Best Service 2016 | Nocturne | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy of Nocturne

Nicole and Scott Mattson opened Nocturne last year, adding an elegant destination supper club to the mix of fun and funky bars and eateries in River North. While the restaurant's creative cuisine, featuring tasting menus inspired by specific jazz tracks, stands out as some of the best food in the neighborhood, the service is what elevates Nocturne above the competition. You'll see both Nicole and Scott working the floor to ensure that guests get just what they need, whether it's a simple smile of welcome or a wine suggestion from Scott, who's also the house sommelier. The Mattsons' grace and charm flows down to the rest of the staff, who see to it that every piece of silverware is properly in place, that meals are paced appropriately, and that drink orders from the bar — itself a model of efficiency and energy — come promptly. Nocturne is a return to the Jazz Age in both ambience and old-school customer service.

Not content to reside in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Highland, hipster haven Berkeley is finally coming into its own, with dozens of new restaurants to feed the dog-walking locals and increasing numbers of eaters from around the city who have made it a dining destination. Long the core of this northwest Denver neighborhood, Tennyson Street not only survived an interminable and frustrating multi-year streetscaping project that forced many businesses to close, but also managed to come back with vigor, adding more than a dozen new eateries in a six-block section. From the early morning to the wee hours, a vast variety of cuisines can be had at both originals and outposts: biscuits and gravy or pizza at Atomic Cowboy; butchered-in-house meats at casual chophouse Block & Larder; coffee with cats at the Denver Cat Company; elaborately topped burgers at the Royal; superb sushi at Okinawa. And that's just on Tennyson. Elsewhere — along Lowell Boulevard, on West 38th Avenue — spots such as Brazen Neighborhood Eatery, Bacon Social House and Ragin' Hog BBQ also offer well-above-average fare. And more are coming: The eagerly anticipated second location of Biju's Little Curry Shop should open any minute. In Berkeley these days, the only problem is deciding where to go.

Readers' choice: RiNo
Danielle Lirette

What neighborhood wouldn't want a Sean Kelly restaurant as its local spot? Lucky Park Hill is home to chef Kelly's latest offering, a spacious and inviting neighborhood eatery that feels like it's been here all along — especially welcome in an area seriously lacking in food options. Park Hill resident Kelly — long ago the opening chef for Barolo Grill, followed by stints at his own Aubergine Cafe, Clair de Lune, Somethin' Else and LoHi SteakBar — has always been particularly adept at Mediterranean fare, and at Desmond he takes longtime favorites from the region and turns them up a notch: hummus made tangy and aromatic with the Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar; rich, mustardy potted salmon balanced by peppery radishes; soft-centered falafel broken into pieces and tossed in a tahini-drizzled salad. The shared plates can be paired with an interesting wine from the short but globally inspired list — nearly all of the bottles are available by the glass — and are served in a dining room of dark woods and exposed brick. In other words, it sports the Kelly decor hallmarks of simple, warm and comfortable, reflecting a slight reworking of the former tenant (the short-lived Table Top tap room) in a residential plaza space, complete with a delightful fireplace and nearly twenty craft beers on draft. What really makes this an ideal neighborhood joint, though, is that diners looking for more standard fare — a cheeseburger with fried potatoes, say, or Buffalo-style chicken wings — get the best possible versions, made from well-sourced ingredients. So, folks in other 'hoods, eat your hearts out — or head to Park Hill.

Readers' choice: Bar Dough

Some people have a way of talking that makes you feel like you're the only one in the room. Mark Ferguson, chef/owner at Solitaire, cooks this way. Everything about his sprawling restaurant makes you feel special, from the garden-side setting that offers some of the most romantic tables in town to the menu that he so masterfully crafts. Plates come together confidently, gracefully, thoughtfully — with an eye to presentation that reflects Ferguson's twenty years with Wolfgang Puck. Ferguson is far from the only chef in town who's attuned to seasonality, but his dishes are refreshingly original, so full of cleverly united ingredients that you'll find yourself nodding in appreciation, even for foods you heretofore might not have liked. Octopus, for example, dotted with chorizo, roasted grapes and black garlic, or bread pudding with figs, maple syrup and foie gras. Never content to rest on his laurels, Ferguson is always trying new things, experimenting with a dash of hazelnut pistou here, a dab of Chinese black-bean sauce there — and as a result, Solitaire's menu changes like the wind. In some restaurants, you'd be annoyed to find that the dish you relished last time has been replaced. Here, however, you're pleased — no, delighted — to go in whatever culinary direction Ferguson takes you.

Readers' choice: Troy Guard
Molly Martin

No new restaurant captured the zeitgeist of Denver's dining scene quite like Hop Alley, the second eatery from Tommy Lee, whose noodle bar Uncle was no less of a hit when it opened in 2012. How did Lee repeat the success of his first go-around? With a slate of rare, regional Chinese dishes — many borrowed from his childhood visits to Hong Kong — tied to tradition by wood-fire cooking and amplified by the funky flavors of vegetables fermented and pickled in-house. The name Hop Alley honors Denver's original Chinatown, but the cuisine wanders far from standard Chinese-American fare, with cumin-tinged lamb sandwiches called rou jia mo from Shaanxi province; tongue-buzzing spices from Sichuan; and alternating cooling and warming elements to keep the palate stimulated — from jiggly chilled tofu to earthy char-siu pork belly with braised mustard greens. The eatery's instant success when it opened at the end of 2015 was proof that Denver diners are ready to be challenged, titillated and rewarded with a whole new world of gustatory experience. And Hop Alley also pushed the boundaries of Denver's dining scene into fresh new territory, taking fine dining further north than it had ever gone before in the booming River North neighborhood.

Readers' choice: Avanti Food & Beverage

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