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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.
Chef Troy Guard has been blazing culinary trails in Denver for more than a decade, and while his taco-focused Los Chingones and breakfast-fosued HashTAG are popular, it might be Guard and Grace that's most craveable. Its crimson slabs of beef are served in warm-but-modern surroundings offset by a beautifully appointed bar and lounge, with a chef’s counter that peers over the expansive exhibition kitchen and elevated, crescent-shaped booths that overlook the dining room walled with floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen pushes all the right buttons: delectable starters, including oak-fried octopus; a raw bar glistening with oysters, crab legs and lobsters; and grill-etched steaks dribbling with juice. A towering, glass-enclosed cellar displays upwards of 4,000 bottles of wine.
Mint, located in the heart of downtown Denver just off the 16th Street Mall, embodies the laid-back spirit of familiar Northern Indian cuisine: curries, tandoori chicken, samosas and vegetarian dishes that zigzag from roasted eggplant to spice-laced potatoes and cauliflower. Still, while most of the menu is traditional, the kitchen digs a little deeper, turning out goat in every guise, along with Chettinad curries from South India. The space, a siren song of bright red tablecloths and tufted banquettes offset by mint green-accented walls, is cheery, as is the service.
“It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing,” sang jazz icon Duke Ellington in 1931. He’d probably be singing the same tune if he stepped into Dazzle, a supper club in downtown Denver’s Theatre District that jazzes up the city’s music scene with local, regional and national vocalists and groups who know how to belt out Ellington, Ella and Louis with style. In addition to the performance spaces, there’s a counter that’s reserved for old vinyl, plus a sidewalk patio, a full bar and a large kitchen that dispenses a full slate of foodstuffs that range from seafood paella and sandwiches to pizzas and the venue’s famed macaroni and cheese.
With its fresh-baked breads, refined housemade pastas, hearty main dishes and sensational happy hour, Panzano, a Northern Italian restaurant attached to the Hotel Monaco, hits all the high marks. The open kitchen (snag a seat at the chef’s counter for a more personal experience) turns out lovely food that bursts with flavor and the comforting elements of nuanced Italian cooking. The relaxed but elegant setting gets a boost from the perimeter of large windows that yields views of the city skyline.
There’s no shortage of culinary enthusiasm on downtown Denver’s historic Larimer Square, where rollicking nightlife intersects with exhilarating restaurants like Rioja, a sultry set-dressed Spanish- and Mediterranean-inspired stunner that cemented the stardom of Jennifer Jasinski, a James Beard Foundation award-winner for Best Chef Southwest.
Excellent pizzas are on display at Osteria Marco, a commodious restaurant that showcases the wide-ranging talents of chef Frank Bonanno, whose menu parades creamy burrata, house-crafted bresaola and ciccioli and a terrific egg-crowned carbonara pizza specked with pancetta and Pecorino.
Tamayo, a modern Mexican restaurant from celeb chef Richard Sandoval, is hailed for its creative adaptations of regional south-of-the-border cuisine, extensive tequila syllabus and high-design rooftop patio, a partially enclosed expanse that’s prime real estate for eyeballing those mesmerizing Colorado sunsets and the illuminated light display that blankets Larimer Square and the city skyline.
Despite its chain status, The Capital Grille, a longstanding Larimer Square steakhouse, evokes a genuine sense of personalization underscored by an appropriately posh atmosphere enriched with plush leather booths, gleaming dark woods, burnished accents and ambient lighting. Spend some time studying the extensive wine list — 5,000 bottles strong — to seal the deal.
Longtime locals still remember Lower Downtown (LoDo) as a scruffy ‘hood bereft of major player restaurants, but LoDo has become a fashionable dining area for hipsters, the food cognoscenti and restaurant industry heavyweights.
