When you visit The Mile High City, you'll still find plenty of places conducive to sightseeing - historic landmarks, world-class museums, theaters and parks and terrific shopping - but it's likely that you'll leave dishing about Denver's glorious restaurants.
Start your culinary rumblings in Larimer Square, where rollicking nightlife intersects with exhilarating restaurants like Rioja, a stylishly appointed Mediterranean-inspired dining den overseen by effusive chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski. Food-obsessed warriors nosh on accomplished dishes such as the cardamom-spiced Kurobuta pork belly, sashimi of tuna and tuna tartare, artichoke tortelloni and spice-rubbed Colorado lamb. Jasinski's high-minded devotion to unassailable ingredients and multifaceted flavors has elevated her to one of Denver's most revered chefs. Spectacular Italian dishes are on display at Osteria Marco a commodious Larimer Square basement establishment that exposes the high priest talents of cutting-edge kitchen magician Frank Bonanno, whose menu reaches culinary heights, starting with the creamy, housemade burrata and house-crafted bresaola and ciccioli and culminating with the egg-crowned carbonara pizza specked with pancetta and Pecorino.
Once upon a time, Lower Downtown Denver (LoDo) was a scruffy ‘hood bereft of major player restaurants, but a decade ago, when Vesta Dipping Grill a high decibel space with an eclectic, but artfully conceived creative American menu courtesy of top toque Matt Selby, threw open its doors, LoDo became a fashionable dining area for hipsters, foodie snobs and restaurant industry loons. A few blocks away, Marlowe's beams with the history and charm of the 16th Street Mall. A popular downtown lunch spot for years, Marlowe's is known for great steaks and chops, but offers Rocky Mountain specialties such as a Saloon Bison Burger and Buffalo Meatloaf.
Sugar fiends, celebrity stalkers, Uptown cognoscenti and ardent followers of the weekly, top-rated Food Network Challenge are flocking to pastry extraordinaire Keegan Gerhard's D-Bar Desserts a lovely sweet shack that Gerhard, along with his wife, Lisa Bailey, opened in 2008. Gerhard, who joined the Food Network in 2001 and films many of the Challenge shows locally at High Noon Entertainment, did time at some of the best restaurants in the country, including Chicago's Charlie Trotter's.
River North (RiNo)
Over the last few years, some of the hottest additions to the Denver foodie scene were born in RiNo. Work & Class and Cart-Driver were both featured as two of the Best New Restaurants in Denver for 2015 by 5280. The Source is a highly curated European-style artisan food market housed in an iconic 1880s ironworks building. Home to 15 independent merchants, The Source offers a one-stop shopping experience for the food-obsessed while also providing some of Denver's best artisans with an outlet for their crafts.
For Denver's finest neighborhood dining, head straight to the urban enclave of Governor's Park/Capitol Hill, a bustling thoroughfare located just minutes from downtown. Chef-owner Frank Bonanno received a hero's welcome from the culinary cognoscenti when he graced us with Mizuna, a charming New American restaurant fueled by passion, luxurious ingredients, and polished flavors. Right around the corner from Mizuna, you'll find Italian food aficionados jostling for seats at Luca D'Italia, another Bonanno restaurant. In this handsome space, patrons go giddy for the chef's upfront, vivacious pastas, like the white-truffled fusilli. Bonanno continually draws accolades from local and national critics and has previously been named a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist in the Outstanding Restaurateur category.
In the burgeoning Highland and Berkeley Park neighborhoods, Francophiles get their fix at Z Cuisine and Z Cuisine À Côté, a snug bistro/wine bar with tapestry-topped wooden chairs, creaky hardwood floors, and countrified tables. The fantastic French fare, prepared by chef-owner Patrick De Pays, is all about parlaying his passion for top-quality ingredients into truehearted dishes such as the duck leg confit tumbling with frisee, white beans, and a tomato and mushroom pesto ragout or perfect crepes blanketed with veal sausage, sautéed apples, and crème fraiche. Devotees of John Broening clamor to Duo, a fetching food temple flanked by wide planked hardwoods, exposed brick, rusted steel accents and a bustling exhibition kitchen. Broening's fuss-free American creations tout seasonally-charged, market fresh ingredients and restorative flavors. To wit: rosemary-marinated and sausage-stuffed Colorado lamb loin surrounded by a drift of farro and baby artichoke pilaf. At Café Brazil, a funky neighborhood hot spot, chef-owner Tony Zarlenga ministers to assertive palates, especially those with an affinity for hot Brazilian peppers, lime leaves, dende oil, coconut milk, and utterly fabulous creatures of the sea. Big, bold flavors wash up in the cazuela Colombiana, a tangle of large, tender prawns and ropes of chicken swaddled in a rich gorgonzola cheese sauce aromatic with the mellow sting of chilies.
An intrepid eater, Colorado native and food writer Lori Midson is a frequent contributor to Westword, Colorado AvidGolfer, CITY and Denver magazines, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys and the Southwest regional editor at Gayot.com. Midson, who holds a master's degree from the University of Colorado's School of Journalism, has also written for myriad other publications including the Rocky Mountain News, Sunset magazine, 5280 magazine, Executive Travel, Mobil Travel Guide and EnCompass.