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Denver is a metropolis of ever-evolving tastes, its forward-thinking dining landscape spangled with restaurants from gifted chefs whose culinary magnetism, passion and fortitude fulfill our city’s lust for great food. Wondering where you should eat right now? You’ve come to the right place. If you're looking for the best places to dine alfresco, check out our Outdoor and Patio Dining page. 

La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal

Pozole is the name of the game at this festive Five Points experience steered by chef/owner Jose Avila, who grew up in Mexico City and — lucky for us — brought his culinary culture to The Mile High City. His pozole, of which there are five variations, is plumped with nixtamalized housemade hominy sidekicked with the requisite companions: cabbage, thin-sliced radishes, lettuce, lime wedges and potent white onions and, if you wish, avocado and chicharrons. The soft-lit pozoleria — the only one of its kind in Denver — pays homage to Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, with skulls and murals on the bricked walls, and the bar has a terrific cocktail program, most notably the madre facka with poblano agave, tequila, mezcal and a clever garnish composed of a lacy skeleton leaf procured from guava trees. 

Redeemer Pizza

Superlative pizzas are the star at this minimalist space in the River North Art District (RiNo) owned by Alex Figura and Spencer White, two established Denver culinary maestros revered for their handmade pasta-making prowess at Dio Mio, a counter-service spot just a dough’s toss from Redeemer. Here, at their new joint, terrific wines and cocktails, plus East Coast-style hoagies and naturally-leavened sourdough pizza — by the pie and the slice — stamp the streamlined —menu, and while every pizza is a commanding composition that channels an unassailable catalog of toppings, the kale, lemon, onion and sausage number paved with Calabrian cream sauce, might be one of the most riveting things in the universe. The tables and benches inside and out are likely to be occupied when you stop by, but patience is a virtue when the reward is a small miracle. Still, if you’re the antsy type, there’s a walk-up pizza window for a fast fix. 

Lucy’s Burger Bar 

One of Minnesota’s greatest culinary legacies is the Juicy Lucy, a composition of two griddled burger patties, markedly seared to provide a degree of texture, with an avalanche of scorching-hot American cheese that lives in between the two patties. And now, with the addition of Lucy’s Burger Bar, a new joint in the Berkeley neighborhood, the revered Twin Cities cheeseburger has Denverites in a frenzied state of hysteria. You can see it on their faces after the first bite. Pure joy. And that messy and marvelous burger, which you should pair with a side of crisp-edged fries, is exactly what you want to be eating here. The restaurant, owned by Minnesota natives, grooves to a lively beat, its industrial-farmhouse aesthetic offset by living greenery and a long bar that flows with beer, wine and canned cocktails. 

Perdida

From the owners of Birdcall, Homegrown Tap & Dough, Park & Co. and Park Burger comes this rollicking, modernist and hipster Baja-inspired Mexican destination in the heart of Washington Park. The gorgeous quarters are ambient eye candy, with sea-hued tile, cowhide-covered barstools, light fixtures constructed from repurposed motorcycle parts and kaleidoscopic murals. Think swanky coastal club meets sophisticated urban glitz. Perdida is home to Mexican street corn-on-the-cob dotted with cotija cheese; citrus-spiked ceviche involving snapper, shrimp and bay scallops; chile-crusted carnitas tacos with charred pineapple and adobo sauce; carne asada paired with a sweet potato enchilada; and zarrandeado, marinated and butterflied striped bass matched with chayote and papaya slaw. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in Denver, but few with the kind of accomplished bar program paraded by Perdida, its cocktail syllabus an ode to artful mezcal and tequila potions. 

Carmine's on McGregor Square

Flanked by Coors Field, this 17,000-square-foot entertainment emporium in the Ballpark ‘hood is an intersection of lofty living residences, a swanky boutique hotel, retail shops, office space, an outdoor plaza, bars and cafes, a Colorado Rockies Hall of Fame experience, a food hall and Carmine’s, contemporary-chic lunch and dinner restaurant specializing in family-style plates of Italian-American obsessions. Much like the original Carmine’s — a staple in the Speer neighborhood since 1994 — the new iteration is all about abundance and celebrating that with friends and family. The tables, sheeted with brown butcher paper, double as a blank canvas for kids who want to doodle (each table comes with a cup of crayons) and servers who use those crayons to scribble your order. While there are menu boards scattered throughout the labyrinth of muraled dining rooms, the servers are more than adept at helping diners navigate the syllabus of appetizers, salads, side dishes, pasta, risotto, and chicken and veal dishes. Just remember: Everything here is on the big side, and desserts are no exception. Still, it’s worth leaving a spot in your stomach for a splash of the housemade limoncello.