The riveting neighborhood’s culinary gathering place is Denver Union Station, which underwent a glorious renovation in 2014, inspiring high expectations from foodniks and barflies who waited with bated breath for the unveiling of the historic train depot’s culinary offerings; they weren’t disappointed. Morning travelers hit up Snooze for the profoundly delicious pineapple upside-down pancakes, while Stoic & Genuine, a restaurant from chef Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, trumpets nuanced seafood and fish creations that rival its coastal counterparts. From the same team comes Ultreia, a Spanish and Portuguese-inspired eatery that offers tapas and shared plates called "pintxos" alongside crafted gin tonics. Mercantile Dining & Provision, a New American restaurant from James Beard Award-winner Alex Seidel (Fruition) features a barista counter and market that sells hand-crafted jams, spreads and pickled vegetables, along with sandwiches and terrific cheeses (many of which are produced at Seidel’s local creamery).
If you have a lust for libations, flash back to the golden age of swanky bars at The Cooper Lounge, perched on the mezzanine overlooking the 100-year-old great hall, or commune in the historic ticketing office that’s now the Terminal Bar, a festive space that pours Colorado craft brews, cocktails and wine.
As Denver Union Station has developed, so has its demand for restaurants and bars, and Three Saints Revival, a gorgeously appointed watering hole and restaurant just behind Union Station, at the boot of Hotel Indigo, wraps you in its warm embrace. The lofty space is a riot of colors and patterns that will attract your attention, but of course you’re really there for the food. Chef John Broening creates a killer seasonal menu of small plates that could include a super-refreshing watermelon salad with feta and cucumber, some of the best meatballs in town and the house favorite shrimp and chorizo.
Nearby, ChoLon, a fashionable Pan-Asian restaurant from chef-owner Lon Symensma, walks the wok and talks the talk. Reserve a seat at the chef’s counter to witness Symensma’s culinary wizardry, which often involves airborne flames: wok-tossed Brussels sprouts mingling with ground pork and makrut lime leaves, for example. The kitchen is best known for its soup dumplings.
From its subtle nautical theme to its fiercely seasonal menu of sustainable seafood, Jax Fish House, a hub of energetic revelry, is a Denver favorite for slurping oysters, although the rest of the menu — crab legs, lobster, clam chowder, charred Spanish octopus and Alaskan halibut — is every bit as crowd-pleasing.
Shelves stacked with mason jars brimming with pickled vegetables and fruits, produce and herbs sprouting on the garden patio, an in-house butchery program and dry-aging room, mushrooms growing in an illuminated indoor terrarium, and a communal table constructed from recycled trees creates the landscape of Urban Farmer, a hip steakhouse inside the historic Oxford Hotel. The kitchen staff also maintains a rooftop bee colony, and the honey finds its way into salad dressings, butters, desserts and starters like foie gras. Shellfish towers, along with chicken, fish, lamb chops and pork chops, round out the food menu. The beverage scroll, bounded in a leather book, favors local beers, boozy cocktails and wines from the Pacific Northwest, including a lovely Angela Estate pinot noir produced specifically for the restaurant.
The tomahawk (for two) and the bone-in New York strip hold their own against any steak in The Mile High City at Citizen Rail, a meat-intensive stunner tucked behind Denver Union Station just adjacent to the Kimpton Hotel Born Denver. A timeless, art-deco design scheme, reminiscent of a railcar, yields polished metal accents and mirrors that mimic the scenery from the window seats of a train, while the open kitchen is aromatic with the scent of smoldering ash from the wood-stoked grill. Plant-based foods shine, too, most notably in starters like the Persian cucumber salad and in side dishes of cauliflower and blue cheese gratin, braised root vegetables and wood-roasted mushrooms.
Renowned for its leafy, tree-shaded avenues, historic brick homes and sidewalk patios, the Uptown ‘hood features a diverse wheelhouse of restaurants. Sugar fiends flock to pastry chef extraordinaire Keegan Gerhard's D Bar Denver, a 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 elevated comfort food, including deviled eggs, fried chicken and an excellent green chile cheeseburger. If you're up for a little competition, head next door to Ace Eat Serve for a game of table tennis and contemporary Asian contemplations like spicy pork ramen.
