In a year jam-packed with bar and restaurant openings, it was sometimes a relief to find comfort in familiar favorites. But even a few of these took advantage of the favorable economic climate to improve on already successful formulas. Two of them closed and remodeled; reopening as larger versions of what had already endeared them to faithful customers. Two more found new homes, gaining extra space, modern ambiance and bigger menus.
Here's a look at four more transformations that brought a few of our favorite hidden gems into the spotlight.
4) Maria Empanada 1298 South Broadway 303-934-2221
Lorena Cantarovici started making empanadas in a kitchen she built in her garage before moving to a tiny Lakewood storefront, where her empanadas and tortas quietly gained a loyal following. After moving the entire operation to its new location on South Broadway this past April, she finally has the Buenos Aires-style bakery she dreamed of from the beginning. And with a new liquor license added this fall, Maria Empanada is finally the all-day destination typical of Argentinian cafes, with coffee service in the morning, Malbec in the evening and delicious sweet and savory pastries served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What started out as little more than a pastry case with a few tables at the old location has turned into a neighborhood gathering place with big, sunny windows, a rustic community table and a lively atmosphere fed by the cafe's energetic owner. Along with beer and wine service, the latest in the evolution of Maria Empanada is traditional yerba mate service provided by Scape Treader, a new Colorado company that sources ingredients for the South American tea from small family farmers in Argentina.
3) Village Cork 1300 South Pearl Street 303-282-8399
The Village Cork made do for years with a tiny kitchen that was little more than a couple of induction burners behind a wine bar. The Old South Pearl favorite closed in July for a remodel and emerged four months later with a shiny new exhibition kitchen with a chef's counter, a full-length bar and a few more seats in the cozy interior. The transformation maintained the neighborhood vibe and quaint, country style but added a full liquor license and an expanded menu with slow-cooked meats and seasonal specials in addition to the a la minute offerings regular customers had come to expect. A new lunch menu with comfort favorites like grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato jam and Colorado bison chili give Platt Park residents another another option for midday meals.
Keep reading for two more born-again restaurants.
2) Lime XS 730 East Sixth Avenue 303-722-5463
Lime XS knows what it does best: casual Mexican dining and margaritas that coax customers to head straight for the patio seating as soon as it's warm enough to soak up some sunshine. After an eight-month remodel, Lime reopened in September with more of what it does best. An indoor-outdoor bar straddles a broad patio that can be sealed up tight against the cold weather, allowing guests to hang out Jimmy Buffet-style year-round. The dining room seats quite a few, too, but big new windows and French doors bring the outdoors in, making almost every table the sunniest spot in the joint. Lime has always packed in the crowds for Taco Tuesday, but now it feels just a little bit more like a beach vacation in the middle of the city.
1) Hasu Asian Bistro & Sushi 250 Steele Street 720-379-5868
East Asia Garden had been one of our favorite spots for traditional Chinese cuisine with hard-to-find dishes like tofu with black eggs, braised hairtail fish and cross bridge noodles. We gave it a Best of Denver award for Best Chinese in 2013, only to see it close in October. But it didn't take long for the owners to relocate, opening as Hasu Asian Bistro & Sushi just a couple of months later in Cherry Creek North, where it serves our favorite dishes alongside a new sushi menu. While the new location has a reputation for swallowing restaurants, we're hopeful that Hasu will lift the curse, providing something unique to the neighborhood in a decidedly posher setting than its previous hole-in-the-wall spot on South Broadway.
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