Staffing shortages, increased food costs, supply-chain issues. These remained hot topics on the hospitality scene this year, as the effects of the pandemic continue to be a burden on the industry. And yet despite all the challenges, we've reported over 250 new bar and restaurant openings in metro Denver in 2022, with a few still on the horizon. Getting into the business of feeding others is trickier than ever before, but passion continues to rule.
People in hospitality are as ambitious and hardworking as they are creative, and they use all of their skills to make the city a tastier place to live. From a reincarnated barbecue joint in RiNo and a romantic French eatery in Highland to a vibrant Latin restaurant in Park Hill and more, here are the ten best restaurants to join the local dining scene in 2022 (in alphabetical order).
Bodega's Chili Crisp Fried Chicken.
Lauren DeFilippo Jackson
2651 West 38th Avenue
Cliff Blauvelt grew up in the Northside and spent nearly a decade working for the Secret Sauce restaurant group (Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve) before a two-year stint helping a couple open a restaurant in Aruba led to an affinity for creating fun, elevated takes on sandwiches. Back in Denver, the former location of Cuban restaurant Buchi proved to be just the kind of neighborhood joint he was looking for, and Blauvelt opened Bodega there in August. It has a hip-hop soundtrack, street-art murals and a menu full of bangers, from the basic breakfast sandwich loaded with bacon, eggs and cheese plus crispy tater tots on a squishy Kaiser roll to the Double Bodega Burger and a fried chicken sandwich that packs a chile crunch punch.
Changes are coming to Cantina Loca in 2023.
2890 Zuni Street
Chef Dana "Loca" Rodriguez had a standout year in 2022, which kicked off with the opening of her first solo venture, Cantina Loca, in January. With this concept, the co-owner of Work & Class and Super Mega Bien and executive chef of the upcoming reboot of Casa Bonita shines a spotlight on her Mexican heritage. Along with plenty of mezcal, including spirits from Rodriguez’s own brand, Doña Loca, the menu includes tacos, fajitas and larger entrees such as wood-fired steak with chimichurri sauce. After settling in for a year, Cantina Loca is gearing up to roll out some changes in 2023 — ones that promise to make the food offerings even bigger and better.
A torta from Carrera's Tacos.
7939 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
While the Mile High is well known for Den-Mex, its regional take on Mexican fare, brothers Joshua and Ryan Carrera missed the sort of south-of-the-border food they'd grown up enjoying in California. In 2019 they launched Carrera’s Tacos as a catering business and soon moved into a food truck, though they dreamed of opening a brick-and-mortar. That vision came to life in April, when the family-run operation moved into a space next to eatertainment giant Pindustry in the Denver Tech Center. If you're craving French fry-filled California-style burritos, fully loaded street fries and queso tacos with extra-crispy griddled Oaxaca cheese, this low-key spot is more than worth the drive from anywhere in the city. Bonus: It's adding brunch soon.
Glo Noodle House
Glo Noodle House is not your typical ramen joint.
4450 West 38th Avenue
In late 2021, West Highland eatery Brazen shuttered after seven years. But just three months later, Glo, a playful, noodle-centric eatery from chef/owner Chris Teigland and his wife, Ariana, debuted in the space. The two longtime hospitality pros have spent years working in restaurants in Colorado and Chicago (including Michelin-starred eateries); they met while both were employed at Blackbelly in Boulder. Now Chris heads up the back of the house at Glo, and Ariana is responsible for the front of the house and the bar program. Both have excelled, resulting in a restaurant where the chili-glazed chicken over bright yuzu aioli and umami-packed miso bacon ramen are as fun and memorable as the creative cocktails and stellar sake selection.
Paella is a must at Lucina.
2245 Kearney Street
While the original plans called for Lucina opening in late December 2021, delays pushed its debut back to March — but it was well worth the wait. The eatery, from Create Kitchen & Bar (formerly Create Cooking School) co-owners Erasmo "Ras" Casiano and Diego Coconati, is part of a shift in this area of Park Hill, where Oblio's recently refreshed its brand after 26 years in business and Tables shuttered after serving the neighborhood for seventeen years. (Bistro Vendôme is set to open in that space in 2023 after moving out of its longtime Larimer Square home.) The vibrant Latin eatery pays homage to the food its owners grew up eating, with influences ranging from Mexico, Argentina and Peru to Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Miami. Don't miss the ever-changing paella, available on Fridays and Saturdays.
