of Lonne Cunningham's exuberant desserts.

Readers' choice: Work & Class

Molly Martin

Tucked into an east Boulder shopping center in an old building that was once the cafeteria for Ball Aerospace, Blackbelly doesn’t look like much from the outside, but step inside and two features immediately stand out: the gleaming stainless-steel and white-tile butcher shop up front, and the wide-open chef’s counter where Blackbelly mastermind Hosea Rosenberg and his crew ply their trade. Chef’s counters were definitely a trend in 2014, but how many of them feature a celebrity chef who burst onto the scene after a come-from-behind win on Bravo’s Top Chef? Despite his early fame, Rosenberg chose to lie low for several years while building a catering business and Boulder County farmstead that supplies meat and produce for his solid menu packed full of quiet surprises. But now he’s back in the limelight, at least for those lucky enough to snag a seat at the counter, where steak tartare is diced by hand with meticulous and deliberate knife strokes and hangar steaks are seared to a perfect medium-rare. While guests may show up to get cozy with the affable Rosenberg, it quickly becomes clear that the food is the real star.

Readers' choice: Mercantile Dining & Provision

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