Dining in Denver

For the first time ever, we rank the top 25 restaurants in the region. Plus: Denver's best chefs and dining trends.

March 2010

16. Vesta Dipping Grill

When it first opened in 1997, Vesta's circular booths, concrete-topped bar, and saucy menu rendered it the city's must-go restaurant. Thirteen years later, the downtown spot is still flooded with diners in search of chef Matt Selby's bold cuisine. Many dishes—such as the piquant madras-grilled venison or smoked and grilled duck breast—have become staples, and Selby has deftly massaged a trend (dipping sauces) into his signature venue for creativity. Despite having dined at Vesta dozens of times, we're still entranced by the moody lighting and the sultry of-the-minute menu. 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970, www.vestagrill.com

17. Duo

Everything about Duo is refreshing and comfortable. This sense of ease extends to chef John Broening's intelligent take on brunch and dinner: light shrimp-risotto fritters, soulful braised wild boar, warm white bean salad. Here, you'll find a restaurant that's designed to both nourish and inspire. 2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141, www.duodenver.com

18. Z Cuisine

Certain restaurants ooze authenticity, and Z Cuisine, chef-owner Patrick Dupays' French bistro, is one of those spots. Inside the tiny space, French is spoken, ceramic pitchers deliver wine, and braised meats perfume the air. The wait for a table is often hours—but the lingering is worth it. 2239 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111, www.zcuisineonline.com

19. Fuel Cafe

It's a testament to Bob Blair's cooking that the tucked-away Fuel Cafe has not only survived but also thrived. Once you find this funky, eclectic eatery (located in the TAXI development in burgeoning RiNo), you'll return for the dynamic soups (hope for the showstopping sausage and white bean with escarole), the Cubano sandwich, and the specials the kitchen cooks up each day. Open for lunch during the week and dinner Thursday through Saturday, the restaurant has a constantly changing menu that reflects Blair's mood. One day, that means Asian braised short ribs with kimchi; the next it's comfort food in the form of crispy oyster po'boys. 3455 Ringsby Court, 303-996-6988, www.fuelcafedenver.com

20. Squeaky Bean

The Squeaky Bean debunks the myth that a well-equipped kitchen is the cornerstone of a great restaurant. This Highland spot functions with two overworked convection ovens, and yet chef Max MacKissock turns out ambitious eats ranging from lemony tuna conserva and smooth rillettes to tender beef cheeks. His sense of texture and flavor has impressed us since we first tasted his food at Vita, but here diners can watch—and taste—as MacKissock comes into his own as a well-rounded, seasonally focused chef. 3301 Tejon St., 303-284-0053, www.thesqueakybean.net