Best of Denver

The Ten Best Fine-Casual Restaurants — A Big Culinary Trend in Denver

For food as fresh, delicious and reasonably priced as this lamb-and-pasta dish at Dio Mio, think fast-fine.
For food as fresh, delicious and reasonably priced as this lamb-and-pasta dish at Dio Mio, think fast-fine. Mark Antonation
Over the past decade or two, the fast-casual model has taken the restaurant industry by storm — much of which has emanated from Denver. But while you can find plenty of quick, easy and semi-wholesome meals for folks on the go, there's now a push to sit down and enjoy not just your surroundings, but elevated food as well. Enter the fine-casual, or fast-fine, restaurant, a place dedicated to really good meals but without the pomp and ceremony of a classic sit-down space. Denver is on the forefront of this dining style, too. Here are ten of the best places in town that fit well in this description, presented in alphabetical order.
1. Biju's Little Curry Shop
4279 Tennyson Street, 303-975-6886
1441 26th Street, 303-292-3500

Curry in a hurry should be a thing we all experience, and Biju Thomas's multi-location, fast-casual concept has the Denver market cornered. Each hearty bowl comes packed with South Indian flavors, from masala beef to vindaloo chicken to coconut curry. Unlike the other places on the fine-casual list, Biju's plays to the fast-casual side as well. But given the uniqueness of the idea and the made-from-scratch ethic Thomas employs, the point-and-serve model fits right in. Chase your lunch or dinner with a house-crafted chai tea and add a little spice to your life as you take in the brightly colored, lively surroundings.
2. Brider
1644 Platte Street

Chef Steven Redzikowski opened this rotisserie eatery in 2015, and unlike his fine-dining establishments Acorn and Oak on Fourteenth in Boulder, this one allows guests a more casual approach. To start with, you order the rotisserie chicken, wagyu French dip, pear-and-Gorgonzola salad or macaroni and cheese from the counter, or pick up one of the pre-made sandwiches in the cold case up front. No matter which way you go, the food has the same quality as one would expect from a Redzikowski restaurant, and the coffee, cocktails, beer and wine showcase the excellent tastes of beverage director Bryan Dayton. Once you decide on a delectable dish from the menu, you simply order and pay. In return, the cashier will give a number so you can plop down wherever you want to sit and wait for someone to bring you that pint of local beer, rotisserie-roasted lamb leg and slice of daily cheesecake. Prices geared toward everyday dining mean that you can head to this LoHi spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. Cart-Driver
2500 Larimer Street

When this lauded pizza shop opened in RiNo during the summer of 2014, it may have helped kick off the fine-casual trend. Not only did the restaurant serve gourmet wood-fired pizzas, fresh oysters, batched cocktails and wine on tap, but everything on the menu is of the highest quality. Guests can order carefully constructed pies like the clam with pancetta and roasted garlic, the mushroom with crème fraîche, frisse and onion, or the signature pie with sausage, kale, mozzarella and chile flakes. The only trick: scoring one of the 25 seats in this 640-square-foot shipping-container space. Once you do, you'll find the experience quick, easy and delicious.

click to enlarge Food this beautiful comes in a quick-service setting at Chop Shop. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Food this beautiful comes in a quick-service setting at Chop Shop.
Danielle Lirette
4. Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
4990 East Colfax Avenue

With a name that includes the words "casual urban eatery," one might not have high hopes for the quality of the food. But at Chop Shop in the Park Hill neighborhood, chef Clint Wangsnes has turned nonchalant into elegant. The menu gets highlighted by seasonal fare; a recent dinner slate included 48-hour short ribs, lemon adobo chicken with vegetables, grilled-salmon pad Thai, and smoked chicken pastrami on grilled rye. Each dish gets artistically plated to look as if it were being served in a more upscale establishment. Wangsnes has also made the space sustainable by utilizing disposable bamboo flatware, glasses made from used wine bottles, and washcloths in the bathrooms in lieu of paper towels (classy and environmentally friendly). Lowry residents can look forward to their own Chop Shop opening in the former Salty Rita's space this month.

click to enlarge The same team that operates the elegant Barolo Grill also runs Chow Morso inside Avanti F&B. - LINNEA COVINGTON
The same team that operates the elegant Barolo Grill also runs Chow Morso inside Avanti F&B.
Linnea Covington
5. Chow Morso inside Avanti Food & Beverage
3200 Pecos Street

Some would argue that the entirety of Avanti reflects the fast-casual concept, and they would be right. But in the context of fine-casual, Ryan Fletter and chef Darrel Truett's Chow Morso shines. The Barolo Grill's team cooks up Italian classics like housemade tagliatelle, slow-roasted Bolognese, fresh pesto, handmade gnocchi and creamy gelato in seasonal flavors. You might have to wait ten minutes or so for a plate of the steaming pasta, but a short delay is all part of the game — and well worth it.

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Linnea Covington moved back to Denver after spending thirteen years in New York City and couldn't be happier to be home, exploring the Mile High and eating as much as possible, especially when it involves pizza or ice cream.
Contact: Linnea Covington