Whether you've been an item for decades or it’s a first date, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be judged on your pick for a special night out. From intimate enclaves ambient with the glow of a fireplace to exquisite cuisine, flirty cocktails and splurge wines, there’s a Denver restaurant for every romantic occasion. Consider this your Cupid guide to the city’s best spots to celebrate your courtship, no matter the day of the year.
It’s been one of dreamiest restaurants in Denver for a decade, eclipsing splashy new arrivals and old paramours alike. There’s the fairy-tale dining room, an ode to the romance between a lumberjack and a winemaker’s daughter, their story told through the eyes of alluring design elements: diaphanous muslin curtains, clusters of Aspen tree trunks weaved throughout the dining room, flickering camp lanterns and cozy booths conducive to canoodling. And then there’s the rusticated global menu, a sonnet of refined plates—crawfish beignets, chicken liver pâté, roasted bone marrow and a cheese board—that are seductive and shareable. Beatrice & Woodsley’s urban location, smack in the bustle of the pulsating Baker neighborhood, might make you wonder if you’re entering a party zone, but beyond the door is matchless tête-à-tête territory.
For New American cuisine with a distinctive French flair, there may be no restaurant more treasured than Mizuna, chef-owner Frank Bonanno's endearing flagship restaurant in Capitol Hill. Blissfully romantic, cozy and graceful, the floor is overseen by a cordial and studious staff who are more than adept at pairing wines with beautifully prepared dishes like beef Wellington and the decadent macaroni and cheese, creamy with mascarpone and punctuated with succulent bites of butter-poached lobster. This is a restaurant that’s become nothing other than timeless, and while the tab will swell your credit card balance, it's a dining experience that’s earned its place among the best in Denver.
At this exceptionally sultry nighttime destination in Lower Downtown (LoDo), the soft-lit, loft-like space—a cube of copper accents, antiqued mirrors, hardwood floors, curved booths and exposed brick—is ever so sexy, making Vesta a no-brainer restaurant to romance a date over cocktails, a cheese plate and the shareable cioppino, a saffron-scented broth bobbing with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp and sea bass. Cocktail-friendly starters, including charred baby octopus with nubs of housemade chorizo, preserved lemons and cannellini beans, represent the kitchen’s global-leaning strengths, while the glorious charcuterie plate, an assemblage of pâté and house-cured meats, exemplifies the kitchen’s allegiance to laborious mastery.
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 romance-filled 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.
Situated in Lower Highland (LoHi), the Family Jones Spirit House is, quite simply, a bombshell of beautification. The intimate space, 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 the 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.
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 sensational regional Italian restaurant based at the boot of the Kimpton Hotel Born. The menu, created by Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, housemade pastas and fish and meat dishes that seesaw between a breaded Berkshire pork chop to branzino with fennel, escarole and olives. The gorgeous 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 romantic dinners and sojourns to fantastical faraway places.
Rioja, a celebrated Mediterranean and Spanish restaurant, cemented the stardom of James Beard Foundation best chef winner Jennifer Jasinski, whose stunning restaurant, complete with a transparent kitchen and chef’s counter, transformed Larimer Square into a bona fide dining destination that’s perfect for date night. Renowned for its pristinely fresh ingredients, season-intensive dishes, plate artistry, hand-crafted pastas, extensive brunch menu and thoughtful pastry program (including a fantastic house-baked bread basket), Rioja is a favorite of 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.
Beast + Bottle
In 2013, chef-owner Paul Reilly, along with his sister, Aileen, unveiled Beast + Bottle, a quintessential neighborhood bistro perched on one of Denver’s most populated restaurant rows. Reilly’s cooking, an ode to locality, seasonality and global flavors, has earned him a spate of well-deserved accolades, while the enchanting farmhouse setting—largely synchronized with the food emerging from the partially open kitchen—is an object of adoration for romanticizing couples who share intimate moments over bubbles and aphrodisiacal oysters on the half shell.
The Perfect Landing
Stowed away on the second level of Centennial Airport, The Perfect Landing is the antithesis of a frenetic airport restaurant. There’s no racing through security lines and no heavy bags to wheel through tight spaces, and the only chance of a missed connection is if your jet-setting date stands you up in favor of a flying lesson. The softly illuminated restaurant, with its large windows that peer over multi-million dollar planes on the runway, is prime real estate for romantic date nights, especially against the backdrop of terrific live piano music. Book a window seat to watch a Colorado sunset, order the tiered seafood tower splayed with shrimp, lobster, oysters, scallops and king crab legs and map out your next journey to parts unknown.
