We're halfway through 2016, and new restaurants keep piling up (there were 23 openings in June alone). Great eateries have popped up everywhere from Lyons to the southern suburbs, so it's not just central Denver that's experiencing the boom — and that's great news for residents of outlying neighborhoods and towns who have more options than ever before for dining nearby.
Trends so far this year? Sushi and Southern have both been big, as have all-day eateries serving breakfast, lunch and dinner — many with market shelves so that guests can tote home additional food. Here are the fourteen most promising restaurants, in alphabetical order, to open so far in 2016.
909 Walnut Street, Boulder
Arcana opened in Boulder in February with Southern chef Matt Lackey at the helm in the kitchen, taking a roots-revival culinary movement and applying it to regional Colorado ingredients. As often happens in professional kitchens, Lackey was gone after a month, but Arcana kept the focus on wood-grilled meats and vegetables, foraged and locally grown ingredients, and fermenting, preserving and pickling. And this month, Kyle Mendenhall, fresh from a near-decade-long stretch with the Kitchen, joins the team, instantly making Arcana one of the top wish-list reservations for diners in the know. In terms of promise, Elliott and Annie Toan's elegant eatery — already a favorite with regulars — has only begun to blossom.
2. Blackbelly Butcher
1606 Conestoga Street, Boulder
Here's another Boulder gem dedicated to doing food the old-fashioned way. Blackbelly Butcher is the breakfast and lunch spin-off of chef Hosea Rosenberg's upscale dining room, Blackbelly, next door. Here you can grab a breakfast burrito brimming with green chile (a specialty of New Mexico native Rosenberg) or go whole hog with house-cured salumi, charcuterie, deli meats and other meaty wonders. Grab a seat for a stacked roast beef sandwich and a monster chocolate chip cookie, or pop in for exquisite dry-aged steaks to impress your dinner guests. If only every neighborhood in metro Denver had a corner butcher peddling this level of quality and creativity.
3. Cherry Hills Sushi Co.
1400 East Hampden Avenue, Cherry Hills Village
The menu at Cherry Hills Sushi Co. almost seems to be missing a page or two, so short and focused is chef Bradford Kim's roster of hand-rolled temaki and meticulous sashimi. But therein lies the brilliance of the austere little sushi bar: Perfection is captured through simplicity. A pour of rainwater-clear sake alongside a series of hand rolls, each delivery timed to follow the final bite of your last, offers a near-Zen-like study in flavors, textures and temperatures. Escape from the daily hustle with a short lunch or a leisurely dinner where the focus is entirely on the pleasure of eating — and a little drinking, too, if you dig Japanese beer and whisky.
4. Farmer Girl Community Bistro
432 Main Street, Lyons
Chef Tim Payne teased us with a food truck and a fast-casual counter inside Avanti Food & Beverage before landing a brick-and-mortar for his farm-fresh fare in Lyons earlier this year. Farmer Girl's cozy dining room on the town's Main Street is like a miniature display case for Payne's colorful creations built from seasonal vegetables — some so fresh you can almost smell the dirt — and locally raised meats. The kitchen's philosophy embraces using more and wasting less, so you'll find vegetable tops, peels and roots gracing your plate and adding whole new layers of flavor.
5. Grind Kitchen + Watering Hole
300 Fillmore Street
Southern specialties share space with international flavors and upscale presentations at this Cherry Creek bar and kitchen. Chef Preston Phillips is equally adept at plating a delicate beet salad in a rainbow of colors or frying up truck-stop chicken with all the fixin's. Whether you stop in for a satisfying pork-belly banh mi for lunch or choose a dinner entree featuring heritage grits, Carolina Gold rice or Southeastern-style red peas, you're in good hands at this casual and comfortable subterranean spot.
6. Lucky Cat
7559 East Academy Boulevard
Chef/restaurateur Troy Guard isn't content with the status quo. His Lowry outpost of bubu may not always have been packed to the rafters, but it certainly had its fans. Guard had his ear to the ground in east Denver, though, listening for what the neighborhood needed — and that turned out to be Chinese food with fun, modern flair done in typical TAG style. Dim sum gets modernized with Lucky Cat's siu mai, bao buns, spare ribs and turnip cakes, while Chinese-American classics become somehow simultaneously bolder and lighter than their takeout-kitchen counterparts. The evidence is in General Guard's chicken, tasty enough to vanquish General Tso from the stir-fry battlefield.
