For the first time ever, we rank the top 25 restaurants in the region. Plus: Denver's best chefs and dining trends.
What strikes us most about L'Atelier is how unstuffy it feels for a fancy French restaurant. While the small space is formal (fine china, white tablecloths, and the like), it's also playful. The tone is set by chef-owner Radek Cerny's collection of figurines, most of which are displayed in shadow boxes along the walls. That whimsy is continued with each dish—and though the food itself is serious (filet mignon tartare, scallops with Peekytoe crab risotto, and duck confit), Cerny's plate design is anything but. The colors and patterns he evokes are downright artistic—and something to savor. 1739 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-7233, www. latelierboulder.com
Jennifer Jasinski, chef-owner of Rioja, has made her culinary mark by mining the flavors of the Mediterranean. Take the artichoke tortelloni—a combo of goat cheese- and artichoke mousse-stuffed pasta with artichoke broth, queso de mano cheese, a touch of truffle, and fresh chervil. The dish is all about the artichoke's complexity, and it perfectly captures the earthy, light flavors that taste of spring, even on a winter's day. Jasinski's dishes often sound complex (Colorado lamb two ways, grilled T-bone, house-made lamb merguez sausage, crisp couscous pillows, caramelized fennel, tomato coulis, and preserved lemon yogurt), but on the fork they're easily deciphered and exquisitely flavored. 1433 Larimer St., 303-820-2282, www.riojadenver.com
Goose Sorensen, chef-owner of Solera, has done something amazing: Despite the dismal economy, he's seen his business grow more than 25 percent. He's added small plates to pull in more bar business, but, most important, he's continued cooking his brand of American cuisine. That translates into accessible but refined dishes such as the thick and smoky pork chop with whipped yams, grilled onions, and chipotle pork jus and a homey half-chicken served with sweet potato bread pudding and Brussels sprouts. After 10 years in business, we're happy to report, Sorensen has found his sweet spot. 5410 E. Colfax Ave., 303-388-8429, www.solerarestaurant.com
Push through Bones' front door and you'll find a 34-seater that's right in the middle of the national noodle trend. The restaurant (yet another from Frank Bonanno) bustles at both lunch and dinner as diners slurp bowls of heady broth and twirl udon, soba, and ramen noodles with chopsticks. The soulful flavors are rooted in Asia but offer French twists—the signature poached lobster, edamame, and lobster-miso ramen among them. Even with the noodle options, the best of the menu can be found in the addictive steamed buns stuffed with shredded pork belly and hoisin. 701 Grant St., 303-860-2929, www.bonesdenver.com
Opening a restaurant is always a blood-sweat-and-tears endeavor, but for chef-owner Bradford Heap, Salt was especially so. He spent more than a year renovating the former location of Tom's Tavern, a once-beloved Boulder bar and eatery. He pulled up floorboards, removed ceilings (only to discover pristine, 100-year-old tin tiles), switched out windows and piping—all while reincorporating the materials in the new space. On the menu, ingredients like Hazel Dell mushrooms, Long Family Farms pork, and Munson Farm greens showcase local and organic farms—and the tavern burger is a nod to the erstwhile Tom's, though it's been updated with grass-fed beef, bacon, pickled onion, and Grafton cheddar. 1047 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-7258, www.saltboulderbistro.com