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—Steuben's; Photo courtesy of Kari Cummings Photography

Top of the Town 2015: Dining

The best places to order pizza, breakfast, juice, Korean food, pie, sandwiches, and more.

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Dining


Dessert

Editors’ Choice
Steuben’s (pictured)
Denverites first got a taste of pastry chef Nadine Donovan’s supreme talent at Fuel Cafe and then Old Major (oh how we adored her baked Alaska). When it was announced in February that she was leaving Old Major, foodies anxiously awaited her next move. Within a matter of weeks, she landed at the Vesta Dipping Grill/Ace Eat Serve/Steuben’s family. Fittingly, Donovan’s first menu included an ode to the 1950s: a lemon icebox bar, a not-too-sweet treat that juxtaposes white cake with frozen lemon mousse, toasted meringue, ginger crumble, and blackberry compote. Her new home is a delicious match for a chef inspired by nostalgic desserts. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001,

Readers’ Choice
D Bar 494 E. 19th Ave., 303-861-4710

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Burger

Editors’ Choice

The Squeaky Bean
When it comes to this classic dish, we want something that’s familiar but also exciting. Enter the Squeaky Bean’s lunchtime-only All-American double cheeseburger. Two beef patties (a blend of Colorado prime beef) and gooey American cheese are as comforting as a backyard barbecue. But the crunchy house pickles, caramelized onions, and Thousand Island–esque sauce add a burst of flavor your home grill master hasn’t, well, mastered. While the LoDo Combo is a pricey $15, it includes thin-cut fries, a small salad, and a drink—aka the ultimate meal deal. 1500 Wynkoop St., Suite 101, 303-623-2665

Readers’ Choice
Park Burger
multiple locations


Sandwich

Editors’ Choice

Mercantile Dining & Provision
This 10-month-old eatery’s sandwiches aren’t simple meat, cheese, and bread creations. They’re gourmet meals. After delighting in Mercantile’s banh mi sandwich (pictured) on more occasions than we can count, we had fully intended to write an over-the-top ode to the lemongrass pork pâté, chile-glazed pork belly, pickled vegetables, and chicken liver aïoli resting between two halves of a perfect baguette. But in the name of research, we felt compelled to also try the hot pastrami, chicken confit salad, and braised short rib sandwiches—and we quickly realized it would be unfair not to mention their magnificence as well. In summary: Start working your way through esteemed chef Alex Seidel’s lunchtime sandwich roster immediately. Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3733

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Readers’ Choice
Snarf’s multiple locations


Breakfast

Editors’ Choice
Onefold
Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, don’t waste it on a tired plate of eggs and potatoes you can get anywhere. Instead, head to Onefold, which Denverites Mark and Terese Nery opened four months ago in Uptown. The petite cafe’s small but thoughtful selection incorporates a wide array of meats and starches that transcends the usual options. Dishes include fried rice rich with Tender Belly bacon and topped with fried eggs; duck confit hash; flavorful breakfast tacos stuffed with grilled mozzarella cheese, crispy hash browns, and perfectly scrambled eggs; and a must-try congee (a savory Asian porridge with ham and sesame oil). Pair it all with Commonwealth Coffee, and your morning—yes, even if it’s a Monday—will start off right. 1420 E. 18th Ave., 303-954-0877

Readers’ Choice
Snooze multiple locations


Chef

Editors’ Choice
Kelly Whitaker
To Denverites, it might seem as though chef Kelly Whitaker (pictured) just arrived on the scene, but in the five-and-a-half years since he opened Basta in Boulder, the restaurateur has been quietly building his brand. To wit: Cart-Driver, his always-packed pizza and oyster restaurant in RiNo, opened this past July, and the local accolades have been pouring in, most of which rightfully call out Whitaker’s intense dedication to organic and domestic ingredients. Through that commitment he has become, in many ways, an accidental activist. He’s now a local leader of the national powerhouse Chefs Collaborative (which brought its annual big-name conference to Boulder in 2014), and in March, Whitaker penned an impressive opinion piece on sustainable fishing that ran in the Los Angeles Times. We expect it’s only the beginning for this understated and sharp-as-a-knife chef. 2500 Larimer St., 303-292-3553, cart-driver.com; 3601 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-997-8775

