Best Steakhouse 2015 | Guard and Grace | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Danielle Lirette

We wouldn't steer you wrong: It takes balls — bull's balls — to open a modern steakhouse in this cowtown. And when Troy Guard's Guard and Grace debuted in a stunning first-floor space in a renovated downtown high-rise, it clearly had cojones to spare. Although Guard had to work hard at first to fix early problems, today Guard and Grace is as good as any cow palace Denver has seen, with a smart menu that gives plenty of attention to the main event (grass-fed filet mignon, oak-fired prime rib, spanking-fresh salmon, Colorado rack of lamb) while also turning out sides that are far from standard steakhouse glop. The setting is lovely, the service attentive, and Guard is definitely a man on the moo.

Readers' choice: Capital Grille

It's no surprise that Vesta has a way with grilled meats, but even skeptical steak lovers will be impressed with the kitchen's mastery of tenderloin. Rather than trying to reinvent steakhouse fare for the small-plates set, Vesta proudly presents a platter of meat and potatoes, sided with nothing more than seasonal flourishes and your choice of sauces. The steak itself is a dark beauty, sporting stripes from the grill and a light crust of simple seasonings. The kitchen gets the temperature just right, too, especially if your preference is medium-rare, letting the steak sauce itself with savory juices. But while purists might skip the sides of sauce, that's where Vesta shows off its playful side (and lives up to its name), with aiolis, emulsions and gastriques guaranteed to bring out the best in the beef. And since you call the shots, you can go with a light touch or a heavy hand when it comes to dunking each bite.

If you're going to cure meats for two restaurants, you might as well build your own curing facility — which is exactly what Colt & Gray owner-executive chef Nelson Perkins did when he decided to expand Colt & Gray. His cured-meat program had started simply, with a duck prosciutto and a country pâté on Colt & Gray's opening menu, but it soon grew to take over the massive space beneath the restaurant. He gave the facility its own name — Viande (French for "meat") — and tasked sous-chef Kyle Foster with butchering a pig and a lamb every week, turning every bit into bacon, coppa, speck and more, including the rarely seen cicciola and porchetta di testa. Viande's humidity-controlled chambers operate at a constant 42 degrees (slightly lower than at other facilities), which doubles the time it takes to cure — but also doubles the depth of flavor and puts a nice finish on dried sausages.

Danielle Lirette

Chef/restaurateur Mary Nguyen came to prominence with her elegant interpretations of Vietnamese cuisine, but her love of European cafe culture prompted her to open Olive & Finch, an all-day market serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a casual, bustling atmosphere that encourages lingering and neighborly exchanges. The overall menu board is delicious and comforting, but it's the Greggers tongue sandwich that has us talking. The finicky cut, which can yield tough results in inexperienced hands, is cooked low and slow before being piled onto a crusty baguette with sweet caramelized onions and red peppers. A smear of tarragon aioli adds bright, herbal notes while a dab of roasted-garlic purée balances the mineral qualities of the tongue with rustic, earthy flavor. A cascade of arugula lends a fresh and bitter bite.

Back in 2011, chef-owner Ryan Leinonen transformed a hundred-year-old Ballpark-neighborhood pawn shop into a glossy but approachable modern Scandinavian restaurant that rapidly became known for its Swedish-, Norwegian- and Finnish-influenced-menu, which pays special attention to smoked and brined fish and smorgasbord appetizers. Trillium is not shy about serving assertive fish and seafood, nor about making sure that diners taste some strong flavors — which is why it makes sense that the house signature pâté is a far cry from bland or ordinary, even though it's meatier than much of the rest of the menu. Leinonen's Hudson Valley foie gras pâté features liver that's rich, buttery and plated with pickled foraged mushrooms, "Grandma's rieska" (traditional Finnish flatbread), cloudberry preserves and a sprinkle of birch-smoked Icelandic sea salt. Cloudberries are rare, delicate and difficult to source, but they add a flawless touch of tart fruitiness for a dish — and a restaurant — that puts flavors forward.

