Chef/partner Aniedra Nichols in the dining room at Fish N Beer.
98 Steele Street
The new Matsuhisa in Cherry Creek — one of many in chef Nobu Matsuhisa's international collection — is everything we expected from the seasoned chef, who combines Japanese tradition and culinary artistry with worldly flavors. The space is opulent and stunning, the reservation list tight, and the plates executed with a painter'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.
3033 Brighton Boulevard
After years of opening all manner of restaurants, executive chef/partner Troy Guard returns to his roots with Mister Tuna, a high-energy spot in RiNo’s Industry building. And what a fun restaurant it is — but not in the default-casual way, with free-flowing craft beer, wings and cornhole on the lawn. Here the best tables are inside (not on the patio), where the room comes into its own as night falls. Under the cover of darkness, the long, narrow space becomes increasingly grown-up, with a wall-sized portrait of the chef's mom overlooking the dining room and a black-and-gold color scheme that totters between sexy and elegant. Divided into the categories of raw bar, appetizers and entrees, the menu reflects influences ranging from Hawaiian to Vietnamese to Indian. This being Guard’s house, the most memorable fare involves the sea: kampachi with mint, Thai basil, chiles and cilantro; ahi poke with buttery avocado and quinoa; and corvina with kimchi-tossed wheat berries. But other dishes shine, too, and many capture the best of Guard’s fusion-rich background, including carrot agnolotti with a Thai carrot-herb salad, grilled pizzas and rotisserie pork collar with lavender mustard.
1560 Boulder Street
Mizu was another latecomer, opening the first weekend of December. According to owner Hong Lee, an izakaya is a Japanese bar with tapas-style dishes, small plates meant to be eaten with alcoholic beverages. "Traditional izakayas don't have a sushi bar," he adds, but Mizu does — which is a good thing for customers, since it shows off seafood from Lee's extensive network of purveyors that he's built up while running eight other restaurants throughout the metro area. Beyond sushi, meats and fish grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal are among the draws, but don't miss the foie gras or the housemade tofu, served chilled and drizzled with a salty-sweet sauce — so smooth and creamy it's like savory soft-serve ice cream.
3040 Blake Street
Perhaps no other restaurant captures the direction of Denver’s food scene as much as the Preservery, the brainchild of wife-husband duo Whitney and Obe Ariss. To wit: The Preservery is in RiNo, the turbo-thrusted neighborhood that’s the envy of many a city planner. Gratuity is built into the pricing, in line with the owners’ socially minded outlook. Live music happens on a regular basis, including classical piano from Obe himself. The Arisses are clearly the heart and soul of the place, but it is chef de cuisine Brendan Russell who translates their vision and lifts the Preservery out of the realm of the super-trendy and into the much narrower category of memorable dinners you'll want to experience over and over. The seasonally inspired menu is full of choices – think octopus to vegan salads to wagyu – but salads and desserts are particularly strong. Russell spent time at Frasca Food and Wine
as well as Foliage, a Michelin two-star establishment in London, and his background shows in accents like cilantro purée alongside buttermilk panna cotta, earthy turmeric to temper the sweetness of onion jam, and edible flowers. This is cooking for right now, in this adventurous, booming heart of the New West.
The Way Back
4132 West 38th Avenue
Is the Way Back a great bar or an understated restaurant with a secretly stunning menu? We don't mind thinking of it as both — and the secret won't be kept for long, since the West Highland wonder also won our best cocktail bar award
this year. Balanced yet creative cocktails, a surprising slate of ciders and a thoughtful wine list add to the bar's appeal, while a series of seasonal small plates — many with vegetables as the stars — bolster a few larger entrees, including an always-comforting roasted half-chicken. If you've taken our suggestion and headed over for drinks, now's the time to find your way back for an excellent dinner, too.