Denver's 25 Best Restaurants 2016

From funky hot spots to neighborhood bistros, there's a restaurant in Denver to satisfy your every craving.

October 2016

RiNo’s Hop Alley radiates fun, from wild cocktails to tongue-numbing Chinese-inspired dishes. Photography by Aaron Colussi

21. Bittersweet 

*Last year 21

In the five years since Olav Peterson and his wife, Melissa Severson, opened Bittersweet in Washington Park West, the eatery has come into full bloom. Like the maturing gardens that flank the restaurant, Bittersweet appears to have settled into itself. For years, Peterson pulled double duty cooking on the line and working the dining room. But recently, he left the kitchen for the front of the house to better connect with guests. Peterson seems in his element, but most important, the food hasn’t suffered: Dishes such as a thick pork chop with fennel jam and guanciale vinaigrette, dry-aged bison rib-eye, and cobia with leek tamale indicate that the current crew is more than up to the job of meeting the sky-high expectations Peterson has set for stunning presentations and complex flavors. 500 E. Alameda Ave., 303-942-0320

22. Old Major 

*Last year 15

Arrive before your reservation time, find a seat at Old Major’s bar, and order a cocktail (try the Modern Savage, Old Major’s version of a Black Manhattan, with whiskey, amaro, and sarsaparilla bitters) to experience one of the best parts of this 3.5-year-old LoHi restaurant. The extra time allows you to relax into the evening and to better take in the rustic, barnlike space that once housed a roller rink. Then, dinner. Squeeze into your table and select from executive chef and owner Justin Brunson’s menu: It’s a meaty one with a nose-to-tail mission. If you’ve come hungry and are dining with a crowd, splurge on the 24-ounce Colorado rib-eye. It’s a whopping $90, but it might very well be the best steak you’ve ever had. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622

23. Barolo Grill 

*Last year 12

It’s rare for a restaurant to remain relevant for 20 years. And yet Barolo Grill, a Northern Italian stalwart on East Sixth Avenue, has done just that. Having a strong focal point (in this case, the regions of Piedmont and Tuscany) certainly anchors the menu, but we think it’s the staff’s annual trip to Italy that infuses the dining experience with the genuine spirit of Italian food, drink, and hospitality. The best time of year to visit Barolo is shortly after the team has returned from its summer pilgrimage, as that’s when executive chef Darrel Truett’s inspiration burns brightest. 3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040

24. Mizuna 

*Last year 13

Barman Austin Carson

When Mizuna turned 15—something of an eternity in the restaurant industry—earlier this year, it was an occasion worth celebrating. In advance of the party, and in recognition of Mizuna’s years, chef and owner Frank Bonanno briefly closed the restaurant for a remodel. The refreshed space feels more graceful thanks to new floors, a more generous bar (behind which barman Austin Carson can better work his magic), and softer lighting. The effect is one that makes the restaurant seem more open without stripping it of its intimacy. And Mizuna, with its butter- and cream-drenched French dishes, still reigns supreme for special occasions, when flawless service is key and indulgence calls. 225 E. Seventh Ave., 303-832-4778

25. Bistro Barbès 

*Last year 19

At the core of a successful restaurant is a clear viewpoint, and a keen sense of identity is ever more important in our flooded dining scene. This is where Bistro Barbès, led by chef-owner Jon Robbins, shines. Barbès’ menu has French undertones (Robbins, after all, is classically trained), but it’s the vibrant North African, Middle Eastern, and Spanish impressions that differentiate Barbès and entice us back again and again. Here, “chermoula” (an herby North African marinade), sumac, “zhoug” (a Middle Eastern chile sauce), and madras curry aren’t just ingredients; they’re nods to Robbins’ years in Barbès, a vibrant neighborhood in Paris swirled with multicultural influences. 5021 E. 28th Ave., 720-398-8085  

Additional reporting by Callie Sumlin