When you visit The Mile High City, you'll 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 Downtown Denver's Larimer Square, where rollicking nightlife intersects with exhilarating restaurants like Rioja, a stylishly appointed Mediterranean-inspired dining den overseen by chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski. Food-obsessed Denverites nosh on accomplished dishes such as the Aspen Ridge ribeye, rabbit sausage flatbread and spice-rubbed Colorado lamb loin. 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 showcases the 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 (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 American menu — threw open its doors, LoDo became a fashionable dining area for hipsters, foodies and restaurant industry folk. If locally sourced ingredients top your menu wish list, Coohills defines farm-to-table cuisine. Chef Tom Coohill prepares award-winning dishes paired with a broad selection of boutique wines, microbrewed beer and hand-crafted cocktails. Reserve a seat at the Chef's Counter and Chef Coohill will cut loose in the kitchen and create a unique tasting menu for you and your guests. 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 also offers Colorado specialties such as a Saloon Bison Burger and Rocky Mountain Trout Almondine.
Sugar fiends and celebrity stalkers alike flock to pastry chef extraordinaire Keegan Gerhard's D Bar Denver, a lovely Uptown sweet shack that Gerhard, along with his wife, Lisa Bailey, opened in 2008. Gerhard, former host of Food Network Challenge, did time at some of the best restaurants in the country, including Chicago's Charlie Trotter's. Want to grab a bite before you dig into dessert? Stop into Steuben's for a helping of comfort food, including deviled eggs, fried chicken and the excellent green chili cheeseburger. Or, if you're up for a little competition, head next door to Ace Eat Serve for a game of ping pong, complemented with inspired Asian fare like spicy pork ramen.
Cherry Creek is well known to shopaholics, but it's also a must-visit destination for food lovers. Football fanatics (and anyone who craves a great steak) will want to visit Elway's, a wildly successful venture from current Denver Broncos general manager and former quarterback John Elway. Matsuhisa Denver is the latest addition to acclaimed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's dining dynasty. His new-style Japanese cuisine draws from his classical culinary training in Tokyo and his travels across the globe. For Italian fare, say ciao to the decadent five-course Chef's Tasting Menu at Barolo Grill, which highlights seasonal dishes from Chef Darrel Truett. Or browse the crowd-pleasing offerings at Kona Grill, where "Konavores" can choose from everything from a Cuban sandwich, to jambalaya, to Pad Thai, to sushi. Looking for the perfect breakfast or brunch spot to kick off a day of shopping? Look no further than Second Home Kitchen + Bar, inside the JW Marriott.
River North Art District (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 — including a bakery, a cheese and spice shop, a specialty liquor and wine store and a butcher shop — while also providing some of Denver's best artisans with an outlet for their crafts. After you've picked up your provisions for the week, stop in for tacos at Comida or a seasonal salad or sandwich at Acorn.
For some of 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, 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 been named a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist multiple times in the Outstanding Restaurateur category.
In the burgeoning Highlands and Berkeley Park neighborhoods, Francophiles get their fix at 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 Dupays, 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. Duo is a fetching food temple flanked by wide planked hardwoods, exposed brick, rusted steel accents and a bustling exhibition kitchen. The 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.