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In the 365 days since 2007’s dining roundup we’ve eaten about 1,100 meals—the vast majority of which were enjoyed in Denver restaurants. Needless to say, it’s been quite a year: We’ve delighted in fl apjacks soaked in maple syrup, sang the praises of house-cured meats, comforted ourselves with ravioli in brown butter sauce, indulged in cheeseburgers, waxed rhapsodic over fresh hamachi, and caved to sticky toffee pudding.

Along the way, we’ve eaten our way through the year’s trends: the celebration of all things pig, the resurgence of the old-fashioned cocktail, the booming business of brunch, the allure of eating off the bar menu, and—the biggest and most important of all—the move toward sustainable eats.

Whether you’re looking to break the bank or save a buck, eat and run or linger over a white tablecloth, you’ll fi nd that these 77 restaurants dish up a broad sampling of all that Denver has to offer.

Twenty Under $30

3472 W. 32nd St., 303-455-1117

When you don’t want to change out of your favorite jeans but do want delicious, comforting fare, stop by this cozy Highland spot for flavors from home, only better. Bang!’s meatloaf, pineapple upside-down cake, burgers, country-fried chicken, and other classics are all updated with the freshest ingredients, and cooked to perfection.

Best Bites Bacon-topped meatloaf with homemade ketchup and mashed potatoes

When to Go Weekday lunch often guarantees a seat and quick service.

Neighborhood Bonus After your meal, walk down the street to Mondo Vino to browse the boutique wines.

Big Hoss Barb-B-Q Steakhouse
3961 Tennyson St., 720-855-3061

Hoss Orwat, owner of Big Hoss, got an unlikely start in the restaurant industry. It was a college degree in Southern political history that ignited his curiosity and led him around the country to research barbecue culture and taste the regional fare. The final result is a polished joint on Tennyson Street that dishes up pit-smoked specialties—take your pick of Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, or Alabama-style meats and sauces.

Best Bites Smoky chicken slathered in Alabama white sauce

Condiment Craze Take home a bottle of the specially blended spicy Hoss sauce, available by the bottle—or the case.

Game Time Thanks to Big Hoss’ TVs (there are six), the barbecue spot is a great place to get your grub on and catch the game.

Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace
950 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-7771

Sassy Centro Latin Kitchen took all the great energy of a Dave Query restaurant (LoLa, Jax Fish House, Zolo Grill, and West End Tavern) and upped the ante. The space is refined and vibrant, as is Centro’s new menu. Latin food here is focused, clear, and memorable, such as the chunky avocado salsa, the garlicky shrimp tacos, and the curried squash lobster soup.

Best Bites Smoked pork belly masa cake

Cool Cocktail Order the Manzarita with elderflower liqueur, apple juice, cinnamon, and lime.

Hot Seat Sit at the indoor-outdoor (and heated) bar on the tree-lined patio, where you can snag a drink and be in the heart of the action.

El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926

Denver’s best Mexican awaits you at the no-frills El Taco de Mexico, where a team of talented women prepares down-home eats. Hearty carnitas, green chile with rich pork flavors, fresh warm tortillas, and savory weekend menudo will keep you coming back for more.

Best Bites Carnitas tacos

Inside Tip If you want a margarita or beer with your meal, take your order to go—El Taco doesn’t have a liquor license.

When to go Beat the lunchtime crunch and arrive before noon.

House of Marrakesh
1530 Blake St., 303-623-3133

Tucked into downtown’s Blake Street is an exotic temple of Moroccan cuisine that expands LoDo’s culinary horizons. With both booths and floor seating available, Marrakesh turns Moroccan fare into an anytime meal. Sumptuous tagines, curries, bastelas, and couscous arrive with deep, rich flavors of Moroccan home cooking that whisk you to the shores of North Africa.

Best Bites Chicken bastela

Service Bonus The hospitality at Marrakesh is so warm and accommodating, you’ll always feel like a cherished guest.

Top Tip Avoid a Moroccan faux pas and never refuse a cup of mint tea.

1837 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-443-7766

Fine French country cooking at palatable prices sounds oxymoronic, but in Mateo’s case it’s a perfect catchphrase. Matthew Jansen’s first Boulder restaurant is home to the simple, comforting flavors of Provence. Local, organic, seasonal ingredients enhance dishes such as gnocchi with fried sage and brown butter. Mateo is an old favorite that always feels fresh.

Best Bites Grilled center loin of Colorado pork with heirloom polenta, grilled asparagus, and Picholine olive tapenade

When to go Lunch is more economical and just as delicious—not to mention less crowded.

Inside Tip Jansen is also a certified sommelier, so don’t miss a chance to order one of his favorite new vintages.

3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-5219

We go to Mezcal for several reasons, not the least of which is the food—inexpensive Mexican eats with earthy, rustic twists, like smoky chipotle salsa, russet red mole, and bang-up chile rellenos. We also visit to tuck in with the vintage Mexican posters, the thumping beats, and the hipster crowd spilling out of the Bluebird across the street.

Best Bites Quesadillas tradicionales, fried masa pockets stuffed with cheese and chiles and served with pico de gallo

Cool Cocktails We favor the potent house margarita, but drinkin’ choices are nearly endless with the stock of 100-plus tequilas and mezcals.

Insider Tip Go early and bring the kids—Mezcal is just loud enough to lull a baby to sleep, or at least disguise any fussing.

Oshima Ramen
7800 E. Hampden Ave., 720-482-0264

We’re not talking microwaves and Styrofoam cups here. Oshima Ramen makes authentic homemade Japanese ramen noodle soup, where the noodles, stock, and all the accoutrements are made fresh, in-house, every day. To flavor your dish, choose meats, poultry, seafood, or tofu—or just stick with veggies.

Best Bites Super-original Oshima Ramen

Sweet Spot Finish off the meal with a scoop of green tea ice cream.

