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

21. Opus

2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787, opusdine.com

A year and a half ago, when Michael Long left Opus to open Aría in Cherry Creek, executive chef Sean McGaughey took over the burners. Even at 26, McGaughey was already a seasoned chef, having cooked under Long since 2007. He continues to turn out impressive cuisine; this time, though, the dishes are all his. McGaughey boasts a degree of culinary talent that defies his youth, backed by time cooking in Summit County, not to mention Cannes, France. You’ll see French influences in many of his dishes, not the least of which is the olive-braised veal breast with sweetbread stuffing and pan jus. The entrée is decadent, but puddles of sharp olive tapanade cut the richness. Another don’t-miss: the seared Hudson Valley foie gras served alongside a mini chocolate soufflé. Now, if only the formerly polished service could work out the clumsy kinks.

22. Linger

2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120, lingerdenver.com

When Justin Cucci opened Root Down three years ago, he established his penchant for building restaurants that pulse with energy and capitalize on unparalleled views. His second endeavor is Linger, which sits in the refabbed Olinger parking garage—a jam-packed, multilevel space with a box view of the skyline. Drink in the experience at the bar from the rooftop patio, or through the main dining room’s enormous garage-door windows. Linger’s menu—an enticing mishmash of street food from around the globe—banishes the entrée in favor of share-it-around small plates. Instead of being trite, portions are generous and prices (which hover around $10) are downright reasonable. It’s not unusual to get your fill (plus drinks) for $30 a person. Don’t miss the sensational, not-your-usual goat cheese and melon salad, the fava and pea hummus, the Mongolian barbecue duck buns, or any of the soups.

23. Edge

1111 14th St., 303-389-3343, edgerestaurantdenver.com

We fell in love with Edge Restaurant & Bar, the steak house inside the new Four Seasons Hotel, the second we realized it wasn’t your typical white-tablecloth, dark-wood steak joint. At Edge, chef Simon Purvis puts a thoroughly modern spin on tradition. Here, you can order all the dishes you expect—USDA prime beef, crab cakes, creamed spinach—but those dishes are creative and smart. The meat is grilled over pecan wood. The crab cakes come with a fragrant basil sauce, not been-there-done-that rémoulade. The creamed spinach is shot through with zesty horseradish. The space itself is also thoroughly modern, even if it does retain some of the impersonal ambience of a hotel. Bonus: We love the accessible wine list.

24. Il Posto

2011 E. 17th Ave., 303-394-0100, ilpostodenver.com

Il Posto is the kind of welcoming neighborhood restaurant where you immediately feel like a regular, even when it’s your first visit. The appeal comes from the simple space with its chalkboard menus and open kitchen, and the attentive, eager-to-please waitstaff. But mostly, it’s all about chef-owner Andrea Frizzi’s fresh take on Italian cuisine. Frizzi, who relies heavily on hand-crafted, seasonal ingredients, is a fan of clean flavors and surprising elements. Yes, those are crunchy pistachios and sweet English peas folded in with the sheep ricotta cavatelli. Yes, those are plump red grapes served alongside the pork belly. Yes, the risotto has been blended with strawberries and sweet red wine. Though the offerings aren’t extensive, we still have difficulty choosing a single entrée—so much so that we often order the never-disappointing daily tasting menu. We encourage you to do the same.

25. Vesta Dipping Grill

1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970, vestagrill.com

When asked where to take out-of-towners or where to schedule a business dinner, we almost always recommend this venerable spot. The exposed-brick, LoDo space feels both urban and welcoming, and the lively vibe is simply one of the city’s best. We appreciate that, nearly 15 years ago, Vesta was one of the first restaurants to open in the still-burgeoning downtown area—and it still makes its presence known. Over the years, chef Matt Selby has perfected the art of the dipping sauce but while menu changes reflect dining trends, the concept itself is beginning to feel limited.