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. Denver is also known as a craft beer mecca. But where do you begin? Let the Denver Beer Trail be your guide.
Courtesy of the Southern California coast, this high-end fish and seafood chain is reeling in Denverites with its impeccably luxurious décor, ice-luminous raw bar, squeaky-clean aquariums, powerhouse wine list and tank-to-plate showstoppers. The new LoDo addition is the kind of restaurant where everything — and we do mean everything — has been meticulously thought out to create an orchestrated experience that’s perfectly emblematic of the modern fish house. Begin with a platter of shucked oysters or the char-grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, roasted tomatoes and niçoise olives; splurge on the wild Norwegian red king crab or a whole fish of wild New Zealand pink bream; and celebrate the occasion (or no occasion at all) with the bells-and-whistles croissant-and-brioche bread pudding crowned with salted ice cream drizzled with caramel.
Chef and prolific restaurateur Richard Sandoval (Tamayo, La Sandia and Avon-based Maya) introduces a progressive and eclectic wave of global flavors at Toro Latin Kitchen + Lounge, the newest food destination inside the classy Hotel Clio in Cherry Creek. Sandoval’s menu, absent culinary guardrails, latches on to ingredients from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Asia, Japan and Venezuela, a melting pot of flavors that translates to dishes that dazzle on the plate and the palate. Contemporary banquettes and dark-wood tables share space with hand-painted bull murals (“toro” means “bull” in Spanish and “tuna” in Japanese), private tequila lockers and a dedicated ceviche bar from which dishes like the aji amarillo ceviche with hamachi, mango and cucumber, emerge. An open-air patio, softly lit with strands of white lights and decked out with tables and swanky lounge furniture, is a hotspot for happy hour. Get the smoked swordfish dip and a mercado margarita with jalapeño-infused tequila, passion fruit and hibiscus-rosemary foam.
Flanked by Coors Field, this 28,000-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, a 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 abbondanza 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.
If you’re in a New York state of mind, start spreading the news: A slice of the Big Apple recently landed in the River North Arts District (RiNo), and you most definitely want a piece of the pie. A collaboration between Delores Tronco and executive chef Justin Freeman, the Greenwich, named for the beloved bohemian neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, doubles down on its inspiration and influence, channeling New York at every turn, whether it’s cocktail names (The Bowery, Gramercy Park and Summer in the Hamptons), the New York-centric books, photographs, prints, murals or magazines that bedeck the bi-level space, or the industrial-hip aesthetics. Race for a reservation to explore Freeman’s menu, too, which trumpets infallible wood-oven-blazed, sourdough-crusted pizzas and a brilliant plate of char-swatted swordfish puddled in a chile-laced broth bobbing with cannellini beans. More to love: the roasted carrots mated with lemon-smooched tahini and haloed with candied pistachios. The gratification is in the details.
When a restaurant’s tagline reads “Taco dirty to me,” you just sorta know it’s the kind of place that’s got a flirtatious, irreverent and edgy flair in the air. And Cantina Loca has all of that and more. The newest endeavor from James Beard Best Southwest chef nominee Dana “Loca” Rodriguez (Super Mega Bien, Work + Class and the forthcoming Casa Bonita), this jovial Lower Highland (LoHi) hotspot parades the best of Mexican street food: cod ceviche, queso fundido, delicious fried tacos swelled with cheese and smashed potatoes, housemade chorizo wrapped in still-steaming blue corn tortillas and flavor-shotted Colorado lamb tucked inside a banana leaf and paired with both blue and white corn tortillas, a heavenly avocado sauce and salsa. Entice your companions to embark on a tasting tour of Rodriguez’s own line of small-batch tequilas and mezcals and raise your glass to good vibes and great ambiance enlivened with sultry Latin music. For a sugar high, fulfill your lust with the faultless caramel-laced flan.
Perhaps more than any dish on the syllabus, the congri y maduros — sea-salted plantains, black beans and rice with sofrito, fresh herbs and a splash of citrus — channels Erasamo “Ras” Casiano’s Latin American and Spanish roots. Late last year, Casiano, along with business partner Diego Coconati, opened Lucina Eatery & Bar in Park Hill, its warm and fashionable atmosphere marked with potted foliage, boldly whimsical floral wallpaper and mid-mod stools and chairs. Along with the black beans and rice, consider the superb paella, a weekend-only marvel that might showcase mahi-mahi, mussels, blue oyster mushrooms, chorizo or piquillo peppers. And don’t overlook the beverage scroll, a spirited ballad of alluring cocktails, wines and beer.
