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

Acorn
Mark Antonation

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.

Hearth & Dram
Danielle Lirette

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.

Work & Class
Linnea Covington

When you crave macaroni and cheese, you can go for the basic box — or treat yourself to the spectacular version that chef-owner Dana Rodriguez turns out at Work & Class. Her simple yet flavorful take on the dish starts with six-year-aged Wisconsin cheddar, butter, onion, fresh thyme, cream, Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top; sometimes she spikes it with roasted poblanos, chipotle peppers or smoked tomato. But even without those embellishments, a small cast-iron pot of this mac and cheese will soon have you pasta point of no return.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Vital Root
Danielle Lirette

Vital Root isn't so much a vegetarian restaurant as a lifestyle choice. Developed by Justin Cucci's Edible Beats, this breezy, counter-service spot has the same contemporary flair that distinguishes the group's other restaurants, including Linger and Root Down. So instead of meat-free renditions of yesterday's heavy comfort food, you'll find veggie-based versions of all the global dishes you crave. Japanese and Indian bowls with cauliflower rice are especially tempting, as are banh mi tacos and dosas with mint chutney. The kitchen only uses organic oils, unrefined sugars and organic flours (and 99 percent of the menu can be made vegan and gluten-free upon request), making Vital Root the restaurant your body deserves, whether or not you require the restriction-friendly menu.

Readers' Choice: City, O' City

Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

Chef Gabe Wyman's tasty take on the ubiquitous roasted Brussels sprouts utilizes the fermented power of delicious homemade kimchi, coconut and sunchokes. The result is a plate that makes the passé vegetables taste fresh and new, as if they were always meant to get an Asian kick. This seasonal starter comes and goes, but the chef assures us that it's so popular, its return is inevitable.

ChoLon Modern Asian

Perfect for lunch or for rounding out a small-plates-style dinner, the Burmese salad at ChoLon has become an instant classic. A riff on the laphet thoke of Burma and northern Thailand, this hearty salad combines kale, romaine, cabbage, oranges and beets in a clever marriage of two worlds. Shaved, candied ginger, green Thai chiles, fish sauce and fermented tea-leaf vinaigrette evoke Southeast Asia, the corner of the world that chef-owner Lon Symensma knows so well. But the so-called trail mix feels just like home, with toasted coconut, dried mung beans, candied peanuts, black and white sesame seeds and pepitas. These goodies are presented on a clear tray that's tipped tableside by the server, giving the salad the textural contrast we've come to expect — and love — from Symensma.

Linger
Mark Manger

Take a trip across the continents without worrying about getting hit with a dose of gluten, whether from an inadvertent splash of soy sauce or careless cross-contamination. Since it opened in 2011, Linger has made a point of serving those with dietary restrictions and preferences — so gluten-free options are clearly marked on the menu, and the kitchen staff is trained in getting it right. The menu changes regularly, but there are generally more than fifteen options that are either gluten-free by nature or can be made so upon request. And because small plates are the name of the game here, you can have variety without anxiety, from Indian masala dosa made with rice and lentil flour to cricket and cassava-flour empanadas — because crickets are gluten-free!

Readers' Choice: Adelitas

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