Best Restaurants

The definitive list for dining in Denver, including the top 40 restaurants, the sweetest places to brunch, and the swankiest spots to nosh at the bar. Plus, your most pressing dining questions answered.

March 2008

Click here for some of our favorite chefs' recipes.


In the 365 days since 2007's dining roundup we've eaten about 1,100 meals—the vast majority of which were enjoyed in Denver restaurants. Needless to say, it's been quite a year: We've delighted in fl apjacks soaked in maple syrup, sang the praises of house-cured meats, comforted ourselves with ravioli in brown butter sauce, indulged in cheeseburgers, waxed rhapsodic over fresh hamachi, and caved to sticky toffee pudding.

Along the way, we've eaten our way through the year's trends: the celebration of all things pig, the resurgence of the old-fashioned cocktail, the booming business of brunch, the allure of eating off the bar menu, and—the biggest and most important of all—the move toward sustainable eats.

Whether you're looking to break the bank or save a buck, eat and run or linger over a white tablecloth, you'll fi nd that these 77 restaurants dish up a broad sampling of all that Denver has to offer.


Twenty Under $30

3472 W. 32nd St., 303-455-1117

When you don't want to change out of your favorite jeans but do want delicious, comforting fare, stop by this cozy Highland spot for flavors from home, only better. Bang!'s meatloaf, pineapple upside-down cake, burgers, country-fried chicken, and other classics are all updated with the freshest ingredients, and cooked to perfection.

Best Bites Bacon-topped meatloaf with homemade ketchup and mashed potatoes

When to Go Weekday lunch often guarantees a seat and quick service.

Neighborhood Bonus After your meal, walk down the street to Mondo Vino to browse the boutique wines.

Big Hoss Barb-B-Q Steakhouse
3961 Tennyson St., 720-855-3061

Hoss Orwat, owner of Big Hoss, got an unlikely start in the restaurant industry. It was a college degree in Southern political history that ignited his curiosity and led him around the country to research barbecue culture and taste the regional fare. The final result is a polished joint on Tennyson Street that dishes up pit-smoked specialties—take your pick of Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, or Alabama-style meats and sauces.

Best Bites Smoky chicken slathered in Alabama white sauce

Condiment Craze Take home a bottle of the specially blended spicy Hoss sauce, available by the bottle—or the case.

Game Time Thanks to Big Hoss' TVs (there are six), the barbecue spot is a great place to get your grub on and catch the game.

Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace
950 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-7771

Sassy Centro Latin Kitchen took all the great energy of a Dave Query restaurant (LoLa, Jax Fish House, Zolo Grill, and West End Tavern) and upped the ante. The space is refined and vibrant, as is Centro's new menu. Latin food here is focused, clear, and memorable, such as the chunky avocado salsa, the garlicky shrimp tacos, and the curried squash lobster soup.

Best Bites Smoked pork belly masa cake

Cool Cocktail Order the Manzarita with elderflower liqueur, apple juice, cinnamon, and lime.

Hot Seat Sit at the indoor-outdoor (and heated) bar on the tree-lined patio, where you can snag a drink and be in the heart of the action.

El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926

Denver's best Mexican awaits you at the no-frills El Taco de Mexico, where a team of talented women prepares down-home eats. Hearty carnitas, green chile with rich pork flavors, fresh warm tortillas, and savory weekend menudo will keep you coming back for more.

Best Bites Carnitas tacos

Inside Tip If you want a margarita or beer with your meal, take your order to go—El Taco doesn't have a liquor license.

When to go Beat the lunchtime crunch and arrive before noon.

House of Marrakesh
1530 Blake St., 303-623-3133

Tucked into downtown's Blake Street is an exotic temple of Moroccan cuisine that expands LoDo's culinary horizons. With both booths and floor seating available, Marrakesh turns Moroccan fare into an anytime meal. Sumptuous tagines, curries, bastelas, and couscous arrive with deep, rich flavors of Moroccan home cooking that whisk you to the shores of North Africa.

Best Bites Chicken bastela

Service Bonus The hospitality at Marrakesh is so warm and accommodating, you'll always feel like a cherished guest.

Top Tip Avoid a Moroccan faux pas and never refuse a cup of mint tea.

1837 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-443-7766

Fine French country cooking at palatable prices sounds oxymoronic, but in Mateo's case it's a perfect catchphrase. Matthew Jansen's first Boulder restaurant is home to the simple, comforting flavors of Provence. Local, organic, seasonal ingredients enhance dishes such as gnocchi with fried sage and brown butter. Mateo is an old favorite that always feels fresh.

Best Bites Grilled center loin of Colorado pork with heirloom polenta, grilled asparagus, and Picholine olive tapenade

When to go Lunch is more economical and just as delicious—not to mention less crowded.

Inside Tip Jansen is also a certified sommelier, so don't miss a chance to order one of his favorite new vintages.

3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-5219

We go to Mezcal for several reasons, not the least of which is the food—inexpensive Mexican eats with earthy, rustic twists, like smoky chipotle salsa, russet red mole, and bang-up chile rellenos. We also visit to tuck in with the vintage Mexican posters, the thumping beats, and the hipster crowd spilling out of the Bluebird across the street.

Best Bites Quesadillas tradicionales, fried masa pockets stuffed with cheese and chiles and served with pico de gallo

Cool Cocktails We favor the potent house margarita, but drinkin' choices are nearly endless with the stock of 100-plus tequilas and mezcals.

Insider Tip Go early and bring the kids—Mezcal is just loud enough to lull a baby to sleep, or at least disguise any fussing.

Oshima Ramen
7800 E. Hampden Ave., 720-482-0264

We're not talking microwaves and Styrofoam cups here. Oshima Ramen makes authentic homemade Japanese ramen noodle soup, where the noodles, stock, and all the accoutrements are made fresh, in-house, every day. To flavor your dish, choose meats, poultry, seafood, or tofu—or just stick with veggies.

Best Bites Super-original Oshima Ramen

Sweet Spot Finish off the meal with a scoop of green tea ice cream.

For Veg Heads When you order the vegetarian ramen, the soup's usual pork, bonito, and chicken stock are replaced with vegetarian miso.

Osteria Marco
1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855

A half-dozen visits and we still can't get enough of Osteria Marco on Larimer Square. At chef-owner Frank Bonanno's other spots, you'd easily drop $80 for two, but here menu items range from $4 (house-made mozzarella) to $8 (carne pizza). This relaxed space—fashioned after a traditional Italian tavern—has become our go-to spot for casual eats and interes­ting wine.

Best Bites The thin-crusted carbonara pizza with crispy pancetta, arugula, Pecorino Toscano cheese, and a sunny side-up egg

Wine Note The all-Italian wine list offers superb selections such as the Aglianico, an earthy red from the Campania region.

Après-Office Wind down the workday with $3 glasses of vino and happy-hour specials—from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Parisi Italian Market, Deli and Trattoria
4401 Tennyson St., 303-561-0234

Come lunch or dinner, it's rare not to find a line at the family-friendly Parisi, an order-at-the-counter Italian spot in Berkeley. Choose from the Tuscan menu—our faves include the oliva panini (olive mix, fresh mozzarella, and provolone) and the Napoli pizza (capers and ancho­vies)—and then find a table under black-and-white photographs of famous Italian landmarks.

Best Bites Smoked salmon salad with goat cheese, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and lemony dressing

Insider Tip Shelve the Boboli and get Parisi's pizza dough and sauce to go.

Date Night Make a reservation at Firenze a Tavola, Parisi's more formal sit-down restaurant downstairs.

Parallel 17
1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988

Chef Mary Nguyen knows what it takes to bring an approachable ethnic menu to Uptown. Using authentic ingredients and techniques, Nguyen clarifies Vietnamese flavors without losing the integrity of the dish. The result is healthy, flavorful food that appeals to an urban crowd. Throw in a loungelike space and you've got an Uptown hotspot.

Best Bites Beef pho with shredded oxtail

Cool Cocktail Try the Vietnamese coffeetini with Kahlua, coffee, Stohli Vanil, and a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk.

Hot Seat Snag a stool at the bar, or a patio table on warm days.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano
4457 Broadway, Boulder, 303-444-1729

It may be a dive, but Pupusas Sabor Hispano is Boulder's best-kept secret. The restaurant is aptly named, as the pupusas—El Salvadoran stuffed corn tortillas—are worth a visit in themselves. Made on a griddle one at a time (with your choice of filling), these soft, cheesy entrées burst with fresh corn flavor.

Best Bites Rajas con queso

Inside Tip Pupusas is working on a liquor license, so soon you can pair a cold Negra Modelo with your meal.

Hot Seat Grab a chair next to the salsa bar so you can keep loading up on the fresh condiments.

Radda Trattoria
1265 Alpine Ave., Boulder, 303-442-6100

Radda, chef-owner Matthew Jansen's second restaurant, is the closest thing to a true Italian trattoria in Boulder—and you can drop by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The authentic menu features simple modern Italian fare, using seasonal ingredients to produce some of the finest pizza, pasta, soups, and antipasti around.

Best Bites Gnocchi alla bolognese

Best Bartender Grab a bar stool when Steve Peters is working. He's a mixologist extraordinaire. Ask for a bellini cocktail.

Hot Tip Radda doesn't take reservations, so plan accordingly—or go on a weekday.