It’s always slurp season at this West Highland ramen parlor where besotted enthusiasts pile in for all species — including offbeat ones — of the thick Japanese noodle soup: smoky miso and bacon confit; the ferociously brain-penetrating Deathwish; shrimp and pork tantanmen; lemon-glazed chicken shoyu (soy); prime rib shoyu; roasted mushroom ramen laced with chile jam; and kimchi Bolognese mazemen. But while the human race could quite possibly exist on ramen alone, Glo, a buzzy space with kaleidoscopic paper-lanterns, exquisite plateware, a hand-painted mural of a skull spewing noodles, must-see bathrooms (truly) and a frolicsome outdoor patio, also produces intoxicating small plates, skewers and cocktails, including the standout Seven Samurai, a union of bourbon, vermouth, passionfruit, egg white foam and a twist of crushed peppercorns.
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 Denver, 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 classy 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.
Alon Shaya’s dazzling Denver restaurant, situated inside The Source Hotel's culinary marketplace 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.
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, many of which are brewed at The Post, a Lafayette-based fried-chicken restaurant and brewery also owned by Query.
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.
Caroline Glover, Denver’s most recent James Beard Foundation award winner, 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.
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 with an artisan market, barista station, chef’s counter, two patios, sky-reaching ceilings, a spice treasury and 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.
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.
River North Art District (RiNo) locals are spoiled rotten by the terrific combination of culinary concepts at this high-spirited food-and-drink emporium grandstanding eleven ace vendors, including Vero Italian, Culture Meat & Cheese, Tammen’s Fish Market and Temper Chocolate and Confections. If you crave caffeine, swing by Crema Bodega for a pick-me-up cappuccino, and when the clock rings in cocktail hour, snag a seat at the bar at Curio for a boozy Manhattan, negroni or boulevardier. The 14,000-square-foot space also highlights brilliantly graffitied outdoor picnic tables painted by local artists. If you’re flying in or out of Denver International Airport, look for the market’s second (and smaller) outpost on the A Concourse.
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 wine cellar displays upwards of 4,000 bottles, many of which are also available by the glass.
Rioja, a celebrated modern Mediterranean and Spanish restaurant, cemented the stardom of James Beard Foundation best chef winner Jennifer Jasinski, whose exuberant restaurant, complete with a transparent kitchen, copper-topped bar and chef’s counter, transformed Larimer Square into a bona fide dining destination that’s universally worshipped for its polished aesthetics, season-intensive dishes, plate artistry, hand-crafted pastas (the artichoke, goat cheese and white truffle tortelloni is exemplary), extensive brunch menu and thoughtful pastry program (including a fantastic house-baked breadbasket). It’s a cult favorite of local and national celebrities, the food cognoscenti and just about everyone else who appreciates true culinary artisanship coupled with imaginative cocktails and a meaningful, well-edited and adventurous wine album that spotlights bottles from Spain and Portugal. Dually jaunty and formal — depending upon the occasion — Rioja remains one of the top restaurants in the city.
Comfort foods of the Latin-American culinary cannon 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 red wine-braised short ribs, green coriander-roasted Colorado lamb and rotisserie chicken, all of which should be paired with a side dish: chickpea croquettes, fried sweet plantains or the smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese. There’s nothing particularly fancy about Rodriguez’s cooking but sitting at the chef’s counter and indulging in the vanilla bean panna cotta or the caramel-glazed and ice cream-topped chocolate brownie, is all the luxury you need.
In Larimer Square, dart through what’s called the “Kettle Arcade” where you’ll find Bistro Vendome, a Parisian sanctuary that evokes enchantment at every turn, whether it’s inside the endearing dining room where knees knock and lips lock across the small tables or on the beguiling courtyard patio potted with blooms. The soul-soothing menu is equally magnetic, beckoning diners with escargot gratiné, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and duck confit with fingerling potatoes, English peas and glistening kumquat glaze. The affordable and romancing wine list — complete with bubbles — keeps the conversation flowing.
Low-key, cozy and downright alluring, Table 6, a popular bistro in Alamo Placita, basks in captivating warmth and tender intimacy — both inside and on the captivating patio. The menu, galvanized by the seasons, is illustrated with starters like the tarragon-scented grilled quail with smoked mushroom bread pudding and artichoke conserve. Main dishes seesaw from lemon-ricotta ravioli dressed with local greens and mushrooms to the thyme-braised lamb shank matched with butter beans, olive relish and crumbled feta, a dish that deftly redefines American comfort food. The deeply diverse, esoteric and accomplished wine list is so gloriously curated that you may want to ask the sommelier if he’s taking investors.
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 if 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.
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, scallops, shrimp and Portuguese bacalhau. Don’t miss the adjacent rum bar, a spirited hangout that grandstands one of the best rum collections—and rum cocktails—in the city.
"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, a Northern Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek North, is for beautiful bottles of Barolo, Brunello and Barbaresco, sensually crafted pasta dishes and woodsy Barolo-style braised duck; for exquisite service, lush floral centerpieces 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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