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When indoor dining was shut down not once, but twice in 2020, we had a lot of time to reflect on what we loved and missed about restaurants. Our list was long. Even when they couldn’t welcome us into dining rooms, restaurant owners and hospitality workers stepped up to do what they do best: provide respite from the often challenging world in which we find ourselves, offering a transportive bite, a smile (even if it was hidden behind a mask) and a reminder that a love of good food is something we can all share.

Through 2021, restaurants have continued to adapt to changing rules and conditions. While some closed for good, others learned new tricks, and still more eateries joined the scene. (To be eligible for Eat Here, a restaurant must have opened by Labor Day 2021.) Over the past year, tables both inside and out on those adapted patios have buzzed with conversation, a reminder that sharing a meal at an old favorite or trying a new spot is about much more than just what’s on the menu. It’s about connection, comfort and community, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at these 100 metro Denver restaurants that we can’t live without. — Molly Martin

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Work & Class

Work & Class
Molly Martin
What possessed chef Dana Rodriguez and her business partner, Tony Maciag, to open their first restaurant in 2014 inside a space created from recycled shipping containers is beyond us, but the result is a joyous celebration that seamlessly combines Rodriguez’s Mexican roots with traditions from the American South. Work & Class consistently comes through on its promise to deliver a square meal and a stiff drink at a fair price. ($$$)
2500 Larimer St. #101, Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Ace Eat Serve

Ace Eat Serve
Courtesy Ace Eat Serve
Ace owners Josh and Jen Wolkon, who also run Steuben’s, had a fast hit on their hands when they opened their ping-pong hall and pan-Asian eatery in 2012. The menu at Ace Eat Serve has just gotten better over the years, especially since chef Thach Tran joined the team, adding a Peking duck special, hearty noodle soups and new flavors from Vietnam, Thailand and China. ($$)
501 E. 17th Ave., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

African Grill and Bar

African Grill and Bar
Molly Martin
Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo launched their second eatery at the beginning of 2019, after the success of their Green Valley Ranch location, bringing their unique, delicious cooking to Lakewood. Though the original location is now closed, African Grill and Bar is still going strong, with bold spices flavoring uncommon dishes representing Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations, as well as warm service from the owners and their family. ($$$)
955 S. Kipling Parkway, Lakewood, 80226

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Angelo's Taverna

Angelo's Taverna
Molly Martin
Angelo's Taverna bills itself as Denver's original pizza and oyster bar — and given that it's been serving central Denver since the Nixon administration, it's safe to say that it's the longest-running restaurant of its ilk, even though it’s now on its second owners (who opened a second outpost in Littleton). Even if you’re a half-shell lover, Angelo’s makes a compelling argument for a char-grilled preparation, with oysters dressed up with garlic butter, bacon and Gorgonzola or chipotle bourbon butter. Beyond bivalves and pizza, it's got a stacked lineup of Italian fare — some classic, like chicken parm and vodka penne, while other options have an Angelo's twist, like the chile relleno ravioli. Whatever you order, don't skip the housemade limoncello. ($$)
620 E. 6th Ave., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Annette

Annette
Danielle Lirette
Located in Stanley Marketplace, Annette is a beautiful restaurant flooded with light and dotted with natural elements that make the room feel sophisticated, not stark. Chef/owner Caroline Glover cooks seasonal ingredients over a wood-fired grill with equal parts reverence and panache, turning out dishes that read as home cooking, even when venturing into such chef-driven ingredients as beef tongue, octopus and heirloom vegetables. ($$$$)
2501 Dallas St., Aurora, 80010

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bar Dough

Bar Dough
Molly Martin
Chef Russell Stippich took over the kitchen at Bar Dough just before the pandemic put the kibosh on indoor dining, making for a challenging start as the traditionally sit-down eatery navigated food to go. Two years later, Stippich has finally gotten the chance to hit his stride at this LoHi eatery from the Culinary Creative Group, which was once helmed by Top Chef alum Carrie Baird. The only thing better than sidling up to the bar for an Aperol spritz and fried pizza dough hot pocket at happy hour is settling in for a full meal so you can linger over burrata with housemade piada bread, spicy diavolo pizza and crave-worthy pasta. Bonus: Bar Dough also serves an Italian spin on brunch. ($$$)
2227 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, 80211

