A neighborhood restaurant is one that captures the essence of its surroundings, welcomes neighbors like family and offers a cozy, intimate experience as an escape from the pressures of the outside world. Far from the lights and noise of downtown, the best neighborhood eateries blend in with the homes, tree-lined streets and other shops within an easy walk or bike ride. Some — too good to keep secret — have become destinations, but they still reflect the heart and soul of where they were born. Here are the ten best neighborhood restaurants in Denver, in alphabetical order.
10. Bacon Social House
2434 West 44th Avenue
Cobbler's Corner has been a part of the Sunnyside neighborhood since the early 1900s. The row of shops got a makeover last year and new retail spaces were merged with the original building, which once housed a shoe repair shop. Bacon Social House rises above the original roofline but is set back in the courtyard off 44th Avenue, so its modern architectural style doesn't overwhelm. Despite the initial flashy impression, Bacon's menu and vibe suit Sunnyside well, with comfort food — think breakfast all day — and creative takes on home-style cooking from chef Brian Crow. Tuck into a warming bowl of shrimp and grits or just hang out at the sunny bar and wait for familiar faces to arrive.
9. Bistro Barbes
5021 East 28th Avenue
French cuisine with North African influences draws North Park Hill neighbors to this shoebox of a bistro. A garage door at the front opens when weather permits to open up the space a little, but the charm here lies in the feeling of dining with friends and family, even if you've never met the folks at the table next to yours. The menu changes frequently, but bold colors and artful platings turn heads as waitstaff ferry orders between tables. If you can't quite decide between the scallops or the duck, it's easy enough to spot something that catches your attention and just say "I'll have what they're having."
8. Cafe Marmotte
290 South Downing Street
Mark Reggiannini and Mairen Reagan took an aging Asian joint and transformed it into a delightful French bistro at the corner of South Downing and East Alameda. A four-seater bar is perfect for an after-work glass of wine and a few small plates, while a comfy banquette on the back wall does the trick for date night. The food is as warm and welcoming as the space itself, with a slightly modernized coq au vin that still retains its country appeal and short ribs so good they'll beckon you back for a mid-week meal.
7. Desmond Bar & Grill
2230 Oneida Street
Sean Kelly is the presiding ambassador of Denver's neighborhood restaurant scene, with past successes in the Aubergine Cafe, Claire de Lune and LoHi Steakbar. So Park Hill residents knew they were in good hands when the chef opened Desmond last year in his own neighborhood. His menu seamlessly blends bar-and-grill offerings like hot wings and a classic cheeseburger with Mediterranean noshes ranging from Italian nduja to Moroccan-influenced lamb sausage with pomegranate molasses. Nearly every plate rings in at less than $15, so you can mix and match and nibble the night away as if you're at a neighbor's cocktail party.
1313 East Sixth Avenue
Fruition's elegant dining room and elevated cuisine aren't exactly the stuff of the neighborhood grill where you throw on some shorts, round up the kids and go, but then again, the Country Club neighborhood nearby and the surrounding moneyed mansions are equally elegant and elevated. Fruition represents for many Denverites a special-occasion destination, but once you're there, the staff and surrounding put you at ease. Instead of fretting over weekend reservations for a birthday or anniversary, head over on a weekday and experience Fruition as the neighbors do: sophisticated, sure — but also relaxed and comfortable in a way that lets the straightforward flavors of the farm-to-table (chef/owner Alex Seidel's own farm, that is) menu shine.
Keep reading for five more of the best neighborhood spots.
5. The Plimoth
2335 East 28th Avenue
When the Plimoth opened at the end of 2013, it was one of the most isolated kitchens in town, taking up a demure corner spot a couple of blocks off the nearest major street in the little-known Skyland neighborhood just north of City Park. But word got out quickly that something special was happening in chef/owner Peter Ryan's kitchen. French technique informs an eclectic menu based on impeccable sourcing and interesting but grounded ingredient combinations. But an understated dining room with splashes of character keeps the Plimoth from ever approaching stuffy or daunting; instead, it's full of cozy neighborhood charm.
1109 Ogden Street
Before Denverites began flocking to the city's hot neighborhoods to seek out an ever-expanding roster of restaurants, chef/owner Teri Rippeto was quietly creating something that years later would become a nationwide culinary trend: a local eatery with a seasonal menu featuring produce grown on regional family farms. What was once considered shabby-chic is simply now a well-worn classic, at least as far as the decor is concerned. There's nothing worn or shabby about the menu, though, which continues to impress with bright, fresh flavors and thoughtful combinations. Potager may have come across as a bold and hip experiment in the late '90s, but the neighborhood has caught up with the restaurant's laid-back but forward-thinking attitude.
2267 Kearney Street
A combination of inconspicuous name and location, tucked into sleepy a Kearney Street shopping center, equals a well-kept secret for Park Hill residents. But Tables, owned by chefs Amy Vitale and Dustin Barrett, has been a local favorite for years, with a dining room that welcomes like a residential cottage and a menu that could be the star of any urban haute haunt. Phrases like "juniper-persimmon chutney" and "sunchoke-Parmesan agnolotti" dot the menu, but the intimidation factor remains low thanks to warm service and soulful food that belies the intricate descriptions. Tables proves that a kitchen needn't rely on burgers and pizza to fill seats year after year.
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SHOW ME HOW
295 South Pennsylvania Street
Telegraph, which opened last summer in the building that had once been Cafe|Bar, is the second restaurant from Christopher Sargent, who brought Brazen to West Highland the previous year. Sargent's first order of business was to move the bar to the front room of the space, creating a more welcoming impression for visitors. Dark finishes and warm light fixtures over each table make guests feel like they're on their own little islands, making dinner seem special and intimate, even in tight proximity with other diners. Approachable dishes like roasted half-chicken, salmon over risotto and a New York strip with potatoes and mushrooms share space with more playful creations like octopus with sweet-and-sour collards or squid-ink vermicelli with bay scallops and Fresno chiles. And weekend brunch, especially on the enclosed patio, definitely draws the neighbors.
1. The Wooden Table
2500 East Orchard Road
Greenwood Village is its own little warren of residential neighborhoods, shopping centers and office parks. Within that warren, the corner of East Orchard Road and South University Boulevard holds a mid-sized strip mall surrounded by older homes, lush parks and winding greenbelts. For suburbia, it's a surprisingly bike- and pedestrian-friendly corner, giving a little credence to the "village" part of Greenwood Village. The area is also fortunate to have the Wooden Table, which opened in 2011 to offer a chef-driven menu and an air of independence as an alternative to more corporate spots nearby. Housemade pastas and Italian-inspired mains balance culinary excellence with comfort, making for a dining experience worth repeating again and again — the perfect formula for maintaining a neighborhood restaurant for the long haul.