Best Fried Calamari 2023 | Cucina Bella | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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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.

Jax Fish House

No restaurant in town embraces the beauty of the oyster more than Jax, which originally opened in Boulder in 1994 and now has five Colorado locations, plus one in Kansas City. Jax presents a rotating selection of bivalves available raw or chargrilled, and even hosts an annual festival dedicated to all things oyster. One staple is the Emersum oyster, Jax's proprietary name for the Crassostrea virginica variety of the mollusk that is sourced from a family-owned company that sustainably farms them in the waters of Virginia's Rappahannock River. Jax also recently added a second proprietary oyster, the Crackerjax, which has a salty bite balanced by a touch of sweetness.

Chef/owner Jeremy Song opened Turtle Boat, a counter-service restaurant on South Broadway, in 2017 and has been serving stellar "Colorado poki salads" ever since. What exactly does that mean? He's taken the traditional Hawaiian dish and added his own spin, with a selection of seafoods that can be heaped onto fully customizable bowls loaded with a huge selection of add-on options, from furikake and wasabi peas to seaweed salad and spicy green papaya. For a filling mix of flavors and textures, don't be scared to go all in, adding anything and everything that tempts your tastebuds. This is poke maximalism, and it's really, really good.

Pho is supposed to be comforting, reliable, stomach-filling and heartwarming, and that's exactly what you'll get at Pho Broadway, which has been satisfying customers with its clear, flavorful broth since 2017. The secret is in the traditional broth technique, which requires twelve hours' time, allowing the flavors to fully develop. It serves as the rich and savory base for sixteen different iterations of pho, from the classic P1 — packed with steak, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe — to the P14, loaded with imitation crab, shrimp, and shrimp and fish balls.

Molly Martin

In need of a fresh start after the pandemic, chef Edwin Zoe rebranded his Boulder eatery Chimera as Dragonfly Noodle in 2022, adding a second location on Denver's 16th Street Mall later that year. This sister concept to his casual Chinese restaurant, Zoe Ma Ma, boasts noodle dishes that span Asia, from Japan to Singapore to Vietnam to Taiwan. The stars, though, are the six ramen bowls. Dragonfly Noodle is one of only two spots in town that make fresh ramen noodles in-house, and the deeply flavored broths illustrate a dedication to traditional ingredients and methods paired with just enough experimentation — like a ramen piled with tender char siu ribs and another loaded with butter-poached Maine lobster tail — to set it apart from the pack.

Penelope Wong

Chef (or shef, as she prefers) Penelope Wong launched her food truck, Yuan Wonton, in 2019 after quitting her executive-chef job of twenty years and practicing her dumpling skills for the better part of a year. Crowds line up, and pre-sales sell out in seconds as fans scramble for whatever she adds to the menu. But the highlight remains her expertly pleated dumplings, including plump xiao long bao, wontons in chile broth, Szechuan eggplant dumplings and more. It's also proving to be a big year for Wong, who snagged a James Beard Award nomination and is getting closer to opening a brick-and-mortar in Park Hill with two other small businesses (fellow food truck Pho King Rapidos and Sweets and Sourdough, a woman-led bakery).

Danielle Lirette

Miki Hashimoto ran Japon, a sushi spot in Washington Park, for nearly two decades before opening Tokio in 2014. While the inviting eatery serves sushi along with a variety of small plates and grilled fish, the real focus here is noodles. Before opening Tokio, Hashimoto returned to Japan to take ramen-making classes, an experience that's reflected in the commanding flavor of the broths, which are loaded with plenty of collagen and fat from pork and chicken. While some stick to tradition, Tokio has unique creations as well, like the Cremoso Diablo, a spicy pork and chicken broth made with heavy cream and loaded with veggies and cha syu pork, then garnished with cheddar and Jack cheeses.

Molly Martin

Star Kitchen has been in business for over fifteen years, and is well known for its dim sum, which draws a big crowd every weekend as fans flock here for char siu buns and cheung fun. But it also serves the best Cantonese fare in the city. If the line for weekend brunch has kept you away, visit on a weeknight for standouts like steamed fish garnished with aromatics, salt and pepper squid, Singapore-style rice noodles with shrimp and barbecue pork, and shredded pork in hot garlic sauce.

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