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

16. Izakaya Den

1518 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0691, izakayaden.net

Izakaya Den has accomplished what many restaurants attempt but few ever master: the seamless integration of ingredients and cuisine from around the world. While the beautiful South Pearl Street space (a sister restaurant to the ever-popular Sushi Den across the street) is distinctly Asian with oversize fabric lanterns, lacquered woodwork, and a long, narrow sushi bar, the small plates menu offers much more than traditional Japanese. There’s a bit of Italian in the panzanella salad, a hint of Chinese in the siu mai and the hoisin duck crostini, and a dash of Western influence in the Colorado lamb chops with jalapeño-mint sauce. Or, you can be thoroughly satisfied by the roster of fresh sashimi and nigiri. Either way, you leave happy, intrigued, and hungry for more.

17. Duo

2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141, duodenver.com

At some point during every meal at Duo, we find ourselves stopping, midbite, to marvel at chef John Broening’s often unexpected but always keen flavors. One night it might be the succulent roasted prawns with fava-bean pesto, energized by a lemony watercress salad. On another, it might be the dash of fresh mint inside the slender lamb-and-ricotta cannelloni, or the tantalizing addition of goat cheese and pancetta to the playful deep-fried polenta sticks. Broening, who heads up both Duo and Olivéa—ranked 17 and 15 on this list—was one of Denver’s earliest supporters of seasonal, organic cuisine, and his experience and expertise shows. Bonus: Duo’s warm, exposed brick ambience.

18. Table 6

609 Corona St., 303-831-8800, table6denver.com

On those nights when we need an extra dose of comfort and familiarity, Table 6 is often where we end up. This small American bistro in Alamo Placita has long been a neighborhood favorite, thanks to chef Scott Parker’s playful take on seasonal cuisine. The menu, parts of which change daily, is artful and always contains several surprising combinations—buttermilk fried chicken with jalapeño slaw, for example, or a tater tot salad complete with bacon and a poached egg, or barramundi that’s punched up with horseradish latkes. However, there have been times recently when the cheekiness of some dishes feels at odds with the rest of the thoughtful menu.

19. Rioja

1431 Larimer St., 303-820-2282, riojadenver.com

We love the mediterranean flavors found on Rioja’s menu. Under chef and co-owner Jennifer Jasinski, cliché pork belly is transformed into something more nuanced, thanks to cardamom and fragrant curried garbanzo bean purée. Risotto, served with quail, is brought to life with caramelized onion and black trumpet mushrooms. Jasinski is a master at crafting smart dishes, we just wish the eatery’s decor reflected the same finesse.

20. Tables

2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299, tablesonkearney.com

There’s something about Tables, Amy Vitale and Dustin Barrett’s Park Hill restaurant, that feels effortless. This sense of ease comes from the carefully cultivated shabby-chic furniture, details like blankets offered to patio diners when temperatures dip, and the accessible menu. Unfussy dishes like the stellar, hand-cranked burger (toppings change nightly), a superb pork chop gussied up with house-made sausage, and reliable seafood entrées, anchor the board. Plus, there’s the casual but knowledgeable waitstaff who befriend you and your dining companions—to the point that you’d like to invite them to take a seat and join you. Our only quibble with Tables is that given the recent growth of Denver’s dining scene, the restaurant’s menu can seem thin on inspiration.