For Veg Heads When you order the vegetarian ramen, the soup’s usual pork, bonito, and chicken stock are replaced with vegetarian miso.

Osteria Marco
1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855

A half-dozen visits and we still can’t get enough of Osteria Marco on Larimer Square. At chef-owner Frank Bonanno’s other spots, you’d easily drop $80 for two, but here menu items range from $4 (house-made mozzarella) to $8 (carne pizza). This relaxed space—fashioned after a traditional Italian tavern—has become our go-to spot for casual eats and interes­ting wine.

Best Bites The thin-crusted carbonara pizza with crispy pancetta, arugula, Pecorino Toscano cheese, and a sunny side-up egg

Wine Note The all-Italian wine list offers superb selections such as the Aglianico, an earthy red from the Campania region.

Après-Office Wind down the workday with $3 glasses of vino and happy-hour specials—from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Parisi Italian Market, Deli and Trattoria
4401 Tennyson St., 303-561-0234

Come lunch or dinner, it’s rare not to find a line at the family-friendly Parisi, an order-at-the-counter Italian spot in Berkeley. Choose from the Tuscan menu—our faves include the oliva panini (olive mix, fresh mozzarella, and provolone) and the Napoli pizza (capers and ancho­vies)—and then find a table under black-and-white photographs of famous Italian landmarks.

Best Bites Smoked salmon salad with goat cheese, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and lemony dressing

Insider Tip Shelve the Boboli and get Parisi’s pizza dough and sauce to go.

Date Night Make a reservation at Firenze a Tavola, Parisi’s more formal sit-down restaurant downstairs.

Parallel 17
1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988

Chef Mary Nguyen knows what it takes to bring an approachable ethnic menu to Uptown. Using authentic ingredients and techniques, Nguyen clarifies Vietnamese flavors without losing the integrity of the dish. The result is healthy, flavorful food that appeals to an urban crowd. Throw in a loungelike space and you’ve got an Uptown hotspot.

Best Bites Beef pho with shredded oxtail

Cool Cocktail Try the Vietnamese coffeetini with Kahlua, coffee, Stohli Vanil, and a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk.

Hot Seat Snag a stool at the bar, or a patio table on warm days.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano
4457 Broadway, Boulder, 303-444-1729

It may be a dive, but Pupusas Sabor Hispano is Boulder’s best-kept secret. The restaurant is aptly named, as the pupusas—El Salvadoran stuffed corn tortillas—are worth a visit in themselves. Made on a griddle one at a time (with your choice of filling), these soft, cheesy entrées burst with fresh corn flavor.

Best Bites Rajas con queso

Inside Tip Pupusas is working on a liquor license, so soon you can pair a cold Negra Modelo with your meal.

Hot Seat Grab a chair next to the salsa bar so you can keep loading up on the fresh condiments.

Radda Trattoria
1265 Alpine Ave., Boulder, 303-442-6100

Radda, chef-owner Matthew Jansen’s second restaurant, is the closest thing to a true Italian trattoria in Boulder—and you can drop by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The authentic menu features simple modern Italian fare, using seasonal ingredients to produce some of the finest pizza, pasta, soups, and antipasti around.

Best Bites Gnocchi alla bolognese

Best Bartender Grab a bar stool when Steve Peters is working. He’s a mixologist extraordinaire. Ask for a bellini cocktail.

Hot Tip Radda doesn’t take reservations, so plan accordingly—or go on a weekday.

Shells and Sauce
2600 E. 12th Ave., 303-377-2091

In just eight months, Shells and Sauce has become a Congress Park favorite. The cozy Italian spot with Tuscan orange walls is popular with families and neighbors, most of whom have been patiently waiting years for 12th Avenue to come into its own. Chefs Julia Doman and Michael Estes make that wait worthwhile with hearty dishes such as baked ravioli, rustic cioppino, and Colorado lamb meatloaf with Vesuvio potatoes and glazed carrots.

Best Bites Lasagna with layers of sirloin and sausage marinara, noodles, and cheese

Hot Seat Sidle up to the bar for a cocktail, or, if it’s really crowded, dinner.

Inside Tip Check the chalkboard for the evening’s appetizer and small-plate specials.

1120 S. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, 303-757-4301 (also Wheat Ridge, Lafayette, and the Denver Tech Center)

Hamburgers are big business these days, with fancy chefs launching dolled-up burger joints, but at the ketchup-red and mustard-yellow Smashburger, it’s all about the beef. Grill masters smash patties of certified aged Black Angus beef to caramelize the outside and seal in juicy goodness. From there you pick a bun (classic egg, multigrain, or spicy chipotle) and toppings (ketchup to fresh jalapeños) to create your own masterpiece.

Best Bites Mushroom Swiss burger on a toasted egg bun

Sweet Spot Order a thick shake—vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry—made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

When to Go Smashburger bustles during lunch or dinner, so come early if you’ve got kids, or late if you don’t.

523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001

This retro-cool spot dishes up a full range of American comfort food. Just pick a region of the country and you’ll find the iconic dish to go with it: green chile cheeseburger, shrimp po’ boy, cubano sandwich, and éttouffée. Of course we love the eats, but we also come for the hipster vibe, the cushy booths, and the laidback T-shirt wearing staff.

Best Bites Maine lobster roll on a Freihofer split-top bun

inside tip Steuben’s offers vegan, gluten-free, and other allergy-aware menus—just ask to see them.

Sweet Spot We’re suckers for the creamy butterscotch pudding, served up in a parfait glass and topped with vanilla wafers.

1400 Larimer St., 720-946-1433

Our favorite time to dine at Tamayo is during lunch, when the modern Mexican eats are more reasonably priced than dinner. Don’t expect to find the usual fare here; chef-owner Richard Sandoval takes inspiration from the home cooking you’ll find deep in Mexico. The flavors are rustic, unexpected, and delicious.

