Troy Guard’s portfolio of restaurants spans the city, and if you’ve been to any of them, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the edgy chef is partial to quirky twists and conversation-piece aesthetics. His cannon of hits includes Guard and Grace, TAG, Los Chingones and Mister Tuna—and FNG, his West Highland newcomer, is a hit, too, taken straight from a rock ‘n’ roll playbook. The walls, mounted with vintage album covers that channel rock ‘n’ roll legends, are offset by a Simpsons pinball machine, ‘80s memorabilia flanking the bar, Jimi Hendrix coasters and retro board games. The menu, a mash-up of refashioned comfort food staples, trumpets meatloaf, burgers, fried chicken sliders and chicken-fried steak, macaroni and cheese, bison enchiladas and a formidable charcuterie platter heaped with housemade meats and the requisite accompaniments: housemade marmalades, pickled vegetables, mustards and focaccia. The beverage roster boasts 20 beers on tap, cheeky cocktails and wines that hit every price point.
From the Longmont-based group that founded Oskar Blues Fooderies comes this expansive brewery, grill and lower level live-music hall and event venue in the nucleus of Lower Downtown (LoDo). The bricked interior, fashioned with teal booths and banquettes, rustic wood furnishings and a striking drumstick art installation that surfaces the ceiling, sets the stage for the eclectic, Southern-tweaked menu that proffers seafood gumbo, wood-grilled oysters, pork ribs, shrimp and grits and daily blue plate specials. A remarkable beer list—tailor-made to complement the menu—illustrates why Denver continues to be at the forefront of the nation’s craft-beer scene.
Earthy trappings meet easygoing luxury at this coolly designed restaurant inside the swanky JW Marriott in Cherry Creek North. The sunlit dining room, flanked by stone accents, a swanky wine shrine and retractable doors that lead to a year-round outdoor patio ambient with the amber glow of a chill-chasing fire pit, aims to please business travelers, couples and families, the latter of which make a habit of partaking in the pancake social brunch, a Sunday-only affair that parades a complimentary pancake buffet for kids eight and younger and a supervised kids’ room where they can bide their time watching movies and making craft projects. Meanwhile, the menu—a nod to American comfort food—is dressed with a large array of share plates, salads, sandwiches and simple but refined main dishes that hopscotch from braised beef short ribs to mushroom risotto italicized with butternut squash and kale.
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 tuck into plates of charred octopus, braised beef cheeks, lamb osso buco, rabbit rarebit and hen coq au vin.
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 platform of Denver Union Station. The menu, created by Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, antipasti, housemade pastas and sensationally prepared fish and meat plates that seesaw between a breaded Berkshire pork chop to branzino with fennel, escarole and olives. The refined space, complete with a fireplace lounge, a trio of patios, a centerpiece open kitchen 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 faraway lands.
Residing in the historic Stapleton International Airport control tower, Punch Bowl Social is a bi-level, multi-faceted gastropub and entertainment venue that packs a playful punch: bowling, darts, Ping-Pong, karaoke, shuffleboard, foosball—they’re all part of this 32,000-square-foot undertaking from prolific restaurateur Robert Thompson, who opened the original Punch Bowl Social in Denver’s Baker neighborhood and has since expanded to other cities. Beyond the attractions/distractions, there’s a Southern-intensive food menu that’s the handiwork of celeb chef and culinary partner Hugh Acheson, who’s dotted the board with everything from buttermilk-brined fried chicken and beer-braised brats to lobster rolls and a double-fisted all-American burger. You can break here for “pre-flight” breakfast or lunch, too, on your way to Denver International Airport, or pop in for a late-night Aviation cocktail once you’ve touched down in The Mile High City. What’s more, nearly half of the acreage is devoted to outdoor seating and pursuits— including two bocce courts.
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 new 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. A visible dry-aging cave showcases cuts of beef, charcuterie and chops, and the menu, the handiwork of chef Christian Graves, a San Diego transplant, is stamped with “Butcher Shop” favorites: lamb chops, a bison filet, venison chops, a pork porterhouse, grilled swordfish, hamachi collar and plenty of beef, all broken down in house by a designated butcher. 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.
Marcella’s, an Italian newcomer courtesy of nationally renowned restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, makes the most of its prominent placement in Lower Highland LoHi, its vintage-themed interior offset by a sidewalk patio peering over the downtown skyline. Named after a cook in Tuscany, the space, bedecked with hardwood floors, gold accents and a tavern tile ceiling, is jovial and comfortably romancing, especially when you’re sharing a cheese and cured meat platter. A large starter scroll (think braised veal meatballs, burrata and beef carpaccio) share space with pizzas, pastas and classic Italian staples, and there’s a handsome bar to ply you with plenty of wine, available by the quarter, half or full liter, along with stable of cocktails and beer. Desserts include profiteroles paired with pistachio, chocolate and honey-vanilla sorbet.
DENVER LOCALS' FAVORITES
Chef-owner Caroline Glover thought twice before opening her lovely 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, seasonal ingredients that are never manipulated, faultless flavor combinations, a wood-burning grill that permeates the air with perfumed smoke and a small but enormously satisfying wine scroll. The cocktails are heavenly, too. In a neighborhood starved for style, substance and honest, reflective cooking, Annette is a gem.
Atelier by Radex
French flair is the order of business at Atelier by Radex, an intimate 50-seat bistro in City Park that’s walled with copper cookware and dotted with tables topped with scarlet linens. A classy hotspot for neighborhood locals, Francophiles and tourists searching for rich sauces and classic steak frites, Atelier cooks exquisite food that’s tailor-made to its surroundings. High notes include the curried bouillabaisse flush with seafood, lamb cassoulet and the decadent lobster ravioli pooled in a Champagne beurre blanc sauce. The wine list, with its emphasis on old-world bottles, has soul, brains and depth.
