The Molecule Effect
Danielle Lirette

A beverage that fell from heaven and by some stroke of luck landed in Denver, the Venetian Cream Coffee at the Molecule Effect is so good, it has to be divine in origin. Buttery-smooth and tooth-achingly sweet, this coffee drink comes straight out of a tap like a swirling tan ribbon of liquid dessert. Served over ice, the chilled concoction is too good to set down. But don't chug it; this nectar of the gods is really meant to be savored.

Fish N Beer
Danielle Lirette

Not until Fish N Beer came along did we realize what a rut Denver's seafood restaurants had fallen into. Thanks to chef-partner Aniedra Nichols and chef-owner Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey (aka Pinche Tacos), this sardine-can-sized restaurant will leave you craving things you didn't even know existed. Who could've predicted that we'd fall head over heels for whole grilled fish, tiny bones and all, or that smelt fries, made from slender, cornmeal-crusted fish, could be more addictive than their veggie counterparts? Would anyone have thought that blowfish tails could fry up into a lighter, crisper buffalo wing? Or that sea-based charcuterie — e.g., whipped tuna tonnato, smoked fish spread and soy-glazed salmon collar — could be so delicious that the memory of it will haunt you every time you order the standard stuff again? There's more to this sliver of a restaurant than seafood, including a host of sides that would make any steakhouse proud. Speaking of which, considering that Fish N Beer is a seafood joint, it serves a damn good steak, too.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar

Best Seafood Dish in a Non-Seafood Restaurant

Vesta

Chef Nicholas Kayser took over the kitchen at Vesta last fall, ushering in a new era (and ditching the "dipping grill" descriptor) for the twenty-year-old LoDo restaurant. Among Kayser's new roster of dishes is a lobster cioppino that has its roots in San Francisco's Italian fishing community, but which the chef has accented with a French flourish. Mussels, clams, shrimp and sea bass all swim together in a saffron-tomato broth, lending flavors both bright and earthy. A curled lobster tail joins the pool party, carrying a saffron rouille straight from the coast of Provence. The dish is so evocative of seaside vacations and wharf-front seafood shacks that diners with fond memories of trips from long ago might get a little misty with nostalgia.

Best Restaurant That You Thought Was a Fish House

Mister Tuna

Mister Tuna

Denver restaurant maven Troy Guard opened Mister Tuna in the Industry building on Brighton Boulevard in the summer of 2016 to near-instant acclaim. Near-instant, that is, after first-time visitors recovered from dashed expectations that the place was a fish house, based on its fishy moniker and Guard's Hawaiian upbringing. Sure, you'll find a little sushi and other fruits of the sea on the menu, but no more than at most modern, upscale eateries. Turns out the name is a reference to the chef/owner's father, known as Mister Tuna because of his love of sport fishing and scuba diving; a cantankerous family parrot was also given the name. For more background, check the hidden patterns in the stunning wall mural at the far end of the dining room or the tiny Guard family photos in the hallway to the restroom; don't forget to glance into the kitchen. Guard's main focus at his newest restaurant (with several more on the way in 2017) is wood-fired cooking, so lamb, chicken, beef, pork, the occasional rabbit and, yes, whole fish see time on the spit over oak flame and charcoal, with marvelous results. A meal here is as eclectic and dazzling as Guard's own home state.

Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

The oyster is a deceptively simple food: Open a shell, splash in a little condiment, and slurp. But maximum pleasure in this scenario requires maximum care: You want peak freshness, skilled shucking and thoughtful accoutrement, and Stoic & Genuine, the seafood shrine tucked into Union Station, definitely takes things to the max. The restaurant goes to great lengths to source specimens from the East and West coasts, giving you a chance to taste a seasonally shifting bounty each time you stop by. And you'll stop by often, because the raw bar handles its oysters as if they were rare gems, serving up iced trays of glittering mollusks with a little horseradish, a little mignonette and maybe a little granita, if you so desire. Stoic & Genuine also has a thoughtfully curated list of wine and cocktails that match well to oysters; we recommend a glass of tart, light Muscadet or a Bloody Mary.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar

