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

11. Barolo Grill

3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040, barologrilldenver.com

At Barolo Grill, servers offer so much more than simply taking orders, filling water glasses, and whisking away empty plates—they connect the dots and complete the dining experience. Of course, the waitstaff is knowledgeable, and much of this comes from annual trips to Italy to learn about particular wines, regions, and cuisine nuances. But there’s also an approachability and a grace few other restaurants strike. Then there’s the menu, which was recently taken over by Darrel Truett when longtime chef Brian Laird moved on. Given the dishes we’ve tasted, he’s slid into the role seamlessly. Truett’s cuisine sings with freshness and inspiration—and appears more seasonally focused than in the past—without betraying Barolo’s dedication to Northern Italian fare. When Barolo underwent renovations this summer, we sighed with relief. What a difference a fresh coat of paint makes, and there’s no sign of the oh-so-’90s faux grapevines.

12. Cafe Aion

1235 Pennsylvania Ave., Boulder, 303-993-8131, cafeaion.com

What chef-owner Dakota Soifer has created in Café Aion, on Boulder’s Hill, is truly special. Here’s a successful restaurant that defies location (i.e., Collegeville), is reasonably priced, and adheres to the farm-to-table movement. Given Soifer’s credentials (years chefing at the Kitchen and San Francisco’s renowned Zuni Café, and a summer cooking for Meadow Lark Farm), it would be easy to reach overkill on greens sourced from this farmer, and beef raised by that rancher. Instead, Soifer focuses on simply turning out “la merenda”—small plates—that are jammed with seasonal flavor and interest. Pile your table with a selection of these tapas, most of which are served on earthenware dishes, and get busy sharing.

13. Fuel

3455 Ringsby Court, 303-296-4642, fuelcafedenver.com

What Fuel chef-owner Bob Blair has done is admirable: He’s built a destination restaurant in a quirky space where most other restaurants would have failed. Instead, his 70-seat spot bustles with diners from all over the city for lunch and, three nights a week, for dinner. His avant-garde approach to location applies to the menu too. Blair cooks what he likes to eat, and the result is a convivial vibe and a menu that reads as if he’s cooking for a large dinner party. The experience is downright neighborly with casual service and dishes that are fresh, homespun, and easy to comprehend.

14. The Kitchen

1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973, thekitchencafe.com

The Kitchen in Boulder has what all farm-to-table restaurants aspire to have: an intensely local focus, relying heavily on meat and produce from Colorado. (The chalkboards inside the Kitchen’s light and airy space give prominent thanks to local producers.) It’s got a welcoming vibe—shared dining is encouraged at a long, community dining table. But what keeps tables full night after night is chef and co-owner Hugo Matheson’s passionate take on seasonal cuisine. Among our recent favorites: the buttery hand-rolled gnocchi with meaty Hazel Dell mushrooms, and the grilled Long Farm pork chop served with a sweet-tart rhubarb jam. It’s quite a feat that despite running three restaurants now (the Kitchen Next Door opened in June), the staff is visibly more focused and fine-tuned than in recent years. Bonus: The Kitchen is coming to LoDo in the spring.

15. Olivéa

719 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-5050, olivearestaurant.com

One of the things we love about Olivéa is how comfortable it is. Pull open the door and you’re engulfed in the rush of energy that pulses inside this small Uptown restaurant. Even with tight tables, noise remains at a conversation-friendly volume—which is good because you’ll want to discuss dishes, such as the meaty lamb sausage or chickpea fries, with your dining companion. We appreciate that at Olivéa, chef and co-owner John Broening is constantly experimenting and always tempting diners with something a little out of the ordinary. One of our favorite ways to eat here is to order several small plates and one entrée; this ensures you’ll get to taste multiple items and still have room for dessert. Don’t pass up pastry chef (and James Beard Foundation–recognized) Yasmin Lozada-Hissom’s creations.