Best of Denver

The Ten Best Restaurants in RiNo

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Osaka Ramen
2611 Walnut Street
RiNo denizens and Denverites descending on the neighborhood have gotten used to the unassuming entrance to Osaka Ramen. They know that heading down the stairs into the austere basement space leads to rich, complex ramen bowls made with long-simmered broths and perfectly springy noodles. The milky tonkotsu captures the essence of pork and then adds a jiggly egg and bright notes of pickled ginger, while the salty shio and shoyu versions do the same for chicken, with deft flourishes of mushroom, scallions and bitter greens. Although ramen is the star here, chef/owner Jeff Osaka's fine-dining experience shines through in his list of small plates: a simple bowl of chilled green beans dashed with sesame, addictive bacon-fried rice and some of the best fried chicken in town. Be sure to save room for Osaka's wife’s mochi doughnuts — she'll be very disappointed if you don't.

The Populist
3163 Larimer Street

The Populist may be named for the common man, but the food is anything but common. One of the first eateries to land on a stretch of Larimer Street that seemed all but deserted back in 2012, the restaurant, operated by Noah Price and chef Jonathan Power, still exudes a hip vibe amid a slew of newer arrivals. You never know quite what Power – a philosophy major in college – will add as a flourish to each dish, all free of the constraints of first course, second course and sides. Plates are meant to be shared, so you can order two courses or seven, traveling from France to Korea to Latin America and back.

The Preservery
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. The restaurant balances the vibe of the turbo-thrusted neighborhood around it with an overarching Colorado farm-to-table ethic. 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 places you’ll want to return to even after you’ve checked them off your list. The seasonally inspired menu is full of choice – think octopus to vegan salads to wagyu – but salads and desserts are particularly strong. Fried green tomatoes are plated off-center in a white bowl dotted with aged balsamic and green purée cleverly made with nasturtium leaves, cucumbers and agar. In another salad, roasted asparagus is topped with bacon, a Scotch egg and pickled cantaloupe. This is cooking for right now, in this adventurous, booming heart of the New West.

Rebel Restaurant
3763 Wynkoop Street

From the outside, Rebel Restaurant looks a lot like the dive bars that once occupied the nondescript building; in fact, you can still see the faded letters for Flynn’s Inn, the occupant several incarnations back, on the brick. But what’s happening inside symbolizes just how far Denver’s restaurant scene has come over the past few years. This is food that challenges rather than comforts, with everything from half a pig’s head to whole octopus to creamed chipped beef made with heart and garnished with gold leaf. In a nod to the chef-owners’ Ukrainian-American heritage, the ever-changing menu always includes some kind of pierogi, but rather than stuffing them with traditional fillings, the kitchen changes things up with foie and mushrooms or pork green chile. Like the dishes themselves, the concept isn’t for everyone, but its authenticity and unpredictability are refreshing in an era when too many menus look the same.

Work & Class
2500 Larimer Street

Like Hop Alley, Work & Class won our Best New Restaurant award the year that it opened. But nearly three years later, there's something about this American/Latin American eatery that still seems so right now — and so right, especially if you like rooting for the underdog. Delores Tronco, owner-buckstopper, as she jokingly calls herself, left a job in communications to take a risk in the food industry. Tony Maciag, owner-general manager, hails from Detroit, an underdog with a capital U. Dana Rodriguez, owner-executive chef, grew up on a farm in Mexico without running water or electricity, moved to the United States with three young daughters, and worked her way up from dishwasher at Panzano to chef de cuisine at Bistro Vendôme. Equal parts humble and audacious, Work & Class captures the spirit of the upstart RiNo district that has sprung up from an industrial zone to become one of the city's top dining destinations.

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