We're halfway through 2017, and the variety and quality of new restaurants opening this year has been stellar. As we've tried these new spots, we've sampled our way through Connecticut-style pizza, Mediterranean small plates, Latin American specialties and spicy fried chicken. Here are the ten most promising restaurants of the year so far, in alphabetical order.
Atelier by Radex
2011 East 17th Avenue
Years have passed since chef/restaurateur Radek Cerny's Denver days, when eateries like Radex and Papillon wowed guests with gastronomic wonders well before the current restaurant boom. Since then, we've had to content ourselves with occasional drives to Boulder for creative French and fusion fare at L'Atelier. But in good news for Denver diners, Cerny brought a new version of his flagship restaurant to East 17th Avenue this year. Francophiles and modernists alike will find something to love on the menu, and Cerny's wine lists are always worth perusing. For something fun, try the Homard "TV Dinner," butter-poached lobster tail served with sides on a compartmentalized platter. But really, anything French, French-ish, French-fusion and French-American is what we love here: Cerny has been doing this for decades, ensuring nary a misstep on the menu.
10195 East 29th Avenue
In 2016, Elise Wiggins left her longtime position as executive chef at Panzano to pursue her vision of opening the Italian restaurant she'd always wanted. And with Cattivella (which means "naughty girl"), she's created an eatery that reflects her many experiences traveling, working and eating in Italy. The wood-fired pizza oven is used for far more than just pizzas; even beans are slow-cooked in glass flasks nestled in hot embers. There's also an adjustable wood grill that gives meat (much of it brought in whole and butchered on site) and vegetables a rustic, old-world depth of flavor. Even the housemade breads and pastas separate Cattivella from the standard bistro or trattoria. A small cooler under the counter contains primal cuts of beef dry-aging for weeks for customers who want a little something special in a steak; a gluten-free menu offers pasta and pizza options without sacrificing quality. You're sure to feel spoiled — and even a little naughty — enjoying all types of delights at this unabashedly Italian eatery.
Concourse Restaurant Moderne
10195 East 29th Drive
Concourse opened in the new Eastbridge Stapleton development at the beginning of May, bringing chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma's elegant and worldly vision to life in a neighborhood hungry for new dining options. As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Symensma's roots are in the European cooking tradition, though he has branched out into Asian cuisine during a career that took him to Southeast Asia before he came to Denver. With former classmate Luke Bergman at the helm, Concourse represents a bridge between Symensma's past and future; the menu is dotted with international influences but defies easy categorization. "The one word I wanted it to be is 'sexy,'" the chef explains. We couldn't agree more.
2930 Umatilla Street
Chef/restaurateur Justin Cucci doesn't do subtle. From the "gastro-brothel" excess of Ophelia's Electric Soapbox to the reclaimed mortuary mishmash of Linger, Cucci's restaurants turn unlikely spaces into full-on barrages of all of the senses. His newest, which opened in early May, is no exception, converting the fifth floor of a new LoHi office building into a riotous trans-Mediterranean tapas bar bedecked in vintage Arabic movie posters and glam finishes. Cucci's Edible Beats restaurant group also includes Root Down and Vital Root, so El Five is the "fifth story" in the family, Cucci notes. The name is also a nod to its location and its menu, with half of the roster devoted to tapas-inspired plates, even if Spain is only one of Cucci's influences. Like the decor, the menu is an explosion of Moroccan, Israeli and Turkish flavors, in addition to more recognizable ports-of-call.
2601 Larimer Street
Il Posto is a familiar name to Denver diners, but when Andrea Frizzi moved his Italian restaurant from its cubby on East 17th Avenue to a sleek bi-level cube in RiNo, it was more than a relocation — it was a reinvention of the ten-year-old eatery. But is the new address a good home for this restaurant's semi-chaotic charm? We needn't have worried. Il Posto 2.0 presents some of the team's best cooking yet, from new meditations on its always-stellar risotti to a masterful pappardelle with pork ragu to a showy and delicious beef tallow candle (impossible at the old address, says Frizzi, because there just wasn't enough space to make candles). Despite its more grown-up vibe, this space is infused with the old Il Posto magic: Frizzi bobs around frenetically kissing the cheeks of friends and strangers alike, wine from an expertly curated list pours freely and easily, and the energy of the kitchen spills out from an open window beneath giant Scrabble tiles that spell out changing messages to guests. As a bonus, Il Posto now has one of the best tables in Denver, a second-level corner seat that looks out on the Denver skyline.