Best Bites Crepas de huitlacoche, an enchiladalike dish of wild mushrooms, huitlacoche,?chile poblano sauce, and chayote squash

Hot Seat On a warm, clear day stake out a spot in the rooftop lounge, where you can see all the way to the mountains.

Cool Cocktail Sip on the margarita de Granada, a breezy blend of tequila, pomegranate, and lime.

Tandoori Grill
619 S. Broadway, Boulder, 303-543-7339

Tucked into a South Boulder strip mall, the family-run Tandoori Grill turns out exceptional East Indian cooking. With recipes that have been passed down through the ages, Tandoori’s rich, complex flavors have stood the test of time. Creamy kormas, spicy vindaloos, earthy biryanis, silky saags, and perfectly charred naans are served by an experienced waitstaff.

Best Bites Lamb korma

Inside Tip In addition to eating in, Tandoori Grill does a huge carry-out business—and its Tupperware-like containers prevent spills on the way home.

Hot Seat Wait for your take-out in the cozy bar (away from the drafty doors), and have a drink while you wait.

U.S. Thai Café
5228 W. 25th Ave., Edgewater, 303-233-3345

No matter where you travel, street food is usually the best food. And at U.S. Thai Café, chef Aung Kyaw dishes up authentic Thai street eats in a tiny Edgewater restaurant. Though the usual American favorites also make it on the menu (pad Thai, drunken noodles), skip those in favor of the authentic massaman curry or the garlic shrimp—and keep a refreshing papaya salad close by to cool your taste buds.

Best Bites Kung thod kathiang phid Thai (deep-fried garlic with shrimp)

Hot Seat If you can, request to sit in the front room, where the sometimes-flustered waitstaff simply can’t forget about you.

Inside Tip Even if you enjoy spicy food, think twice about ordering “Thai hot.”

Virgilio’s Pizzeria Napoletana
7986 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, 303-985-2777

Swing open the door to this Lakewood restaurant and you’re greeted with a blast of tomato-scented air. It’s the mark of most pizzerias, but Virgilio’s food delivers in spades. Doughy garlic knots are served by the basketful, organic field greens salads come with ample sprinklings of feta, and pizzas arrive with bubbling cheese and chewy, foldable crusts. We can thank owner Virgilio Urbano’s Italian heritage for his dedication to top-quality ingredients and brick-lined ovens that produce spot-on pizza pies.

Best Bites Made-to-order hot mozzarella drizzled with Pecorino Romano cheese, basil, olive oil, and sea salt, and served with garlic bread.

Quick ‘n’ Easy Stop by and pick up the take-and-bake pizzas and calzones.

Cheap Eats Save a few bucks by visiting the website for online coupons—or stop by during happy hour (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) for drink specials.

Where Should I Dine If…

All year long we field phone calls and e-mails from readers seeking dining help. Here, a few of our favorites.

>> My wife and I got engaged in Paris and our first wedding anniversary is coming up. Where’s a good place for dinner and reminiscing? Enjoy the rustic mushroom soup or the savory mussels at Uptown’s romantic AIX (719 E. 17th Ave., 303-831-1296). Bonus: If you don’t want a full meal, have a glass of bubbly at the intimate bar.

>> My friends and I are planning a dinner for 20; where should we go? We’ve never been disappointed with Panzano’s (909 17th St., 303-296-3525) private wine cellar or the upstairs dining room (complete with fireplace and a bay window) at Highland’s Garden Café (3927 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-5920).

>> Many restaurants have dining deals on certain nights of the week—which do you recommend? It’s hard to beat Sunday nights at Black Pearl (1529 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0500) in Platt Park, where your entire check—dinner, wine, and dessert—rings up at half price. (May we recommend the mussels with Pernod broth and frites?)

>> I’m new to town and looking for a great piece of pizza. For fold-in-half New York-style slices we turn to the downtown location of Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta (1550 California St., 303-573-6236), but for a more gourmet take, the garlicky Pontiff pie at Proto’s Pizzeria Napoletana (2401 15th St., 720-855-9400) tops our list.

>> I’m hosting a birthday party for a friend and I want a delicious and pretty, but reasonably priced, cake. Can you recommend a bakery? We regularly order cakes from eat dessert first (1179 S. Monroe St., 303-282-4954), and we’ve always been wowed by the creations and the prices. The strawberry shortcake flavor—vanilla white chocolate cake layered with whipped cream and strawberries—is one of our favorites.

>> We’d like to go out to a nice dinner and take our six-year-old along with us. Where can we go that’ll oblige a young child and still feel like a night out? Not only does Strings (1700 Humboldt St., 303-831-7310) have an impressive kids’ menu—think roasted red pepper and tomato bisque or capellini rustica—but owner Noel Cunningham brings children into the kitchen to help make dessert.

>> I crave breakfast foods like pancakes and waffles, but I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Does anyplace serve alternative breakfast goods? WaterCourse Foods (837 E. 17th Ave., 303-832-7313) bakes up gluten-free sweet-potato cinnamon rolls, muffins, coffee cake, and scones, and the Original Pancake House (5900 S. University Blvd., Greenwood Village, 303-795-0573) recently added gluten-free pancakes to its menu.

>> I’d like to gather my friends for happy hour at a bar or restaurant that’s off the beaten path. Limón (1618 E. 17th Ave., 303-322-0898), a sleek restaurant serving eclectic Peruvian cuisine, offers a terrific happy hour with drink specials and fresh ceviche and fried plantains. Bonus: There’s ample street parking.

>> We love doing tasting menus, where’s the best of the lot? At Black Cat Bistro (1964 13th St., Boulder, 303-444-5500), chef Eric Skokan’s farm-to-table cuisine shines in his sumptuous tasting menus. His five- or seven-course dinners pair fine wines and often feature produce grown in Skokan’s own garden.

>> Can you recommend a great Chinese restaurant? Run, don’t walk, to Super Star Asian Cuisine (2200 W. Alameda Ave., 303-727- 9889) for the best dim sum in town. You’ll be dazzled by every item on the menu—line up early and note the Asian crowd, the best endorsement of all.