Columbine Steak House & Lounge
Mark Antonation

At night, the low-slung roof and garish yellow sign of the Columbine Steak House beckon like an Edward Hopper painting, though perhaps without the pervading sense of loneliness. Through the window, passersby on Federal Boulevard can witness a throng of waiting diners, often spilling out the front door, queued up to order a steak from the grill man as flames leap behind him. The steaks are simple and cheap, kissed by fire, leaking fat and blood, flecked with a touch of salt and pepper. Columbine has been serving steaks for more than a half-century, and what you'll get on your plate is exactly what your parents and grandparents would have gotten here. The diner side is strictly no-nonsense — just pay and eat and make room for newcomers. At the bar, the pace is a little more relaxed; just don't ask for anything too fancy (meaning anything with more than two ingredients) or you'll be met with suspicion. Bring cash and leave the coat and tie at home.

Colt & Gray

Colt & Gray has never billed itself as a steakhouse, but seven and a half years into its tenure on Platte Street, it doesn't take much squinting to see that this restaurant does a very good imitation of a steakhouse. This is one of the few restaurants in Denver dry-aging steak in-house; its grass-fed beef waits 21 to 28 days before it ever sees a plate. This gives the steak a deeper flavor, a subtle and tasty funk and a more tender texture — and it puts Colt & Gray in company with some of the best old-school steakhouses in the world, which age their own beef to ensure correct flavor. The meat goes on the menu in three cuts: a filet, a New York strip and a massive porterhouse, which is priced by the ounce. The kitchen cooks these steaks in brown butter, which exaggerates the savory crust around the edges and traps juice inside. You can have your steak with bordelaise or béarnaise, but we prefer ours plain: Beef this good doesn't really need sauce. The rest of the Colt & Gray menu fits nicely within an elevated version of the steakhouse paradigm: refined but classic sides (broccoli with anchovy vinaigrette, crispy rosemary potatoes), appetizers fit for a meat-centric meal (oysters, foie gras, frog legs), a rich dessert list that includes potted cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding, and a well-curated wine and cocktail list that's likely to please you as much as your meal. Moreover, every storied steakhouse has its burger, and Colt & Gray is no exception — though to find it, you'll have to head downstairs to Ste. Ellie (where you'll also find a nice flatiron steak frites). The version here is ground in-house using trimmings from other steaks and aged for fourteen days, which gives it a bit of that same funk present in the steaks; add Gruyère to exaggerate it.

Readers' Choice: Guard and Grace

Best Beef for Those Who Like It Rare

Acorn

A good steak tartare is the pinnacle of treat-yourself eating: velvety bits of bovine blend with tart and umami flavors to prime the palate at the outset of a meal, while nuanced texture and taste encourage you to savor each bite. The best place to experience such luxury in Denver is at Acorn, the wood-fired restaurant tucked into the Source. Chef Steven Redzikowski's kitchen starts its tartare with a major upgrade to the meat: wagyu beef, which has a softer texture and better marbling than the tenderloin that usually forms the basis of this dish. From there, the kitchen adds lemon for acidity and honey mustard for zip, and tops the raw steak with verdant celery, spicy radish, a generous dusting of pungent Pecorino-Romano cheese and, crucially, a hefty sprinkle of black pepper, which really makes it pop. Paired with cracker-crisp slices of garlic-and-poppyseed-forward everything lavash, this is a dish you'll want to eat with a tiny fork while sipping a glass of expensive bubbles. The bubbles, at least, can be accommodated.

Don't be surprised if you covet the cutlery at Hearth & Dram: You won't be alone. Each sleek piece was made by the international company Fortessa for this new restaurant by Union Station, pushing its role as a "modern-day saloon" by mimicking tableware from the Gold Rush era. Also cutting-edge and custom-made: the steak knives that hang from the side of your bone-in ribeye or smoked-sirloin entrees.

Brider
Danielle Lirette

If you love French dip sandwiches, head to Brider, Steven Redzikowski's casual eatery, right now. For Brider's wagyu French dip, succulent wagyu from 7X Beef is sliced thin and placed between two halves of a ciabatta roll from Grateful Bread, the perfect vehicle to hold the meat, along with mustard, horseradish aioli and melted Gruyère. The sandwich winds up just the right thickness to stand up to a dip in the luscious au jus. This classic and classy lunch is $14, but upgrade your meal for $2 and switch the chips for the daily fresh salad; the crisp greens help cut the richness of this superb sandwich.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of