2012: The 25 Best Restaurants

From northern Italian sophistication to authentic street tacos—and just about everything in between—these restaurants are the very best of the Front Range dining scene. Make your reservation today.

October 2012

5280.com Exclusive: Take a peek inside Fruition Restaurant.

No. 1: Frasca Food and Wine (1)

Dine at Frasca Food and Wine, and you can’t help but leave with a deeper appreciation for dining experiences as a whole. The evening is carefully and gracefully choreographed. Your water glass never empties, and spent dishes are removed without interruption so that the untarnished focus of the meal is co-owner and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s northern Italian menu and co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s impeccable wine list. To accomplish this with every table, six nights a week, is no small feat. And yet Frasca delivers every single time. Since opening in 2004, Mackinnon-Patterson’s small menu has changed monthly. But this summer, he overhauled it weekly in order to focus on a single seasonal item. When I dined, the highlighted ingredient was broccoli. With each course—and especially in the soufflélike sformato with egg yolk and Tender Belly bacon—I discovered elegance in a vegetable I usually characterize as overpowering. This menu change was bold and potentially polarizing, but it underscored Mackinnon-Patterson’s commitment to his chosen cuisine. /1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966, frascafoodandwine.com

No. 2: Sushi Den (4)

What brothers Toshi and Yasu Kizaki have accomplished in a landlocked state is almost unthinkable. Each week Sushi Den serves 2,000 pounds of seafood that taste as if it’s just been fished from the ocean. A decade ago, the brothers created a complex supply chain that now reaches from the Nagahama Fish Market in Fukuoka, Japan, to San Francisco and on to Denver to import seafood quintessential to the sushi experience. Two years ago, the Kizakis took the same approach with many of the vegetables and herbs served at the Platt Park restaurant: They bought a farm in Brighton, built a state-of-the-art greenhouse, and have been adding just-harvested produce to Sushi Den’s plates. Toshi, the creative force behind Sushi Den, is a perfectionist, and Yasu, the business mastermind, executes Toshi’s vision—and this relationship of yin and yang is evident in every bite. Sit at the sushi bar and let the team of sushi chefs guide you through a meal. PLUS: Look for Izakaya Den to open next door to the mother ship this spring. /1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826, sushiden.net

No. 3: ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro (5)

If there’s a Denver restaurant that constantly takes me by surprise, it’s ChoLon. The contemporary southeast Asian menu often reads simply—pork ribs with smoked tamarind barbecue sauce and green papaya salad, or asparagus and mushroom salad with soy-truffle vinaigrette—but simple it is not. Those ribs are slathered with sauce made from the reduced liquid left over from the beguiling caramelized-onion soup dumplings. For the salad, al dente asparagus combines with king oyster mushrooms that have been cooked sous vide to a meaty texture that eats like pork. No matter which items you choose, chef and co-owner Lon Symensma’s cuisine is defined by a purity of flavor. His technique is advanced and complicated, but every ingredient’s purpose is clear and distilled—nothing is muddled. The downtown space is equally vibrant, with a tangible buzz and a beautiful crowd. Sit at the chef’s counter, where you can watch these magnificent dishes come together. /1555 Blake St., Suite 101, 303-353-5223, cholon.com

No. 4: Luca d’Italia (6)

Each time I dine at Luca d’Italia and Mizuna, both owned by Frank Bonanno, I weigh the experiences against each other, because both spots often represent the pinnacle of local dining. Last year, Mizuna landed higher on this list because it showed off a new, more relaxed vibe and a menu that was surprising and exquisite. This year, however, Luca edges out Mizuna (number 6, page 63) because of dishes such as hand-rolled agnolotti stuffed with rich corn purée, and served in a smoked Maine lobster broth with Laughing Bird shrimp and fermented black garlic. The corn purée contained neither butter nor cream—it was simply blended with potatoes for smoothness and left to impress all on its own. This type of restraint—something I also discovered in the Colorado lamb loin with English peas and lamb shoulder gnudi—is the work of chef de cuisine Hunter Pritchett. In collaboration with Bonanno, Pritchett has created dishes that shine on the well-priced prix fixe menu. Four courses run $55 (excluding wine), and for my money, it’s one of the best values in the city. /711 Grant St., 303-832-6600, lucadenver.com

No. 5: Fruition Restaurant (2)

There are few things, it appears, that Fruition chef Alex Seidel can’t do. He runs one of the city’s best restaurants; garners national attention (ahem, Food & Wine Best New Chef 2010); runs a farm and sheep dairy in Larkspur; and guest chefs for Chefs Club, Food & Wine’s new concept restaurant in Aspen. All of this success has grown from his intense passion for cooking, the showcase of which is Fruition. At the 50-seat restaurant he co-owns with maître d’ Paul Attardi, dishes are sophisticated, innovative, and special. Although most meals play out seamlessly, a recent visit with distracted service and a couple of unfocused items has me wondering if Seidel is beginning to feel the wear of so many projects. /1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962, fruitionrestaurant.com