Feature

Dining in Denver: Morning, Noon, and Night

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

March 2009

Morning: The Best A.M. Eateries
Noon: Denver's Top Spots for Lunch
Night: Our Favorite Dinner Spots
Top Chefs: The Toques with Staying Power
Dish Dash: A Snack Spot to Satisfy Each of Your Cravings
Late Night Eats: The City's After-Hours Joints

Morning

The Ultimate
Opus Restaurant

2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787
Upon taking your seat at a white linen-draped table by the roaring fire, and sipping from a flute of complimentary Champagne, it's hard to imagine spending Sunday mornings anywhere else. Gracious servers, a cozy ambience, and chef-owner Michael Long's innovative New American dishes like sweet corn crab cakes, smokehouse Benedict, and roasted caramel apple tarte Tatin combine for one of the most harmonious brunches in town.

The deal-maker
Snooze

2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700
Sure, most people head to Snooze on the weekends for brunch, but we like the breakfast spot best during the week. That's when the crowds are thinner and the tables are populated with young professionals working deals over sweet potato pancakes, oatmeal brûlée, and mugs of hot coffee. So long as there's an order of Juan's breakfast tacos—corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, hash browns, jack cheese, and ranchero sauce—at the table, we're convinced this is the best way to conduct business.

The Classic
Ellyngton's

321 17th St., 303-297-3111
The elegant ambience at Ellyngton's in the Brown Palace Hotel provides the perfect setting for the quintessential power breakfast. One of the few local spots (surprisingly) that offers a bona fide Denver omelet, as well as other time-honored favorites such as cream chipped beef and broiled grapefruit, Ellyngton's starts the day with true comfort. Servers also deliver savory Greek frittatas, portobello eggs Florentine, and delicate French toast made with a trio of freshly baked breads. For true decadence, try the Dom Pérignon brunch on Sunday.

The Traveler
Les Delices de Paris

600 S. Holly St., 303-320-7596
No need to fly across the pond when Les Delices de Paris is right in your backyard. French-born Gerard and Christelle Donat own this authentic Parisian pastry shop, located on South Holly. Flaky croissants, savory quiche Provençal, heavenly chocolate éclairs, and warm Grand Marnier crêpes pair with smooth cups of coffee. Savor this morning meal on the tiny patio or at one of the five small tables inside.

The Grande Madame
Bistro Vendôme

1420 Larimer St., 303-825-3232
Sunshine streams through the tall French doors at Bistro Vendôme, one of Denver's most bustling brunch spots. Chef Jennifer Jasinski's second success story (the first being Rioja) has all the ambience and flavor of a classic French bistro—and with a shady patio, it's an oasis in the city when the weather is warm. Excellent pain perdu, delicate brioche with asparagus, egg, red-onion marmalade, and béarnaise, and a piled-high croque madame sandwich star on the classic Sunday brunch menu. For a bit more luxury, add a bubbly poire royale.

The Player
Lola

1575 Boulder St., 720-570-8686
For a spot that's best known for its cocktails, Lola serves a bang-up brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Chef Jamey Fader has always made sure the midday offerings are out of the ordinary and satisfying. Try the banana buñuelos (coffee-dusted donuts) and crawfish and grits, or choose the short-rib hash with smoked goat cheese—you can't go wrong, especially when you add a Mexican mimosa (Tecate, OJ, tequila, and fresh lime) to the mix.

The Newcomer
Bistro One

1294 S. Broadway, 720-974-0602
When Bistro One opened its doors in May 2008, South Broadway gained a new sense of sophistication. The darkwood-lined dining room, accented with white leather chairs and bursts of cornflower blue, makes for a happy spot for brunch. The menu is equally dazzling, with cinnamony French toast made from house-crafted bread, fluffy hollandaise-doused eggs Benedict, and a croque madame with Champagne cream. Chef Olav Peterson also offers dishes such as classic steak frites and French onion soup for those craving something a little heartier.

The Southern Belle
Lucile's

Multiple locations
There's more to New Orleans cookin' than beignets, but Lucile's hot-from-the-fryer pastries are just the way to start off the day. Smothered with strawberry-rhubarb jam and taken down with a cup of chicory coffee, they're about all you need. Except, you're at Lucile's and that means decadent eggs Sardou (eggs Benedict with shrimp and creamed spinach) or cozy rice pudding porridge. Given the chance, dine at the original Boulder location, but all four Lucile's dish up a delicious slice of Creole comfort.

The Minimalist
The Kitchen

1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973
Thanks to farm-fresh ingredients and honest flavors, the Kitchen stands apart from other restaurants for breakfast. Start the morning with pastry chef Nathan Miller's rich cannelés or buttery croissants and a perfectly brewed cappuccino, but don't leave this community bistro without ordering the savory plate of poached eggs with rustic grilled bread, fresh greens, and slow-roasted Long Family Farms pork braised in apple juice and wine.

