BECKON | CALL
Chef Duncan Holmes is behind what is arguably Denver’s most intimate — and ambitious — dining room in Denver. Clocking in at just 18 seats, the nighttime-only, petite kin of Call, a lovely daytime hang that was named one of “America’s Best New Restaurants” by Bon Appétit magazine, is the kind of tiny hideaway that results in huge culinary epiphanies. Fueled by the cooking techniques of Scandinavia, America and Europe, Holmes and his team wow guests from their open kitchen, turning out a succession of seductive, season-inspired small plates that zigzag from pork collar with black truffles to breaded oysters crowned with caviar. It’s a luxurious, finessed and sublime symphony of perfection that unfolds at a U-shaped bar, in full view of the cooking artistry that doubles as theater. The exquisite experience, which includes optional wine, beer and cider pairings for an additional cost, is by prepaid online reservation only.
A passionate ode to sandwich nirvana in the heart of the Golden Triangle Creative District, this superb deli is a giant gulp of euphoria. The beautiful space, overseen by Potager alumni Luke Hendricks and Anthony Lygizos, pulsates with vibrant energy, in part because of an infallibly warm and authentic staff that’s mastered hospitality in spades. Prepare to be fed before you order; the counter crew offers samples of this (curried potato salad), that (egg salad) and the other (pasta salad) and encourages you to unabashedly abandon your diet. Leven draws in all sorts — politicians, curators from the nearby Denver Art Museum, hipsters, students and sandwich geeks — for too many reasons to mention, but suffice it to say that the pastrami Reuben, sky-scraped with house-cured pastrami, Russian dressing, pickled red cabbage and melted Jarlsberg cheese on toasted rye, holds its own against any Reuben in the city. There’s complimentary sparkling water, a full bar with groovy cocktails and esoteric wines, a terrific ginger shrub and, for a sweet finale, chocolate, tahini and malted milk brownies.
If you have no idea how to raise chickens, you could just wing it. Then again, raising chickens isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. What to do? Grab a few friends that like to feast on fowl and head to this fast-casual Platt Park restaurant where fire-roasted birds rule the roost. A collaboration between Adam Schlegel (co-founder of Snooze), Alex Seidel (Mercantile Dining & Provision and Fruition) and Denver cocktail and bar guru Randy Layman, the modern restaurant, whose name is Australian lingo for chicken, is a far cluck from fast food. Here, in an open kitchen, the chickens, procured from Amish chicken farmers, are brined and cooked on rotisserie grills, their glistening golden skin and tender flesh served quartered, halved or whole, stacked between slices of bread for sandwiches and sliders, or tossed into salads and stews. If you’re still feeling peckish, the chocolate pudding is delicious.
To get to this Victorian-era, underground cocktail den, you have to know where to look — and despite the name, its location is nowhere near any thoroughbreds. Meander along the alley of Dairy Block, a mixed-use retail, restaurant and hotel hotspot, slip through an unexceptional door and descend downward in an elevator, the doors of which open to a hallway that leads you to a cozy and sophisticated hideaway for kings and queens and everyone in between. The cocktails, priced at $13, are all listed on black-and-white, floral-designed playing cards, and the entire 52-card deck is devoted to classics with innovative twists. A small but formidable snack menu struts a late-night breakfast sandwich stacked with housemade spam, ketchup, cheddar and a yolk-spilling fried egg. There’s dessert, as well, including a built-for-two banana split.
Broadway Market, a collection of tantalizing open-concept restaurant stalls, plus a chocolatier, coffeehouse, bar and a self-serve beer wall, provides discoveries for every culinary persuasion in a contemporary, art-filled communal space. Serving foodstuffs from some of the city’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs, the food emporium, perched on a busy stretch of South Broadway in the Golden Triangle, boasts nine restaurants. Get a taste of Argentina at Maria Empanada, or peruse a menu of authentically Mexican tacos, quesadillas, gorditas, fresh sides and housemade salsas at Al Chile. Guests can nosh on New York-style pizza from a wood-fired oven at Purgatory Pizza. Misaki on Broadway dishes up sushi, inspiring rolls, poke bowls and karaage — Japanese-style fried chicken. The warm chocolate chip cookies from Miette Et Chocolat are so good that you’ll want to get two. Mondo Mini offers a curated selection of sandwiches, salads, soups, cheese and charcuterie boards, fresh pasta dishes and grab-and-go deli items. On cold days, you can't beat slurping up a bowl of ramen at Tora Ramen, or turn up the heat at Republik of Chiken, which specializes in Korean-inspired sandwiches and sides. Along with a centerpiece bar with cocktails and wine, there’s a smartly designed pour-your-own beer wall with more than two dozen craft brews. If you want to shop in between sips and nibbles, peruse the market’s small boutiques, which sell everything from jewelry to offbeat gifts.
DENVER LOCALS' FAVORITES
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 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.
Founder Dave Query ignited Denver’s seafood scene with the opening of this oceanic restaurant and oyster bar in Lower Downtown (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 fan favorite for slurping pristine oysters, although the rest of the menu — crab legs, lobster, clam chowder, charred Spanish octopus and Alaskan halibut — is every bit as crowd-pleasing, as are the spirit-forward cocktails and compelling wines and craft beers.
A collaborative project from some of the biggest names in the city’s culinary landscape — including restaurateur Justin Cucci — this Lower Highland (LoHi) distillery, tasting room and restaurant is a bombshell of beautification. The tasting room, bedecked 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. The three-cheese fondue, pooled in a hollowed-out pumpkin and paired with skewers, is a playful culinary fashion statement from chef Tom Dotson, whose food is offset by a superb cocktail scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs.
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.
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, peacocks 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 workmanship 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.
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.
Leave it to restaurateur and design genius Justin Cucci (Linger, Vital Root, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox and Root Down) to erect a brilliantly designed, head-turning restaurant with equally jaw-dropping skyline views from its 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.
On the RiNo stretch that’s Upper Larimer Street resides 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 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.
A veritable one-stop dining-and-drinking experience, this lively 12,000-square-foot gastrohall in RiNo ballyhoos 10 stands vending everything from tuna poke and squid ink spaghetti to wood-fire pizzas, hand-crafted chocolates, pastries and Italian beef sandwiches. Complete with an ice cream shop, java joint, butcher shop, fish counter and bar that pours progressive cocktails, The Denver Central Market fulfills every food and drink obsession. Each of the vendors 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.
Chef Troy Guard has been blazing culinary trails in Denver for more than a decade, and while the majority of his restaurants focus on Pan-Asian cuisine, Guard and Grace bucks bok choy for beef — crimson slabs of flesh served in testosterone-restrained surrounds offset by a beautifully appointed bar, chef’s counter that peers over the expansive exhibition kitchen and elevated, crescent-shaped booths perching in an energetic dining room walled with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the downtown Denver skyline. The kitchen hits 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, many of which are also available by the glass.