Readers’ Choice
Troy Guard Tag Restaurant

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Coffeeshop

Editors’ Choice
Amethyst Coffee Company
In February, Elle Taylor—a barista whose cortado skills impressed us time and again at Little Owl—opened Amethyst on the ground floor of the Metlo on Broadway. Since then, the cafe has become our go-to for a caffeine spike. The unexpected, tucked-away location makes it feel like our little secret. Walk inside the minimalist spot to talk coffee with the pros (Taylor and other staffers have competed on the national level) and sip a serious pour-over made with Denver-based Commonwealth Coffee. Or order off the ever changing menu of signature drinks. 1111 Broadway, Suite 101

Readers’ Choice
Starbucks multiple locations


Wine Shop

Editors’ Choice
The Proper Pour
You can pick up a decent $20 bottle of wine at just about any liquor store in the city. Sometimes, though, an occasion calls for something special. That’s when we head to the Proper Pour at the Source, where we almost always unearth a rare find, thanks to the refined palates of owner McLain Hedges and wine director Mary Allison Wright. (The wine aficionados also run the bar program for the Source’s central watering hole, RiNo Yacht Club, which Wright owns.) On a recent trip, that meant a couple of bottles of red from Domaine A. & P. de Villaine, the personal vineyard of legendary French winemaker Aubert de Villaine. Even better: If you’ve got a taste for wine but not the space to store it, the Proper Pour will recommend storage solutions for your collection. The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd., 720-389-7905

Readers’ Choice
Mondo Vino 3601 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-3858


Pizza

Editors’ Choice
Cart-Driver
Just when you thought the city couldn’t support another pizza joint, along came Cart-Driver, the brainchild of Basta’s Kelly Whitaker (our pick for top chef). Although the 320-square-foot RiNo dining space, which opened a year ago, is decidedly understated, the pies are a revelation. Cooked in a 1,000-degree wood-fired oven, these pizzas are simple; their excellence comes from the exquisitely sourced American ingredients Whitaker and company use, such as tomatoes from California and 00 flour from Utah. Taste the perfection in the eponymous pizza, made with Colorado pork sausage, kale, and chile flakes. You may never view pizza in the same way again. 2500 Larimer St., 303-292-3553

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Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian multiple locations


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—Images courtesy of McCall Burau Photography, Carmel Zucker, and Sarah Boyum


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Pie

Editors’ Choice
The Post Brewing Co.
In an era of food trucks, subway restaurants, and pop-up dinners, we’re not that surprised that the metro area’s best pie can be found in a brewery. Big Red F Restaurant Group—the folks behind the year-and-a-half-old Post Brewing Co., a neighborhood-beer-house-meets-eatery in Lafayette—knew what they were doing when they hired John Hinman. For years, the pastry chef has made some of the city’s butteriest crusts (at esteemed venues such as Vesta Dipping Grill, Jax Fish House, and Lola). Grab a seat at the Post’s bar and order a slice from Hinman’s changes-on-a-whim selection; the picnic-perfect cherry pairs neatly with the Big Rosie Porter’s bitterness and acidity. 105 W. Emma St., Lafayette, 303-593-2066

Readers’ Choice
Humble Pie Store 720-479-8690


Fresh-Pressed Juice

Editors’ Choice
The Corner Beet
Many eateries have jumped on the juicing bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean finding a truly nutritious sip is easy. Cue the Corner Beet. This bright, 11-month-old juicery and vegetarian cafe cold-presses juices (sold under the name Gypsy Juice) using fresh—as in, live wheatgrass—organic, and local (whenever possible) ingredients every morning. The popular Bon Vivant, an earthy green option, is always available, but we typically opt for the ever-changing seasonal blends. Little wonder Zagat named owners Nikki Hazamy and Donna Dempsey among the state’s “rising-star food artisans” last year. 1401 Ogden St., 720-295-4447

Readers’ Choice
Pressed Juice Daily 1111 N. Broadway, Suite 101A; 1219 E. 36th Ave.; 303-296-1234