The Staple
Duo

2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141
There are few greater weekend pleasures than leisurely sipping coffee while basking in the morning sun. That luxury is only made better when coffee is delivered to your table in a French press and the window you're sitting next to is at Duo. This Highland neighborhood bistro feels like home—with warm wood floors, exposed brick, and mismatched napkins—in a way that few restaurants can. Couple that coziness with an order of the pastry basket bulging with scones and breakfast breads or the seasonally inspired quiche—you'll never flip a pancake at home again.

Noon

The Aritist
L'Atelier

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
Rioja

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
Bones

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
Masalaa

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
Domo

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.

Night

The Classic
Barolo Grill

3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040
True Italian hospitality makes an evening at Barolo feel like dinner at a dear friend's house. Owner Blair Taylor's commitment to the experience extends to hand-carrying sacred white truffles from Alba and importing wines from his favorite Italian vintners. Chef Brian Laird furthers the love by creating traditional northern Italian dishes such as beef short ribs with caramelized cipollini. After Barolo's reserve tasting of balsamicos, you'll never want to go home.

The good neighbor
Table 6

609 Corona St., 303-831-8800
Dinner at this neighborhood bistro makes for a perfect night out. The tiny dining room buzzes with diners trading stories, clinking wine glasses, and scooping up bites of chef Scott Parker's food. The dishes here are executed with finesse, but we appreciate that the restaurant doesn't take itself too seriously. We love Parker's riff on the Philly cheese steak (an appetizer of tiny homemade buns stuffed with aged provolone, beef, and Sriracha aïoli) or his ode to the McDonald's apple pie (a hand-held, fried pear pie, served with a milk shake). In between, we often opt for whatever vegetarian dish is on the menu, knowing it will not only delight but also transcend any expectations.

The artisan
Luca D'Italia

711 Grant St., 303-832-6600
If Mario Batali were to dine in Denver, he might very well choose Luca D'Italia for its authentic, artisanal bent. Char-grilled bread with house-made burrata and garden-fresh tomatoes, fresh-cured charcuterie, and decadent lobster ravioli with mascarpone alfredo all exhibit a dedication to the season's best ingredients—a trait that is inherent in the food of the greatest Italian chefs.

The Don't Miss
Frasca Food and Wine

1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966
Frasca stars as one of America's top tables not just because of chef and co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson's award-winning Friulian cuisine, but also because the staff understands the soul of this sophisticated restaurant. Master sommelier and co-owner Bobby Stuckey's service is a lesson in perfection as he draws each diner into an evening of brilliant, understated cuisine (think crispy pork belly with farro-bacon applesauce and veal ravioli with mushrooms, brown butter, and thyme) and exquisitely matched wines. Warmth and intelligence make Frasca an unparalleled evening destination.

The Francophile
Z Cuisine Bistrot & Parisian Wine Bar

2239 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111
When Z Cuisine runs out of a daily special, the hostess draws a line through its description on the chalkboard. This happens all night long, and we recommend getting there early, lest you experience a menu that's mostly crossed out. But as frustrating as it may be that the legendary cassoulet is sold out again, it's also part of this little bistro's charm. Chef-owner Patrick Dupays cooks as he would in France—small quantities from the freshest available ingredients—and when dishes are 86'd, well, there's always tomorrow. The menu is ever-changing, but we're smitten with the mussels with fennel, potato, garlic, and saffron, paired with a crusty baguette and a reasonably priced bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

The Oasis
Solera

5410 E. Colfax Ave., 303-388-8429
An evening spent at Solera, a luminous escape on Colfax Avenue, is one that recharges and comforts. It could be the saffron-yellow walls (painted to invoke the warmth of the goddess of the sun, for which the restaurant is named), the welcoming and well-versed waitstaff, or simply chef-owner Goose Sorensen's New American cuisine. His inspired dishes—a salad with Bellwether Farms cheese, tomato crostini, Marcona almonds, and Rioja-sherry vinaigrette, or the applewood-smoked duck with gnocchi, grilled shitakes, and a bacon-apple ragôut—are a study in technique and flavor. Sorensen cooks with an intuitive balance of luxury and comfort that results in meals that are upscale but never aloof.

The Find
Deluxe

30 S. Broadway, 303-722-1550
This jewel box of a restaurant (reservations are a must)feels like a discovery every time we visit. And though the menu has remained largely the same since 2004, the dishes—especially the Mediterranean-flavored pan-roasted halibut—still manage to taste fresh and inspired. We like that chef Dylan Moore isn't wedded to one single cuisine—the menu offers Thai, French, and Spanish influences—and yet he manages to make every bite feel cohesive and modern.