Eschewing trend-setting fads, Domo is an exquisitely adorned Japanese hideaway that specializes in the countrified cuisine of northern Japan. The disarmingly comforting dining rooms, with their tree-stump seats, rustic woods and farmhouse folk art, are perfect for ceremonial snuggling, while the beautifully meditative garden is an idyllic respite for smooching couples, especially during cherry blossom season.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another steakhouse in the city that has the funky old-school charm of Bastien’s, a decades-old steakhouse in City Park that pays homage to the Rat Pack, properly chilled vodka martinis and comforting cuisine that channels days gone by. With apologies to those who eschew sugar, the dish to live (and die) by at Bastien’s is the iconic sugar steak, preferably paired with a grilled Caesar salad and a loaded twice-baked potato, best enjoyed on a chilly evening, in an intimate booth under the romantic twinkle of lights. If you’re longing a yesteryear dining experience that’s warm, unfussy, relaxed and nostalgic with Frank Sinatra crooning through the speakers, then Bastien’s has all the trappings of an amorous night.
Barolo Grill, a stellar Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek, is for beautiful bottles of wine, unassailable pastas and sultry braised duck; for exquisite service and fine-tuned tasting menus sketched with experimental flavors bereft of borders. For one of the loveliest dining rooms in the city, where tables are still sheeted with white tablecloths dressed with polished silver, the lighting is gentle and warm and the amorous table for two, snuggled against the glow of the fireplace, symbolizes classic romance. Put it on your bucket list.
Odyssey Italian Restaurant
There’s a reason why your iPhone comes equipped with a flashlight: You’ll need its bright beam to peruse the menu at Odyssey, a crimson-clad tablecloth Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek with the kind of low lighting that makes even those with perfect eyesight admit defeat. But that’s part of the allure of this charming two-story maze of corner nooks and jewel-box rooms framed with weathered brick, gold-framed photos, wine bottles and violins. Romancing couples come here to kiss and hold hands and to feast on saucy spaghetti and meatballs, scampi, osso buco and the “Godfather” steak, an aged ribeye that’s intended for two.
This celebrated Larimer Square Parisian sanctuary from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch (Rioja, Euclid Hall, Ultreia and Stoic & Genuine) evokes romance at every turn, whether it’s inside Bistro Vendome’s captivating dining room where knees knock and lips lock across the small tables or on the enchanting courtyard patio potted with blooms. The menu, courtesy of chef de cuisine Ben Ashworth, is equally alluring, beckoning diners with escargot, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and bouillabaisse bobbing with seafood, shaved fennel and chorizo. The budget-friendly wine list—complete with bubbles—is exemplary, too.
Chef and restaurateur Lon Symensma is arguably one of Denver’s most talented chefs, unleashing whiz-bang-boom flavors at every turn, and LeRoux, his newest restaurant on the 16th Street Mall, might be his best effort. The elegant space, ambient with crystal chandeliers, flickering candles, frosted windows, tufted booths and banquettes hued the color of vintage blue, handsome dark woods and antiqued mirrors sweeps diners away with its sensuality. The stellar French-European menu offers the opportunity to fall deeper in love, thanks to bewitching dishes like beef tartare paired with shatteringly crisp, latticed potato chips and a cold-smoked egg, foie gras and chicken liver mousse, Champagne “beurre blanc” scallops with lobster froth and the brilliant cauliflower crème brûlée. An all-European wine list, coupled with smashing cocktails and decadent desserts, including tableside baked Alaska, ensures a flirty rendezvous.
Even back when the tables were so close together that you’d inevitably become acquaintances with your neighboring diners, even when chef-owner Alex Seidel—now a James Beard award-winning chef—wasn’t a household name, diminutive Fruition, a New American restaurant in Cherry Creek, was a vaulted destination for couples celebrating their courtship. Over the past few years, Seidel, who also owns Mercantile Dining & Provision and a dairy farm and is co-owner of Chook Charcoal Chicken and Füdmill, an artisan baking company, has purposefully refined his menu to push progressive flavors, polished the service and face-lifted the interior, the result of which makes this splendid temple of culinary magic all the more bewitching.
By Lori Midson