Chef Paul Reilly, along with his sister, Aileen, run the charming Coperta, a modern Italian bistro that will satisfy all of your pasta cravings. The menu is stacked with fresh produce, house-made pastas, cheese and salumi plates, wood-fired meats and tempting cocktails and wines.
Cherry Creek is a hopping shopping mecca, but it's also a notable destination for its versatile dining scene. Football fanatics (and those who crave slabs of steer) congregate at Elway's, a wildly successful bastion of beef from current Denver Broncos general manager and former quarterback John Elway.
If shopping makes you thirsty, head to Forget Me Not, one of the city’s top cocktail bars, where the people-watching on the expansive patio is almost as good as the drinks. Share a massive crystal vat of the passionfruit and vodka She’s Tropical, or stick to one of menu’s perfect solo sips. (La Piña with tequila, lemon, cucumber and pineapple is always a favorite.)
Holding court in the heart of Cherry Creek, just east of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Matsuhisa Denver, chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa’s world-renowned Japanese-Peruvian restaurant, delivers a swanky, high-end experience that mirrors the chef’s Vail and Aspen outposts. The quarters, bedecked with reclaimed teak, stone and tile, provides a gorgeous backdrop for a post-work cocktail gathering in the lounge, or eyeball a stool at the sushi bar and splurge on the omakase, a multi-course tasting menu designed by a masterful crew of chefs whose plate artistry is second to none.
Smack-dab in the center of the Sixth Avenue corridor sits Barolo Grill, a northern Italian restaurant that romances couples with its atmospheric setting (complete with a flickering fireplace) and bewitchingly captivating dishes from chef Darrel Truett, who adds a dash of whimsy to his classic cooking style. If you happen to be in The Mile High City in November, don’t miss Barolo’s annual multi-course truffle dinner.
The River North Art District (RiNo) is arguably the city’s most dynamic neighborhood, full of vibrant street art, creative hubs and trailblazing restaurants. The Source food hall got things going in 2013, and its neighboring The Source Hotel continued the trend of bringing amazing eats and drinks to the 'hood with its anchor restaurant, Safta, an Israeli restaurant from James Beard award-winning Chef Alon Shaya. Head up to the hotel's rooftop for one of the best views in town at The Woods, a full-service restaurant, bar and beer garden featuring dishes paired with New Belgium Brewing craft beers.
Work & Class, a refreshingly free-spirited restaurant from Chef Dana Rodriguez, whose soulful cooking more than lives up to its ballyhooed billing, offers comfort food of the Latin-American variety. Driven by the motto, "a square meal, a stiff drink, and a fair price," the diminutive restaurant, which commands waits from the moment the doors open, proffers gratifying plates of cochinita pibil (red chile-braised pork), roasted goat and rotisserie chicken, all of which should be paired with a side dish: sweet potato and bacon hash, fried sweet plantains or the Wisconsin cheddar macaroni and cheese.
When the Michelin Guide rolled into town in 2023 and awarded its first-ever stars to Denver restaurants, Beckon was at the top of the list. This intimate 18-seat restaurant inside a converted bungalow earned its star with exquisite eight-course tasting menus and hospitality to match.
Bigsby's Folly Craft Winery is a full-scale winery and tasting room in RiNo offering thoughtful food pairings that will have you lingering in the Roaring Twenties meets modern-industrial chic space for quite some time. Expect mouth-watering small plates, charcuterie, flatbreads and desserts to go with your house-made red, white or rose wine.
Denver Central Market, a 12,000-square-foot gastro hall, grandstands 10 culinary vendors dispensing everything from tuna poke and squid ink spaghetti to wood-fired pizzas, handcrafted chocolates, pastries and Italian beef sandwiches. Complete with an ice cream shop, java joint, butcher shop, fish counter and a bar that pours progressive cocktails, the sprawling food hall fulfills every food and drink obsession. Each stall has its own seating area, but the communal dining space — the market’s focal point — is where everyone seems to congregate; there’s a big-screen TV, too, that showcases sporting events.