Denver Locals' Favorites 

Tavernetta

From James Beard Award-winning luminaries Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca Food and Wine—Boulder’s lauded Northern Italian temple of gastronomy—comes Tavernetta, a regional Italian restaurant based at the boot of the Kimpton Hotel Born, prime real estate that overlooks the train platform of Denver Union Station. The superb menu from Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, antipasti, sensationally prepared fish and meat plates and breathtaking pastas that seesaw between lamb ragù with rigatoni and saffron-intensive bucatini enrichened with uni butter and trout roe. The refined space, graced with a fireplace lounge, a trio of patios, a centerpiece open kitchen and pasta station that buzzes with activity and walls mounted with Slim Aarons portrait photographs showcasing Italians on ritzy holidays, suggests a lost world of wine-soaked lunches and dinners and sojourns to fantastical faraway places. 

Safta

Alon Shaya’s dazzling Denver restaurant, situated inside The Source Hotel in the River North Art District (RiNo), has racked up an avalanche of accolades, all of them hard-earned and well deserved. His modern ode to Israeli cooking is composed, confident and pure, his flavors precise and pronounced. Pita bread, for instance, sounds deceptively simple, but the charred pillows of puffed dough that emerge from the wood-fired oven, are remarkable. So, too, is the hummus with lamb ragù, the smoky baba ghanoush, the vibrant Moroccan carrot salad and the impossibly crisp eggplant, the spheres crested with herb-specked goat cheese and tomato sauce. The space, befitting the food, is light, airy and modern, its fixtures and furnishings a mix of communal tables, a long, L-shaped bar overlooking the open kitchen, art and drinkware inspired by Shaya’s grandmother and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Denver skyline and mountain peaks. Like everything else here, the wines, many of which are from regions that are often overlooked (think Hungry, Greece and Israel), merit praise.

Jax Fish House

There may not be a more passionate restaurateur than Dave Query who ignited — and demystified — Denver’s seafood scene with the opening of this oceanic restaurant and oyster bar in LoDo that has since spawned offshoots across Colorado and beyond. From its rambunctiously energetic vibe, offset by a subtle nautical theme, to its fiercely seasonal menu of sustainable seafood sourced from passionate purveyors, it’s a fin-tastic favorite for slurping pristine oysters, although the rest of the menu—towering seafood platters, plump king crab legs, fresh lobster, creamy clam chowder, spaghetti tangling with fresh clams and Alaskan halibut—is every bit as crowd-pleasing, as are the spirit-forward cocktails and compelling wines and craft beers.

The Family Jones Spirit House

A collaborative project from some of the biggest names in the city’s culinary landscape—including restaurateur Justin Cucci—this LoHi distillery, tasting room and restaurant is a bombshell of beautification. The tasting room, glorified with purple-surfaced stools, plush old glory blue banquettes, concrete block walls mounted with pots flush with juniper, soaring windows and a sunken bar, is perched below the mezzanine, which showcases a skylight-illuminated copper still. There’s a hybrid bar/kitchen—the team calls it “bitchen”—that dispenses innovative small plates from chef Tom Dotson, whose food — think fava bean hummus, curried red lentil dip with pineapple rum vinaigrette and pickled vegetables — is offset by a superb cocktail scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs.

The Bindery

Chef, owner, culinary instructor and sojourner Linda Hampsten Fox oversees this dazzling LoHi market, bakery and restaurant that looks as though it could have been transported from Manhattan. By day, the high-ceilinged, sun-streaked dining room, awash in a minimalist white and black color palette, functions as an on-the-go stopgap for caffeine-jolted java drinks, housemade pastries, breakfast bites, sundries and sandwiches, while the ambitious dinner menu is a globetrotting homage to Fox’s culinary jaunts around the world. Slide a stool up the chef’s counter, where the air is fragrant from the wood-burning grill in the exhibition kitchen and sip a lovely herbaceous cocktail while enjoying statement plates of smoked rabbit pie punctuated with pecans, the Spanish octopus tostado and risotto kissed with the scents of green chile. 