The Newcomer
Root Down

1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200
Anyone who has gazed at the unusual view of downtown from Root Down's dining room knows the restaurant is putting its own spin on the local dining scene. The experience begins with the space—owner and chef Justin Cucci refabbed a 1950s service station and did it up in the style of midcentury modern and NYC cool—and lingers with executive chef Ryan Leinonen's memorable menu. Dishes predominantly star seasonal produce, with some of the best examples being the smoked portobello, leek, and mascarpone wontons and the organic carrot and red curry soup. This exciting take on food feels healthy, tastes clean, and is altogether inspiring. Don't miss the veggie-focused desserts.

The perfectionist
Fruition Restaurant

1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962
No wonder Fruition is bathing in national recognition: Alex Seidel's New American cooking is so technically perfect, his attention to detail is so precise, his flavors so clean, it's hard to find a meal with more finesse in this city. Coupled with Paul Attardi's grace as a maître d' and his staff's polished service, this pint-sized venture is brimming with success. From New Zealand sea bass with caramelized salsify and potato gnocchi to Riesling-poached pear salad and creamy butterscotch pudding, dinner is punctuated with style, comfort, and satisfaction.

The Splurge
Mizuna

225 E. Seventh Ave., 303-832-4778
Mizuna is a small restaurant with a monumental vision: source the best of all possible ingredients to create the most exquisite dishes in town. Frank Bonanno's flagship kitchen doubles as a culinary think tank, with chefs challenging their own preconceptions as they bring clean, sophisticated dishes to the New American menu. The result is intelligent cuisine such as foie gras with plum tarte Tatin, veal Wellington with truffled demi-glace, and our forever favorite, the decadent lobster macaroni and cheese.

Top Chefs

Each year sees new chefs entering the market. But some, like the toques below, have staying power—and we look forward to another year at their tables.

The Crème de la Crème
Hugo Matheson
Executive chef and co-owner of the Kitchen, Hugo Matheson is more than a visionary chef. He's a man whose steadfast belief in a greener, kinder world has helped him build a community bistro that embraces the farm-to-table philosophy. Farmers, fishermen, cooks, patrons, and even recyclers are all equally heralded at Matheson's community table, where sustainable, local, seasonal cuisine is part of a greater whole—seven days a week.

The Rising Star
Hosea Rosenberg
Hosea Rosenberg is at the top of his game. The cool, confident executive chef at Jax Fish House Boulder not only won season five of Top Chef, he continues to dazzle the local crowds. Taos-born and self-taught, the talented cook groomed his cuisine under Wolfgang Puck and some of Denver's best chefs before joining Dave Query's Big Red F Group in 2004. Now, at Jax, Rosenberg's commitment to quality is seen in clean, clear flavors that celebrate the season's fresh catch.

The Success Story
Matt Selby
The biggest reason for Vesta Dipping Grill's continued success: executive chef Matt Selby's playful cuisine, which engages diners to mix and match dishes with dipping sauces. We commend Selby for his spirited dishes, but we also want to give kudos for his greatest achievement: rising above years of alcohol abuse. Now celebrating four years of sobriety, Selby is a more accessible, focused chef and a rocking role model and benevolent community leader.

Dish Dash

When you're craving a certain snack - be it cannoli or lobster - nothing else will do. Here, we break down Denver's best, eat by spectacular eat.