Sleek and stylish looks, smashing cocktails, a thoughtful wine list and flavor-bombed Chinese dishes set Hop Alley — named for Denver’s original Chinatown — apart from the rest of the pack. Owned by Tommy Lee, the chef-proprietor of Uncle, it’s the kind of place that could be too trendy, but the food lives up to the hype, thanks to showstoppers like the Shanghai rice cakes, beef chow fun and Beijing duck rolls.
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 Denver with Mizuna, a charming French restaurant fueled by passion, luxurious ingredients and polished flavors. Right around the corner from Mizuna, you'll find food aficionados jostling for seats at Luca, Bonanno’s upscale Italian restaurant. In this handsome space, patrons go giddy for the chef's upfront, vivacious pastas, like the white-truffled fusilli.
Table 6, a citified Capitol Hill bistro popular with neighborhood denizens, canoodling couples, tourists, food geeks and wine enthusiasts, basks in warmth and tender intimacy. Sunday brunch, a convivial outing that features a DJ spinning tunes, amasses crowds that feast on French toast, pork belly and doughnuts and a terrific croque-monsieur.
“Locally sourced and seasonally driven” is the creed of Potager, a farm-to-table restaurant with an exclamation point. Rustically furnished, intimate and ideal for romantic interludes, it has a menu that’s passionately devoted to locality, although its inspirations hail from here, there and everywhere. During the summer months, diners pack the patio, which doubles as the restaurant's personal kitchen garden.
In the hip Highland and LoHi neighborhoods, you'll find restaurants like Sushi Ronin, a highbrow head-turner that turns sushi on its skull. Here, against a contemporary backdrop of artistic accents, custom-made furniture and a sultry backlit bar, chefs dispense first-rate fresh fish from the sushi bar (splurge on the seven-course tasting menu), plus miso-marinated black cod, broiled hamachi and shake collars and salted mackerel.
An elevator whisks you up to the fifth floor of El Five, where Mediterranean tapas and creative cocktails timed for the seasons intersect. And while both the food and libations are noteworthy, we wouldn’t fault prolific restaurateur Justin Cucci if he charged an entrance fee just for the opportunity to behold the bright lights of the big city from the sky-high rooftop, which, at the moment, eclipses all others. Outfitted with a retro bar illuminated with Lite-Bright bulbs, psychedelic wallpaper that channels the 1960s and a throbbing rooftop deck that sports an Airstream trailer and sweeping panoramas of the city, Linger, another hit from Cucci, is one The Mile High City’s liveliest hot spots — which says a lot considering that the pulsating restaurant occupies a former mortuary. Still, while the death motif subtly (and humorously) pervades the bi-level space, the menu, a culinary romp through multiple countries, elevates your spirits. It’s a built-for-sharing document that meanders through Asia and South Asia (Thai fried rice, pork belly bao and Korean barbecue tacos); Africa and the Middle East (lamb kabobs and falafel lettuce wraps); the Caribbean (Jamaican jerk-seasoned prawns); and America. Built into the bones of an old auto mechanic’s garage, Root Down, yet another hip spot from Cucci, is heralded for its seasonal approach to cooking, daring flavor combinations that jive to a global beat, vintage-trendy atmosphere and bustling patio scene. The bar supplies inventive cocktails, among the best of which is the la Puebla sour concocted with mezcal, chile liqueur, lemon, aquafaba (chickpea brine) and toasted cinnamon.
Avanti Food & Beverage, a dynamic, bi-level food hall that occupies a former printing plant, shelters a collection of self-contained shipping containers, each of which is a mini restaurant. Diners can choose from a world-spanning variety of cuisines — everything from Venezuelan arepas to fresh takes on Vietnamese classics — and enjoy their meal in the communal first-floor dining area, or on the riveting rooftop deck, which offers sweeping views of the downtown Denver skyline. Along with restaurants, Avanti also lays claim to two bars, including one on the altitude-high terrace.