Annette 

Four-time James Beard nominee Caroline Glover vacillated before unleashing her beloved small-plates restaurant in the sprawling Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. But since its debut, the petite nirvana of culinary excellence has knocked the socks off just about everyone who's set foot inside the plant-filled space puddled with sunshine. Named one of Bon Appetit’s "Best New Restaurants of 2017," Annette embodies everything you could possibly want from a dining experience: an elevated casual vibe, fresh ingredients that are never manipulated, full-throttled flavor combinations (beef tongue with pickled carrot relish; pork schnitzel drizzled with adobo vinaigrette; pork tenderloin and tetra squash), a wood-burning grill that permeates the air with perfumed smoke and a small but enormously satisfying wine scroll. Glover also grows many of her ingredients on a plot at a nearby community farm, which means every dish is steeped in seasonality. The cocktails are heavenly, too. In a neighborhood starved for style, substance and honest, reflective cooking, Annette is a gem. 

Mercantile Dining & Provision 

Kitchen magician Alex Seidel, a 2010 Food & Wine magazine "Best New Chef" and 2018 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest unleashed a head-turner in Denver Union Station when he opened Mercantile in 2014, complete with an artisan market, barista station, chef’s counter, two patios, sky-reaching ceilings, a spice treasury and an enviable wine library. Think of Mercantile as a culinary museum: a hallway of jarred spices, dried fruits, nuts and legumes that double as pantry items for the kitchen intersect with burlap-topped canning jars full of things pickled and preserved. The market’s charcuterie and cheeses are bait for rediscovering why we love pig parts and duck parts and anything that you can smear on a crusty sourdough loaf of bread, while dinner plates like the bucatini carbonara showcase Seidel’s mastery of pasta. And if you’re jonesing for an incredible burger, this is the magnum opus. 

Il Posto

On the stretch that’s Upper Larimer Street, in the River North Art District (RiNo), you’ll find Il Posto, an Italian restaurant from Milan-born chef-owner Andrea Frizzi. All glitz, glamor and swagger, Il Posto turns out a daily changing menu of up-to-the-moment dishes that defer to seasonal ingredients; skilled risottos mingling with everything from mushrooms and truffle oil to celery leaf and sprigs of fresh rosemary; finessed fish dishes; and ask locals about the restaurant’s pièce de résistance, and you’ll get a unified answer: the herb-laced beef-tallow candle, the fat of which pools on the plate, resulting in a seductive puddle that adds a glorious luster to the slices of crusty bread that are served alongside. From start to finish, Frizzi delivers a nuanced experience, the kind that pairs remarkably well with a bottle of Barolo or Brunello from the show-stopping wine wall.

Denver Central Market

A veritable one-stop dining-and-drinking experience, this lively 12,000-square-foot gastohall in the River North Art District (RiNo) peddles 11 vendors touting everything from bento boxes and oysters to hand-crafted chocolates, coffee and pastries. Complete with a scoop shop, java joint, butcher shop, fish counter and Curio, a bar that pours progressive cocktails, the Denver Central Market fulfills every culinary crush. Each of the vendors has its own seating area, but the communal dining-and-drinking space—the market’s focal point—is where everyone seems to congregate; there’s a big-screen TV, too, that showcases sporting events.

Guard and Grace 

Chef and restaurateur Troy Guard has been blazing culinary trails in Denver for more than a decade, and while his first trail of restaurants spotlighted modern Asian cuisine, Guard and Grace bucks bok choy for beef—scarlet slabs of well-marbled flesh served in testosterone-restrained surrounds offset by a handsome bar, spacious chef’s counter and elevated, crescent-shaped booths stretched throughout the dining room, its windows overlooking the downtown Denver skyline. The menu is a grand ecosystem of land and sea: beef tartare, glistening oysters, crab legs and lobsters; and grill-etched steaks, including Wagyu and grass-fed, dribbling with juice. A towering, glass-enclosed cellar displays upwards of 4,000 bottles of wine, many of which are also available by the glass.