>> We’re looking for great Latin food that isn’t Mexican. Make a reservation at Café Brazil (4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877) for South American eats that are rich in Brazilian and Argentinean influences. Order the pernambuco, a scallops dish with coconut curry sauce.

>> I love Japanese food but not necessarily sushi—where do you recommend? Escape to Domo Restaurant (1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666), where they offer traditional country-style dishes in a stunning environment. Don’t miss a springtime visit to the restaurant’s amazing Japanese garden.

>> I’ve got family coming to town, and it’s their first time to Denver. I’d like to show them a slice of history. The magnificent setting and early American traditions of the Fort (19192 Highway 8, Morrison, 303-697-4771) make it a must-stop for out-of-towners. For more casual dining, try the Buckhorn Exchange (1000 Osage St., 303-534- 9505) for great prime rib and a room filled with Wild West nostalgia.

>> Where’s the best spot to eat at Boulder’s new Twenty Ninth Street Mall? The family-run Laudisio (1710 29th St., Boulder, 303-442-1300) Italian restaurant is tops. Try the fettuccine funghi with mushrooms, shallots, cream, and truffle butter.


Breakfast is big business these days—just look at the lines out the door at your favorite morning eatery. When that a.m. craving hits, these are our go-to spots.

Café Bisque Passing over Lakewood’s tiny Café Bisque would mean missing out on chef Alex Gurevich’s heavenly buttermilk lemon-poppy seed pancakes, or rustic sweet potato hash with poached eggs, hollandaise, bacon, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Though it’s also open for lunch and dinner, we feel this restaurant sparkles most at brunch, thanks to Gurevich’s fresh take on breakfast—and the drizzles of lavender honey that accompany the grilled country bread. 226 Union Blvd., Lakewood, 303-985-4151

The Dish Bistro Though the ambience is slightly tattered and bohemian, the Dish’s brunch fare is spot-on. Our favorites include the Vienna French toast (a decadence only made more so with the addition of blended cinnamon-sugar butter) and the braised lamb shoulder Benedict. Far from ordinary, this eggs Benny arrives heaped with poached eggs, roasted tomatoes, tender pulled lamb, and rich mustard cream sauce. For the best of savory and sweet, we recommend ordering both dishes and sharing—and washing them down with the $5 bottomless mimosas. 400 E. 20th Ave., 303-863-7473

DJ’s Berkeley Café One of the things we love most about DJ’s is the neighborhood feel—the place positively bustles with friends catching up, families dining with kids in tow, and young couples planning their day’s adventure. And then there are the huge plates of airy pancakes (plain, blueberry, or banana-walnut) and Brie scrambles with roasted red pepper, shallots, and crimini mushrooms. Best of all, though, are the sunny yellow mugs that brim with hot coffee and help ring in the new day. 3838 Tennyson St., 303-482-1841

Ellyngton’s These days, the old fashioned, pull-out-all-the-stops buffets are few and far between, but leave it to the Brown Palace Hotel to preserve a decadent, albeit pricey, tradition. Brunch runs $44.95; for more dough, pair bottomless Domaine Chandon, Moët & Chandon, or Dom Perignon Champagne with your meal. Sit on the north side, away from the buffet traffic and close to the live jazz. Try the freshly sautéed trout, a slice from the enormous “steamship cut” of buffalo, and the made-to-order bananas Foster. 321 17th St., 303-297-3111

French 250 There are few things more decidedly French than a croque-madame—a grilled ham and cheese dipped in batter, sautéed in butter, and topped with a sunny side-up egg. At French 250, chef Jeremy Thomas ratchets up the flavor quotient with Jarlsberg (rather than the traditional gruyère) and brioche—and tops the already decadent sandwich with hollandaise. Grab a table near the window, and pretend you’re in a cafe on the banks of the Seine. 250 Steele St., 303-331-0250

Gaia Bistro For us, Gaia, a cottagelike spot on Old South Pearl Street, is synonymous with the temptation of the peanut butter, banana, and honey crêpe. The cozy pairing is classic, and Gaia’s made-that-moment preparation ensures the honey and banana are hot and the peanut butter is gooey. Other worthwhile treats are the soft egg in a basket of brioche and the buckwheat crêpe with house-cured salmon, red onions, cream cheese, and capers. Get there early, lest you wait in line with a rumbling tummy. 1551 S. Pearl St., 303-777-5699

LoLa You might know LoLa best for its bar business, but you should get acquainted with the weekend brunch. We always love chef Jamey Fader’s creamy corn soup (one of the few holdovers from the restaurant’s early days) and the filling “admiral” combo of two eggs, chorizo, and an asadero cheese-grit cake. And knowing that it wouldn’t be LoLa without a drink, we highly recommend the mango mimosa. 1575 Boulder St., 720-570-8686

Lucile’s Creole Cafe (Boulder) The Lucile’s in Boulder (the original) remains the best of the bunch. Arrive early to avoid waiting in line, and clear the cobwebs with a large mug of dark chicory coffee. Start your morning with the works: buttermilk biscuits, grits, beignets, and eggs Pontchartrain—like eggs Benedict but with fresh, pan-fried mountain trout—and you won’t need to eat again until dinner. 2124 14th St., Boulder, 303-442-4743

Snooze Between the cheery George Jetson-retro decor and the pineapple upside-down pancakes, brunching at Snooze makes us happy—and thrilled that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The menu tempts with goodies such as vanilla-almond oatmeal brûlée, Juan’s breakfast tacos, and biscuits and gravy, but more often than not we find ourselves ordering our go-to dish: sweet-potato pancakes drizzled with bourbon-caramel glaze and topped with roasted pecans and ginger butter. 2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700

Twenty Over $30

Barolo Grill
3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040

Rarely in Denver will you find service that matches that of the Barolo Grill. The waitstaff’s expertise comes from annual trips to Italy: Owner Blair Taylor takes his employees (all of them, right down to the dishwasher) to northern Italy once a year to discover the cuisine firsthand. You’ll taste that dedication in chef Brian Laird’s cooking and hear it in the waitstaff’s knowledge and understanding of the menu and wine list.

