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Julep's rutabaga tart. Photograph by Adam Larkey

Top of the Town 2018: Dining

From Colorado's best chef to the newly opened restaurant 5280 editors can't get enough of, we take a look at the best of Denver's dining scene.

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Distillery

Editors’ Choice
The Family Jones Spirit House

This collaboration just may be the best blended family since the Bradys. Founders include LoHi entrepreneur Paul Tamburello, Linger and El Five restaurateur Justin Cucci, Spring44’s ex-head distiller Rob Masters, and chef Tim Dotson, formerly of Adrift and TAG. The Family Jones’ Loveland production facility turns out balanced vodka, gin, and rum (and will add bourbon and rye in about a year). Then there’s the 150-gallon small-batch distillery inside the beautiful tasting room/restaurant in LoHi. Masters collaborated with veteran Williams & Graham barman Nick Touch and bar manager Amanda Hotaling to dream up house-made modifiers, from crème de violette to amaretto, for refined cocktails that pair perfectly with Dotson’s small plates. 3245 Osage St., 303-481-8185

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Readers’ Choice
The Family Jones Spirit House

Burger

Editors’ Choice
Royal Rooster
Debate Shake Shack versus In-N-Out Burger if you must. When it comes to the craveable, lowbrow debauchery of burgers, we’re siding with team Royal Rooster, the lunchtime alter ego of LoHi’s Old Major. Resident meat master and executive chef Justin Brunson serves his Double Double with American cheese, pickles, and grilled onions on a squishy Martin’s Bake Shoppe potato bun. The burger even includes a tangy, mayo-based “special sauce.” But no McRestaurant can match the locally sourced, dry-aged beef Brunson uses to form the Double Double’s two four-ounce, medium-rare patties. No wonder we’re—to borrow further inspiration from the king of the fast-food industry—lovin’ it. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-062

Readers’ Choice
Park Burger
multiple locations

Japanese

Editors’ Choice
Izakaya Ronin
A sequel rarely outshines the original, but that may be the case with Izakaya Ronin, the restaurant/bar/speakeasy that opened seven months ago in RiNo’s Industry building. Inside the street-level dining room, chef-owner Corey Baker offers a menu of fresh fish and hot and cold Japanese standards that’s similar to what he serves at Sushi Ronin in LoHi. Grab a spot at the sushi bar and put yourself in the hands of his “omakase” (chef’s choice) experience. Downstairs, in a repurposed boiler room, Baker has fashioned a red-lit subterranean izakaya, complete with classic bar snacks (skewers, rice bowls, noodle soups) and Denver’s largest collection of Japanese whiskies, including four extra-special Yamazaki iterations. Originally intended for late-night noshing and imbibing starting at 10 p.m., Baker responded to consumer demand and expanded its hours. Now you can nab a seat at the basement izakaya bar and slurp Baker’s award-winning chicharrón tonkotsu ramen from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. 3035 Brighton Blvd., 303-953-1602

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

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Steak

Editors’ Choice
Bastien’s Restaurant
For a great steak experience, you want seasoning—and we’re not talking McCormick. During its 60 years, this East Colfax mainstay has been run by four generations and counting of the same clan. The ownership isn’t the only thing unchanged: Inside, the vibe is so 1950s you might expect to see Don Draper and Frank Sinatra downing stiff whiskeys in one of the restaurant’s black leather booths. As for the food, Bastien’s trademark New York strip—sourced from a ranch in Nebraska—is topped with caramelized sugar and spices and served with a side of salad or potatoes. Each bite begins with a subtle sweetness that gives way to the familiar, juicy (the meat is prepared only rare or medium rare) flavor of exceptional steak cooked by experienced hands. 3503 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-0363

Readers’ Choice
Guard and Grace
1801 California St., Suite 150, 303-293-8500

Photograph by Aaron Colussi

Chef

Editors’ Choice
Alex Seidel
Although he might not be Coloradan by birth (Wisconsin holds that honor), Alex Seidel has become the embodiment of what it means to be a Centennial State chef during the past 25 years. His eateries—Mercantile Dining & Provision and Fruition Restaurant—are models of the farm-to-table movement. His Larkspur dairy farm, Fruition Farms Creamery, bolsters that mission by producing prize-winning sheep’s milk cheeses for many of the best restaurants on the Front Range. Denver has long appreciated Seidel for his humble persona, collaborative nature, and expert cooking chops. Now, the rest of the country does too: This past May, Seidel won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest after 10 years of nominations. Mercantile Dining & Provision, Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3733; Fruition Restaurant, 1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962

Readers’ Choice
Troy Guard
Tag Restaurant Group

Vegan/Vegetarian

Editors’ Choice
Superfood Bar
The Riverfront Park strip along Platte Street is undergoing a radical transformation as offices pop up in and around co-working space Galvanize and the extant shops and restaurants. Now, with the addition of seven-month-old Superfood Bar, the lunchtime menu is becoming more diverse too. The New Orleans transplant serves a 100 percent meat- and dairy-free menu of smoothies, juices, and wraps that are all packed with trendy superfoods (avocados, yes, but also barley grass, dates, and Moringa). The wait can be lengthy if you drop in around 1 p.m., but it’s worth it: The pesto wrap is a little packet of savory goodness, and the chocolate avocado smoothie tastes of beachy freshness with its combination of fruit, sea salt, dates, and house-made granola. Plus, there’s a 10 percent discount for those who work or live nearby, so the neighborhood’s future Zuckerbergs don’t have to spend all of their seed money filling their stomachs. 1541 Platte St., 720-855-3493

