Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

The best seafood restaurants are often shacks on the beach, with sea breezes blowing in and tables oriented to catch the rosy hues of the setting sun. But we're in Denver, remember? Owners Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasinski used this fact to their advantage, taking our distance from the coasts as a point of liberation and reimagining what a seafood restaurant can be. The result: Stoic & Genuine, which is part Euclid Hall, part Rioja. Inspired by flavors from coastal communities around the globe, the menu skews eclectic, offering scallops with coconut-lemongrass panna cotta, bacon-wrapped cod chowder, and oysters with lychee-sake granitas. Thanks to impeccable sourcing, the seafood couldn't be any fresher even if the ocean, and not Union Station, were beyond the restaurant's octopus-painted walls.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Jax Fish House

The Boulder and LoDo locations of Jax Fish House have been premier destinations for impeccably fresh seafood and well-shucked oysters since they opened in the mid-1990s, but the newest member of the metro-area Jax family, which opened in Glendale's CitySet development in 2013, stepped up the game with more space, a second bar upstairs and a clean, modern vibe that pairs perfectly with raw-bar offerings. Happy-hour oysters for $1.25 a slurp will get you in the door, but peel-and-eat shrimp and delectable crab will keep you in your seat. Splurge items — three types of caviar or heaping seafood platters mounded with both the raw and the cooked — tempt for celebratory occasions, but creative takes on ceviche and tuna sushi make for reasonably priced light bites packed with so much fresh flavor, you'll forget you're in landlocked Denver.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Lola Coastal Mexican
Courtesy of Lola Coastal Mexican

Lola has the deck of a great beach bar, the vibe of a great beach bar, the menu of a great beach bar — all that's missing is the beach. After a decade, Lola added the words "Mexican Fish House" to its name last year, renewing its commitment to serving the sort of seafood you might find in Mexico — but with a definite Denver twist. Although you can find plenty of twisted dishes on the regular menu, the freshest takes are the ceviches, which range from Hawaiian marlin to shrimp to California halibut, with a couple of specials usually available. You can try them all in a ceviche flight — a very hot deal at the cold bar.

Sushi Den
Sushi Den

Freshness, variety, creativity and execution: Those are the hallmarks that put Sushi Den at the apex of Denver's sushi scene year after year. From meticulous sourcing that includes regular cold-packed shipments from Japanese waters to precise knife work that highlights the best of every cut, Toshi and Yasu Kizaki's venerable temple of the raw and the cooked just gets better with each passing year. While standards like big-eye tuna and rich salmon are always impeccable, stray from the familiar with aburi (flash-seared) scallops or akamutsu, or zuke (marinated) tuna, which add complexity without detracting from the pure flavors of the fish. Sushi Den marries the modern and the traditional with bursts of flavor from delicately applied hints of blue cheese, truffle, caviar and jalapeño.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington

Chef Wayne Conwell's minimalist dining room is known, rightfully, as one of Denver's top destinations for sushi. Whether guests arrive for preset sushi combos or lavish omakase dinners, they'll get some of the freshest seafood and most skillfully sliced sashimi around. But despite its name, Sushi Sasa offers more than just fish. A selection of otsumami (described on the menu as Japanese tapas) shows off Conwell's creativity, with decadent foie-gras-topped oysters, succulent miso black cod or fluffy steamed pork buns. You'll even find deep, umami-rich ramen and udon bowls, deftly fried tempuras and skewers of grilled filet mignon with a crunchy katsu crust. With so much to choose from, it's easy to rack up a hefty tab, but head over for a daytime meal when you don't have three hours to march through the menu and you'll find some of your favorites at lunchtime prices.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

Motomaki
Courtesy Motomaki Facebook

Is it something in the water? Colorado has birthed many smashing fast-casual concepts, and Motomaki might be the most ambitious, creative one yet. For this venture, the owners of the Hapa Sushi chain took their brand of high-minded cool and rolled it in the trappings of Japanese fast food. Entrees come in either a rice bowl or a nori-wrapped package — the fusion of fast-casual burrito and sushi. Even though it's built on Asian and Hawaiian cuisines, the pork here rivals that at Chipotle. And while meals are delivered quickly and efficiently, fresh poke and sushi add a touch of class. There are few places that can serve you such dishes as Korean BBQ or neon-green seaweed salad for lunch and still get you back to the office in time, placing Motomaki in the center of the fast-casual Venn diagram: tasty, easy, and out of the ordinary.

JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant
Hunter Stevens

The multiple menus at this eatery adorned with live tanks assure you that there's something here for almost every taste — all of it prepared with skill and an eye to tradition and served by some of the friendliest waitstaff in town. Even the standard American-Chinese dishes are far from standard, including sweet-and-sour shrimp that's neither cloying nor gloppy. But the restaurant's name is a giveaway that the best dishes are those featuring the ocean's bounty, whether the delicate and ultra-fresh razor clams in XO sauce or whole flounder with steamy white flesh encased in a shatteringly crisp deep-fried crust. The kitchen has a way with duck, too: Fried duck tongues are as fun to eat as miniature chicken wings, while dark-glazed roasted duck with pillowy bao buns stands in for less-adventurous sliders. Hearty and warming congee, shockingly cheap hot pots and even cheaper noodle bowls round out a roster that draws off-duty cooks from around the city until midnight daily.

Readers' choice: Star Kitchen

Viet's Restaurant

Viet's owner Hiep Thai comes from a restaurant family — and it shows in the quality of each dish on the extensive menu, ranging from simple rice or noodle combos with grilled beef or chicken to elaborate hot pots brimming with all manner of meat, fish and fowl. If you're not sure where to start, go with Viet's house appetizer platter mounded with softshell crab, pork, shrimp, egg rolls and shrimp paste, all served with rice paper to build your own rolls with. If you're feeling more adventurous, order a bubbling pot of lao de (goat hot pot) with funky chao (fermented-soybean sauce) and a garden's worth of taro root, turnip greens, garlic chives and other greens served with springy wheat noodles. Salads are also of note, whether loaded with plump shrimp, savory duck or shredded pork; the pungent dressings that balance fish sauce with sweet and tangy notes liven up an unusual variety of tropical vegetables, from banana blossom to bitter on choy.

Readers' choice: New Saigon

Suvipa Thai Food

Suvipa Thai Food opened last year in a spot that's seen a fair amount of turnover since the much-missed Vietnam Grill closed a couple of years ago. Although the French-bistro charm of that restaurant is gone, the owners of Suvipa have also stripped away any vestiges of the Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant and the pho house that came afterward. So today the bare-bones dining room offers no distractions from the intense and pure flavors coming from the kitchen: lively curries; handmade, flaky curry puffs bursting with seasoned potato or taro; tangy salads, such as the glass-noodle plate brimming with shrimp and ground pork. Even the pad Thai, often Americanized at other restaurants, gets special attention here and bursts with the flavors of pungent fish sauce, tamarind and chiles. The spice levels are adjustable, but even at the hotter end of the spectrum, the balance is apparent.

Readers' choice: Thai Basil

Dae Gee
Danielle Lirette

What started out as an obscure ethnic eatery tucked into the back of a Westminster strip mall has morphed into a minor Denver phenomenon since owner Joseph Kim added a second location on Colorado Boulevard, close to the heart of the city. With a hip, modern interior and marketing geared toward a young audience, Dae Gee manages to present traditional Korean cuisine without the intimidation factor common to other long rosters of unfamiliar food. Starting with an array of cute banchan dishes that take care of the salty, sour and spicy range of small bites and condiments — including several variations on kimchi — and moving into marinated pork and beef dishes that blend the familiarity of barbecue with the exotic allure of soy, sesame oil, fish sauce and gochujang (a pungent fermented condiment), Dae Gee's fare is at once completely accessible and excitingly novel. Warming noodle bowls, fun dumpling and pancake appetizers, and even a few challenging plates of ox tongue or beef tripe make for a menu broad enough to appeal to first-timers and experts alike. For added entertainment, head to the original in Westminster, where tables are equipped with grills for searing your own meats. With a few bottles of Hite or Cass Korean lagers, it's like a complete cookout with newfound flavors.

Readers' choice: Uncle

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