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Bastien's Restaurant

Bastien's Restaurant
Molly Martin
There may not be another restaurant in Denver that’s used its history to such great advantage, keeping everything noteworthy from the past — from the mid-century aesthetic to the steakhouse presentations — while meeting the expectations of modern diners. The family-run business dates back to the 1930s, but the current incarnation was constructed in 1958, in distinct Googie style, from the roofline to the neon sign. A sugar steak — served no more than medium-rare — gives a taste of Colfax Avenue’s swingin’, stylish earlier days. ($$$$)
3503 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Beckon

Beckon
Danielle Lirette
Beckon’s chef’s-counter dining room feels like a dinner party thrown by a close friend — if that friend happened to be the best cook you know. But even at the outdoor seating under the covered patio, the Beckon experience is unique, thanks to thoughtful executive chef Duncan Holmes and the entire Beckon team, which exudes hospitality. The pre-paid tasting menu changes quarterly, and the whole experience lasts about two and a half hours. ($$$$)
2843 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Molly Martin
How does a humble hot-dog cart rise to the status of one of Denver’s top dogs in the restaurant business? Chalk it up to the creative and obsessive mind of Jim Pittenger, who started out with Coca-Cola-braised onions and cream cheese shot out of a caulking gun as a topping combo that elevated his wieners above the competition. Wild-game and specialty sausages have drawn food celebrities including Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Andrew Zimmern, as well as long lines of tube-steak tourists and frankfurter fanatics. ($)
2148 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

The Bindery

The Bindery
Danielle Lirette
Linda Hampsten Fox, the Bindery’s chef/owner, lived and worked in Italy for decades, and the elegant dinner menu of the restaurant she opened in 2017 reflects her intimate knowledge of that country. But the culinary roster ranges farther, with Mexican and New American influences that reflect experiences throughout Hampsten Fox’s nearly thirty-year career, as well as her penchant for unusual proteins and brash flavor combinations. ($$$$)
1817 Central St., Denver, 80211

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blackbelly

Blackbelly
Danielle Lirette
Chef Hosea Rosenberg turned his 2009 victory on Bravo’s Top Chef into a culinary business that started with a food truck and catering company, then opened Blackbelly in 2014. The butcher-driven eatery encompasses all of the chef’s passions: charcuterie, top cuts from locally raised animals, and Southwestern flavors from his childhood in New Mexico. Blackbelly’s next-door butcher shop provides an endless supply of cured meats and fresh cuts for the restaurant as well as your home kitchen. ($$$)
1606 Conestoga St., Boulder, 80301

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blazing Chicken Shack II

Blazing Chicken Shack II
Molly Martin
This soul-food spot is a hidden gem tucked a block off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The outside may not look particularly welcoming, with its caged-in windows and barred door, but you’ll find a comforting vibe inside, along with a menu full of homestyle Southern classics, including fried chicken and gumbo, and sides like mac and cheese and collard greens studded with shredded ham hock and bolstered with cabbage. ($)
5560 E. 33rd Ave., Denver, 80207

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Blue Pan Pizza

Blue Pan Pizza
Molly Martin
Detroit-style pies, known for their rectangular shape and caramelized cheese edges, have become so popular in recent years that even Pizza Hut has sliced into the trend. Chef Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch and partner Giles Flanagin introduced the city to the finer points of this regional style when they opened the first Blue Pan in West Highland in 2015. That location has since expanded its dining room, and Blue Pan opened a second outpost, too — in Congress Park — making it easier to get your hands on these pies built on an airy, crackly crust with Wisconsin brick cheese, a thick, tangy sauce and premium toppings. Blue Pan also offers a gluten-free pizza, a New York style and a cracker-thin Chicago style. ($)
3930 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, 80212

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Brasserie Brixton

Brasserie Brixton
Molly Martin
Brasserie Brixton is housed in a building that’s over 130 years old and used to be a neighborhood market. Inspired by meals he had while traveling abroad, Justin Morse — who co-owns the eatery with his girlfriend, Amy Keil, and their business partner, Matt Daniels — aimed to create a place that is decidedly unstuffy. He wanted to make French food more accessible and fun, and he succeeded. The spot also has an impressive wine list and a selection of cocktails, beer, cider and sake. ($$$$)
3701 N. Williams St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Cart-Driver

