Denver's Parking Problems Turn Destination Restaurants Into Neighborhood Spots

In the restaurant business, lines are growing fuzzier all the time. Crafted food that once would have been the stuff of fine kitchens is dished out of cafeteria-style lines, and fast-food chains have dabbled – largely unsuccessfully — in higher-end experiences.

Fast food vs. fine isn’t the only binary distinction we’ve lost. Here’s another: neighborhood vs. destination.

As a descriptor, “neighborhood” used to speak to price point and fare as much as proximity to home. But in Denver’s exploding dining scene, these criteria are increasingly moot: You can find everything from cocktails to charcuterie, burgers to $29 entrees in neighborhood spots across the city, not just at so-called destinations. Proximity to home, however, is more relevant than ever. And here’s one reason why: the parking shortage.

If the city’s current boom continues, one day destination restaurants could become neighborhood restaurants out of sheer necessity, since parking is in such short supply. Restaurants that might have been worth the journey ten years ago – like Small Wonder Food and Wine, which I review this week, or the Coral Room that preceded it – may not be worth the parking hassle, not when there are restaurants closer to home.

Denver isn’t at that point yet, but there are certainly destination restaurants I’d frequent more often if A) parking were easier to come by or B) I could park at home and walk. And West Highland, where Small Wonder is located, isn't the toughest part of town for parking. What about LoHi? South Broadway? South Pearl Street?

Does parking affect where you choose to grab a bite? Where would you go if the parking were easier? And what Denver dining neighborhood do you think has the worst parking?

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