In her review of Brazen Neighborhood Eatery, Gretchen Kurtz extols the chef's counter, where she says tastes are shared "like secrets," food is delivered by cooks who describe it in great detail, and amuse-bouche, a treat usually given to insiders, are the norm. But Brazen isn't the only spot in town where the chef's counter rivals the dining room as prime seating. Here are a dozen of our favorites, listed in alphabetical order -- except for number one, which was named Best Chef's Counter in the Best of Denver 2014. Will it win again?
See also: Best Chef's Counter 2104: Rioja
12) Acorn 3350 Brighton Boulevard 720-542-3721 The nut apparently doesn't fall far from the tree; when Steven Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton opened Acorn in the Source, they installed a chef's counter just as they had at Oak at Fourteenth, their original eatery in Boulder. Both restaurants also share a love of wood-fired cooking, as evidenced by the leaping flames from the grill and the scent of coals from the domed oven that turns out exquisite seasonal bites, like delicately charred octopus or oak-kissed petrale sole. Grab a stool and enjoy the show while you work your way through a selection of can't-miss small plates.
11) Blackbelly Market 1606 Conestoga Street, Boulder 303-247-1000 You don't need to search the DVR for back episodes of Top Chef to catch chef Hosea Rosenberg in action: You just need to secure a seat at the counter of his new, farm-driven restaurant in east Boulder, where you can watch a Wagyu steak turned into tartare with a few passes of the chef's knife or see hangar steaks get a finishing sear before being plated with zesty chimichurri.
10) Brazen Neighborhood Eatery 4450 West 38th Avenue 720-638-1242 Come early to nab one of the six counter seats at this bustling restaurant in west Highland, and you'll be so close to the action, you'll feel like you've just stepped into a reality cooking show. Unlike some chef's counters, which overlook stations so quiet you can't help but wonder where the real work is done, this one offers an up-close-and-personal view. Here you'll feel the heat, hear pans clanking as they're yanked on and off burners and in and out of the oven, and enjoy every minute of your meal, with seasonally-driven small plates by chef Lance Barto. Vegetables in particular get lots of love.
9) ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro 1555 Blake Street 303-353-5223 The chef's counter isn't the obvious place to enjoy a meal at ChoLon. Sitting here means turning your back on the tall-ceilinged, large-windowed dining room that has all the glamour of the best big-city restaurants. By doing so, however, you're privy to a different kind of magic. This is where chef Lon Symensma and his team craft the dishes that have wowed us from day one: kaya toast, soup dumplings, Brussels sprouts with kaffir lime leaves and more.
Keep reading for more of the best chef's counters in Denver.
8) Lower48 Kitchen 2020 Lawrence Street 303-942-0262 Lower48 Kitchen has made its reputation turning out intricately prepared and artistically plated dishes in small sizes; it's attention to detail earned Lower48 the nod for Best New Restaurant in the 2014 Best of Denver. The menu changes weekly to highlight the best available meats and produce. A seat at the chef's table will give you the chance to get the details of how each dish is prepared by Alex Figura or one of his crew.
7) Mercantile Dining & Provision 1701 Wynkoop Street, #155 720-460-3733 It's easy to miss the chef's counter at Mercantile Dining & Provision, which is tucked behind the bar in a traffic-way bustling with servers picking up plates. But it pays to seek it out. Seats here reward you with views of one of the biggest operations you'll see from a chef's counter, with an army of cooks tasting, sauteeing and plating the exquisite fare we've come to expect from acclaimed chef Alex Seidel.
6) Oak at Fourteenth 1400 Pearl Street, Boulder 303-444-3622 Nothing beats a fireplace for making a room feel cozy, which is why the chef's counter at Oak at Fourteenth -- Acorn's sister restaurant in Boulder -- holds such appeal. Here, though, the oak-fed fire burning a stone's throw from the counter does more than set a comfy vibe; it lends a wood-fired sizzle to many of the dishes sent out by chef-owner Steven Redzikowski -- not including the ever-cool (and popular) kale-apple salad, of course.
5) Panzano 909 17th Street 303-296-3525 Panzano is not your usual hotel restaurant. Chef Elise Wiggins and her team at Panzano have as their motto "Chi mangia bene, viva bene" (Those who eat well, live well), and although we can't guarantee how you'll live, or even sleep, at the Hotel Monaco, you can certainly live it up in the elegant, yet comfortable dining room that specializes in perfectly prepared northern Italian cuisine. The best place to enjoy it? The sleek chef's counter that faces a kitchen big enough to accommodate Wiggins's outsized talent and personality.
Keep reading for more of the best chef's counters in Denver.
4) Sarto's 2900 West 25th Avenue 303-455-1400 People often mistake it for the bar, but Sarto's sleek cicchetti bar (aka chef's counter) promises far more than drinks. Here, executive chef Brian Laird starts your meal with conversation to learn your likes and dislikes, then crafts a multi-course, off-menu meal just for you, treating you to the best this new Italian temple has to offer.
3) To the Wind Bistro 3333 East Colfax Avenue 303-316-3333 tothewindbistro.com Knee-to-knee at To the Wind Bistro's tight counter, you might wonder if you've slipped into a family's kitchen. And in way, you have. Run by husband-wife duo Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson, this tiny restaurant puts out big flavors in a space smaller than what you'll find in many homes. Not that the seasonally-inspired fare is anything like what you make at home -- unless you're the kind to whip up pheasant pate and lamb osso buco.
2) The Village Cork 1300 South Pearl Street 303-282-8399 The Village Cork just reopened in November after a four-month remodel that included a gleaming new exhibition kitchen and a chef's counter with several seats. While the dining room isn't much bigger than before the upgrade, the open kitchen and counter seating give the rustic and cozy corner eatery a more open and welcoming vibe. Relax with a glass of wine as the Cork's kitchen crew whips up seasonal dishes like traditional cassoulet with duck leg confit or sole with a kale and baby scallop salad touched with a bright grapefruit vinaigrette.
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SHOW ME HOW
1) Rioja 1431 Larimer Street 303-820-2282 Chef Jennifer Jasinski has had a stellar few years, starring on Top Chef Masters , winning a James Beard Award in 2013 and opening a fourth restaurant, Stoic & Genuine, with partner Beth Gruitch in Union Station last year. But long before Rioja celebrated its tenth anniversary last November, Jasinski and her staff were ready for prime time, showing their confidence and culinary mastery in front of inquisitive diners who grabbed seats at Rioja chef's counter, where they could witness flames shooting up from burners and hear the cook-speak banter that enlivens a kitchen. And while Jasinski doesn't spend as much time in her open galley as she used to, space at the counter is still booked days in advance by foodniks eager for an entertaining, and far more intimate, alternative to a traditional table -- and a front-row seat at the best show in town. (Alert: Because of a renovation project, Rioja is closed until February 4 -- when it will reopen with a new look and a couple fewer seats at the chef's counter.)