Best Bites The braised duck-­ ling with kalamata olives is a must-try; it’s the only dish that’s never been taken off the menu since Barolo opened in 1992.

Sip Tip When ordering off the impressive wine list, focus on Taylor and sommelier Ryan Fletter’s page of favorites.

Hot Seat Tables on the upper landing offer the dining room’s best people-watching.

Bistro Vendôme
1424-H Larimer St., 303-825-3232

Bistro Vendôme’s tiny tables, dishtowel napkins, and chef Jennifer Jasinski’s fresh French cuisine whisk us straight to Paris. In keeping with the theme, we pair the complimentary crusty baguette with a charcuterie board piled high with cured meats and pâté, olives, capers, and dollops of horseradish and Dijon spreads. Afterward, we dine on dishes such as pan-seared scallops with wilted spinach, sweet potato and caramelized onion hash, celeriac remoulade, and black truffles. As we sip our wine and wait for dessert, we luxuriate over the cluttered table, the remnants of an excellent meal, and the fleeting sense of being in France.

Best Bite Molasses-glazed duck leg confit, lentils, braised cabbage, cider beurre blanc, grilled apple-golden raisin relish

Hot Seat Sit by the tall plate-glass windows, or out on the patio in warm weather.

Insider Tip Dine on a Tuesday for special wine flights—that’s three wines for $10.

The Capital Grille
1450 Larimer St., 303-539-2500

The steak-house concept was practically born in Denver, and subsequently we’re particularly discerning when it comes to eating beef. The Capital Grille has never let us down. In fact, each time we dine we’re only more impressed. Ordering a dry-aged porterhouse or the steak au poivre leaves us drumming our fingers on the table in anticipation—that is, until our spinach salad with warm bacon dressing arrives. The excellent service always makes us feel like we’re the only diners, and we’re charmed with the attention to detail that includes expensive-looking steak knives and the choice of black or white napkin (so as not to leave lint on your black pants).

Best Bites The 22-ounce porcini-rubbed Delmonico bone-in steak, grilled and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar.

Hot Tip When dining in the bar, seek out the far corner table and ask for Kathlene.

Cool Cocktail Order a Stoli Doley, pineapple-infused Stoli vodka shaken over ice.

210 Franklin St., Niwot, 303-652-0777

Colterra, chef Bradford Heap’s first solo venture, is set in the heart of Colorado’s organic farmland just outside of Boulder. Here, the James Beard Foundation nominee draws upon the traditions of southern France and northern Italy, where the freshest produce grows right out the back door. Whether it’s Colorado peaches or Heap’s own golden beets, just-picked flavor highlights every dish.

Best Bites Lasster Farms “Beef Master” grass-fed flank steak with balsamic roasted local onion and crisp polenta

Hot Seat In warmer months, dine on Colterra’s romantic tree-lined patio.

When To Go Try the Sunday supper, a three-course prix-fixe dinner (paired with or without wine) that’s inspired by the season.

30 S. Broadway, 303-722-1550

Reservations are a must at this trendy Broadway restaurant, but if you’re lucky (or you dine after 8 p.m.) you’ll find a seat at the bar. Slide up to the copper top and find yourself eye-to-eye with executive chef-owner Dylan Moore as he turns out plate after creative plate. Order a glass of wine from the list of interesting boutiques, as well as the roasted chicken or pumpkin ravioli stuffed with goat cheese, drizzled with sage brown butter, and topped with toasted garlic, Asiago, and pine nuts.

Best Bites Masa-fried oyster shooters served on pho spoons and decked with salsa fresca, smoked jalapeño aïoli, cilantro, and lime

Date Night Before dashing off to an indie flick at the Mayan, make a meal out of Deluxe’s small plates.

Trivia Tidbit Chef Dylan Moore used to cook at Stars restaurant in San Francisco—hence his command of California cuisine.

Duo Restaurant
2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141

We look to Duo, the darling of Highland, when we’re in the mood for inspired, cozy eats and comfortable conversation. The loftlike space—exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and creaky hardwood floors—lends itself to lingering, especially when a plate of executive chef John Broening’s salt cod fritters arrive. Served with a tangy citrus aïoli, this appetizer is a primer for the rest of the menu: interesting and delightful.

Best Bites Flatiron steak topped with cipollini-bacon ragout and served with celery root-potato gratin and wilted greens

Good Morning We can’t think of a better way to start our Sunday than a cup of strong coffee and a serving of Duo’s challah French toast.

Sweet Spot Pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom’s desserts alone are worth a visit. Given the chance, order the sticky toffee pudding with warm rum sauce.

Frasca Food and Wine
1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966

Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s sophisticated Friulian cuisine has catapulted Boulder into the national spotlight, but the unparalleled service, lead by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, can claim equal credit for the restaurant’s phenomenal success. Food and service are so perfectly matched they can both be described as fluid and flawless—and addictive; we know couples who dine at Frasca at least once a week.

Best Bites Hand-cut Cinderella pumpkin agnolotti with toasted pumpkin seed and cranberry sauce

Hot Tip If Bobby Stuckey has the day off, ask for Rose or Matthew for extra-warm, attentive service.

Wine Note Request a glass of the Tocai Friulano, a delightful Italian vintage that stands up to Frasca’s cuisine.

1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962

Chef Alex Seidel redefines American comfort food in his wildly successful Alamo Placita neighborhood restaurant. Seidel perfects each dish by breaking down familiar recipes (such as homey chicken soup) and reinventing them. The result is finely tuned cuisine that pairs perfectly with maitre d’ Paul Attardi’s polished service.

