2501 Dallas Street, Aurora
Located in Stanley Marketplace, Annette is a beautiful restaurant. Flooded with light, the contemporary space is dotted with natural touches — planters with live trees, live plants on every table — that make the room feel sophisticated, not stark. While the restaurant pushes boundaries with its small-plates menu — think beef tongue and marrow toast — it follows in the footsteps of many small-plates eateries that anchor our dining scene, not least of which is Acorn, where chef-owner Caroline Glover previously worked. Sodas are made in-house and come in flavors such as rosemary and lemongrass-herb. Seasonal ingredients are revered; pickled accents pop up everywhere. A wood-fired grill adds a cozy rusticity that you smell when you walk in the door. The restaurant is at its best when showcasing Glover’s take on comfort food: pillowy gnocchi, whole fish with seasonal sauces, grilled carrots and snap peas, and housemade ice cream sandwiches.
Candela Latin Kitchen
1691 Central Street
Central Bistro & Bar owner Isiah Salazar and chef Jesse Vega converted their breezy bistro into a pan-Latin lounge this past summer, compiling a roster of tacos from Salazar's upbringing and Puerto Rican specialties from Vega's family, along with a few other dishes from Central and South America. The result is a restaurant loaded with intensity and soul, with dishes that leap from the plate with joy while maintaining a heart of pure comfort. Mofongo, the national dish of Puerto Rico, is the star, but bright ceviches, meats drenched in cooked-down sauces, and homey empanadas make up a lively accompanying cast. Central Bistro may have been hot, but Candela burns just as bright.
10195 East 29th Avenue
In 2016, Elise Wiggins left her longtime position as executive chef at Panzano to pursue her vision of opening the Italian restaurant she'd always wanted to own. And with Cattivella (which means "naughty girl" in Italian), she's created the kind of restaurant that reflects her many experiences from traveling, working and eating in Italy. There's the wood-fired pizza oven used for far more than just pizzas; even beans are slow-cooked in glass flasks nestled in hot embers. There's the adjustable wood grill that gives meats (much of it brought in whole and butchered on site) and vegetables a rustic, old-world depth of flavor. And there are the housemade breads and pastas that separate Cattivella from the standard bistro or trattoria. A small cooler under the counter contains primal cuts of beef dry-aging for weeks for customers who want a little something special in a steak; a gluten-free menu offers housemade pasta and pizza options without sacrificing quality. You're sure to feel spoiled — and even a little naughty — enjoying all types of delights at this unabashedly Italian eatery.
1899 16th Street
Hotel restaurants don't have much of a reputation for inventive, chef-driven fare. But those who have enjoyed meals at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco, less than a mile from Citizen Rail, know that its owner, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, isn't content to offer bland tourist fare to please the masses; rather, artisan food production — like the handmade bread and pasta — is more the norm. That's the case at Citizen Rail in the Hotel Born, too, led by executive chef Christian Graves, who moved to Denver from San Diego, where he was in charge of another Kimpton restaurant. The heart of the restaurant is an open kitchen with several wood-burning grills, where everything — from dry-aged steaks to cocktail garnishes — is kissed with flame and smoke. But behind the scenes, a larger kitchen holds a butchering room where whole animals are brought in and broken down, providing cuts typical of steakhouse slates but also leaving room for oxtail, lamb sausage, rabbit loin and a decadent burger made from fresh-ground short rib and brisket. Yes, it's a meat-lover's paradise, but it's also so much more.
Concourse Restaurant Moderne
10195 East 29th Drive
Concourse debuted in April as the third Denver restaurant from chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma, after ChoLon and Cho77. The Stapleton eatery represents a bridge between Symensma's past and future; the menu is dotted with international influences but defies easy categorization. "The one word I wanted it to be is 'sexy,'" the chef explains. And "sexy" is the right word to describe the style of Concourse, with its undulating dining-room ceiling made from seventy curvaceous wood slats, its sleek tile surfaces in blacks and whites, and its brass and gold finishes that add elegance to every nook and cranny of the space. The menu, overseen by chef/partner Luke Bergman, feels equally thought out, with a concise roster — only seventeen dishes appear on the dinner menu — left as a single list, not broken down into appetizers, mains or sides. Although European technique is evident in emulsions, reductions and vinaigrettes, the chef says he avoided the overuse of butter and cream, instead relying on "aggressive but not heavy flavors."