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. 21: Oak at Fourteenth (New to the list)

An elevated bar program has become as important to a restaurant’s success as the food itself. At Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, mixologist and co-owner Bryan Dayton leads the charge with an extensive cocktail program that includes his award-winning, gin-based East Aspen Heights. The list is broken down by alcohol content and bolstered by excellent house-made sodas, tingly ginger beer, and earthy root beer. This attention to detail is mimicked in chef and co-owner Steven Redzikowski’s seasonal menu. The centerpiece of the kitchen is an oak-fired grill, and the wood’s primitive, smoky flavors are apparent throughout the menu. The best example comes via the Colorado lamb T-bones, which arrive with a charred exterior that reveals—but doesn’t overpower—the tender, sweet meat. Cooking over fire is fickle, however, and occasionally dishes arrive with too much, or not enough, smoke. /1400 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-3622, oakatfourteenth.com

No. 22: Duo Restaurant (17)

When Duo opened near the corner of 32nd Avenue and Zuni Street in 2005, it signified a turning point for east Highland. Today, this stretch of the neighborhood is a destination in itself with bakeries, a pizza shop, bars, and bistros. The surrounding area has evolved, but Duo has largely remained the same: a straightforward, seasonally focused gathering spot. The restaurant is so committed to sourcing local ingredients that owners Stephanie Bonin and Keith Arnold recently started their own urban farm a block and a half from Duo. Order the antipasto for a trio of impeccably fresh items (if you’re lucky, it will include the bean-and-carrot salad with tarragon-carrot dressing). Given the focus on produce, the vegetarian dishes always dazzle: On my last visit, that included a summery corn-and-ricotta ravioli topped with mint pesto. Service, which was always a high point at Duo, has become slightly preoccupied over the years, and that can lead to delays that add up by the end of a meal. Even so, a dessert (lemon icebox cake!) from the award-winning Yasmin Lozada-Hissom will help erase any annoyance. /2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141, duodenver.com

No. 23: Café Brazil (New to the list)

For 20 years, Café Brazil has been serving reliable, no-frills South American cuisine—first from a tiny, cash-only spot on Najavo Street and now in a gracious, colorful space on Lowell Boulevard. Despite the name, the restaurant is not solely Brazilian: The menu is a contemporary, if slightly European, composite of South American dishes. But there are Brazilian elements, most notably the jovial, carefree, familial vibe that wraps you like a hug when you enter. Chef Tony Zarlenga’s cuisine matches the warmth of the space: Coconut, chile, ginger, palm oil, and citrus march through the menu. The most evocative dish, the cazuela Colombiana, is a heady, spicy stew of prawns and chicken. And then there’s the frango de tiago, a chicken dish bathed in curry and coconut milk cut with chile pequín and garnished with crunchy, nutty, freshly chopped coconut meat. Dinner here isn’t a white tablecloth, fine-dining affair, but that’s just what makes the thoughtful service and surprising flavors all the more enticing. /4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877, cafebrazildenver.com

No. 24: Pinche Taqueria (New to the list)

Denver first fell in love with Kevin Morrison’s brand of street tacos—palm-size tortilla bundles stuffed with griddled Cotija cheese or carnitas, or beef tongue doused with freshly made salsas—when they were served through the window of the roving Pinche Tacos trailer. That craze kicked off what has become a mini taco empire. A year ago, Morrison opened a taqueria on York Street. There, he expanded the menu, procured a liquor license (order the paloma, a classic combo of grapefruit juice and tequila), and created a brunch that has become a weekend must-do. Now, thanks to never-ending demand, there’s news that Morrison will ring in 2013 with a second location in Highland at 3300 West 32nd Avenue. This announcement came just weeks before Bon Appétit recognized Pinche Taqueria as one of the 50 best new restaurants in the country. /1514 York St., 720-475-1337, pinchetacos.com

No. 25: Barolo Grill (11)

Two of my favorite details at Barolo Grill are sitting down to a table set with colorful, handpainted Tuscan plates and ending the meal with the check tucked into a dog-eared travel guide to Italy. Those moments cultivate a fluid sense of rustic adventure, in between which sits chef Darrel Truett’s Piedmontese-inspired cuisine. There’s the succulent braised duck, a Barolo classic that’s been on the menu since the day the restaurant opened in 1992, and more modern dishes such as the Moretti beer–braised rabbit and fried loin. The stunning wine service (ask your server for pairing suggestions) never ever disappoints, and it helps smooth glimpses of heavy-handed presentation and desserts that cry out for attention. It’s no easy feat, but Truett—and the impeccable waitstaff—brings freshness to this long-running restaurant. /3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040, barologrilldenver.com