  • For fish and chips that are perfectly battered and fried to a golden crisp, head to GB Fish & Chips. The Broadway spot offers tilapia, prawns, oysters, squid, and scallops, but we fancy the traditional cod. Pair with thick, hot chips and a pint of Newcastle. 1311 S. Broadway, 720-570-5103
  • Sit at the bar or grab a table at Vesta Dipping Grill, but don't miss ordering the madras-grilled venison. Bites of the Indian-influenced entrée only get better when dipped in pineapple Pedy marmalade. 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970
  • Bang! does brisk business, much of it due to the cozy meatloaf that's been on the menu since day one. And now with this Highland restaurant open for lunch, you can order the entrée in sandwich form, all gussied up with pickled red onions and homemade ketchup. 3472 W. 32nd Ave., 303-455-1117
  • Inspired South American cuisine is what's on the menu at Cafe Brazil. Order the pernambuco, a dish combining scallops, garlic, veggies, and kaffir lime leaf with herbed rice, and you won't be disappointed. 4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877
  • With crust that's thin but chewy, Napoletana pizza is what comes out of the ovens at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria. Praise the 1,000 degrees that cook the pies in 60 seconds, and hail the first-class toppings, many of which are flown in from Italy. 2129 Larimer St., 303-296-7000
  • Decadence is what awaits when ordering the butter-poached lobster at Restaurant Kevin Taylor. The dish's accoutrements change with the season, but you can always look forward to exquisite pairings such as ricotta-egg ravioli, crisp pork belly, Savoy cabbage, and asparagus cream. 1106 14th St., 303-820-2600
  • With most cannoli tasting either soggy or overly sweet, it's easy to give up the dessert—until you discover Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery's version. One bite of the crispy pastry shell and delicate ricotta with hints of cinnamon, and you'll be hooked again. 3210 Wadsworth Blvd., Wheat Ridge, 303-233-3755
  • In this age of nose-to-tail dining, sweetbreads have come back into culinary favor—and few chefs treat the thymus gland better than Amy Vitale at Tables in Park Hill. Order this delicate appetizer for a crispy and rich start to your meal. 2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299
  • When that childhood craving for chocolate pudding hits, head straight to Potager. Sit at the bar and savor each thick, homey bite. 1109 Ogden St., 303-832-5788
  • For anyone with a hint of British inside (real or imagined), Beatrice & Woodsley brilliantly satisfies hankerings for high tea. On Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., choose from seven loose teas, along with a platter of buttery scones and hot crumpets slathered with currant preserve, delicate cucumber sandwiches, and house-baked cookies. 38 S. Broadway, 303-777-3505
  • Minutes after finishing off a towering basket of garlic knots at Virgilio's Pizzeria, we're already planning our next visit. These buttery buns, served straight from the oven, are simply addictive. 7986 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, 303-985-2777
  • Lunchtime often finds us lined up outside Masterpiece Delicatessen in anticipation of the creamy and rich truffled egg salad. 1575 Central St., 303-561-3354
  • There are few places in town that do pork with as much finesse as Twelve Restaurant. Jeff Osaka's seasonal menu changes each month, but his take on the tenderloin and shoulder are always hits. Tip: Sit at the handsome bar for a bird's-eye view. 2233 Larimer St., 303-293-0287

Late-Night Eats

By Kazia Jankowski

The Avs game just ended and the Ellie's curtains have closed, but still it's not quite time to go home. Chicken wings, or maybe a nightcap, are in order. While you could hit up an old standby—Pete's Kitchen or the Denver Diner—why not try moonlighting at another of the city's after-hours joints?

Steuben's Every night after 10 p.m., this swanky diner serves up the Lucky Five: your choice of a burger (made with River Ranch beef from Steamboat) or Chicago dog, a side—fries, coleslaw, or hush puppies—and select domestic, canned beer all for $5. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001

Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe Colfax's Belgian beer cafe makes it easy to eat European-style. Until late in the evening, order either the mariner (garlic and white wine) or curry mussels and wash them down with cool pours of light Tripel Karmeliet beer or the hoppy Carlsberg Lager. 534 E. Colfax Ave., 303-861-0347

Mezcal After a concert at the Bluebird Theater, sidle up to the bar at this funky Mexican restaurant and order a margarita and a couple of tacos. At a dollar a pop between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., the corn tortilla pockets stuffed with tender pork, chicken, carne asada, or veggies will hardly put a dent in the wallet. 3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-5219

Two Fisted Mario's Pizzeria Big slices of cheesy pizza sop up a night of LoDo partying at this always-busy hole-in-the-wall. 1626 Market St., 303-623-3523

Wazee Supper Club Hungry for classic late-night grub? A frothy Newcastle and a basket of 10 spicy Buffalo, garlic Parmesan, or sweet barbecue wings should satisfy those cravings. 1600 15th St., 303-623-9518

Dazzle Bluesy jazz meets decadent desserts at this Capitol Hill lounge. Pair the dark heroine martini—espresso, brandy, Kahlúa, and crème de cacao—with the three-tiered carrot cake and cream cheese frosting. 930 Lincoln St., 303-839-5100

City, O' City Into the wee morning hours, Capitol Hill's youthful residents fill the booths of this busy spot, sipping subtly sweet horsefeathers cocktails—bourbon, ginger ale, and bitters—and eating battered and fried cornichons or mushrooms with honey mustard dipping sauce. 206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443

Sputnik Hungry barhoppers stop by this South Broadway watering hole on weekday nights for fries—both sweet potato and regular—with sauces like sweet habanero jam and banana ketchup, or PBR and corn dogs. 3 S. Broadway, 720-570-4503

Izakaya Den On a Friday or Saturday night, make this sleek sushi lounge the last stop before heading home to dismiss the sitter. The full menu is available until midnight, but at a late hour try a light snack of slightly spicy ginger sashimi with bincho. 1518 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0691

Z Cuisine À Côté Long, intense, philosophical conversations should take place at this artsy Parisian wine bar. Chat over a glass of Burgundy and the happy hour (10 p.m. to midnight) charcuterie and dessert plate (luscious pâté, tart goat cheese, sweet crème brûlée, and creamy chocolate pot du crème). 2245 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111