Denver Restaurant Week is upon us, Mile High denizens; from February 24 until March 5, hundreds of this city's restaurants will be offering special multi-course menus for just $25, $35 or $45 per person, giving us all a chance to sample our way across this dining scene for a fraction of the usual price. Pick your places wisely by checking out the menus posted on organizer Visit Denver's website, then meander over to the tips for making the most of this momentous annual occasion: book early (too late for that, we're sorry to say), dine often, tip generously.
Got that? Good. Now here's another tip: Use this ten-day period to eat at restaurants that are NOT participating in Restaurant Week. Look, we don't begrudge you a deal — we like a value as much as the next discount-code enthusiast. But know that Restaurant Week brings to its participating eateries hordes of diners, making it hard to drop by for a casual dinner. Moreover, many kitchens don't offer their regular menus during this period, so you're beholden to whatever multi-course set is on offer, which is not always the best representation of the place's regular shtick.
More positively, Restaurant Week tends to ease the tension on reservation books at really good restaurants that choose not to participate, making it slightly easier to land a table. Take advantage of a thinner crowd at one of these, the ten best restaurants NOT participating in Denver Restaurant Week.
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Come evening, walk-ins struggle to find a seat anywhere at Acorn, despite a two-level dining room and a fairly spacious bar, so your best bet is to swipe a reservation, even if you're banking on lighter-than-usual crowds. The menu here is anchored by shared plates, many of which do a turn in a wood-fired oven; we never fail to order the shrimp and grits nor the tartare. Start your dinner with one of the bar's excellent cocktails, then maneuver over to the well-curated wine list for a glass or a bottle. If you miss your opportunity to get in here during restaurant week, note that it's also easier to score a table if you come during lunch, when you might also get access to Acorn's doughnuts, only fifteen of which are available daily.
1555 Blake Street
Neither of Lon Symensma's Denver restaurants are participating in Denver Restaurant Week, so consider this your cue to dip into the Southeast Asian street food at Cho77 or the fancier flavors of ChoLon, his flagship. Faced with that choice, we'd take the opportunity to head downtown to snack on ChoLon's now-iconic French onion soup dumplings, Kaya toast and kaffir-lime-spiked Brussels sprouts, then move into some dill-imbued Cha Ca La fish tacos or Korean hot fried-chicken sliders.
249 Columbine Street
Departure was one of our best new restaurants of 2016, and it seems to have made plenty of other patrons' lists, too: The hotel restaurant is perpetually packed. Haven't been yet? Don't miss the wings, the shiitake bao, the bimbimbap or the crab-Chinese sausage XO fried rice on the dinner menu; we're fans of the dim sum cart and coconut pancakes come brunch. This spot also offers an excellent chance to dabble in sake — the menu is helpfully descriptive — and we're suckers for the Art of Shadowboxing cocktail, a stiff blend of reposado tequila, sherry, spicy Ancho Reyes and apricot liqueur.
3500 Larimer Street
If your party is smaller than six, Hop Alley takes no reservations, and given how bumping this place always is, there's no guarantee that even Restaurant Week is going to shorten your wait. (Ditto for Uncle, owner Tommy Lee's ramen restaurant in Lower Highland.) But this is a good week to give it a shot, and besides, the bar is always open for walk-ins. We recommend the soft-shell crabs, chilled tofu, dan dan mian, steamed eggplant and a suan ni pork chop. Take a look at the cider list, too — an unsung bit of the drinks menu that deserves more attention.
Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop Street
When Mercantile's daytime provision shop morphs into a sleek, nighttime restaurant, it becomes one of our favorite places to sit with a glass of wine. The team here turns out a long list of well-executed and hearty dishes — including a killer bone marrow — but we always find ourselves lingering in the pasta section, be it for a little pappardelle with rabbit or homemade spaghetti with lobster. Pasta is also one element that lures us back to Alex Siedel's other restaurant, Fruition. If you haven't had the legendary carbonara there, you might also consider using the Restaurant Week reprieve to book a table there.
Keep reading for more options for avoiding Denver Restaurant Week madness...
3033 Brighton Boulevard
Another entry on our list of the best new restaurants of 2016, Troy Guard's Mister Tuna draws influence from all over the Pacific, from Hawaii to Vietnam. The seafood is the power move at this swanky den, so don't overlook the raw bar as you put together your meal — ceviche combos always stand out. We've also sung the praises of the carrot agnolotti, the pork collar and the pizzas, and we like the pop of yogurt and lime when paired with sweet yam.
1487 South Pearl Street
Sushi Den is a Denver dining stalwart: it's been at the top of its game since the mid-’80s, nursing a reputation built on exacting attention to detail and the highest-quality fish. Regulars come to the consistently busy restaurant for fish flown direct from a Fukuoka market, an exotic and ever-changing collection of species you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the States, on the coast or no. You should follow suit and ask a server or sushi chef to guide you if you feel lost.
2930 Umatilla Street
When Sushi Ronin came online last year, it immediately entered the top echelon of sushi restaurants in this town. Find a pristine selection of seafood on this menu, as well as some rare treats like monkfish liver and Spanish mackerel. If you've not yet been, though, your best bit is to nab a sushi-bar seat and treat yourself to an omakase experience, letting chef Corey Baker and his team take you on a journey through the things they do best.
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To the Wind Bistro
3333 East Colfax Avenue
This wee Colfax cubby takes no reservations, which means if you don't get there early, you could be out of luck. To the small group of patrons who do score seats each night, Royce Oliveira serves ambitious and inventive takes on comforting classics, like a warm ham sandwich, osso buco and buttermilk chicken. To the Wind's nooks and crannies make it a good restaurant for romance. And when those aren't our motives, we like the seats at the counter, where you can peer down into Oliveira's tiny kitchen while you eat.
1160 Madison Street
Jeff Osaka's reprisal of his first Denver restaurant, twelve, returns him to his roots of seasonal cooking, though he's not adhering to the strict confines of a month to change up his menu. At 12@Madison, he's instead letting the ebb and flow of supply guide variation. In the winter months, that means comforting dishes good for steeling you against the cold; now's a great time to get over there and sample your way through rainbow carrots, the shortrib raviolo and a little pork belly with red cabbage. More incentive: From 4 to 6 p.m., 12@Madison offers Afternoon Delights, a menu specially crafted for kids.