The duck breast from Noisette.
3254 Navajo Street
Denver’s not the kind of town that typically embraces anything too precious, and an elegant French eatery could easily fall into that category. But the pros behind Noisette, which debuted in August, expertly balance fine dining and an air of romance with just enough personality to make this place pop in all the right ways. Husband-and-wife owners Tim and Lilian Lu both graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and at the center of their restaurant is an elevated take on cuisine bourgeoise, or French home cooking. The smartly focused cocktail roster includes libations inspired by the brief post-World War I, pre-Prohibition era, while the kitchen turns out entrees such as a divine crispy duck breast; the decadent, show-stopping desserts are a draw on their own, as well. Noisette also doubles as a daytime bakery, with both sweet and savory treats available.
Pirate Alley Boucherie
1801 Wynkoop Street
The Cubano from Pirate Alley.
Pirate Alley got its start as a po'boy pop-up at Julep, Kyle and Katy Foster's now-closed Southern-style RiNo restaurant. After that venture fell victim to the pandemic in 2020, the sandwiches lived on at a pop-up at Katy's Stir Cooking School. But now (with a minor name change), Pirate Alley is back in a new permanent home at the Ice House building next to Union Station. The space also contains a large dining room that doubles as a private event venue equipped for cooking classes — and is decked out with some of the best wallpaper in any eatery, starring some very suggestively posed root veggies. The new menu goes beyond po'boys, with a lineup that includes a killer Cuban sandwich, a New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp dip and the Kitchen Sink gumbo.
Pit Fiend Barbecue
Juan Pablo Llano (left), Michael Graunke and Esteban Gallardo opened Pit Fiend in the former home of Owlbear on May 20.
2826 Larimer Street
In January, Karl Fallenius closed what was considered by many to be the best barbecue joint in the city, Owlbear. Fans of his Texas-style ’cue were saddened by the loss, but behind the scenes, there was a different tragedy: One of his employees, Teven Hudgins, passed away unexpectedly on what was supposed to be Owlbear's last day of business. Hudgins had been a vocal supporter of two other employees, Juan Pablo Llano and Michael Graunke, who, along with friend Esteban Gallardo, had already been considering starting a different kind of venture of their own. But when Fallenius told the crew that he was considering selling his smokers, the trio stepped in, taking over the equipment and the space, which they reopened in May as Pit Fiend. While Owlbear's Texas-style brisket and legendary mac and cheese remain on the menu, the new owners have mixed things up, experimenting with barbecue traditions from around the world and making this spot their own.
2000 East 28th Avenue
Dennis "Denn" Phelps pictured in the Point Easy kitchen in early July.
Dennis "Denn" Phelps, his brother Dan Phelps and business partner Andy Bruch set out to “make our dream restaurant,” Denn told Westword
in August 2021, as the three were in the midst of construction at Point Easy. The name reflects their philosophy, honed during years of working in the industry: Keep things easy. The bright and airy space debuted in June and was hardly recognizable to those familiar with the former occupant, the Whittier Pub, a dark neighborhood bar. Sadly, just three months after it opened, Denn passed away. But Point Easy lives on as an homage to his vision and passion, with creative and seasonal fare, funky and experimental cocktail offerings and a commitment to welcoming, friendly service.
Stone Cellar Bistro
7605 Grandview Avenue, Arvada
Stone Cellar Bistro's yellowtail crudo.
These days, exciting openings aren't confined to restaurants within city limits: The ’burbs are getting some stunners, too. Such is the case with Stone Cellar Bistro, which debuted in June. Industry vets Jordan Alley and Brandon Kerr met while working in the back of the house at now-closed LoHi favorite Z Cuisine. For their first venture as co-owners, they've created a stylish spot that serves the best local products they can get their hands on, prepared using an arsenal of French techniques. From the foie gras parfait with huckleberry to whatever fish is on the seasonally changing roster to the cocktail menu filled with classics, this restaurant is bringing a whole lot of culinary hits to Arvada.