After countless lunches and dinners, tens of thousands of calories, and hours of careful deliberation and debate, our fourth annual ranking of the Denver area’s best restaurants is complete. Dig in for a comprehensive, of-the-moment snapshot of the local dining scene.
18 Rioja (19 in 2011)
Chef Jennifer Jasinski has been transforming the Denver restaurant scene since she arrived in 2000 to man the burners at Panzano. Some 13 years later, not only does the Wolfgang Puck disciple co-own Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, and Euclid Hall with business partner Beth Gruitch, but she was also the first-ever Denver chef to win the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest and competed on this season’s Bravo Top Chef Masters. So why, you might ask, does Rioja land at 18 on this list? Jasinski is a fabulously talented chef whose powerful cuisine strikes feminine notes with judicious use of bright, sunny citrus and soft herbal notes. Rioja’s service—managed by Gruitch—is perceptive, generous, and on-point. The big problems are the dated decor and misguided cocktail program, both of which are glaring in light of the skill and talent on display at Rioja. A dining room facelift and the expulsion of overly sweet drinks served in wine glasses with long straws would go a long way toward showcasing Rioja’s considerable strengths. 1431 Larimer St., 303-820-2282, riojadenver.com