Best Bites Pasta carbonara with house-cured pork belly, handmade cavatelli, six-minute egg, and Parmesan broth

When To Go Visit on weekdays, later in the evening, so you can chat with Seidel and Attardi.

Hot Tip To jump-start the conservation with Attardi, ask him about serving Jackie Kennedy.

The Kitchen
1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973

Chef-owner Hugo Matheson’s classical New American cuisine captures the simplest, most flavorful nuances of the season. Cooking with thoughtful restraint, he turns out straightforward dishes, such as grilled flatbread with fresh burrata cheese and anchovies, that are never overdone. Matheson couples his farm-to-table philosophy with eco-friendly practices that are at the heart and soul of this kitchen’s fine cuisine.

Best Bites Dutch pancake with chocolate and hazelnuts

Hot Seat Take a seat at the north end of the bar—the better to chat with the friendly bartenders and avoid the front-door drafts.

Home Cookin’ Ask for the tomato soup or sticky toffee pudding recipe and they’ll be happy to oblige.

1739 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-7233

Sleek and sexy, L’Atelier feels like Boulder’s best-kept secret. This elegant hideaway dishes up unforgettable modern interpretations of classical French cuisine (think escargot in anchovy garlic butter on potato foam). As the name implies, L’Atelier is truly an artist’s studio, and chef Radek Cerny creates dazzling contrasts and artistic presentations.

Best Bites Sweetbreads in sugarcane sauce

Hot Seat Choose one of L’Atelier’s plush booths for privacy and elbow room.

Best Servers Both Paul and Ari have encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine; their unpretentious, intelligent service is a pleasure.

Luca d’Italia
711 Grant St., 303-832-6600

This Frank Bonanno restaurant is a celebration of the Italian food he grew up with—pastas come in small-plate portions, meals begin with house-cured salumi, and the emphasis is on fresh and simple. Dishes here are on the front edge of the curve. Take Bonanno’s appetizer of grilled octopus with coco bean and smoky guanciale salad—it’s been served at Luca for years, but only now are similar dishes showing up on menus around the country.

Best Bites House-made ricotta tortellini with spicy sausage, garlic, and San Marzano tomatoes

Wine Notes Ask sommelier Noel Martin to pair wines with your meal, and he’ll deftly navigate the ever-changing list—and you won’t be disappointed.

Artisan Eats Wish you could enjoy Luca’s house-made mozzarella, ricotta, and burrata cheeses at home? With a little guidance you can—sign up for chef Bonanno’s next cheese-making course.

225 E. Seventh Ave., 303-832-4778

Thanks to the sophistication and imagination that characterize Mizuna’s contemporary American dishes, this is one of Denver’s favorite evenings out. Chef Frank Bonanno’s menu features luxurious ingredients and intelligent touches of whimsy that are beautifully balanced across every plate. From the legendary lobster mac ‘n’ cheese to a succulent sole with black truffle duxelles, each course is a symphony of flavor.

Best Bites Oven-roasted veal chop with confit potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, and veal daube

Hot Seat Tuck into the back dining room crammed with Mizuna’s collection of wine and cookbooks.

Inside Tip Parties of 20 to 55 guests can buy out the entire restaurant to enjoy a magnificent meal catered exclusively for them.

2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787

Cozy and elegant, Opus Restaurant lends an air of sophistication to Old Town Littleton. Surrounded by earth tones and a blazing fire, diners reap the benefits of executive chef Michael Long’s boundless enthusiasm in his ever-changing New American menu. Long uses lavish ingredients—caviar, Champagne, truffles—to create food that is decadent, well balanced, and fun.

Best Bites Champagne-butter roasted Alaskan salmon

Best Server Ask for Rachel; she’s attentive, thoughtful, and well-versed in the menu.

Best Aside Plan time before or after your meal to meander among the shops of charming Old Town Littleton.

1109 Ogden St., 303-832-5788

For years, Potager chef Teri Rippeto’s commitment to gathering the freshest seasonal products has helped us recognize the glories of fine cuisine. Using these pristine ingredients, Rippeto creates soulful dishes such as wood-fired lobster with mole and a hearty cassoulet that takes two days to prepare.

Best Bite The decadent chocolate pudding

Hot Seat For the most elbow room, request a table near Potager’s floor-to-ceiling window by the brick wall.

When To Go Reservations aren’t accepted; arrive at 5:30 p.m. when doors open.

Restaurant Kevin Taylor
1106 14th St., 303-820-2600

When the evening calls for perfection, Restaurant Kevin Taylor’s New American cuisine does not disappoint. Wines pair precisely with dishes such as butter-poached lobster or foie gras with carrot-cake French toast. Gracious service weaves the evening together flawlessly and turns every meal into a special occasion.

Best Bite Chilled Maine lobster salad with pineapple, fennel, avocado, and green curry dressing

Hot Seat for Kids Ask to be seated at the banquettes on the south wall, where well-behaved kids have room to stretch out.

Dining Perks The stunning amuse bouche and a gratis box of petit fours bookend dinner.

1431 Larimer St., 303-820-2282

Chef Jennifer Jasinski’s ambitious Mediterranean menu overflows with craveable dishes such as artichoke tortelloni and braised veal cheek. With friendly, professional servers, a trendy location in Larimer Square, excellent wine, and a welcoming vibe, Rioja satisfies every craving.

Best Bites Lamb chorizo pizza with roasted poblano pesto, mozzarella and fontina, Roma tomatoes, and queso fresco

Hot Seat Settle in at the chef’s counter at the back of the main room for an up-close-and-personal view of chef Jasinski’s talented team.

Cool Cocktails Check out the sidecars, Negronis, and pomeginger cocktails.

5410 E. Colfax Ave., 303-388-8429

Chef-owner Goose Sorensen’s restaurant is proof that Colfax Avenue is a study of opposites: The oft-grimy street has moments of luster, the brightest of which is Solera. We love this restaurant—named after the mistress of the sun—for its golden walls, the warm waitstaff, and the radiant American menu touched with global influences.