Williams & Graham

Foie gras is among the most luxurious of luxury foods, and the fatty goose- or duck-liver delicacies are generally considered expensive — and controversial. At Williams & Graham, the sizzling-hot LoHi spot that channels a 1920s speakeasy, the cocktails are vintage-classy (you can feel perfectly at ease ordering a Brandy Alexander or a throwback absinthe specialty drink), and the menu is focused on upscale small plates with "rarebits" like roasted bone marrow with bacon jam, black-tea-smoked quail with pine-nut polenta, and seasonal deviled-egg specialties. So Williams & Graham is well-situated to feature an oft-provocative and pricey indulgence like foie gras in the most elegantly simple and completely inexpensive way: seared tidbits of duck liver over tiny toast tips with enough sweet-tart blackberry gastrique for dipping and a sprinkle of hazelnuts for bite. At just $10 a plate, the only controversy here is how many orders you can get at one time.

Mark Antonation

Boone's Tavern, a favorite in the University of Denver neighborhood, underwent some changes last year when part of the space was walled off and turned into the more upscale Atticus and the rest of the bar was given an upgrade over its old working-class, sports-bar vibe. One thing that didn't change, though, was the kitchen's knack for delivering tasty smokehouse meats. While Boone's offers its chicken wings either fried or smoked, go with the smoked to get a true taste of the house specialty. The additional layer of outdoorsy flavor beneath the sauce puts these wings in a class of their own. As for the sauce itself, eight options should make any wing lover happy, but the jalapeño gold stands out with just the right combination of heat, sweetness and tang.

Readers' choice: Fire on the Mountain

Mark Antonation

Chefs have been finding more and more creative ways to sell off-cuts of meat, either through the noble guise of nose-to-tail cooking or as an attempt to capture ethnic authenticity. Where chicken is concerned, once the breasts and thighs were gone, most people traditionally called it quits — or at least they did until that clever Buffalo bar owner figured out how to sell those mostly-skin-and-bone wings. But chicken skin, as it turns out, is one of the most flavorful bits of the bird, especially when fried or roasted to a crisp. Skipping past the meat and bones entirely, Pinche's chicken chicharrones present nothing but skin, sliced into bite-sized curls and deep-fried to a mahogany crisp. A post-fryer dusting of seasoning adds chili-powder zip, and a dunk in tart salsa casera balances the fatty nuggets with zesty lime and a face-slap of heat from habanero peppers. The cute appetizer bowl is small and cheap enough for a pre-taco indulgence, and these chicharrones won't fill you up like their heavier pork-rind cousins.

Courtesy The Post Chicken & Beer

We knew the beer at the Post Brewing Company would be good, since it's crafted by nationally recognized brewmaster Bryan Selders. But who would've guessed the chicken would be as much of a draw? Jamey Fader, culinary director of Big Red F, admits to getting "geeky on chicken," traveling around the country and coming home with a spreadsheet of variables — brines, flours, etc. — to test recipes by, until he and chef-partner Brett Smith and Big Red F founder Dave Query hit upon the winning combination for the place they opened last year in a former VFW post. The result: chicken that's consistently moist, with a shell that gets its addictiveness from buttermilk, gluten-free seasoned flour, and a resting period that allows the coating to lose moisture so it fries up extra-crisp. This isn't just picnic chicken — i.e., chicken to eat while playing cornhole on the patio and sipping beer.

Readers' choice: Tom's Home Cookin'

Fish and chips isn't the national dish, or even the city's addiction. That might change, however, if every man, woman and child residing at 5,280 feet above sea level could get their hands on the fish and chips at Argyll Whisky Beer. The plate is everything you want from fish and chips: generous pieces of mild, flaky cod; coating that crackles when you take a bite, thanks to a hint of cornstarch in the batter; and thick steak fries. Before you douse those spuds with vinegar, the way the Brits do, take a moment to appreciate their spot-on texture, which comes from the labor-intensive process dreamed up by culinary director John Broening: Potatoes are boiled, dehydrated in the freezer, fried at a low temperature, refrozen, then finally fried to order.

Readers' choice: GB Fish & Chips

Best Of Denver®

Best Of