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Bakery

Editors’ Choice
Wooden Spoon Café & Bakery
Let your nose lead you to this quaint Highland bakery, where scents of freshly baked treats waft out the front door. Find sugary proof of the bakers’ exceptional skills with a bite of a creamy éclair or a sweet and crumbly blueberry scone or an unforgettable cherry Danish. At husband-and-wife Jason and Jeanette Burgett’s five-year-old bakery (the duo earned their foodie chops in restaurants from New York to North Carolina), everything is fresh and the menu changes with the seasons, meaning there’s always a new reason to stop in. We’ll be right ahead of you in line. 2418 W. 32nd Ave., 303-999-0327

Readers’ Choice
Nothing Bundt Cakes multiple locations


Steak

Editors’ Choice
Argyll Whisky Beer
This 13-month-old Uptown gastropub understands that steak is not a sacred cow (no matter Denver’s ranching roots). Argyll’s California-bred shoulder tender—served alongside dipping bowls of green peppercorn, horseradish cream, and chimichurri—taps into the shared-plate trend for an engaging variation on Denver’s signature dish. The peppery char and tender, juicy center are perfect on their own, but we suggest pairing it all with a Thoroughbred—an old fashioned with smoked black tea and grapefruit bitters—for a meal even the pioneers would have been proud of. 1035 E. 17th Ave., 303-847-0850

Readers’ Choice
Guard and Grace 1801 California St., 303-293-8500


Barbecue

Editors’ Choice
Ragin’ Hog BBQ
Barbecue is a full-time job for Ragin’ Hog co-owner and pit master Colleen Van Tuyl. The Arkansas native starts cooking at 4 in the morning and makes another batch of ribs, smoked chicken, and hot links around 10 a.m. Arrive too late in the day to this seven-month-old Berkeley joint and you’ll likely find a “sold out” sign in the window. Van Tuyl refuses to tarnish her Southern-style ’cue (or handmade baked beans, mac and cheese, and collard greens, served in Styrofoam containers per long-standing Southern tradition) by reheating it. That probably explains why the fare is so juicy you can easily devour it sans sauce. But why would you, when Van Tuyl spent six months devising five varieties, from sweet to faintly spicy, from scratch? 4361 Lowell Blvd., 303-859-6003

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Readers’ Choice
Brothers BBQ multiple locations


Kid-Friendly Restaurant

Editors’ Choice
Four Friends Kitchen
Hangry: adj. a state of frustration and anger brought about by hunger and low blood sugar. See also: that snarling toddler in the restaurant booth next to you. Four months ago, when Four Friends Kitchen opened in Stapleton, families who had long sought a kid-friendly breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot in the area rejoiced (limited dinner hours are coming soon). If Junior needs to eat as soon as you’re seated, servers are happy to get pint-size portions of the kitchen’s best out pronto. Choose from a roster of Southern comfort food—“a modern take on Grandma’s recipes”—that includes everything from gooey chocolate-chip pancakes to tender smoked-brisket hash. And don’t fret if the breakfast rush means a wait; just trot up to the rooftop for yard games (for them) and a mimosa (for you), or hang out in the entryway and find distraction in a wall of Etch A Sketch screens (for everyone). 2893 Roslyn St., 303-388-8299

Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian
multiple locations


Vegan

Editors’ Choice
Beet Box Bakery and Cafe
Finding a satisfying vegan sandwich that goes beyond grilled veggies or hummus can be a frustrating challenge. Beet Box makes it easy. The unassuming spot sells some of the best vegan doughnuts (and dozens of other treats) in town, but the sandwich menu’s six big-on-flavor options are the real animal-product-free scene- stealers. The banh mi (stacked with marinated tofu, spicy pickles, shredded and pickled carrots and onions, cilantro, and house-made vegan mayonnaise on a baguette) and the chickpea of the sea (a welcome riff on the tuna sandwich) are our go-tos. Sandwiches are only $6.50 to $7.50, and portions are so large you’ll walk away with dinner, too. 1030 E. 22nd Ave., 303-861-0017