Shells and Sauce
2600 E. 12th Ave., 303-377-2091

In just eight months, Shells and Sauce has become a Congress Park favorite. The cozy Italian spot with Tuscan orange walls is popular with families and neighbors, most of whom have been patiently waiting years for 12th Avenue to come into its own. Chefs Julia Doman and Michael Estes make that wait worthwhile with hearty dishes such as baked ravioli, rustic cioppino, and Colorado lamb meatloaf with Vesuvio potatoes and glazed carrots.

Best Bites Lasagna with layers of sirloin and sausage marinara, noodles, and cheese

Hot Seat Sidle up to the bar for a cocktail, or, if it's really crowded, dinner.

Inside Tip Check the chalkboard for the evening's appetizer and small-plate specials.

1120 S. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, 303-757-4301 (also Wheat Ridge, Lafayette, and the Denver Tech Center)

Hamburgers are big business these days, with fancy chefs launching dolled-up burger joints, but at the ketchup-red and mustard-yellow Smashburger, it's all about the beef. Grill masters smash patties of certified aged Black Angus beef to caramelize the outside and seal in juicy goodness. From there you pick a bun (classic egg, multigrain, or spicy chipotle) and toppings (ketchup to fresh jalapeños) to create your own masterpiece.

Best Bites Mushroom Swiss burger on a toasted egg bun

Sweet Spot Order a thick shake—vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry—made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

When to Go Smashburger bustles during lunch or dinner, so come early if you've got kids, or late if you don't.

523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001

This retro-cool spot dishes up a full range of American comfort food. Just pick a region of the country and you'll find the iconic dish to go with it: green chile cheeseburger, shrimp po' boy, cubano sandwich, and éttouffée. Of course we love the eats, but we also come for the hipster vibe, the cushy booths, and the laidback T-shirt wearing staff.

Best Bites Maine lobster roll on a Freihofer split-top bun

inside tip Steuben's offers vegan, gluten-free, and other allergy-aware menus—just ask to see them.

Sweet Spot We're suckers for the creamy butterscotch pudding, served up in a parfait glass and topped with vanilla wafers.

1400 Larimer St., 720-946-1433

Our favorite time to dine at Tamayo is during lunch, when the modern Mexican eats are more reasonably priced than dinner. Don't expect to find the usual fare here; chef-owner Richard Sandoval takes inspiration from the home cooking you'll find deep in Mexico. The flavors are rustic, unexpected, and delicious.

Best Bites Crepas de huitlacoche, an enchiladalike dish of wild mushrooms, huitlacoche,
chile poblano sauce, and chayote squash

Hot Seat On a warm, clear day stake out a spot in the rooftop lounge, where you can see all the way to the mountains.

Cool Cocktail Sip on the margarita de Granada, a breezy blend of tequila, pomegranate, and lime.

Tandoori Grill
619 S. Broadway, Boulder, 303-543-7339

Tucked into a South Boulder strip mall, the family-run Tandoori Grill turns out exceptional East Indian cooking. With recipes that have been passed down through the ages, Tandoori's rich, complex flavors have stood the test of time. Creamy kormas, spicy vindaloos, earthy biryanis, silky saags, and perfectly charred naans are served by an experienced waitstaff.

Best Bites Lamb korma

Inside Tip In addition to eating in, Tandoori Grill does a huge carry-out business—and its Tupperware-like containers prevent spills on the way home.

Hot Seat Wait for your take-out in the cozy bar (away from the drafty doors), and have a drink while you wait.

U.S. Thai Café
5228 W. 25th Ave., Edgewater, 303-233-3345

No matter where you travel, street food is usually the best food. And at U.S. Thai Café, chef Aung Kyaw dishes up authentic Thai street eats in a tiny Edgewater restaurant. Though the usual American favorites also make it on the menu (pad Thai, drunken noodles), skip those in favor of the authentic massaman curry or the garlic shrimp—and keep a refreshing papaya salad close by to cool your taste buds.

Best Bites Kung thod kathiang phid Thai (deep-fried garlic with shrimp)

Hot Seat If you can, request to sit in the front room, where the sometimes-flustered waitstaff simply can't forget about you.

Inside Tip Even if you enjoy spicy food, think twice about ordering "Thai hot."

Virgilio's Pizzeria Napoletana
7986 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, 303-985-2777

Swing open the door to this Lakewood restaurant and you're greeted with a blast of tomato-scented air. It's the mark of most pizzerias, but Virgilio's food delivers in spades. Doughy garlic knots are served by the basketful, organic field greens salads come with ample sprinklings of feta, and pizzas arrive with bubbling cheese and chewy, foldable crusts. We can thank owner Virgilio Urbano's Italian heritage for his dedication to top-quality ingredients and brick-lined ovens that produce spot-on pizza pies.

