This has been a year for noodles and dumplings, a year for Southeast Asian cuisine, a year for international food of all kinds in metro Denver. Sure, French, American and Mediterranean restaurants have had their moment in the sun over the past twelve months, but chefs and restaurant owners have stepped up with incredible Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Mexican, African and Indian destinations in central Denver and the suburbs. Here are the fifteen best restaurants to open in 2019 (so far); we'll revisit the list in a few weeks to consider any late-December surprises.
African Grill & Bar955 South Kipling Parkway, Lakewood
Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo launched their second eatery at the beginning of 2019, bringing their unique, delicious cooking to Lakewood after the success of their Green Valley Ranch location. You'll find bold spices flavoring uncommon dishes representing Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations, as well as warm service from the owners and their family. Start with familiar samosas, meat pies, wings and fried plantains before exploring the wide range of porridge-style dishes that go by various names — fufu, sadza, kenkey, banku — depending on the main ingredient (cassava, cornmeal, plantain or yam, for example) and country of origin. Slow-cooked greens, braised meats and mouthwatering sauces round out plate after plate. African Grill & Bar is an unforgettable journey for vegetarians and meat lovers alike.
American Elm4132 West 38th Avenue
Restaurateur Bob Reiter and chef Brent Turnipseede have created a tasty West Highland neighborhood grill with food and drinks that rise above standard comfort fare while appealing to a broad range of diners. Hints of Southern cooking and surprising ingredient combinations elevate classic dishes, whether the bone marrow butter on the steak frites, cured egg yolk in the pasta carbonara, or mixed chicharrones (pork, duck and beef) in the "Animal Crackers" bar snack. Combine all that good food with an intelligent cocktail program and you've got one hot little eatery making noise in an otherwise quiet neighborhood.
ChoLon Stapleton10195 E 29th Dr Ste 140, Denver, CO 80238
Chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma's original ChoLon Modern Asian on the 16th Street Mall continues to be one of Denver's top dining destinations, and now the inventive pan-Asian menu — or the best parts of it — are being served in Stapleton, along with a whole range of family-friendly new dishes built for the neighborhood. So longtime fans will still be able to indulge in the French onion soup dumplings, but a new roster of other dumplings is also available, as well as Singaporean crab cakes, pineapple fried rice and braised beef coconut curry. It's all enough to make downtown denizens jealous.
Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar1700 Platte Street
Thai came to one of Denver's fastest-changing restaurant neighborhoods this past summer as the owners of Golden's Citizen Thai opened their second restaurant. The spare and elegant space makes for the perfect stop for Platte Street office workers to unwind with cocktails after work while sampling their way through appetizers — Bangkok ribs, crispy-fried frog legs in pla-larb sauce, marinated beef rolls — that all burst with flavor. The entree menu combines street-food favorites with more upscale dishes, so you can slurp noodles to your heart's content or splurge on rack of lamb with a fiery massaman curry.
Farmhouse Thai98 Wadsworth Boulevard, Lakewood
Freshness and balance are the keys to great Thai cuisine, and this new Lakewood kitchen serves up both, whether in seasonal salads like the Burmese Garden (tossed with whole tea leaves) or the Hello Summer (with watermelon, mint and lime leaf), rich curries and soups (don't miss the incendiary khao soi) and enlivened classics from floating market noodle soup to the sublimely porky hang le curry. Everything is made from scratch and loaded with the Southeast Asian flavors of galangal, lemongrass, garlic, tamarind and chiles. The casual setting and reasonable prices encourage repeat visits to explore new flavors and seasonal specials.
LeRoux1510 16th Street
Lon Symensma's French/European bistro technically opened on December 28, 2018, too late to make our list of the twelve best new restaurants last year. But we won't begrudge the chef/restaurateur those few extra days of practice before LeRoux became one of the brightest stars of 2019. Dazzling plates, from the mushroom mille-feuille, which presents a rectangle of mushrooms sliced so thin that they resemble the pages of a book, to the wagyu beef tartare, presented beneath a smoke-filled glass cloche, have become signature items, while duck, lamb and seafood go through seasonal variations. A tribute to the chef's mentors in his younger days, LeRoux proves that the onetime student of European cuisine has now become the master.
Logan Street and Carboy Winery400 East Seventh Avenue
After Govnr's Park Tavern closed, residents of Capitol Hill were left wondering what would take the place of the old bar and grill and its neighbor, Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria, which closed at the same time. After a complete overhaul of the entire space, the owners of Angelo's Taverna and Carboy Winery unveiled Logan Street in the Govnr's Park location, with the attached winery and tasting room next door. The light, Mediterranean-inspired menu and wide-open dining room proved exactly what the neighborhood needed, and guests have been packing the place ever since. Wood-grilled seafood, flatbread pizzas and mini pitas are big draws, and Carboy's Colorado wines attract customers to the corner wine bar, where charcuterie boards complement the riesling, cabernet franc and merlot.