Best Bites The cioppino, a rustic fennel-tomato broth soup with fresh fish, mussels, and potatoes

Date Night Sit at the bar, sip on a glass of white, and nibble the spicy Thai-style calamari.

Insider Tip Dine when morel mushrooms are in season and taste some of Sorensen’s most inspired eats.

Sushi Den
1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826

This South Pearl Street hot spot jumps every day of the week—and for good reason. The fish is Denver’s freshest, thanks in part to the owners’ brother, who lives in Japan and shops the fish market at 4 a.m. daily. He promptly ships off his selections, and hours later it’s served up on your plate. Whether you favor California rolls or sea urchin, the talent behind the sushi bar will create a meal that suits.

Best Bites The jalapeño-laced new-style sashimi made with yellowtail and yuzu-soy

Inside Tip Dine Monday through Saturday for the widest range of fresh catch.

Cheap Eats Check out happy hour for two-for-one hot sake and the $10 happy platter with six pieces of sushi and a tuna hand roll.

Table 6 609 Corona St., 303-831-8800

We love this neighborhood bistro for the cozy details like hanging chalkboard menus, a gleaming open kitchen, and the homey exposed brick walls. We also love tucking into executive chef Scott Parker’s twist on American eats—Marcona almond tater tots, heirloom fried green tomatoes, and lamb Reuben sliders—and tapping into sommelier-owner Aaron Forman’s expertise.

Best Bites Sweet-potato ravioli with orange brown butter, orange, shallot, and parsley salad

Home Cookin’ Grab recipes off the website for dishes such as bouillabaisse sandwiches.

Old Reliable While most restaurants are closed on Monday nights, Table 6 dishes up dinner daily.

2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299

Neighborhood restaurants often effervesce with a chummy vibe that says “Sit down, have a beer and a burger, and tell us about your day.” While Tables, an intimate 10-table bistro in the Park Hill neighborhood, offers this casual feel, it also offers a bang-up gourmet menu. Rather than settling for pub grub, dine on chef and co-owner Amy Vitale’s fresh take on American dishes and a delightful wine list.

Best Bites New York strip with blue-cheese mashers, black pepper-Zinfandel demi, and charred red onions

When To Go Tables are often available Tuesday or Wednesday nights.

Sweet Spot The decadent s’mores dessert fills two bellies with gooey marshmallows.

Eat at the Bar

Sometimes the best way to grab a quick meal (or seek out a deal) is to dine at the bar.

9th Door Catch happy hour at trendy 9th Door (4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.), where flavorful tapas ring in at $2 to $4 and most cocktails cost just $4. Order the pimientos del pequillo salteados (roasted Spanish peppers sautéed with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil) and the albóndigas (lamb meatballs served in an almond-sherry sauce laced with mint). 1808 Blake St., 303-292-2229

Elway’s Order a cocktail from John, the bartender, and over bites of grilled filet mignon and bacon-wrapped shrimp enjoy Cherry Creek’s best people-watching. (All this and a chance to see good ol’ Number 7.) If you’re up for drama, the open flames of the homemade s’mores are always an attention-getter. For a really swanky night out, check out the Elway’s at the Ritz-Carlton. 2500 E. First Ave., Unit 101, 303-399-5353

Il Posto Arrive early (5:30 p.m.) or late (10 p.m.) and snag one of Il Posto’s bar stools for a bird’s-eye view into the kitchen—and a chance to chat with chef Andrea Frizzi. Order a white wine from the Alto Adige region of Italy and a savory crespillina crêpe with buffalo ricotta, fresh herbs, and cream Parmesan fondutina. 2011 E. 17th Ave., 303-394-0100

Izakaya Den At sister restaurant Sushi Den, the bar brims with cocktail-swilling diners waiting for tables. But at Izakaya Den across the street, the spacious bar is a destination in itself. The full menu is available (don’t miss the crispy tuna and the Kobe beef medallions with edamame, watermelon, and mint), and the space has a cool vibe and plenty of tucked-away nooks and tables. Perch at the “rail,” a sleek high-top table carved from a single conifer tree, for a quick bite. Or request a bar table and make your way through the menu, one small plate at a time. 1518 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0691

The O Room If it’s a cutting-edge experience you’re after, check out the O Room at the Westin Westminster. This isn’t your typical hotel dining—for proof, slide up to the sophisticated front bar and sample house-cured citrus trout bruschetta or fork-tender buffalo short ribs. Chef Ian Kleinman pushes the envelope with the futuristic-sounding molecular gastronomy—try the tableside liquid nitrogen sorbets where, before your eyes, chefs turn ingredients such as strawberry and yuzu, sprinkled with olive oil dust, into delectable frozen fantasies. 10600 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, 303-410-5066

The Oceanaire Seafood Room Sitting at the Oceanaire’s crescent-shape oyster bar, it seems only fitting to sip an ice-cold martini, pluck a freshly shucked kumamoto from the platter in front of you, and gently sway to a Frank Sinatra tune. After all, the Art Deco-style restaurant was fashioned after a 1930s luxury ocean liner, and an evening spent dining on the grand shellfish platter—a towering sampler of iced shrimp, crab, lobster, poached mussels, and raw oysters—is decadent and delicious. 1400 Arapahoe St., 303-991-2277

Vesta Dipping Grill The best thing about dining at Vesta’s copper-topped bar is that you get to decide the pace. Grab a quick bite—sangria and a Vesta roll—or linger over a glass of wine and the savory madras-grilled venison. Bonus: We always find that chef Matt Selby’s dipping sauces make eating more fun. 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970

Vita We love tucking into Vita’s handsome bar and sipping on an inspired cocktail (try the apple Manhattan martini made with muddled fresh apple). A stripe of inset lighting runs the length of the bar top and casts a cool glow over the menu—no need to squint, just order the braised Kurobuta pork belly with figs, potato dumplings, and apple salad. 1575 Boulder St., Suite A, 303-477-4600

