Best Comeback 2023 | Wayne's Smoke Shack | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy Wayne's Smoke Shack

On December 30, 2021, the Marshall Fire swept through Boulder County, causing massive destruction. Wayne and Sam Shelnutt, the husband-and-wife owners of Wayne's Smoke Shack, lost their homes; they lost a car, too. And while the building that held the business they had been running for nine years still stood, it suffered severe smoke damage. But just over a year later, Wayne's reopened, welcomed by its many fans who continue to line up on Fridays and Saturdays for a taste of its Texas-style 'cue. The relaunched joint also has an expanded market, where you can stock up on grab-and-go options, including frozen barbecue for easy at-home meals.

Molly Martin

In Northeast Park Hill, one block off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Blazing Chicken Shack II may look unassuming from the outside, but it's pure Southern-style hospitality when you walk in the door. Since 2015, Blazing Chicken has been serving up a menu filled with down-home staples, from fried chicken, catfish and gumbo to mac and cheese, collard greens and black-eyed peas. One must-order, though, is the perfectly seasoned oxtail-and-rice special, which is only available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Molly Martin

This local New Orleans-inspired brunch chain does a lot of things right. Its beignets are piled high with powdered sugar, the mimosas are made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, and the menu is filled with hits whether you opt for giant flaky biscuits with sausage gravy or shrimp and grits. Whatever you choose, add on a side of the slow-braised collard greens studded with shreds of smoked ham hock, then douse the whole thing in Lucile's own brand of hot-pepper vinegar for a true taste of Southern cooking.

A5 Steakhouse

We could talk about A5's thoughtful sourcing of some seriously high-quality beef that's always cooked just right. Or about the fact that you don't even have to order steak at all to have an indulgent, memorable meal here, with options like oysters, the beef tartare katsu sandwich and the French dip (which is available only at the bar). But what we really love about this restaurant, which joined the scene in 2021, is that it's downright fun, bringing fresh energy to the classic steakhouse concept that was once the darling of the Denver dining scene.

Major Tom

The team behind upscale tasting-menu concept Beckon added the à la carte Major Tom — the name is inspired by David Bowie's "Space Oddity" — in February, and it's already making a big impression, thanks in large part to one substantial entree: the 25-ounce heritage pork chop, with its expertly rendered fat and drizzle of brown butter and red wine vinegar on top. It's pure pork perfection, plain and simple.

Molly Martin

Bigger may be better for some things, but smaller and louder are no-brainers when it comes to instant ambience — and Fish N Beer, from Kevin Morrison of Tacos Tequila Whiskey fame, has it in spades. The kitchen hums with confident precision; grab a seat in front of the wood-fired grill and watch as oysters and other entrees are prepared with skill. The possibilities range from small bites like smelt fries straight from Lake Superior and clam chowder kicked up with andouille sausage to larger plates like the fish-and-chips basket with Ratio Mexican Lager-battered cod and Alamosa bass with spicy devil butter.

Molly Martin

The second location of Reckless Noodles, which found success in Seattle after debuting there in 2018, opened in Capitol Hill in December 2022. It's already made a big first impression owing to fun design details like bronze mermaids hovering over the bar and a collage of rock-climbing images covering the bathroom walls. The menu was created by chef Kenny Lee, whose résumé includes notable Asian eateries Lionhead and Din Tai Fung. The star here, though, is the plate of caramelized prawns, which have a crisp, almost candied coating that's heavy on fish-sauce flavor. Squeeze fresh lime over the top before digging in, but fair warning: These will disappear quickly.

Molly Martin

Brothers Luis and Heriberto Gutierrez opened the Italian eatery Cucina Bella in November 2022 after working in Denver eateries for over two decades. Everything from the pizza to the pasta to the desserts impresses, thanks to Luis's extensive experience cooking in fine-dining restaurants, which he's able to fully flex now as an owner. Among the many hits on the menu, one has been a customer favorite from the start, and for very good reason: The generous portion of delectably crispy calamari, which is drizzled with a slightly spicy Calabrian chile aioli, is perfect for sharing — though it's tempting to keep the whole plate for yourself.

Oh Hey Creative

Tinned fish has been trending on TikTok and other social media platforms, prompting the masses to go out searching for preserved mussels, oysters, herring and more as people embrace a delicacy that's been the standard in countries like Spain for...forever. It's not new to Denver restaurant menus, either, but our favorite spot for digging into this specialty is the RiNo location of Cart-Driver, where you can choose from a variety of options that are served on a tray with charred, fluffy piada bread, black-olive butter and sambal pepper relish. Add some oysters for a seafood-centric feast, or follow it up with one of the restaurant's perfectly charred pizzas.

Temaki Den

Located in the open space of the Source Hotel's market hall, this two-year-old treasure serves high-quality sushi in an approachable, no-frills atmosphere. Temaki Den specializes in aburi sushi — or "flame seared," in Japanese — so be sure to include a charred nigiri in your order. Favorites include eggplant, scallop and wagyu New York strip. If you're going for lunch, choose one of the insanely affordable hand roll (temaki) sets, and for dinner, let the chef choose in an omakase experience, during which your server will customize the potential plates based on your food and budget preferences.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of