Readers’ Choice
Watercourse Foods 837 E. 17th Ave., 303-832-7313

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Distillery

Editors’ Choice
Golden Moon Distillery
Choosing a top distillery in our booze-soaked state ain’t easy, but Golden Moon earns the honors for creating what no other spirit maker in the country has: a delicate crème de violette liqueur distilled (not mashed) from most of the plant. That’s a worthy accomplishment, but we also dig this seven-year-old Golden distillery because it’s the very definition of old-school. Co-owner Stephen Gould uses nine antique stills and pulls inspiration from recipes dating as far back as the 1500s to create his line of 14 spirits. All things considered, it’s no surprise these handcrafted liquors have been showing up on more backbars around Denver, including those at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Green Russell, TAG, and Z Cuisine. To sample the full Golden Moon array, visit its year-and-a-half-old speakeasy in Miner’s Alley, a beerless bar where the only drinks available are made with Golden Moon spirits. Don’t leave without buying a bottle of your favorite. 412 Violet St., Golden, 303-993-7174

Readers’ Choice
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey 200 S. Kalamath St., 303-296-7440


Specialty Market

Editors’ Choice
Nooch Vegan Market
As regular shoppers for specialty diet items, we consider Nooch Vegan Market grocery store heaven. At this vegan emporium just off South Broadway, tofurkey, flax milk, and plant-based cheeses are the norm. The small market features super-fresh produce, specialty products we can’t seem to find all in one place anywhere else in town—like coconut bacon (we won’t lie and say it’s as good as the real thing, but it’s a yummy alternative)—and even pints of seasonal flavors like vegan mint chip from nearby Sweet Action Ice Cream. Eat your (no animal product) heart out. 10 E. Ellsworth Ave., 720-328-5324

Readers’ Choice
Marczyk Fine Foods
770 E. 17th Ave., 303-894-9499; 5100 E. Colfax Ave., 303-243-3355


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—Images courtesy of The Corner Beet, Carmel Zucker, Danielle Lirette, and Rick Souder

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Eat Your Way Around the World

Mexican

Editors’ Choice
El Taco de Mexico
Eat This: Stuffed with heavenly refried beans and oozing with cheese, the chile relleno burrito (smothered in killer house-made green chile) is a must, as are the delicately spiced marinated pork tacos.
Drink This: Horchata.
Note of Authenticity: The Zanabria family, which hails from Mexico, has been crafting its take on Mexico City eats at this counter-service taquería since 1986.
714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926

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Readers’ Choice
La Loma 2527 W. 26th Ave., 303-433-8300


Middle Eastern

Editors’ Choice
Damascus Restaurant
Eat This: You’ll leave full after trying the vegetarian combo (hummus, baba ghanoush, fattoush salad, basmati rice, falafel, grape leaves, and moussaka) or mixed grill meat combo (lamb, beef, chicken, and kofta kebabs) and fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread.
Drink This: Damascus’ fresh strawberry juice—made in-house—tastes like summer.
Note of Authenticity: Syria-born Mahmoud Kassir opened this south Denver eatery more than 20 years ago using recipes his mother sent him on audiotapes.
2276 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-757-3515

Readers’ Choice
Jerusalem Restaurant
1890 E. Evans Ave., 303-777-8828


Korean

Editors’ Choice
DaeGee Korean BBQ (pictured)
Eat This: Start with an order of comforting mandoo guk, a chicken dumpling soup. You’ll be satisfied with any of the barbecue-it-yourself options—all of which come with eight traditional sides—but the beef bulgogi is particularly tender. (Note: The Colorado Boulevard location is still awaiting its barbecue tables.)
Drink This: Share a bottle of cold ginseng soju, a pleasant Korean sake.
Note of Authenticity: When chef-owner Joe Kim opened DaeGee’s first location, his Korean mother-in-law (who taught him to cook) manned the burners. He still uses many of her recipes.
827 Colorado Blvd., 720-639-9986; 7570 Sheridan Blvd., Westminster, 720-540-0700

Readers’ Choice
DaeGee Korean BBQ

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Italian

Editors’ Choice
DiFranco’s
Eat This: The simple salad of field greens, carrots, tomatoes, and shaved fennel, paired with the equally modest but flavorful penne in prosciutto vodka sauce, will only set you back $11 on Mondays.
Drink This: A glass of Martini & Rossi prosecco straight from Italy.
Note of Authenticity: Owner Ryan DiFranco is inspired by his Southern Italian grandmother, but he keeps his ingredients local to maintain the same level of freshness you’d find in Italy’s impeccable seaside restaurants.
955 Lincoln St., Unit D, 720-253-1244

Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian multiple locations


Ethiopian

Editors’ Choice
Queen of Sheba
Eat This: A combo platter (all veggie, all meat, or a mix of the two) is a great introduction to the wide variety of African spices, which lean toward tangy and complex rather than simply spicy.
Drink This: Any of several native beers (including St. George, the Ethiopian Budweiser) or the meadlike honey wine.
Note of Authenticity: Ethiopia-born chef-owner Zewditu Aboye decorated the walls of the small eatery with her collection of Ethiopian folk art.
7225 E. Colfax Ave., 303-399-9442

Readers’ Choice
Queen of Sheba


Japanese

Editors’ Choice
Domo
Eat This: Get your fill with a lunchtime donburi bowl—we suggest the fresh tuna—which comes with three country sides, miso soup, and rice. (Or make your co-workers jealous with a to-go bento box with chicken teriyaki.)
Drink This: The delicious Sencha, a steamed green tea, arrives in a bowl-size cup.
Note of Authenticity: We’ll never stop raving about the peaceful back patio, located in the middle of a lush Japanese garden.
1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666,

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Readers’ Choice
Sushi Den 1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826


Thai

Editors’ Choice
Thai Monkey Club
Eat This: Any of the stir-fried noodle dishes (we’re partial to the pad see ew and drunken noodles). Ask your server for an explanation of the spiciness scale, and err on the conservative side—things get real hot here, real fast. Trust us.
Drink This: A crisp Singha beer or the very sweet (but very refreshing) mango boba smoothie.
Note of Authenticity: You know this is real Thai because the hottest spice level—six on a scale of one to six—is borderline inedible.
Multiple locations

Readers’ Choice
Thai Basil multiple locations


Greek

Editors’ Choice
Axios Estiatorio
Eat This: The lasagnalike pastitsio stops just short of being too rich; on weekends, ask about the seasonal fish (last time we were in, it was halibut—and it had already sold out at 7 p.m.).
Drink This: Any of the nearly 50 Greek wines on the menu.
Note of Authenticity: Axios Estiatorio imports an impressive collection of ouzo—the traditional Greek anise-tinged aperitif—and offers suds from Septem Microbrewery, located on Evia, Greece’s second largest island.
3901 Tennyson St., 720-328-2225

Readers’ Choice
Axios Estiatorio

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Vietnamese

Editors’ Choice
Vinh Xuong Bakery
Eat This: Perfect banh mi sandwiches with house-made baguettes, hand-ground or sliced meats, and hand-pickled daikon radish and carrot. Add a few warm-from-the-fryer sesame balls to go.
Drink This: Slow-brewed Vietnamese iced coffee.
Note of Authenticity: The bakery’s original location at 375 South Federal Boulevard (which is also worth a visit) was started more than 20 years ago by Vietnamese immigrants.
2370 W. Alameda Ave., Unit 15, 303-922-0999

Readers’ Choice
(TIE) New Saigon 630 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-4954
and Pho 95 1401 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-3322; 6879 S. Vine St., Centennial, 303-797-9535


Chinese

Editors’ Choice
China Jade
Eat This: Order the spicy boiled fish slices, and you’ll be rewarded with a stewlike dish of tenderly poached ocean whitefish and boiled vegetables in an earthy broth.
Drink This: A warm pot of floral chrysanthemum tea.
Note of Authenticity: The menu features a plentiful array of traditional Szechuan dishes—and doesn’t hold back on chiles or the sweat-inducing Szechuan pepper.
12203 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora, 303-755-8518

Readers’ Choice
Imperial Chinese 431 S. Broadway, 303-698-2800


Indian

Editors’ Choice
India’s Castle
Eat This: Hearty dal soup, stuffed-to-bursting vegetarian samosas, curry-forward lamb Madras, and crispy yet soft garlic naan.
Drink This: Chai tea, of course.
Note of Authenticity: The restaurant’s focus on North Indian cuisine means you’ll discover new dishes, such as the Mughlai Baida, a curry made with hard-boiled eggs.
9555 E. Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village, 303-782-9700

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Readers’ Choice
Little India multiple locations


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—Image courtesy of Mikey T. Nguyen

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