Mister Oso3163 Larimer Street
The founders of Señor Bear have another hit on their hands in the former home of the Populist on Larimer Street. Mister Oso borrows from its older sibling's Latin American style, but turns out a more casual menu heavy on wood-roasted meats such as lamb barbacoa, carnitas and carne asada. Ceviches and crudos lighten up the slate with influences from Peru, Mexico and other coastal regions. Mister Oso is bold, clever and cheeky, turning, for example, a Tex-Mex taco salad into haute cuisine, with vibrant cocktails to match.
Owlbear Barbecue2826 Larimer Street
Brisket is the darling of the barbecue circuit these days, and Karl Fallenius is the temperamental beef cut's biggest advocate. Fallenius has been perfecting his technique at various street-food stalls and pop-ups over the past several years, and last spring he launched his own smokehouse to long lines of devotees. While melt-in-your-mouth brisket is the star (go early if you want some), the ribs, pulled pork and portobello mushrooms are just as good, whether ordered by the pound or in a sandwich. Save room, though, for some of the cheesiest mac and cheese in town, or a scoop of soulful baked beans.
Quiero Arepas1859 South Pearl Street
Igor and Beckie Panasewicz followed up their food truck and counter-service operation inside Avanti Food & Beverage with a brick-and-mortar Quiero Arepas that opened last spring, instantly making Platt Park the envy of every other Denver neighborhood. Igor hails from Venezuela, and he's made it his mission to put arepas on the map in Denver. The griddled corn-flour shells stuffed with all manner of slow-cooked meats, black beans, plantains, avocado and bright sauces make a great ambassador for Venezuela, and the couple's warm service cements Quiero Arepas as one of the best restaurants in town to spring from humble street-food origins.
Savory Vietnam2200 West Alameda Avenue
Chef An Nguyen honed her skills for years at New Saigon, which her parents owned until 2017. Now Nguyen's out on her own, proving that she's a force to be reckoned with in Denver's Vietnamese restaurant scene and beyond. Because food this good — starting with the goi thap cam (the house special salad mounded with shrimp, squid, snails, jellyfish and fresh Vietnamese herbs) through to bubbling goat hot pot and traditional noodle dishes like hu tieu and mi Quang — shouldn't be constrained within the narrow definition of national cuisines. This is a menu for the whole city, representing the history of a family who set up a business more than thirty years ago, and one that continues to shine bright on Denver's west side.
Uncle Zoe's Chinese Kitchen12203 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora
Xiaolongbao — also known as soup dumplings — are one of the most sought-after foods in the culinary world right now. They're tricky to pull off, since the delicate dough wrapper must contain the pork-based soup and meatball within, but when done right, the explosion of comforting flavor in each steamy bite can't be beat. Uncle Zoe's does its soup dumplings just right while also delving into other uncommon Chinese treats such as savory rou bing (called Chinese-style pies on the menu) stuffed with meat and veggies; silky wonton dumplings swimming in Sichuan chili oil; and whole fish expertly sliced and served in sweet-and-sour sauce. The Aurora restaurant joins a growing number of Chinese eateries exploring the country's diverse culinary landscape.
Urban Burma10180 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora
Aurora's Mango House bills itself as "a shared space for resettled refugees" and includes medical and dental offices as well as youth organizations and community programs. But there's also a small food court with international vendors selling the best of their country's food. Siri Tan launched Urban Burma in early 2019 to offer the most complete roster of Burmese dishes the city has seen, but Tan's restaurant isn't just a novelty. The beef curry, nan gyi dok noodles and occasional appearances of mohinga, a catfish noodle soup that's considered the national dish of Myanmar, are all made with love and care, combining bold and subtle flavors into dishes you'll return to again and again.
Urban Village9234 Park Meadows Drive, Lone Tree
Indian restaurants in Denver tend toward the same canon of familiar fare, even though India's culinary topography is varied and complex. But at Ramesh Madakasira and chef Charles Mani's Lone Tree eatery, you'll get to experience a wide range of flavors and textures, many of them new to Denver. So golgappas (airy puffs filled with tangy sauce), lamb chettinad and tandoor-baked naan can be found alongside more time-honored dishes. But in Mani's hands, even the butter chicken, aloo gobi and samosas take on new life, each sparked by the chef's creative touch and modern sensibilities.
Zocalito999 18th Street
Chef Michael Beary's Oaxacan-themed eatery is another one that snuck in during the last few days of 2018, but the quality, consistency and wow factor of each bite has carried Zocalito through a solid twelve months of downtown dining. Beary has given Denver a taste of something new in moles, rellenos, killer wings and succulent seafood, all enlivened with rare chiles that the chef brings in using his own import company. Don't overlook this gem hidden on the ground floor of one of downtown's tallest towers.
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