Cart-Driver
Oh Hey Creative
The 2014 opening of Cart-Driver in RiNo ushered in a wave of Neapolitan pizza in Denver. These perfectly charred wood-fired pies shine whether you opt for a simple margherita (called the Daisy here) or a seasonal creation, loaded with ingredients like clams and pancetta or delicata squash and pecorino. A meal in the tiny, original shipping-container location is an intimate yet lively experience, while the newer outpost in LoHi is a little more spacious and low-key. At either location, Cart-Driver's selection of oysters and tinned fish are a great way to start any pizza party. ($$)
2500 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

The Cherry Cricket

The Cherry Cricket
Courtesy of the Cherry Cricket
Over nearly eight decades, the Cherry Cricket has morphed from smoky bar to burger institution, even as Cherry Creek has gentrified around it. The Cricket is beloved by chefs, musicians, Creekers, night creatures and neighbors for its smoky, char-grilled patties and the lengthy list of toppings with which you can personalize them, from sauerkraut to salsa to raspberry jam. (We prefer standards such as green chiles and cheese.) This is also a great place to grab wings, hefty sandwiches, enchiladas and some of the best green chile in town; you’ll find the same food (but not atmosphere) at a second location in the Ballpark neighborhood. ($$)
2641 E. 2nd Ave., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Columbine Steak House & Lounge

Columbine Steak House & Lounge
Erik Rangel
At night, the low-slung roof and garish yellow sign of the Columbine Steak House beckon like an Edward Hopper painting. Through the window, passersby on Federal Boulevard can witness a throng of waiting diners, queued up to order a simple and cheap steak, kissed by fire, leaking fat and blood and flecked with a touch of salt and pepper. Columbine has been serving steaks for more than a half-century, and what you'll get on your plate is exactly what your parents and grandparents would have gotten here. Bring cash and leave the coat and tie at home. ($$)
300 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80219

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Comal Heritage Food Incubator

Comal Heritage Food Incubator
Molly Martin
Comal is a restaurant on a quest: The RiNo lunch spot opened in late 2016 with the goal of training low-income women (many from Mexico, El Salvador, Syria, Ethiopia and Iraq) in restaurant and business skills, and some of its graduates have moved on to open their own food endeavors. Stopping for a meal here, which varies from Mexican to Syrian to other regional specialties depending on the day, is the best thing you can do to lift your spirits — and fill your belly. ($)
3455 Ringsby Court, Denver, 80216

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Coperta

Coperta
Molly Martin
Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly’s Italian eatery serves up knockout dishes culled from little-known regions and towns in Italy, with an enticing bar program built on Italian spirits and warm hospitality. Begin with spuzzulia, a smattering of small plates that change with the seasons, end with a scoop of olive oil gelato, and relax knowing that you can’t go wrong no matter what you order in between (though we always drool over longtime menu standouts like cavatelli with lamb and beef ragù and fiery Calabrian chile-spiked pollo alla diavola, which are comforting in all the right ways). ($$$)
400 E. 20th Ave., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar

Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar
Molly Martin
Kristy Socarras Bigelow, who opened Cuba Cuba in the heart of the Golden Triangle in 2001, is a poster child for the American Dream. A Cuban-American from Miami whose family didn’t allow her to go to college and who had little restaurant experience, she decided to create a Cuban-influenced eatery in two little conjoined Victorian houses. Socarras Bigelow has since opened several fast-casual spinoffs, but the original still charms with its tiny but friendly bar that specializes in mojitos and a fabulous shaded patio. ($$)
1173 Delaware St., Denver, 80204

The 100 Best Denver Restaurants

El Taco De Mexico

El Taco De Mexico
Molly Martin
Perhaps no Mexican spot in the Mile High is as beloved as El Taco de Mexico, a no-frills joint that offers little in the way of ambience and even less in the way of service. But that hasn’t deterred crowds of customers (many of whom are hospitality-industry workers themselves), who have been flocking here since 1985 for burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles all smothered in a deeply flavored, dark-greenish-brown chile verde. And in February 2020, this bright-yellow landmark in the middle of the city got national recognition when it was honored with an America's Classics Award by the James Beard Foundation — a well-deserved accolade, but one that hasn't changed a thing about El Tac. ($)
714 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, 80204