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

No. 6: Mizuna (3)

Mizuna’s kitchen, which runs the length of the west wall and is framed like a picture, is one of my favorites in all of Denver. It’s efficient and small—the six chefs working each night have no elbow room—but there’s a synchronicity and rhythm that only those pedigreed enough to cook here acquire. There’s a reason Mizuna is a jumping-off point for so many of Denver’s bold names—Alex Seidel, Justin Brunson, and Jean-Philippe Failyau among them. Frank Bonanno keeps an astute eye on the restaurant’s focus: to push the boundaries of modern French cuisine. He mostly succeeds. At a recent dinner, although a couple of combinations fell flat (the promise of Bing cherries in the Lola Rosa salad yielded a skimpy portion, and the lovely lamb loin felt like it was missing a sauce, a side…something), there were many moments of perfection. The delicate asparagus soup garnished with lump blue crab and draped around a silky, white asparagus flan is one of the best dishes I’ve had all year. The prosciutto-wrapped monkfish, with a cloudlike crema ahumada and tender, astringent baby fennel, was also transcendent. Tip: When making your reservation, request a table in the main dining room, not the small, auxiliary room in the back. /225 E. Seventh Ave., 303-832-4778, mizunadenver.com

No. 7: Z Cuisine (8)

Z Cuisine (8) If Z Cuisine has a fault, it’s that the restaurant isn’t open every day (dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday). The truncated hours and shoebox space mean it’s difficult to secure a table (I suggest arriving before 6 p.m. to put in your name), but that makes the reward all the sweeter. If you’re lucky, you’ll sit by the window, but the room is so cozy that every table feels distinctive and tended to. The staff helps you navigate chef and co-owner Patrick Dupays’ chalkboard menu du jour, but always—always—order the Z salad gourmande, a pile of greens tossed with an ever-changing assortment of meats (Spanish chorizo, duck prosciutto, boudin noir). With wine served in glass pitchers and baguettes in paper bags, Z Cuisine is special in a casual way. Even when you can’t get a table, it’s worth dropping in next door to the equally packed À Côté Bar. The straight-out-of-Paris feel is like that of its sibling, and the food is an expanded version of Z Cuisine’s menu. /2239 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111, zcuisineonline.com

No. 8: Cafe Aion (12)

If Dakota Soifer had opened Cafe Aion in Denver instead of Boulder, it would likely be my go-to spot. The space is easy and confident; I especially love the tables that back up to the bay windows, which open to warm breezes in the summer and showcase the snowy outdoors in the winter. The food—all small plates with the exception of four shared platters that include a tagine and paella—is rustic, thoughtfully conceived, and simple. No diner should skip the fried cauliflower with cumin-spiced yogurt and lemon wedges. (On my last visit, our table of four ordered two rounds of the crispy, nutty florets.) From there, let your server—and the seasons—be your guide. One event to put on your calendar is the Wednesday paella night, when you and a date can nab the Spanish dish (sometimes traditional, sometimes not) and a bottle of wine for $39. /1235 Pennsylvania Ave., Boulder, 303-993-8131, cafeaion.com

No. 9: Colt & Gray (10)

Although the website describes Colt & Gray as a neighborhood pub, that label hardly does it justice. Sure, it’s comfortable enough to pop by on a Tuesday evening for dinner at the bar, but the small dining room, divided by a brick fireplace, is distinguished enough for a wedding anniversary—or even a proposal. There’s a British, tweedlike feel to the place, almost like you’re dining in an exclusive hunt club, but any stuffiness is offset by chef-owner Nelson Perkins’ modern menu. Crispy pig trotters and blue cheese–dusted gougères (both must-orders) sit on the same menu as Hudson Valley foie gras terrine with pickled peaches and pan-roasted rabbit. The flavors are savory, deep, even masculine. PLUS: By spring, Perkins hopes to open St. Ellie, a cocktail bar that builds on Kevin Burke’s already impressive program, and Viande Colorado Charcuterie, a cured meats shop, next to Colt & Gray. /1553 Platte St., 303-477-1447, coltandgray.com

No. 10: Linger (22)

Eat a meal at Linger and you won’t soon forget it. The breadth of the globally inspired street menus is somewhat overwhelming (ceviche, masala dosa, Mongolian barbecue duck buns, carrot and lentil kofte…), but that’s where the servers come in. They know the dishes, they have opinions, and they will steer you right. They want you to sink into the urban-cool vibe and take in the unprecedented views of downtown and the surrounding neighborhood. Servings are generous: At lunch, the goat tacos, the crispy lentil salad, and the ginger-chile shrimp is more than enough for two people. Justin Cucci’s restaurant delivers smartly priced dishes, a huge dose of fun (have you been on the rooftop?), and creative, global cuisine. Linger is one of the few spots that lives up to the sky-high expectations put upon it—and it gets better with each passing month. Be forewarned: You’ll need to be patient when making a reservation. /2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120, lingerdenver.com