RiNo could be the hottest culinary destination in Denver, especially with the addition of the Denver Central Market, bringing eleven separate food and beverage vendors together under one roof. But the elevation of the industrial zone began years ago with hip eateries finding footing where artists and musicians had already paved the way. Now the choices for where to spend your dining dollars are mind-boggling, almost as dizzying as the number of new residents who call the condos, apartments and townhomes of the area home. To help you find your way to a great meal, here are the ten best restaurants in RiNo, listed in alphabetical order.
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Bryan Dayton and Steven Redzikowski, the team behind the acclaimed Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, continue to impress since Acorn opened in the Source in 2013. Acorn's dedication to seasonal, wood-fired cooking with a focus on small plates — and a few very large plates— put the restaurant at the forefront of Denver kitchens. While some standards keep a loyal customer base happy (oh, those tomato-braised meatballs!), there are plenty of frequent changes to draw new fans with each menu iteration.
2500 Larimer Street
Cart-Driver's trendy shipping-container location, smaller than some studio apartments, seems almost a quaint reminder of design elements past even after only two years, but the pizzas coming out of the tiny kitchen are anything but dated. Although the spot takes the fast-casual approach, with counter service, a tightly edited menu and a handful of small plates, the ingredients are top-notch and the food is produced with care. Bargain hunters should be sure to hit the two happy hours.
3500 Larimer Street
No new restaurant captured the zeitgeist of Denver's dining scene quite like Hop Alley when it opened last December as the second eatery from Tommy Lee, whose noodle bar Uncle was no less of a hit when it debuted three years earlier. How did Lee repeat the success of his first go-around? With a slate of rare, regional Chinese dishes — many borrowed from his childhood visits to Hong Kong — tied to tradition by wood-fire cooking and amplified by the funky flavors of vegetables fermented and pickled in-house. The name Hop Alley honors Denver's original Chinatown, but the cuisine wanders far from standard Chinese-American fare, with a rotating menu that visits the food centers of China, from Shaanxi province to Sichuan to Hong Kong. Alternating cooling and warming elements keep the palate stimulated — from jiggly chilled tofu to earthy char-siu pork belly with braised mustard greens. The eatery's instant success is proof that Denver diners are ready to be challenged, titillated and rewarded with a whole new world of gustatory experience.
3033 Brighton Boulevard
After years of opening all manner of restaurants, executive chef/partner Troy Guard returns to his roots with Mister Tuna, a high-energy spot in RiNo’s Industry building. And what a fun restaurant it is — but not in the default-casual way, with free-flowing craft beer, wings and cornhole on the lawn. Here the best tables are inside, not out; the patio along Brighton Boulevard is often too hot and noisy. Besides, the room comes into its own as night falls: Under the cover of darkness, the long, narrow space becomes increasingly grown-up, with a dynamite mural of a woman’s face and a black-and-gold color scheme that totters between sexy and elegant. Divided into the categories of raw bar, appetizers and entrees, the menu reflects influences ranging from Hawaiian to Vietnamese to Indian. This being Guard’s house, the most memorable fare involves the sea: kampachi with mint, Thai basil, chiles and cilantro; ahi poke with buttery avocado and quinoa; and corvina with kimchi-tossed wheat berries. But other dishes shine, too, and many capture the best of Guard’s fusion-rich background, including carrot agnolotti with a Thai carrot-herb salad, grilled pizzas, and rotisserie pork collar with lavender mustard.
1330 27th Street
Nicole and Scott Mattson set out to bring back the Five Points jazz era with Nocturne, a supper club just off Larimer Street featuring jazz six nights a week. But a supper club wouldn't be much without supper, so a crack kitchen crew provides nightly bites and regularly changing tasting menus inspired by classic jazz albums. Add a swanky art-deco bar, and you've got a combo that swings with as much energy as the music itself. Nocturne isn't content to rehash classics, but instead crafts beguiling dishes from disparate flavors of Africa, the Deep South, New Orleans and beyond.
Keep reading for five more of the best restaurants in RiNo.