Denver’s Best New Restaurants

Ten new eateries where the food, staff, and ambiance make for fantastic dining discoveries.

December 2006

What makes a best new restaurant? It takes more than just a plate of good food. There’s consistency to take into account, and the waitstaff and the ambience too, but mostly it’s that spirited vibe when an eatery fires on all cylinders. When that happens the kitchen knows it, as do the servers, and the diners can feel it. There’s something special about being a part of that moment—and it’s something you’ll experience at all 10 of these metro-area restaurants.

For the last 14 months we’ve kept a crib sheet of the new places opening in and around Denver. We’ve noted spaces with hype and discovered other spots that opened without any fanfare. We’ve visited them all—chewing our way through crêpes with chantilly cream, duck confit, Cuban sandwiches, tandoori chicken, vegetarian hot dogs, and always, always dessert.

Denver’s dining scene continues to mature, embracing trends like Peruvian cuisine and seasonally focused menus. We also learned that Highland—especially booming East Highland—is the place to be, as three of our 10 are located in that urban neighborhood. Most important, we’ve found a handful of restaurants of all price ranges and cuisines that will wrap you in the moment and entice you to visit time and again.

Cafe Mondo
3301 Tejon St., 303-433-4626

When Cafe Mondo first opened last December, the window-wrapped space, bakery case stocked with mouthwatering goodies, and gourmet lunch sandwiches made regulars out of us. And then the San Franscisco-esque East Highland restaurant blossomed into a nighttime spot with wine-and-cheese tastings, wine-paired dinners, and sake parties. The paired dinners—for which the menu is posted with a sign-up sheet—include three to seven courses, with dishes ranging from sublime butternut squash soup to a hearty lamb chop with wild mushroom demi and scalloped sweet potatoes. And there's little surprise that the wine pairings are spot on, as owner Ellen Quinn Kratzer is the wife of Mondo Vino's Duey Kratzer.

Eat The decadent BBT (thick-cut bacon, fresh basil, and juicy tomato) on housemade focaccia at lunch.
Drink The wine list changes regularly; ask grape guru Duey Kratzer for a perfect pairing.
Don't Miss The buckwheat waffles with blackberry syrup and a side of the savory sweet-potato hash at breakfast.
Sit Inside against the south-facing window, or bring the paper and spread out at the bar.

880 Happy Canyon Road, Castle Rock, 303-660-2020, www.chutneysfoodandwine.com

We loved the late Denver Woodlands for what it was: a bare-bones, no pretenses, all-veggie Indian establishment in an Aurora strip mall. And we adore what Managing Director Kannan Alagappan and Executive Chef Ravi Chandra have created with Chutney's, their brand-new, polished Indian restaurant in Castle Pines Village. The extensive, eclectic menu guides diners from staples such as tandoori chicken and saag paneer to regional specialties such as butter-roast dosa, an enormous crispy crêpe filled with spiced potatoes and served with tomato chutney, coconut chutney, cilantro chutney, and lentil soup. Be sure to make note of the menu itself—the scroll-like paper comes straight from India.

Eat Subzi korma, a blend of fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts in a creamy saffron-nutmeg onion sauce over rice.
Drink Mark West Pinot Noir.
Don't Miss The dahi aloo puri, a traditional Bombay street vendor snack of crispy bite-size wafers stuffed with spiced potatoes, chickpeas, cilantro, yogurt, and chutneys.
Sit At table No. 23, with bamboo walls, cushy upholstery, and views of the restaurant's comings and goings.

Duo Restaurant
2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141, www.duodenver.com

We can't say enough about Duo. Not only has the restaurant, which opened last October, played a strategic role in revitalizing the corner of 32nd Avenue and Zuni Street, but Executive Chef John Broening's seasonal cuisine constantly surprises and comforts us. We've dined here too many times to count, and never do we leave without eating two things: the arugula salad tossed with warm bacon dressing, pears, Gorgonzola, and walnuts, and some kind (any kind) of dessert. Owners Stephanie Bonin and Keith Arnold have captured the true essence of the neighborhood restaurant—simple food, a low-key but polished ambience, and the hum of neighbors trading stories.

Eat Porter braised pork stew with fingerling potatoes, pearl onions, and mustard greens.
Drink Dale's Pale Ale (or any of the Colorado microbrews available).
Don't miss Sticky toffee pudding—or anything pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom whips up.
Sit At a two-top next to the windows, or at the cozy bar for dessert.

Gaïa Bistro
1551 S. Pearl St., 303-777-5699

In June, when Gaïa Bistro took over the spot of the former La-Ti-Da coffeehouse and knitting store, it brought a vibrant breakfast and lunch trade to Old South Pearl Street. Already the neighborhood was busy with top-notch dinner options such as Sushi Den and Black Pearl, but morning and midday meals were scarce. Now, thanks to owner Patrick Mangold-White and chef Drew Middleton, breakfast means goodies such as crunchy homemade granola with brown sugar and cream. Lunch serves up savory crêpes made with organic buckwheat flour and oven-roasted tomatoes, poblano peppers, goat cheese, basil pesto, and onions. On weekends, the wait for breakfast can top 45 minutes, but it's worth it to order up an organic, free-trade coffee and linger while waiting for a seat.

Eat The tuna sandwich with capers, red onion, and tomatoes on fluffy focaccia.
Drink Fresh-squeezed orange juice or a French press made with Kaladi Coffee.
Don't Miss Plum and stewed cherries crêpe with chantilly cream or any of the hand-crafted breads made by Pajama Baking Co., Mangold-White's bread company.
Sit At the patio on nice days; otherwise, get a table in the sunny front room.