Best Bites Made-to-order hot mozzarella drizzled with Pecorino Romano cheese, basil, olive oil, and sea salt, and served with garlic bread.

Quick 'n' Easy Stop by and pick up the take-and-bake pizzas and calzones.

Cheap Eats Save a few bucks by visiting the website for online coupons—or stop by during happy hour (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) for drink specials.

Where Should I Dine If...

All year long we field phone calls and e-mails from readers seeking dining help. Here, a few of our favorites.

>> My wife and I got engaged in Paris and our first wedding anniversary is coming up. Where's a good place for dinner and reminiscing? Enjoy the rustic mushroom soup or the savory mussels at Uptown's romantic AIX (719 E. 17th Ave., 303-831-1296). Bonus: If you don't want a full meal, have a glass of bubbly at the intimate bar.

>> My friends and I are planning a dinner for 20; where should we go? We've never been disappointed with Panzano's (909 17th St., 303-296-3525) private wine cellar or the upstairs dining room (complete with fireplace and a bay window) at Highland's Garden Café (3927 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-5920).

>> Many restaurants have dining deals on certain nights of the week—which do you recommend? It's hard to beat Sunday nights at Black Pearl (1529 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0500) in Platt Park, where your entire check—dinner, wine, and dessert—rings up at half price. (May we recommend the mussels with Pernod broth and frites?)

>> I'm new to town and looking for a great piece of pizza. For fold-in-half New York-style slices we turn to the downtown location of Anthony's Pizza & Pasta (1550 California St., 303-573-6236), but for a more gourmet take, the garlicky Pontiff pie at Proto's Pizzeria Napoletana (2401 15th St., 720-855-9400) tops our list.

>> I'm hosting a birthday party for a friend and I want a delicious and pretty, but reasonably priced, cake. Can you recommend a bakery? We regularly order cakes from eat dessert first (1179 S. Monroe St., 303-282-4954), and we've always been wowed by the creations and the prices. The strawberry shortcake flavor—vanilla white chocolate cake layered with whipped cream and strawberries—is one of our favorites.

>> We'd like to go out to a nice dinner and take our six-year-old along with us. Where can we go that'll oblige a young child and still feel like a night out? Not only does Strings (1700 Humboldt St., 303-831-7310) have an impressive kids' menu—think roasted red pepper and tomato bisque or capellini rustica—but owner Noel Cunningham brings children into the kitchen to help make dessert.

>> I crave breakfast foods like pancakes and waffles, but I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Does anyplace serve alternative breakfast goods? WaterCourse Foods (837 E. 17th Ave., 303-832-7313) bakes up gluten-free sweet-potato cinnamon rolls, muffins, coffee cake, and scones, and the Original Pancake House (5900 S. University Blvd., Greenwood Village, 303-795-0573) recently added gluten-free pancakes to its menu.

>> I'd like to gather my friends for happy hour at a bar or restaurant that's off the beaten path. Limón (1618 E. 17th Ave., 303-322-0898), a sleek restaurant serving eclectic Peruvian cuisine, offers a terrific happy hour with drink specials and fresh ceviche and fried plantains. Bonus: There's ample street parking.

>> We love doing tasting menus, where's the best of the lot? At Black Cat Bistro (1964 13th St., Boulder, 303-444-5500), chef Eric Skokan's farm-to-table cuisine shines in his sumptuous tasting menus. His five- or seven-course dinners pair fine wines and often feature produce grown in Skokan's own garden.

>> Can you recommend a great Chinese restaurant? Run, don't walk, to Super Star Asian Cuisine (2200 W. Alameda Ave., 303-727- 9889) for the best dim sum in town. You'll be dazzled by every item on the menu—line up early and note the Asian crowd, the best endorsement of all.

>> We're looking for great Latin food that isn't Mexican. Make a reservation at Café Brazil (4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877) for South American eats that are rich in Brazilian and Argentinean influences. Order the pernambuco, a scallops dish with coconut curry sauce.

>> I love Japanese food but not necessarily sushi—where do you recommend? Escape to Domo Restaurant (1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666), where they offer traditional country-style dishes in a stunning environment. Don't miss a springtime visit to the restaurant's amazing Japanese garden.

>> I've got family coming to town, and it's their first time to Denver. I'd like to show them a slice of history. The magnificent setting and early American traditions of the Fort (19192 Highway 8, Morrison, 303-697-4771) make it a must-stop for out-of-towners. For more casual dining, try the Buckhorn Exchange (1000 Osage St., 303-534- 9505) for great prime rib and a room filled with Wild West nostalgia.

>> Where's the best spot to eat at Boulder's new Twenty Ninth Street Mall? The family-run Laudisio (1710 29th St., Boulder, 303-442-1300) Italian restaurant is tops. Try the fettuccine funghi with mushrooms, shallots, cream, and truffle butter.