Table 6 

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. The menu, galvanized by the seasons, is illustrated with starters like the baby arugula salad flush with local peaches and tater tots matched with cotija aioli, grilled corn and cilantro. Main dishes pitch Korean BBQ beef coulotte with Asian pear kimchi; a brown sugar-brined pork tenderloin with collard greens and green tomato chow chow; and decadent duck confit. 

Rioja 

Rioja cemented the stardom of James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest winner Jennifer Jasinski, whose overachieving Mediterranean restaurant sculpted Larimer Square into a bona fide dining destination. Extolled for its season-dependent ingredients, plate artistry, hand-crafted pastas kissed with aromatic sauces, extensive brunch menu and thoughtful pastry program (including a fantastic house-baked breadbasket), Rioja is worshipped by local and national celebrities, the food cognoscenti and just about everyone else who appreciates true artisanship coupled with an approachable wine program and imaginative cocktails.

Work & Class

Comfort of the Latin-American variety is the calling card of Work & Class, a refreshingly free-spirited restaurant in the River North Art District (RiNo) from two-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee Dana Rodriguez, whose soulful cooking more than lives up to its ballyhooed billing. 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 French onion-braised brisket, green chile-laced carnitas and rotisserie chicken, all of which should be paired with a side dish: curried cauliflower, fried sweet plantains or the garlic-smooched braised greens. There’s nothing particularly fancy about Rodriguez’s cooking but sitting at the chef’s counter and indulging in the carrot cake or butterscotch pudding is all the luxury you need.

Bistro Vendome

Just off Larimer Square, this long-standing Parisian haunt from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch (Rioja, Ultreia and Stoic & Genuine) evokes romance at every turn, whether it’s inside the captivating, soft-lit dining room or on the enticing courtyard patio festooned with showy flowers. The oh-la-la menu is equally alluring, beckoning diners with escargot, housemade charcuterie, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and béarnaise-cloaked flat iron steak with crisped frites. The budget-friendly wine list is exemplary, and on select Monday evenings (usually once a month), celebrating couples hit up Movie Nights, when a French flick—some focused on French food—paired with a five-course dinner, is just $55 per person. 

Cafe Brazil

To travel through the dishes that define Cafe Brazil, a charming South American restaurant from Mauricio Zorrilla and Tony and Marla Zarlenga, is to drift into a land of gypsy chiles and vibrant spices, fresh herbs and sweet plantains, passion fruit and prawns, swollen scallops and bacalhau, all beautifully harmonized in heartfelt ways that explain why the Berkeley neighborhood restaurant has such a loyal following. Against a backdrop of color and whimsy, high energy and contagious laughter, shots of rum and caipirinhas, diners socialize over plates of seafood Copacabana, a medley of shrimp and scallops in a lush coconut milk sauce and the moqueca de peixe, an irresistible stew-stained sunset with dende oil and liberally enhanced with scallops, shrimp and Portuguese bacalhau. Don’t miss the adjacent rum bar, a spirited hangout that grandstands the best rum collection—and rum cocktails—in the city. 

El Taco de Mexico

"For truly amazing flavors, El Taco de Mexico is a must," wrote "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern, who visited the buzzing Art District on Santa Fe taco joint during a stopover in The Mile High City. El Taco de Mexico, he went on, is "Denver's quintessential taqueria," unleashing the "best menudo and tacos in the city." Locals wholeheartedly agree with that declaration, lining up morning, noon and night for the al pastor tacos specked with onions and cilantro, the chile relleno burrito smothered with a mind-blowingly good green chile and the menudo, Mexico’s antidote for hangovers. Make no mistake: It’s a dive with a yellow Formica counter and tattered booths, but it’s also the most beloved taqueria in town. And the fiery salsa is legendary.

Barolo Grill

Barolo Grill, a northern Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek North, is for beautiful bottles of Barolo, sensually crafted pasta dishes and woodsy Barolo-style braised duck; for exquisite service and fine-tuned tasting menus sketched with experimental flavors bereft of borders; and for one of the loveliest dining rooms in the city, where tables are still sheeted with white tablecloths graced with polished silver and gleaming glassware. The lighting is gentle and warm and the amorous table for two, snuggled against the glow of the fireplace, personifies classic romance. Put it on your date-night bucket list. 

By Lori Midson

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