As Denver Union Station has developed, so has its demand for restaurants and bars, and Hearth & Dram, 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, anchored by a showpiece kitchen commanded by exec chef Jeff Wall, ballyhoos a repertoire of charcuterie, lovely share plates (the stacked onion rings are mind-altering) and main dishes that zigzag from papparedelle with morels and ramp confit to a grill-etched bone-in ribeye for two. Art sculptures and a sweep of leather and plaid accents dominate the windowed dining room, while the sensational whiskey collection—hence the “dram” part of the equation—draws a swanky cocktail crowd to the bar.
Leave it to restaurateur and design genius Justin Cucci (Linger, Vital Root and Root Down) to erect a brilliantly designed, head-turning restaurant with equally jaw-dropping skyline views from its Lower Highland (LoHi) balcony. 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 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.
The River North Art District (RiNo) is already Denver’s hottest destination for drinking and dining, and it just continues to get better, in part because of establishments like Bigsby’s Folly Craft Winery & Restaurant, housed in a Victorian-era warehouse that’s been transformed into a gorgeous tasting room that’s reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties. Weathered brick walls, a timbered ceiling and a designated barrel room are offset by tack-studded black leather stools that front the bar, crystal chandeliers, vintage velvet sofas and dueling patios. Wine, not surprisingly, is the star of the show, and there are a dozen on tap, including several that carry the winery’s own custom label. Along with grapes, there are cocktails, craft beers and a food menu that boasts shared plates, flatbreads and charcuterie boards. Bonus: One-liter growlers are available for wine fills on the go.
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. Multiple stages dominate the large space, which is carefully laid out to ensure that the musicians aren’t stepping over each other’s vocals. 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 includes seafood paella, sandwiches, pizzas and the venue’s famed macaroni and cheese.
Swanky, boldly artistic and punctuated with a pair of stilettos at every turn, STK Denver, a chophouse from The ONE Group, a hospitality company with a portfolio of international restaurants, is turning heads in downtown with its thumping nightlife zeal, complete with pulsating music courtesy of a nightly DJ and a focal point bar frequented by local celebrities, mostly of the athlete persuasion. Chef William Tuggle spearheads the kitchen, which dispenses a wide variety of inventive salads, towering tiers of shellfish, traditional steakhouse side dishes and slabs of steer that run the gamut from filets to a hulking dry-aged porterhouse, all of which can be crowned with an optional sauce, including béarnaise and chimichurri.
Squatting behind Denver Union Station in a new urbanized neighborhood development, the Pig & the Sprout is the grown-up sibling of the Berkshire, restaurateur Andy Ganick’s pork-centric spot in Stapleton. But while the Pig & the Sprout is much livelier, larger, more polished and significantly boozier than its brethren, the common denominator remains the same: going whole hog via a hearty menu that encompasses pork cheek tacos, pork schnitzel, pork chops, pork gumbo and pork rolls. Still, there’s more than that to the playful roster than just pig. Tuck into the carrot hummus with pepitas and “funyun” chips, burgers in every guise, a French dip that eschews roast beef for soft tofu and smoked brisket paired with collard greens and parsnip puree. The bi-level space also boasts an indoor-outdoor bar and mezzanine-level lounge for imbibing a build-your-own mule, a craft beer from an impressively deep list or a glass of wine.
On the fevered stretch that’s Upper Larimer Street resides Il Posto, a sparkling new Italian restaurant in the River North Art District (RiNo) from Milan-born chef-owner Andrea Frizzi, who previously built a loyal following in Uptown with the original Il Posto. The 2.0 version—all glitz, glamor and swagger—turns out a daily-changing menu of up-to-the-moment pastas that defer to seasonal ingredients; skilled risottos mingling with everything from squash and sage to pancetta and corn; beautifully finessed fish dishes; and smoked Muscovy duck accompanied by all manner of vegetables, including fava beans, chanterelle mushrooms and parsley root. 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 unleashes wonderfully nuanced food, the kind that pairs remarkably well with a bottle of Barolo or Brunello from the show-stopping wine wall.
From the owners of the Tavern, Soiled Dove Underground and Cowboy Lounge, this downtown Mexican restaurant and cantina on the 16th Street Mall struts a visually stimulating color palette, textured walls muraled with whimsical Day of the Dead art, hanging star light fixtures and sunken loungey booths surrounding artistic tables, one of which is a lettered conversation piece that spells “LOVE.” And the built-for-sharing menu of modern Mexican dishes, coupled with traditional Tex-Mex classics, exhibits a genuine love of Mexican foodstuffs, while the tequila and mezcal collection—more than 200 bottles—proves that the bar team is more than a little enamored with the agave plant. To drive the point home, there’s even a mezcal lounge on the mezzanine level, which peers over the lively downstairs bar and dining room.
This same-name-sibling of the original Kachina Southwestern Grill—a staple in the Westminster suburb—anchors the new Maven Hotel on Denver’s Dairy Block, a mixed-use development in Lower Downtown (LoDo) that’s poised to become a flourishing culinary destination. The Denver outpost, which also lays claim to a separate cocktail lounge called Poka Lola Social Club (the swanky, retro-romantic ambiance calls for your cocktail-hour finest), is atmospheric with a large neon-hued wall-length mural of a woman parading feathered earrings and sunglasses reflecting a desert sunset. The main dining room, a mix of adobo accents, marble tables and orange and turquoise banquettes that pay homage to the colors rooted in the Southwest, is the perfect foil for the food, a creative (but not overreaching) cannon of tamales, empanadas, chicken, beef and seafood dishes, New Mexican posole and green chile and the restaurant’s signature Navajo tacos.