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. 11: Bittersweet (7)

It’s not uncommon for diners sitting on Bittersweet’s patio to inquire about whom the restaurant employs as a gardener. Chef and co-owner Olav Peterson laughs and explains that he, his wife and co-owner Melissa, and the kitchen staff tend to the plants. They sow the seeds and nurture them to harvest. Peterson might chuckle, but the 600 square feet of garden space defines Bittersweet and his approach to cooking. Peterson’s food is flush with European influences, but its contemporary spin elevates simple farm-to-table cuisine. There’s a studiousness to his menu (the pork is a cut from the coveted Spanish Ibérico ham; the deconstructed tuna niçoise is resplendent with tomato consommé), but you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate the flavors, the layers, and the artistic approach. There are occasions when dishes could benefit from self-editing (hint: opt for the simpler preparations). But one of the things that impresses me most about Peterson as a chef is that he’s always tinkering, and the menu is ever-evolving. Don’t leave without dessert: Pastry chef Danielle St. John is one of the city’s best. /500 E. Alameda Ave., 303-942-0320, bittersweetdenver.com

No. 12: Il Posto (24)

Too many restaurants are best suited to specific seasons. But at Il Posto, the small Uptown eatery shines all year long. I never let a summer pass without ordering chef-owner Andrea Frizzi’s just-sweet-enough strawberry risotto. In the winter, I take the chill off with the marrow-rich osso buco Milanese (Wednesdays only). Fall and spring find me indulging in house-made pasta dishes filled with the produce of the moment. The northern Italian menu reflects Frizzi’s heritage (he was born and raised in Milan), but the local sensibilities say everything about Colorado dining. Just how does a restaurant rise halfway up the list in a single year? It quietly labels itself a neighborhood spot; it assuredly serves a compact menu on which each dish sings; and it relies on professional, casual service that never lapses. /2011 E. 17th Ave., 303-394-0100, ilpostodenver.com

No. 13: Table 6 (18)

Table 6 has long been a staple restaurant for me—and much of Denver: The come-as-you-are space and the approachable menu serve as background for owner Aaron Forman’s eccentric wine list. Forman’s characteristic, slightly rumpled plaid jacket and skinny European tie are clues to the vibe: cool, urban, and not overly serious. However, a year ago, I knocked chef Scott Parker for his tongue-in-cheek approach to the menu. There have always been playful elements to Table 6 (gussied up tater tots and mini Philly cheese steaks among them), but when nearly every dish seemed to come with a wink and a “gotcha,” it was simply too much. Happily, Parker has reworked the menu so that—while still lighthearted—it best reflects what Table 6 is known for: being a terrific, easygoing neighborhood restaurant. /609 Corona St., 303-831-8800, table6denver.com

No. 14: TAG Raw Bar (New to the list)

Often, subterranean restaurant spaces are too dark, too easy to overlook, and too, well, basement-y. Not TAG Raw, an offshoot of chef-owner Troy Guard’s popular TAG Restaurant (number 18, page 67) just a few doors down on Larimer Square. Instead, Raw Bar’s tucked-away location feels like a secret that you’re lucky enough to uncover. The decor—glossy white tiles, punches of bright orange, and raw wooden beams—buzzes with cosmopolitan energy. The food (most of which is served raw in a sushi-ceviche-carpaccio way) follows suit with bright flavors, crunchy textures, and a chaser of chile-induced heat. Don’t miss the inventive ceviche imagination, a $4 ever-changing selection of firm, cubed fish (recently salmon and kampachi) marinated in citrus and punched through with onion. The refresher arrives in a shot glass, and it’s enough to give you a taste of what’s to come. Sit at the bar for the best service, or grab a table in the newly expanded dining room for a more leisurely meal. /1423 Larimer St., 303-996-2685, tagrawbar.com

No. 15: Twelve (New to the list)

If you were ever a fan of Kokopelli’s, a live music venue on Larimer Street, you wouldn’t recognize the place now. Twelve chef-owner Jeff Osaka has pulled off the ultimate face-lift. After taking over the Ballpark address in 2008, he restored the sweeping—and original—bar, brightened up the space, and opened his restaurant later that year. He named it Twelve to reflect a menu that changes on the first of each month. That dedication ensures Osaka is ever-refining, using the best of in-season produce, and stretching his culinary abilities. There has always been tremendous potential in Twelve, and now the restaurant is fully realized; it hums in every perceptible way. The service is generous and informative (request Justin Russell’s section when making a reservation). The warm space seats an intimate 40. The food is altogether stunning. A must-order is the simple-sounding baby lettuces salad with Parmesan and Banyuls vinaigrette. This is not just a salad, but also a celebration of produce at its peak—and it’s one of only two items that never come off the menu. From there, don’t miss the exquisite lamb dishes—and know that the vegetarian entrées are similarly thought-out and complex. /2233 Larimer St., 303-293-0287, twelverestaurant.com