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The Fifteen Best New Restaurants in Metro Denver in 2014

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11) Cart-Driver 2500 Larimer Street 303-292-3553

Cart-Driver opened this summer in a trendy, shipping-container development in the hot RiNo neighborhood. But while the 25-seat restaurant is new, the person behind it is not. For years, co-owner Kelly Whitaker has been building a name for himself at Basta, a full-service restaurant in Boulder that features short ribs, wood-roasted chicken, pizza and an admirable wine list. A wood-fired oven and Neapolitan pizza are also the driving forces behind Cart-Driver. Although this tiny spot takes the fast-casual approach, with counter service, a tightly edited menu of pizzas (no design-your-own options) and a handful of small plates, the ingredients are top-notch and the food is produced with care. Bargain-hunters should be sure to hit the late-night happy hour.

10) Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery 4990 East Colfax Avenue 720-550-7665

Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery, which opened this summer on a revitalizing stretch of East Colfax Avenue, is not your normal fast-casual joint -- at least, not if your definition of fast-casual begins and ends with Chipotle. Run by Clint Wangsnes, a veteran chef with experience in Hawaii, Napa Valley and Miami Beach, the restaurant could easily moonlight as one of the trendy full-service spots that have taken over the city these past few years, with exposed brick and tables and booths crafted of wide-plank barn wood; even cocktails are batched and served with happy-hour nibbles such as sliders and hoisin-tamarind ribs. Wangsnes, however, decided to go in a more casual direction, adding an order line, glowing computerized menu boards and clip-on numbers to facilitate food delivery. And he did so because he wanted to serve a group that's barely tolerated, much less emphasized, by most restaurateurs: families, who deserve good food, too. And Chop Shop definitely delivers.

9) Glaze by Sasa 1160 Madison Street 720-387-7890

Teaming one of Denver's top sushi masters with a bakery known for circular cakes that bake a layer at a time on a horizontal rod is either a recipe for weirdness or a stroke of creative genius that takes full advantage of the skills of Sushi Sasa owner Wayne Conwell and baum-cake expert Heather Alcott. The place opens at 9 a.m. every morning as a bakery cafe featuring tarts, macarons and coffee drinks; lunch and dinner showcase Conwell's creative and precise sushi along with other Japanese dishes like soba and udon noodle bowls and, of course, plated desserts, many built around slices of baumkuchen -- a Japanese-German hybrid that requires a special oven (Alcott says hers is the only one in the U.S.). Denver diners are often leery of cafe restaurants that try to be too many things at once, but everything that crosses the counter here, as much art as cuisine, demonstrates expertise, quality and sheer fun. With a modern, minimalist dining room and a sleek sushi bar, the restaurant still pulls off warmth and charm in part because of the confidence and sincerity pouring from the kitchen and bakery.

8) Gozo 30 South Broadway 720-638-1462 In March of 2014, the Italian/Spanish-inspired Gozo finally opened in the South Broadway storefront that was once home to Deluxe and Delite. It's undergone a major renovation; the two spaces have been merged into a big, whitewashed room with a chef's counter that faces the wood-burning oven, a long bar and two cozy seating areas. A seat by that oven can get steamy, but Gozo is a hot restaurant in more ways than one. Founding executive chef Nicholas Petrilli (who has since moved on) and founder/front-of-the-house manager Frank Jolley IV both spent time in kitchens in Napa, and their experience is reflected in both the impeccable service and the amazing dishes you'll find at Gozo. Jolley likes to describe his place as an "Italian wine bar married with Spanish tapas," and that's a merger we're happy to toast. Keep reading for seven more of the best new restaurants in Denver in 2014.
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