7. Mas Kaos Pizzeria & Taqueria
4526 Tennyson Street
Residents of Platt Park have known for years that a choice between authentic, wood-fired pizza and street-style tacos has only been a matter of walking a couple of blocks in either direction on South Pearl Street. The first choice takes you to Kaos Pizzeria and the second to Uno Mas Taqueria, both owned by restaurateur Patrick Mangold-White. But for hungry neighbors on Tennyson Street, Mangold-White made the choice even easier: He built Mas Kaos, which opened in early May, to serve pizza and tacos from the same kitchen — along with oven-baked pasta specials. There's also a spacious indoor/outdoor bar. As a result, dining at Mas Kaos is twice the fun, with no regrets over a hasty decision.
8. Masterpiece Kitchen
84 Rampart Road
Like Lucky Cat just next door, Masterpiece Kitchen specializes in taking nostalgic food and making it better than what we remembered. Chef/restaurateur Justin Brunson expanded his Masterpiece Delicatessen concept with a full-service eatery in March that starts with sandwiches but tacks on chef-y touches like fried Brussels sprouts doused in Vietnamese fish sauce and Rocky Mountain trout bedazzled with colorful baby carrots. For a groan-inducing treat, opt for the housemade-pastrami sandwich — a true masterpiece from this Lowry kitchen.
98 Steele Street
The new Matsuhisa Denver in Cherry Creek is everything we expected from seasoned international chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The space is opulent and stunning, the reservation list tight, and the plates executed with an artist's skill and mastery of color and form. This is no Friday-night hangout, but rather a destination event for the most special of occasions. We're saving our pennies.
10. Pop's Place
2020 Lawrence Street
Longtime Denver chef Stephen Kleinman and sausage impresario Jim Pittenger, founder of Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, teamed up to open an all-day eatery in the Ballpark neighborhood on April 1 — a decision that Pittenger said would allow him to say "April Fool's!" if things didn't work out. But no foolin', the duo is turning out some clever and delicious breakfast and dinner fare — everything from Hawaiian loco moco, made more mouth-watering with a substitution of braised short rib for standard burger patties, to dead-on San Francisco-style cioppino chock-full of seafood. Pop's Place feels like a diner but gives guests a surprise with every choice.
11. The Preservery
3040 Blake Street
Whitney and Obe Ariss unveiled their airy restaurant and market at the end of March, letting spring breezes spread the aromas of fresh-baked breads and chef Brendan Russell's cooking around the RiNo neighborhood. The service is quick-casual, but the menu is anything but, with the likes of braised rabbit, halibut in saffron broth and Wagyu short ribs highlighting the dinner menu. But you needn't reserve the Preservery for a date-night occasion; a New Orleans-style muffuletta sandwich for lunch will also win a would-be lover's heart.
12. Sera's Ramen Enclave
3472 West 32nd Avenue
The closure of Bang! last summer left a hole in the hearts of West Highland residents, one that could only be filled with something soulful and sincere. Enter Sera Nguyen, who adds Vietnamese and Korean influences to her menu of bold Japanese noodle soups. An oxtail-based bowl so packed with umami it's called "flavorsome ramen" is only one of the highlights; steamed buns and quail skewers also beckon from the roster of small plates. The smells wafting from the street-facing kitchen may be a little more exotic than those of the previous tenant, but Sera's rises to the challenge of giving comfort to the neighborhood.
13. Sushi Ronin
2930 Umatilla Street
Among the many sushi bars opening recently, Sushi Ronin distinguishes itself with uncommon dishes from traditional Japanese cuisine along with a tantalizing omakase (chef's choice) menu. The combination of sleek, modern design with Pacific Rim elements transports diners to Tokyo's Ginza district while remaining firmly rooted in LoHi hipness. Choose from "cool" or "warm" menus, with "Southern Barbarian" pickled fish giving a sharp bite, only to be tamed by miso-marinated black cod. For a more casual night, settle in at the bar in the back for small plates and sake or Japanese single-malt whisky.
14. Steuben's Arvada
7355 Ralston Road, Arvada
The new Arvada Steuben's doubles the fun of the Uptown original, with a spacious dining room done up in mid-century decor and plenty of extra seating at the swanky bar and diner-style counter, where the chrome gleams and the housemade ice cream cannot be ignored. While regulars will be perfectly at home with the familiar slate of regional American cooking, this outpost also offers drinks, brunch and weekday specials unique to the west-side Steuben's. That alone earns this restaurant a spot on our list — but like the original, this one scores big on flavor, too.
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