Best of Denver

The Fifteen Best New Restaurants in Metro Denver in 2016

The last days of the year are a time to reflect on what came to pass in the previous months. In Denver, we've been blessed with a continuous stream — a flood, really — of new restaurants to satisfy our every craving. While some fell by the wayside of mediocrity, many others stand out for memorable settings, service and food — so many that it was difficult to narrow down our choices for the best new restaurants to open in Denver in 2016. (And that's not including places like Denver Central Market, because the massive RiNo destination isn't a restaurant — though there's plenty of great food to be had from the many vendors inside.)

In fact, since we first unveiled our list of the best restaurants to open in the metro area, a few more promising spots debuted that deserve a space on the roster. So here's the updated list, chronicling the fifteen best new restaurants to open in 2016, in alphabetical order.

[email protected]
1160 Madison Street
Although [email protected] didn't open until the middle of December, the early results are in — and it appears that chef/owner Jeff Osaka has another hit on his hands. We've slurped the noodles at Osaka Ramen; we've shoveled down fresh fish plucked from the carousel at Sushi-Rama; we've strolled through Denver Central Market overwhelmed by mouthwatering choices. But this reboot of his original restaurant, twelve, which closed more than two years ago, feels like the completion of a circle. The new menu will shift with the seasons, offering small plates grouped from light to heavy, with subcategories divided into three of each: soups/salads, vegetables, pasta, seafood, light meats (chicken and friends), heavy meats (think beef) and desserts. The style of food resists easy categorization; Osaka avoids farm-to-table, sustainable, New American or other catchphrases that could lead guests to the wrong conclusion. Instead, dishes are thoughtful — almost intellectual — in design and execution under the eye of chef de cuisine Ashley McBrady. Early favorites include a play on toads in a hole, veal sweetbreads, and gently roasted radishes with rutabaga and turnips.

909 Walnut Street, Boulder

When Arcana opened in Boulder in February, it eschewed the New American style of cooking (a mashup of traditional American cooking techniques and international ingredients) so prevalent in restaurants today. Instead, Arcana carefully and deliberately went about creating an Old American restaurant, emphasizing traditional American techniques with a distinctly regional bent — Colorado grains, locally farmed meats and seasonal vegetables. Combine that with a downright luxurious dining room with plush bar stools, tin ceilings and custom dinnerware, and everything old is new again.

1550 17th Street

Helmed by culinary power couple John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, Avelina is proving that industrial chic isn’t everything. At this quiet downtown restaurant that opened this summer, lighting is gentle, background music stays in the background, and stools and banquettes — covered in Italian leather and chenille — are so comfortable, you’ll want to stay all night. Avelina’s highly shareable menu can be described as seasonal New American with Mediterranean flair, but it’s more helpful to view it as essential Broening/Lozada-Hissom: deceptively simple, intriguing, wisely sauced, surprisingly light. Wood-fired flatbreads feature Moroccan-spiced lamb and roasted cauliflower. Warm artichokes, quartered and fully cleaned, form striking silhouettes, their slender stems tucked against roasted shiitakes. Yuzu- and chile-glazed short ribs arrive in three paves on a rectangular platter spread with carrot purée and gingery sautéed vegetables. Longtime fans will swoon over the reappearance of Lozada-Hissom’s signature olive-oil cake, but the rustic millefeuille, listed on the menu as a dulce de leche stack, is generating its own legend.

Bronze Empire
1591 South Colorado Boulevard
Those lamenting the dearth of real Chinese food in Denver — as well as anyone who's curious about what real Chinese food actually tastes like — should hurry to the Bronze Empire, the restaurant that Tian Xia and Jing Wang, a pair of University of Denver students who moved to Denver from Beijing, opened this year on South Colorado Boulevard. Hot pot is what Xia missed most about his homeland, and now he's graciously sharing a taste of it with his adopted home town. Once seated in the modern, inviting dining room, the first thing you'll do when ordering is pick a soup, selecting a flavor profile and a broth — ranging from vegetable-based mushroom or tomato broths to the spicy soup made with beef broth. Then order meats and veggies that come on the side so you can add them as the broth starts bubbling in front of you. We recommend lamb and ribeye, tofu skin, mushrooms and plenty of greens.

400 East 20th Avenue

Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly couldn’t have picked a better spot for Coperta, their Italian followup to Beast + Bottle. Its location across from Benedict Fountain Park means that after a leisurely meal, you can walk out the door, belly full of wine, pasta and cheese, and engage in that most Italian of traditions: the passeggiata, or evening stroll. Prior to launch, the pair traveled widely throughout Rome and points south, and came home with a menu that includes several knockout dishes, including chewy cavatelli with meat ragù, bucatini all'amatriciana with salty nubs of guanciale, and polenta, which defies its humble origins with a richness that comes from butter and leftover whey. Chicken isn’t always the most exciting dish on a menu, but Coperta’s pollo allo diavolo makes you reconsider that assumption: Diavolo means “devil,” and this wood-charred half-chicken lives up to its name, fiery from its chile marinade, Calabrian chiles and the red-tinged chile oil ringing the plate. While dinner can be be a destination affair, Coperta aims to be a neighborhood gathering spot, with coffee and pastries for breakfast and smart combinations of soups, salads and panini for lunch.

249 Columbine Street
So you're not going to Cherry Creek for dinner, you say? Well, toss out your notions of hip Denver restaurant neighborhoods and head inside the new Halcyon Hotel for a taste of chef Gregory Gourdet's pan-Asian menu. The chef perfected his concept at the first Departure in Portland, Oregon, before coming to Denver armed with deadly accurate Korean bibimbap and Chinese dim sum and stir-fries (like XO fried rice with crab and Chinese sausage), along with Japanese-inspired sushi and skewers grilled over white-hot charcoal. Depending on where you're seated, you'll feel like you're aboard a luxury ocean liner, a space station or a mid-’70s jumbo jet: Prepare for Departure.

Fish N Beer
3510 Larimer Street
The understated simplicity of chef/restaurateur Kevin Morrison's latest effort — from the plain name to the spare fish-house menu — does little to prepare diners for the quality and execution of each dish coming from a kitchen headed by chef/partner Aniedra Nichols. Fans of Morrison's Tacos Tequila Whiskey will understand that great food doesn't need to be fancy or fussed with. Fish N Beer serves up deep-fried fun from uniquely delicious blowfish tails to crispy little smelt, but whole fish grilled over oak coals puts the tiny RiNo eatery above the standard seafood shack. Even the ubiquitous charcuterie plate gets a seaside makeover here, with tonnato, smoked-fish dip and soy-glazed salmon collar standing in for more common sausage, pâté and cheese.

98 Steele Street

The new Matsuhisa in Cherry Creek — one of many in chef Nobu Matsuhisa's international collection — is everything we expected from the seasoned chef, who combines Japanese tradition and culinary artistry with worldly flavors. The space is opulent and stunning, the reservation list tight, and the plates executed with a painter's skill and mastery of color and form. This is no Friday-night hangout, but rather a destination event for the most special of occasions. We're saving our pennies.

Keep reading for the rest of the list of best new restaurants...