Best New Restaurants
This year, the top eateries in the Mile-High City present more than just tasty cuisine. In uncertain times, these eight hotspots offer approachability, affordability, and a great excuse to have a little fun.
The Best-Kept Secret
3455 Ringsby Court, #105, 303-296-4642,
If the cardinal rule of a successful restaurant is location, then Fuel Café, which anchors the hard-to-find Taxi development in Riverfront North, defies all logic. And yet the urban-industrial space and cook-owner Bob Blair's inspired lunchtime eats pull in a packed house every day. "We sell out of our specials 90 percent of time—and we sell out by 1:30 p.m.," says Blair.
The specials are whatever Blair feels like cooking: One day it's "steak and potatoes" with potato puffs and beef carpaccio; another day it's polenta gratin with braised mustard greens and grana Padano cheese; and another it's Green Goddess chicken salad. "I can't stand leftovers; I can't stand cooking the same thing," he explains. "I cook eclectic, fun food, and see what happens." Blair says it's these dishes (for which he sends out a daily e-mail update) that draw the crowds; we say it's more than that. It's the sense that you've discovered a diamond in the rough.
Blair fell into his cooking career almost by accident. Though always a help in the family kitchen (he's the second oldest of eight kids), Blair didn't realize his talent until years later. In college his girlfriend asked him to moonlight at her sorority house while the cook was out sick, and his dishes were instant hits. "That opened my eyes to the reactions that my cooking could bring," he says. His skills were further validated when a friend's father approached him to open a restaurant in Oklahoma. Those plans fell through, and eventually Blair—who never attended culinary school—cooked at the original Parisi Italian Market and Deli (on 44th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard) before going into catering; he later returned to Parisi at its current location on Tennyson Avenue.
When Mickey Zeppelin, the developer behind Taxi, tapped Blair to open Fuel, Zeppelin explained he wanted a cafe that would be creative and outside of the box—Fuel delivers. "The restaurant must fit the neighborhood," says Blair. "And it does."
Don't Miss Soup du jour, Cubano sandwich
Hot Seat Sit against the back wall for a perfect view of the bustling, super-hip crowd.
Check It Out Don't miss Fuel's creative small plates menu on Thursday nights (the only night dinner is served).
Diner Tip Get yourself onto Fuel's e-mail list for messages about daily specials.
The Slice of Heaven
Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria
2129 Larimer St., 303-296-7000, www.marcoscoalfiredpizza.com
"Just look at this flour," Mark Dym says as it cascades through his fingers. The silky blend barely raises a cloud as it falls back into the bin. This flour started it all, bringing about career changes and kicking off a dream for Mark and his wife, Kristy. They first learned of this magic ingredient—Caputo OO from Italy—when dining at a napoletana pizzeria in Miami Beach. They were instantly hooked on the delicate flavor of the crust, and soon Mark, who had just sold his commercial cleaning company, called the flour company to learn more.
Despite having exactly zero restaurant experience, the two opened Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria in Ballpark in June. Now the Dyms dish up pizzas that cook in 60 seconds in 1,000-degree Italian ovens, and the resulting pies are light and chewy with gooey cheese and top-notch fixings.
Though all the pizzas are made on the same crust, the menu is split down the middle, with two main styles offered. The simple napoletana pizza champions traditional, imported ingredients such as prosciutto di Parma and caciocavallo Italian cheese. The New York-style pies are a heartier, more American version of pizza—think pepperoni, sausage, and mushrooms. The pies, plus an impressive antipasti plate and an order of limoncello-glazed, coal-fired chicken wings, make for a cozy, casual meal for a weekday lunch or a Saturday night.
Mark and Kristy's presence only adds to the experience. The two are always there, cheerfully pulling 17-hour days, walking the dining room, and checking on every table. Mark's enthusiasm for his patrons, his restaurant, and his pizza is contagious. Show even the slightest interest and he's off, giving you a tour of the brick-lined ovens before showing off the gigantic mixer that makes the dough. And then, voice laced with wonder, he'll introduce you to the velvety Italian flour that kicked it all off.
Don't Miss Toscana pizza, Brooklyn pizza,
Hot Seat When the weather's warm, find a seat near the outdoor fire pit; otherwise, request an indoor table with a view of the ovens.
Trivia Tidbit Shortly after the restaurant's $15,000 mixer was delivered from Italy, a staff member dropped it down a flight of 30 stairs.
Conversation Starter Ask owner Mark Dym about his days as an ostrich broker.