Best of Denver

Denver's Ten Best Imported Chain Restaurants

Combo plates are a big part of Tex-Mex dining.
Combo plates are a big part of Tex-Mex dining. Chuy's

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click to enlarge Alamo Drafthouse at Sloan's Lake. - ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE
Alamo Drafthouse at Sloan's Lake.
Alamo Drafthouse
Alamo Drafthouse
4255 West Colfax Avenue, 720-577-4720
7301 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, 303-730-2470

Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse grew out of founders Tim and Karrie League's passion for good movies, drinks and food — all under one roof. After opening their first theater, the Leagues learned they weren't the only ones who liked that trifecta, and Alamo quickly became a beacon. It's now expanding rapidly, and there are two locations in the metro area — one in Littleton and the other near Sloan's Lake. If being able to order a meal, snacks and alcoholic beverages during a screening weren't enough to endear these spots to you, know that both theaters also make a real effort to engage their local communities, offering discounted flicks and fundraising screenings for local organizations. Kill time before your movie starts in the bar, then snack your way through your movie — we like the pizzas and the chocolate chip cookies. The combo of cinema and dinner is good enough that we'll go out of our way to see a movie here, even if there's another theater within close proximity.

Art on the plate at Matsuhisa. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Art on the plate at Matsuhisa.
Danielle Lirette
98 Steele Street

Japanese celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa had made previous inroads into the Centennial state: Locations of Matsuhisa lure upscale diners in both Vail and Aspen. But in 2016, this temple of refined Japanese cooking made its Denver debut, sidling into Cherry Creek North and unveiling its menu of heady, thrilling and precisely executed sushi, wagyu beef and creative delicacies, littered with Peruvian flavor and influence — all with prices that speak to its Beverly Hills roots. If you can spring it, we advocate for the omakase experience here, which affords you a glimpse of the true breadth of the offerings. Otherwise, don't miss the black cod with miso, any fish collar on offer, and the udon soup. By the way, if a glance at the dinner prices make you question whether you'd be able to pay your rent after this meal, know that lunch is a more affordable way to experience Matsuhisa.

Urban Farmer brings meaty fare to the Oxford Hotel. - MARK ANTONATION
Urban Farmer brings meaty fare to the Oxford Hotel.
Mark Antonation
Urban Farmer
1659 Wazee Street

Of all the restaurants on this list, Urban Farmer feels the least like a chain. There's nothing inherently streamlined about the steakhouse offerings, the design flourishes are both unique and luxe, and locally sourced ingredients (some from as nearby as the restaurant's rooftop) star prominently on the menu. But the restaurant, which anchors the ground floor of the Oxford Hotel, is one of a group of four (and growing). The nose-to-tail meat program is in the spotlight here, with an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. If you can't decide, the steak tasting is a nice option — it nets you four cuts of New York Strip that allow you to determine what you like best. Do not skip a side of ethereal potato purée, and if you're celebrating something, consider starting with a seafood tower. Note that Urban Farmer is also open for breakfast, lunch and brunch, when you'll find lighter fare.

Torchy's Tacos
Four metro-area locations

In its home market of Austin, Torchy's is at the epicenter of the great breakfast-taco debate, and is frequently cited as the pinnacle of this Texas phenomenon. Here in Denver, you can discover what all the hype is about, tasting your way through various combinations of eggs, cheese, bacon, potatoes and sausage on corn or flour tortillas (go for the flour) at one of four metro-area locations. Later in the day, Torchy's turns out a roster of cheekily named tacos built with creative ingredient combinations, like the Trailer Park (fried chicken and green chiles on a flour tortilla) or the Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs and a fried poblano chile).

True Food Kitchen
2800 East Second Avenue

Phoenix-based True Food Kitchen seems particularly suited to Denver's tony Cherry Creek North neighborhood. Its menu, co-designed by celebrity nutrition-focused doctor Andrew Weil, deals in wholesome eats that fulfill all manner of diets: gluten-free, vegan, anti-inflammatory and more. Dishes here include curry, an ancient grain bowl, seasonal pizzas and poke, and you can pair your meal with freshly squeezed juices or cocktails with organic spirits. The vibe is sunny and a bit sanctimonious, so it's a place we'd love to hate, frankly — except that the food is good enough to provide much-needed reprieve from our otherwise hedonistic dining habits, and it fills a niche in Denver's dining that, though hard to believe, was totally vacant before True Food's arrival.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk