Food News

The Ten Best Dishes of 2018

The fried eggplant at Q House really soars.
The fried eggplant at Q House really soars. Danielle Lirette

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Pan con tomate: So simple, so good.
Danielle Lirette
Pan con Tomate at Ultreia
1701 Wynkoop Street

Making the most of its beautiful two-story space, Ultreia whisks you to a world far away from bustling Union Station. The pastoral wallpaper, ornate wrought-iron stairs and shots of sherry in star-patterned shot glasses make you feel like your Lyft driver has somehow transported you to Spain. Nothing furthers the illusion better than pan con tomate, which is how all meals at Ultreia should begin (after a gin tonic, of course). This quintessential dish is more than the sum of its parts. But perfection lies in the execution, in the way the ciabatta is griddled in olive oil, thoroughly rubbed with garlic and served with fresh puréed tomato that seeps into the crumb.

Agnolotti Dal Plin at Tavernetta
1889 16th Street

What a refuge Tavernetta has become — not just for harried commuters coming from Union Station, but for anyone looking for a place where all feels right in the world, if only for a little while. While happy hour is hard to turn down, with its well-priced Venetian spritzes and array of well-executed snacks, you’ll want to come for a proper meal, too, when you can order from the full selection of housemade pastas. Tagliatelle with lobster and Calabrian chiles has become a crowd-pleaser, but I’m wistful for a dish that’s no longer on the menu: agnolotti dal plin. A form of stuffed pasta, the agnolotti were stunning to behold, dark brown from porcini powder and chestnut flour mixed into the dough, with an earthiness matched by the nuanced filling of prosciutto, beef and pork.
Chef/owner Dana Rodriguez making hot stone stew.
Danielle Lirette
Hot Stone Stew at Super Mega Bien
1250 25th Street

Latin-inspired dim sum gets all the hype at Super Mega Bien, which isn’t surprising, since it’s delivered on rainbow-colored carts that wind their way through the high-energy dining room with the “brrrring, brrring” of a bicycle bell. But repeat James Beard nominee Dana Rodriguez saves the best for almost last, with a hot stone stew that’s become a staple of the printed Big Food menu. Starring fish stock amped with aji paste, the lusty soup cooks before your eyes thanks to a 600-degree stone set in the bowl. Loaded with shrimp, halibut and vegetables and accompanied by housemade tortilla chips to crumble on top, this dish is on a mission to make stew cool.

Spring Onion Tart Tatin at Julep
3258 Larimer Street

With its imaginative but loving interpretation of Southern cuisine, Julep is that delightful Southern restaurant where you can start with buttermilk biscuits and a cheese ball and move on to the sensational tart tatin I had last spring. Not sweet like its upside-down French apple namesake, Julep’s savory version featured mushrooms and sorghum-sweetened spring onions. This is one recipe I’d like to have (hint, hint).
Yes, these sliders are that good.
Danielle Lirette
Bologna Slider at FNG
3940 West 32nd Avenue

You wouldn’t believe how many times my thoughts have wandered to the bologna sliders at FNG, Troy Guard’s rocking neighborhood joint in Highland, since I reviewed it this summer. It’s a testament to the precise crafting of this silly little sandwich that even when the kitchen stopped making its own mortadella, the slider didn’t miss a beat. Every detail matters: the sweet, squishy roll, salty potato chip, assertive Swiss and dollop of Thousand Island dressing. And, of course, the meat, griddled until the edges slightly curl and crisp. This is one instance where bigger isn’t better: A full-sized bologna sandwich just wouldn’t have the same appeal.

Buttermilk Waffles at The Bindery
1817 Central Street

The Bindery has unfolded in waves, as veteran chef Linda Hampsten Fox has phased in her vision for a welcoming, all-day restaurant. Now more than a year old, it’s become a beloved neighborhood fixture. Drop by in the morning to enjoy cozy, buttery smells of baking pastries. Linger over dinner, sharing plates of barbecue octopus and pappardelle al cinghiale — a dish of wild boar and cocoa that’s an homage to her years running culinary tours in Tuscany. And by all means come for brunch, when morning sunshine floods through the tall windows and friends come together to plan their weekend fun. The dish I always order? Buttermilk waffles, which change with the seasons and show the same attention to detail the chef gives to nighttime fare. From creamed corn with blueberries to carrot waffles with fresh ginger, they are polished and fun, just like the Bindery itself.
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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz