2011: The 25 Best Restaurants

After many months of eating, hours of analyzing hundreds of dishes, and untold numbers of discussions, we have compiled a list of the most compelling places to dine in Denver—and beyond. 

October 2011

6. Luca D’Italia

711 Grant St., 303-832-6600, lucadenver.com

At Luca D’Italia, chef-owner Frank Bonanno’s ode to Italian cuisine, the artistry and craftsmanship of the food is attention-getting. The extensive menu includes house-made cheese and charcuterie (two of Bonanno’s obsessions), hand-rolled pasta, and a selection of fine meat and seafood dishes. You’ll feel compelled to try dishes you don’t see very often, such as pig trotters topped with baby octopus, fat Portuguese sardines laid atop bruschetta, or the rabbit tasting with savory, prosciutto-wrapped involtini rolls.

7. Bittersweet

500 E. Alameda Ave., 303-942-0320, bittersweetdenver.com

When Bittersweet opened on New Year’s Eve, it didn’t take long for the word to spread of chef Olav Peterson’s ambitious take on farm-to-table cuisine. His extensive parking lot garden supplies much of the restaurant’s seasonal produce. But it’s what Peterson does with that produce that makes dining here a celebration. His flavors are layered, complex, and modern. His inspired interpretation of classics such as clam chowder (made with mussel liqueur) and Reuben sandwiches (made with cured sweetbreads) will cause you to abandon the originals.

8. Z Cuisine

2239 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111, zcuisineonline.com

If a single item can define chef-owner Patrick Dupays’ cuisine, you can find it in Z Cuisine’s crostini that anchors the warm goat cheese salad. In three bites, this platform of toasted bread, soaked through with pistou (French pesto) and topped with melted chevrè, showcases Dupays’ ability to elevate the simplest of elements into rustic, exacting combinations. You see this truth of ingredient and skill across the menu. This is especially evident in the carpaccio de boeuf grille: Colorado grass-fed beef tri-tip rubbed with fresh herbs and spices—grilled rare, sliced, and served with chimichurri, a butter lettuce salad, and crispy duck-fat potatoes. As if to further demonstrate his simple methodology, Dupays recently removed half a dozen seats. This ensures a more intimate dining experience, with service that’s efficient, informed, and patient—never mind the two-hour wait for your table. To best navigate Z Cuisine, arrive early (before 6 p.m.) to secure seats.

9. Potager

1109 Ogden St., 303-832-5788, potagerrestaurant.com

Each time we dine at the 14-and-a-half-year-old Potager, we fall in love with chef-owner Teri Rippeto’s restaurant a little more. “Urban” best describes the loftlike space’s exposed brick walls, concrete floors, and open kitchen. The cooks and waitstaff thrive on this transparency, and it carries all the way through to the menu. With the open kitchen, diners are privy to the whole process: the ingredients, the prep work, the cooking, and the final plating of the dishes they just ordered. A bonus is Rippeto’s dedication to local, sustainable, impeccably sourced ingredients (long before there was such a movement). As a result, her dishes taste of the earth and the sea with a brightness few other chefs manage to capture.

10. Colt & Gray

1553 Platte St., 303-477-1447, coltandgray.com

Just months after it opened, we put Colt & Gray on our Top 25 list—and one year later here it sits, firmly anchored among the city’s very best. We love the understated modern decor and clubby British feel of the space. We love the innovative list of cocktails (though we often default to the barman’s choice) and bar snacks like the bacon-cashew caramel corn, which caught the attention of Bon Appétit. Mostly, though, it’s chef-owner Nelson Perkins’ skill at uniting taste and texture in surprising ways that keeps us coming back. He marries a rich and silky foie gras with a rustic slice of raisin brioche and tart apple gelée to create an appetizer that is at once creamy, sweet, and tart. The chic, snug restaurant, located at the base of the Highland Bridge, is almost always packed with a democratic mix of professionals and hipsters, which proves Colt & Gray’s widespread appeal.