The Culinary Creative restaurant team loves the neighborhood so much that they opened five restaurants within a few blocks of each other. Ash’Kara fires Israeli, European and North African dishes in its wood oven; Bar Dough does elevated Italian in a cozy setting; Fox and the Hen serves one of the most fun breakfasts in the city thanks to “Top Chef” finalist Carrie Baird commanding the kitchen; Kumoya taps celebrated sushi chef Corey Baker for a menu of Japanese small plates and an omakase experience to remember; and Señor Bear is always bustling because how could a restaurant with delicious Latin fare and tropical drinks not be bustling?
Uncle, chef-owner Tommy Lee’s Asian noodle bar was a smash hit from the day it opened, and the lines out the door begin promptly at 5 p.m.—even on a weekday. Reservations aren’t accepted (your best bet is to arrive within 30 minutes of the opening tick), but your patience is rewarded with dazzling dishes that zigzag from pork belly bao and salmon crudo paired with a tamarind ponzu to duck ramen and chilled noodles mingling with chicken, apples, cashews and arugula. You can also visit Uncle's second (and larger!) location a little further south in the Washington Park neighborhood.
Located on the border of Aurora and Denver, Stanley Marketplace — once an aviation manufacturing facility — is now a community hub with restaurants and bars, a beer hall, shops, fitness and yoga studios, salons, an events center, office space, urban farms, public parkland and more. Annette, from Chef Caroline Glover, was named one of the “50 Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit in 2017, and Caroline and her staff were nominated for two James Beard Awards in the same year, with Glover taking home the title of Best Chef: Mountain in 2022. Stop in for seasonal, wood-fired, scratch-to-table dishes and inventive cocktails. Comfort food aficionados will enjoy tender ribs, brisket and homemade macaroni and cheese at Rolling Smoke BBQ. Down tacos and margaritas at Comida, then cool off with a scoop of Sweet Cow Ice Cream. Or, for a quick fix, pick up freshly made sandwiches and other prepared foods at Mondo Market or to-go breakfast staples from Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen.
Another remnant of the neighborhood's aviation history, Hangar 2 in Lowry is a collection of locally-owned restaurants and shops situated in and around a historic Air Force hangar. For light Italian fare, visit Café Mercato, where all of the pastas and sausages are made in-house, as well as gelato and desserts. North County celebrates the cuisine and libations of Baja, California, while Officers Club — an homage to the history of Lowry Airforce Base — serves up American fare and not one but ten different versions of the classic Old Fashioned cocktail. Pop into WoodGrain Bagels for hand-rolled, Montreal-style bagels, or sip a pint at Lowry Beer Garden.
East Colfax may have had a, let’s just say, less than pristine reputation, but these days the street is home to some of the hottest restaurants in town. Chefs Anna and Ni Nguyen chose Colfax for their modern Vietnamese Sap Sua, named one of Esquire’s best new restaurants in America for 2023. Just next to the Tattered Cover bookstore, Sap Sua serves beautiful plates of crispy sweetbreads topped with fish sauce caramel, a buttery shrimp “cake” you won’t be able to stop eating and grilled pork delicately seasoned with lemongrass and tamarind.
It's hard to find a better brunch than at Fox Run Café, where the griddled banana bread, buttermilk-brined chicken biscuit and huevos rancheros inspire long waits on the weekends. But if you can’t get in don’t stress—Denver Biscuit Company, with its towering biscuit sandwiches, is right down the street.
Chef Bo Porytko has settled right into East Colfax with his two spots, Misfit Snack Bar and Molotov Kitschen. While Misfit provides the eats to Middleman bar’s drinks, Molotov is a tiny, cuckoo clock-filled restaurant making Eastern European fare super cool. From red pepper borscht to cabbage stuffed cabbage to corned beef tongue, the menu always surprises and delights. Just make sure you have a reservation before you stop in; this place gets busy.