New and Now: Denver's Ten Hottest Dining Trends

Poke is a hot trend.
Poke is a hot trend. Linnea Covington
Denver’s dining scene is not only growing, it’s diversifying. Building on 2016 trends, market halls remain popular, veggie-forward menus still reign, and New American cooking is a prime genre (though maybe that’s not so much a trend as a catch-all for the personal cooking that defines America’s restaurants at large). Still, new patterns are emerging all the time. Here are the ten defining dining trends in the Mile High City in 2017.

Frozen Drinks
Frozen rosé (or frozé) poured forth from drink spigots this year, dominating Instagram feeds via the Infinite Monkey Theorem (Denver’s OG frozé), Tupelo Honey and Max’s Wine Dive. But Denver’s frosty beverage obsession wasn’t limited to wine; see the frozen Negroni at White Pie, the frozen screwdriver at Hashtag, the banana daiquiri at Wayward and the rotating frozen drink at Señor Bear for proof.

click to enlarge Mister Tuna is one of a growing number of Denver restaurants adding the smoky flavor of cooking over wood. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Mister Tuna is one of a growing number of Denver restaurants adding the smoky flavor of cooking over wood.
Danielle Lirette
Wood-fired Cooking
The Mile High’s obsession with smoke (hey, we’re talking the wood-fired variety) continued into 2017, with several high-profile openings centered around the grill. Seasonal cooking gets the wood-fired treatment at Annette, Cattivella turns out Italian food and pizza by way of its open oven, and Citizen Rail is dialing up the heat on dry-aged cuts of meat. These restaurants join such venerable wood-fired spots as Acorn, Bar Dough and Boulder’s Basta, which continue to showcase the rustic style of cooking.

click to enlarge Ohana's spicy tuna poke on kale. - LAURA SHUNK
Ohana's spicy tuna poke on kale.
Laura Shunk
If 2008 was the year of the gastropub and 2012 the era of kale, it’s very possible that 2017 will wind up as the age of poke. Raw tuna dominated lunch in Denver this year, as the poke industry swelled to encompass dozens of establishments. While Ohana Hawaiian Kitchen qualifies as the city’s first poke purveyor, PokeCity commands a sizable following in the Tech Center, and Turtle Boat gives poke a sustainable twist. Even full-service restaurants got into the poke game, offering composed takes on the dish alongside wood-fired meat and seafood (Mister Tuna) or inventive variations on Asian food (Departure).

click to enlarge Stroll under the Eastbridge sign, then take a right turn to get to Hashtag. - MARK ANTONATION
Stroll under the Eastbridge sign, then take a right turn to get to Hashtag.
Mark Antonation
Once an outlying Denver neighborhood, Stapleton came on strong as a restaurant destination this year. Stanley Marketplace quickly jumped to the forefront of Denver’s market halls; Eastbridge saw a collection of big openings like Cattivella, Hashtag and Concourse Bistro Moderne; and new locations of some of Denver’s biggest sensations (Rosenberg’s Bagels, Los Chingones, Next Door) staked a claim in the neighborhood. Is this the city’s hottest dining destination? It’s certainly rife with excuses to head east.

click to enlarge Kachina spills out into the lobby of the Maven Hotel. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Kachina spills out into the lobby of the Maven Hotel.
Danielle Lirette
High-Profile Hotel Restaurants
The days of mediocre hotel restaurants are long gone, but Denver has seen an unusual number of top-notch hotel restaurants opening this year. Cherry Creek’s Halcyon Hotel brought us Departure and Quality Italian, the Maven houses Kachina, Urban Farmer revived the Oxford Hotel’s dining, and Kimpton’s brand-new Born Hotel is home to both Citizen Rail and Tavernetta. Far from mere amenities for weary travelers, these restaurants rightfully command their own local followings — and are worth checking out, even if you’re not checking in.

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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