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While it’s true that Denver is landlocked, the sea’s bounty makes a remarkably strong showing at restaurant tables across the city, and Denver chefs are obsessed with responsible sourcing, sustainability, fishery management and reeling in fresh-caught specimens that are flown in daily, often because of partnerships and connections with the nation’s best seafood suppliers. 

From longstanding oyster bars to new coastal seafood sanctuaries, Denver’s fish houses are a real catch, in particular, the following restaurants that serve oceanic creatures that don’t have to fish for compliments. By the way, this list doesn’t include sushi. For the city’s best sushi spots, sail on over to our international restaurant guide to Denver.

Jax Fish House

Founder Dave Query ignited Denver’s seafood scene with the opening of this oceanic restaurant and oyster bar in Lower Downtown 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.

Stoic & Genuine

Denver collides with the Coasts at Stoic & Genuine, where seafood guru and executive chef Jorel Pierce is captain of his domain, unleashing hauls of flawlessly fresh oysters on the half shell and raw bar classics in the shell. Binge on the seafood “tower of power” and then do a deep dive into Alaskan king crab legs, Maine lobster, caviar and main dishes like mussels wading in a Thai curry broth, crisped whole haddock and the deeply satisfying paella moderna. Residing inside Denver Union Station, the knockout space—all up-to-the-moment razzle-dazzle and maritime splash—is offset by a hypnotizing cocktail program and lavish granita bar that spotlights shaved ice, an enlivening garnish that appears in cocktails and atop oysters. 

Ocean Prime

Polished, indulgent and ornamented with elegant accents, this Larimer Square seafood eatery and self-described “modern supper club” is part of a Midwest chain from Ohio restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, who’s renowned for his diverse repertoire of restaurants. Here, amid a gorgeous entry with a sweeping staircase, a bustling bar scene and handsome wood-and-brick walls laddered with wines, experienced servers deliver the whole ocean spectrum: oysters on the half shell, whole Maine lobsters, crab cocktails, king crab legs and slabs of fish that zigzag from blackened Colorado bass and lemon-kissed swordfish to sesame-soy-glazed tuna and sea scallops married with Parmesan risotto. If you’re sharing a night out with a group, book the upstairs glass-enclosed room that harbors table 50. It seats eight, and the views overlooking Larimer Square—especially when the windows are open—are Instagram-worthy. 

Guard and Grace

Downtown Denver is symbolic of steakhouses, but Guard and Grace isn't your typical shrine to steer. There’s the bravado of wood-fired grills, charcuterie plates and, like any great steakhouse worth its salt, a wave of seafood and fish experiences that rival its meaty counterparts: exemplary oysters, Maryland crab cakes, grilled Scottish salmon with shaved rhubarb, and the ambrosial smoke-scented octopus paired with a white bean and celery salad, Spanish chorizo and a roasted red pepper sauce. It’s a win, too, for its exhilarating wine syllabus that stretches far and deep, swanky surrounds that favor a feminine touch and a voyeuristic chef’s counter that overlooks the industrious kitchen and glistening raw bar skimmed with impeccably fresh oysters. 

Lola Coastal Mexican

With an enviable view of the Denver skyline from its buzzing patio and a hip Lower Highland (LoHi) clientele, Lola is one of The Mile High City's most vibrant spots for Mexican-inspired coastal cuisine that’s long on ambiance and even longer on flavor. Start with a plate of raw, fried or grilled oysters and the elevated salmon ceviche with fennel fronds and then fawn over favorites like the caldo chilpachole, a riveting seafood stew of fish, baby octopus, mussels, shrimp, crab and clams, or share the red snapper, a strikingly accessorized whole fish that’s grilled and served with bracing chimichurri sauce. The food doesn't require embellishments, but you’d be remiss to forego a margarita. Lola pimps more than 200 tequilas, which may explain why Food & Wine magazine named it one of the top five places in the country to drink the agave spirit.

 

TAMMEN’S FISH MARKET AT THE DENVER CENTRAL MARKET  

Tammen’s Fish Market, one of multiple tenants residing inside the Denver Central Market, a superb food hall in RiNo, doubles as a full-service fish counter and counter-service restaurant that turns out a host of sea-centric dishes, like quinoa crab cakes, shrimp on skewers, ceviche, poke, clam chowder and fried smelts. With its casual surrounds, community bar that serves beer, wine and cocktails, and clam and mussel shells that grin from the impressive display case, it’s a terrific spot for lunch, dinner or a grab-and-go fresh fish and seafood jaunt that allows you to experiment with cooking your own specimens at home. 

CAFÉ BRAZIL

To travel through the dishes that define Cafe Brazil, a sensationally 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 come-hither stew stained sunset with dende oil and liberally enhanced with tender scallops, shrimp and Portuguese bacalhau. 

BLUE ISLAND OYSTER BAR AND SEAFOOD

In any neighborhood inked with upscale boutiques, swanky bars and martini-leaning residents, a sleek seafood shrine is never far away. And so it goes for Blue Island Oyster Bar and Seafood, a sophisticated dock-to-dish restaurant in tony Cherry Creek that struts a ritzy seafaring motif flanked by a centerpiece bar that pours stiff martinis and bubbles, the requisite libation to match with the restaurant’s proprietary East Coast oysters. You could spend all of your clams on the bivalves, but then you’d miss the creamy New England clam chowder—and that would be a travesty.  

FISH N BEER

Chef and owner Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey offers a fresh syllabus of sea creatures at his diminutive River North Art District (RiNo) restaurant that’s usually packed like a can of sardines with diners drawn to the beer-friendly, fish-intensive menu. A triumphant wood-grilled whole Colorado bass is a state ballad bathed in butter and sidekicked with asparagus spears and charred tomatoes, while the king salmon filet with gnocchi, kale and crimini mushrooms is caressed with a cream sauce of butter and garlic. Oysters, mussels, pan-roasted crab-and-corn cakes and terrific smelt fries round out the culinary roster, which pairs well with the rotating craft-beer lineup favoring Colorado breweries. 

MISTER TUNA

The quirky title of this RiNo restaurant concept is the nickname of chef-owner Troy Guard’s pop, a guy who spent many of his fathering years in Hawaii, cooking meals on the grill. And a wood-fired grill, alongside a rotisserie, are the primary cooking methods that Guard employs at Mister Tuna, a jovial fish and seafood emporium in RiNo that involves Guard’s signature playful twists, which include Hawaiian, Asian and Southern rifts, the latter of which are courtesy of executive chef Tristen Epps, who spent time cooking in restaurants of celebrity soul-food chef Marcus Samuelsson. Their menu, built for sharing, takes risks without overreaching: blistered mackerel is mated with passion fruit; barbecued octopus gets a boost from the addition of merguez sausage, a powerhouse of flavor; and the Vietnamese-style kampachi is dotted with little torpedoes of candied peanuts. The smashing cocktail list is every bit as fun as the food. 

WEWATTA POINT 

Food of the hook, line and sinker variety headlines the menu at this Denver Union Station fish and seafood restaurant that dispenses everything from fish and chips and lobster rolls to cioppino and linguine with clams. Emblematic of the new wave of fish houses anchoring in Denver, Wewatta Point leans on contemporary nuances—cast-iron mussels with Fresno chilies and deviled eggs punctuated with crab, for example—but if you’re a purist, the seasonal oysters, sided with mignonette and cocktail sauce powered with horseradish, steer clear of unpredictable flourishes. Like the cuisine, the space, with its blue and white color scheme, slants nautical, and the wine and cocktail list, including a rum-forward drink called “Dreaming of Summer,” conjures up images of seaside sojourns. 

By Lori Midson