Keep reading for the rest of the list...
Low Country Kitchen
1575 Boulder Street
Brian and Katy Vaughn have been running restaurants in Steamboat Springs for a number of years, first with Bistro CV, which opened in 2007, and then with Low Country Kitchen, a tribute to the couple's Southern roots that opened in 2014. In February, they brought that Southern charm to Denver with a second Low Country Kitchen, in the space vacated by Vita. Brian grew up in New Orleans and Kentucky, and Katy is a native of Tennessee. Since getting married, the two have traveled and lived throughout the South, including the Carolinas. Low Country Kitchen takes its inspiration mostly from the coastal area of South Carolina and northern Georgia known as the Lowcountry, but also touches on other regions with modern takes on classic dishes. "It's our interpretation of our favorites from childhood," says Brian, the chef of the duo. Biscuits, fried chicken, smoky ribs and silky pots of collard greens are not to be missed, but make sure and tour the entire South with Louisiana-style jambalaya, Lowcountry shrimp and grits, and barbecue lamb shoulder sided with Carolina rice grits.
The Post Chicken & Beer
2200 South Broadway
The post is more than just a great idea and a top-notch spot for hot chicken and cold beer. The newest outpost of restaurateur Dave Query's empire was just the right solution for the Rosedale and Overland neighborhoods along South Broadway, where a string of lesser eateries had tried and failed in the same space. With a menu slimmed down from the original Post Brewing Company in Lafayette, this is the Post's little sister (or baby chick, as it were). But there's nothing diminutive about the crunchy, juicy, perfectly cooked fried bird, down to its original gluten-free formula and pan gravy. The beer list has been condensed, too, but still offers Post brews as well as some of the best pie in town, from Hinman's Bakery.
3301 Tejon Street
Señor Bear — the new restaurant from Bar Dough crew Max MacKissock, Blake Edmunds and Juan Padro and Katie O’Shea Padro — pulls influence from all over Latin America, from Mexico to Puerto Rico to Peru. Chefs Edmunds and MacKissock traveled broadly in the region, and they’ve put together a list that showcases what they’ve learned, applies their signature whimsy, and adheres to their focus on quality. The menu runs deep in fish, with lots of ceviche that changes seasonally (or daily, depending on the catch). Other bites worth checking out include an ahi tuna tiradito built with fresno chiles, parsley and a swipe of sweet-tart lemon dressing, and shrimp escabeche hiding beneath a tostada dusted with hoja santa.
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Stella's on 16th
1550 Wewatta Street
Forget the fact that Stella’s on 16th looks like a food court, albeit a very sunny one with a cool triangular community table and a patio with couches and fire pits. After all, even in our highly informal era, when chefs are just as likely to run fast-casuals as sit-downs, and when today’s food halls are incubators for tomorrow’s restaurants, there’s still a bias against food courts. (That’s why food halls are called halls.) The food at Stella’s on 16th proves to be far above its casual setting, though, making this a spot that’s as integral to the fabric of the neighborhood as a corner market or mom-and-pop bakery. Come for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and enjoy a solid lineup of sandwiches, salads, market dinner options and spectacular French toast.
1702 Humboldt Street
Brothers Kris and Jason Wallenta like to tell stories with food. Their first restaurant, Dos Santos Taqueria de Mexico, captures the flavors of their mom's Mexico City upbringing. And their new venture, White Pie, serves wood-fired pizza in the style of their home town of New Haven, Connecticut. But the Wallentas serve far more than just skinny pies topped with bold ingredients; the hand-rolled pasta is worth a trip on its own. The aroma of wood smoke mingles with garlic and simmering sauce in this complete Italian-American eatery with a heart as well as a hearth.