New restaurants just kept coming last year, with many great ones opening in the final weeks of 2016 — something restaurateurs would never have considered in decades past. But now that the dust has settled and we've had time to taste our way through the city's menus, we know which eateries are drawing us back again and again with tempting food, stellar service and welcoming ambience. Here are the ten best restaurants to open in 2016, in alphabetical order.
1160 Madison Street
Although [email protected] didn't open until the middle of December, the early results are now in — and chef/owner Jeff Osaka has another hit on his hands, winning our 2017 award for Best New Restaurant. This reboot of twelve, his original restaurant that closed more than two years ago, feels like the completion of a circle. The menu shifts 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. Favorites include a play on toads in a hole, veal sweetbreads and ricotta gnudi in brown butter.
909 Walnut Street, Boulder
When Arcana opened in Boulder last 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, foraged ingredients and seasonal vegetables. Chef Kyle Mendenhall (previously of the Kitchen) took over the culinary program last summer, piloting Arcana to new heights. Combine all 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
Avelina was helmed by culinary power couple John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom when it opened last September, but the two departed just a few weeks ago, leaving questions about the future of the dinner and dessert menus they created. Things are holding steady so far, though, keeping the restaurant among Denver's elite. What makes the downtown spot so alluring? Avelina proves that industrial chic isn’t everything: The lighting is gentle, background music stays in the background, and stools and banquettes — covered in Italian leather and chenille — are so comfortable, so you’ll want to stay all night. The menu offers seasonal New American with Mediterranean flair. 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. We hope that Avelina can continue to wow customers despite the changes in the kitchen.
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.
Fish N Beer
3510 Larimer Street
The understated simplicity of 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.
Keep reading for the rest of the list of best new restaurants...