Zengo Zengo’s trendy space always plays to a hip crowd, which makes eating at the bar all the more fun. Come right at 5 p.m. for a sure-fire seat, or later if you want more company. Ask Kelly behind the bar to pour a mojito Cuzco with freshly muddled mint and cucumber. Follow it up with tuna wonton tacos with pickled ginger and mango salsa, as well as charbroiled black cod with chile chipotle, asparagus, and lemon aïoli. 1610 Little Raven St., 720-904-0965

Rising Chef

Tyler Skrivanek
Sous chef, Duo Restaurant

With his long fingers, shoulder-length brown hair, and shaggy beard, Tyler Skrivanek could easily pass for a keyboardist in a garage band. But watch him in his chef’s whites in Duo’s open kitchen and it’s clear he’s chosen performance art of a different sort. Burners blasting, he swirls butter in one sauté pan, tosses prosciutto into another, and spins around, third pan in hand, to plate the special of the day. “You get an adrenaline rush when the wheel is full of tickets,” he tells me later. “When it’s flowing, it’s just like a symphony or a ballet.”

If we were at Ellie Caulkins instead of a Highland seasonal bistro, we’d have a program insert announ­cing that the lead tonight will be played by the understudy. But with sous chef Skrivanek in charge, there are no grumbles, no sighs. Even on executive chef John Broening’s day off, soup comes out properly seasoned, courses are well-timed, steak is not overcooked. Indeed, it’s safe to assume that no one in this cozy dining room has any idea that Broening has left the building.

That the kitchen doesn’t skip a beat is especially impressive considering that, just a few birthdays ago, Skrivanek, now 23, couldn’t have ordered a glass of the house white. “Everyone at Vesta knows him as Buck,” as in young buck, laughs Matt Selby, chef of Vesta Dipping Grill, where Skrivanek used to work. “He was such a young kid at the time.” Fresh from Johnson & Wales University, Skrivanek impressed Selby with his strong work ethic and eagerness to learn. “You can train technique, but you can’t train someone to wonder and be inquisitive,” says Selby. “That’s why he did so well in my kitchen. You could tell him once and he got it.”

Skrivanek’s ease in the kitchen can be traced to his youth, when this Nebraska native would spend part of every summer visiting his Czech grandparents and watching his grandmother turn out countless batches of rolls and baked goods. But it wasn’t until high school, when he took a job in a local restaurant, that he decided to be a chef. “The food seemed so behind in Nebraska, I wanted to get out,” he says. “It was the same vegetable and side for every dish.”

At Duo, where the emphasis is on ultrafresh, seasonal ingredients, Skrivanek has explored food pairings he never could have imagined back home— venison with a butternut squash-pear purée, and escolar with leeks, wilted greens, and tomato caper aïoli. One of the items he developed for Duo’s menu, the grilled flatiron steak with sweet potato hash and chimichurri, earned a write-up in Bon Appétit.

Such acclaim doesn’t surprise chef Broening, who recognized the young line cook’s potential and promoted him to sous chef after just a few months on the job. “Tyler’s focused, efficient, and organized,” he says. While those adjectives could apply to half of the kids at Johnson & Wales, Skrivanek’s respect for food reveals a maturity beyond his years. “A lot of inexperienced chefs will pile on the cream and butter and do all this classical French stuff that nobody eats anymore,” he says, but Tyler has “an understanding and appreciation of food.”

So much does Skrivanek enjoy seasonal cooking, he dreams of opening a fast-casual restaurant serving not burritos or burgers but light, seasonal fare focusing on fish, salads, sandwiches, and whole grains. But for now he’s more than content to soak up everything he can at Duo. —Gretchen Kurtz

Chef of the Year

Alex Seidel
Executive chef, Fruition

Chef Alex Seidel cradles a freshly cured duck prosciutto in his arms before hanging it next to the country ham, Spanish lomo, and pork prosciutto he’s already cured in Fruition’s diminutive kitchen. The act underscores Seidel’s deliberateness as a chef and his commitment to doing things right: He waits months for his charcuterie to cure just right, grows his own vegetable garden, and pursues hard-to-find ingredients such as hearts of palm (the three-foot-long stalks are shipped from Hawaii) and diver scallops from Maine, simply because they’re the best.

Thanks to Seidel’s passion and dedication, his sophisticated American comfort food is capturing national attention. But even as the accolades from Bon Appetít and Gourmet pile up, his focus remains local. “I just want to bring Denver diners flavors they understand, with prices they can afford, in a place that feels like home,” he says.

Inside the cozy Sixth Avenue spot, Seidel makes diners feel at home with approachable dishes (pasta carbonara, oysters Rockefeller, caramelized banana pudding) and midrange prices. That said, his cuisine is finely tuned and often executed with a twist. To wit, Seidel’s signature Maple Leaf Farms duck breast, which juxtaposes medium-rare medallions and Seidel’s house-cured duck prosciutto. Paired with creamy risotto, lightly grilled arugula, and sweet-sour red onion marmalade, this masterpiece balances color, texture, temperature, and flavor.

Seidel credits many mentors for his success, but none was more important than Frank Bonanno, chef-owner of Mizuna, where Seidel worked as executive chef for four and a half years. “Frank gave me the freedom to be the chef I am today,” Seidel says. “We had free rein to experiment at Mizuna, and I learned that in Denver it’s important to create food that’s not too extreme, not too much out of the box. Here at Fruition, we want to serve diners the kind of food that brings back memories and keeps them coming back for more.”

In just one year’s time, Fruition and Seidel have succeeded, as evidenced by the packed tables and hard-to-come-by reservations. Indeed, as diners return time and again for Seidel’s accessible dishes, we’re left to ask, just what did we do before Fruition? —Carol W. Maybach