Dining in Denver: Morning, Noon, and Night

Where to go, and what to eat, in the Mile-High City, 24-7.

March 2009


The Aritist

1739 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-7233
Combine classical cooking with the French/Asian flavors of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, add a touch of whimsy, then throw in inspiration from Pollock and Picasso, and you'll have an idea of Radek Cerny's cuisine at L'Atelier. Cerny turns out edible works of art with modern interpretations of Mediterranean cuisine that are as visually stunning as they are delicious. From escargot to moules rustica to gamberetti Asiatique or the chocolate bag dessert, each plate is a masterpiece.

The Downtowner

1431 Larimer St., 303-820-2282
When the sun is shining and Rioja's patio is open, there's no better place downtown to grab an al fresco lunch. Poised in the center of bustling Larimer Square (with some of the best people-watching in Denver), Jennifer Jasinski's Mediterranean hotspot blends signature handmade pastas such as artichoke tortelloni and candied lemon gnocchi with unique small plates of hard-to-find artisanal cheeses and the charcuterie platter known as the Rioja picnic. Add an outstanding signature cocktail, such as the zippy lemon quencher with house-made limoncello, gin, ginger ale, and sparkling wine, and lunch turns into a special occasion.

The Italian Job
Radda Trattoria

1265 Alpine Ave., Boulder, 303-442-6100
Written up in national publications from Bon Appétit to the New York Times, Matthew Jansen's casual trattoria is rich in rustic Italian cooking. Follow up crisp flatbread and white truffle oil, herbs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano with a bright-tasting arugula salad or roasted chicken-farro soup. Finish with penne wild boar ragu or the prosciutto crudo pizza with a farm-fresh egg for an authentic Italian feast.

The Newcomer

701 Grant St., 303-860-2929
Though only open a couple of months, Bones has already garnered a huge following. We like that we can order the addictive steamed buns (try the pork belly) and roasted bone marrow starting as early as 11 a.m. Plus, the menu's prices are reasonable with bowls running $7 to $16. Best of all, with Frank Bonanno at the helm, we know dishes such as the chicken with egg noodles and the pork udon with a farm egg are carefully crafted and use primarily local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients.

The Globetrotter

3140 S. Parker Road #8, Aurora, 303-755-6272
One of the things we like best about Indian cuisine is that it's primarily vegetarian, and at Masalaa, a Southern Indian restaurant in Aurora, the entire menu is meat-free. Go at lunch or dinner, but don't miss the dosas—Indian-style crêpes made of lentil and rice flour. Our favorite version is stuffed with the restaurant's heady spiced potatoes. Bonus: The restaurant's prices are downright cheap, and there are dozens of gluten-free items.

The Staple
Osteria Marco

1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855
This rustic tavern scores at lunchtime with extraordinary Italian cooking at affordable prices. Don't miss the prime rib Italian-dip panini, house-crafted cheeses and charcuterie, creamy fonduta, or the addictive meatball sliders. Sidewalk dining during the week on historic Larimer Square is a pleasure—but plan on returning on Sunday for the slow-roasted suckling pig.

The Experience

1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666
In warm weather, diners while away the hours at tables in Domo's formal Japanese gardens. Even indoors, the view is focused on stone paths winding through the immaculate grounds. Here, simplicity is celebrated, and it's something you'll note in the unfussy decor (sturdy tables and stools fashioned from tree stumps), as well as the country cuisine.

The Best-Kept Secret
Fuel Café

3455 Ringsby Court #105, 303-296-4642
Lunch at Fuel Café means dining on the whims of cook-owner Bob Blair. On any given day, that could mean wild boar ragu over soft polenta or celery root and potato-leek soup. Of course there's a set menu of interesting salads and stacked sandwiches, but we generally order the du jour dishes. One caveat: The specials run out early, so plan ahead and get on Blair's daily e-mail list so you know when to dash over. Don't miss the soups or the fresh-baked whoopie pies.

The Scene
Sushi Den

1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826
At lunchtime, the Den's famously well-heeled crowd skews more business than chichi, but the menu remains virtually the same as at dinner. Unless you're dining with a large party, we suggest the sushi bar—there you can take in the chefs working their knives, ogle fish like jewels behind glass, and watch as your order is meticulously executed. Chat up your chef—and ask him to surprise you.

The Classic
Gaia Bistro

1551 S. Pearl St., 303-777-5699
This sunny South Pearl bistro may be best known for its breakfasts, but we find it just as enticing at lunch. The toasted Caprese salad is excellent, closely followed by the grilled salmon salad with artichokes. (Breakfast is available all day, so we often indulge in the soft egg in brioche in the afternoon hours.) We also applaud co-owner Patrick Mangold-White's commitment to local and seasonal ingredients—most of the restaurant's summer produce is either grown on the grounds or on five acres in Arvada.