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Readers’ Choice
City O’ City
206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443

Kid-Friendly Restaurant

Editors’ Choice
Concourse Restaurant Moderne
Not surprisingly, every eatery inside family-focused Stapleton’s Eastbridge Town Center was in the running for this award. They all cater to tiny diners by offering extensive kids menus and patient service. Concourse, however, goes a bit further, having bought a tiny oven to bake pizzas specifically for its youngest customers. While your progeny destroys the cheese pizza—with chewy house-made dough, tangy tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella—you can enjoy a softly lit banquette under the gorgeous undulating walnut slab ceiling. When the food comes, you and your S.O. can share the bacon and octopus risotto balls appetizer, bison Bolognese, and an unexpected grown-up night out sans Sponge Bob place mats—without having to find a sitter. 10195 E. 29th Drive, Suite 140, 720-550-6934

Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian
multiple locations

Pizza

Editors’ Choice
Pizzeria Lui
With all the primo pies in Denver proper, do you really need to drive to the suburbs to eat pizza in a former liquor store? Let’s answer that query this way: Imagine the perfectly baked loaves of Grateful Bread Company. Now imagine that flour wisdom applied to pizza crust. That’s what you get at veteran Grateful Bread baker Zach Parini’s no-frills Lakewood restaurant. Lui’s 900-degree wood-fired Acunto oven turns out beautifully charred, perfectly chewy 14-inch Neapolitan-style pizzas. There are classic red and white pies, a Caesar salad, cheesy breadsticks, and a short list of wines, beers, and ciders. All are winners, but Parini’s addition of unexpected ingredients to many of his creations—from Colorado peaches and pears to house-made chorizo and roasted green chiles—is truly extraordinary. So, to conclude: The answer is yes. 5380 W. Mississippi Ave., Lakewood, 303-922-3202

Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian
multiple locations

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New Restaurant

Editors’ Choice
Julep
Kyle and Katy Foster, a Southern-bred husband-and-wife duo, have created a RiNo restaurant with such a split personality it could be a character in a Faulkner novel. At lunchtime and during weekend brunch, diners can score down-home, traditional Southern fare, such as Kyle’s crisp-edged buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy. But at dinnertime, Kyle, formerly of Colt & Gray and Rebel Restaurant, delivers sophisticated dishes that your Alabama granny might not recognize, even though they are inspired by food from south of the Mason-Dixon line. (The deviled snails with Anson Mills rice grits and saltine salad are the chef’s favorite right now.) Whatever time you’re there, you’ll have found your sanctuary. 3258 Larimer St., 303-295-8977

Readers’ Choice
The Bindery
1817 Central St., 303-993-2364

Chinese

Editors’ Choice
The Bronze Empire
Be glad President Donald Trump can’t slap a tariff on trends—specifically, Chinese hot pot, a fondue-style eating experience in which diners cook veggies and meats in flavorful simmering broths. The mainland China favorite recently took off in Denver, and two-year-old Bronze Empire is the best among those embracing the fad. Ordering from the large, complicated menu can be intimidating, but co-owners Tian Xia and Qun Zheng, both from Beijing, have created a welcoming atmosphere. Servers are happy to help you choose a broth; the original pot is thick with umami goodness, and the fiery beef broth (aka the traditional spicy pot) is tasty too. To round out your order, we suggest selecting the melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef; for vegetables, the mushroom combo is a must for its surprising varietals. (You should also get a side of rice or noodles.) By the end of the meal, you’ll be more than willing to pay a—hypothetical—levy to experience this sort of satisfaction again. 1591 S. Colorado Blvd., 720-599-8888

Readers’ Choice
Hop Alley
3500 Larimer St., 720-379-8340

Middle Eastern

Editors’ Choice
Darya Restaurant
Nestled in a strip mall with plastic chairs and tables inside, Darya is unassuming from the outset. That’s the beauty of the 13-year-old Aurora spot, owned by Iranian couple Hassan and Afsar Soleimani: It doesn’t need to be fancy to get you to come back. The “mirza ghasemi,” a classic Persian appetizer of eggplant, tomatoes, and eggs, floats in a pool of oil that begs to be mopped up with a piece of hot bread. The falafel sandwich is deceptively simple, but the fried disks of garbanzo and fava beans, spotted with sesame seeds, are perfectly cooked—crunchy outside, soft inside. And the “zereshk polo and morgh,” a chicken plate with saffron, currents, raisins, and basmati rice, is as tender and flavorful as a similar dish we feasted on while visiting the Middle East last year. We don’t always consider modesty a virtue, but at Darya, the axiom—and the food—rings true. 10890 E. Dartmouth Ave., Aurora, 303-750-4326

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Readers’ Choice
Jerusalem Restaurant
1890 E. Evans Ave., 303-777-8828

Market Hall

Editors’ Choice
Zeppelin Station
Leave it to Zeppelin Development, who introduced the market hall trend to Denver via the Source in 2013, to refresh the experience just when it started to feel a bit commonplace. Its eponymous new project focuses on global street foods, providing a trip around the world without leaving RiNo. Craving Korean? Injoi Korean Kitchen offers crunchy-juicy-spicy fried chicken, bibimbap, and more. You can dine on Montreal smoked brisket, charcuterie, and bagels at Au Feu; Hawaiian poke bowls at Aloha Poke Co.; and Japanese-inspired specialties at Gaijin, the second tenant in Zeppelin’s rotating vendor space, No Vacancy. There are also two distinct bars—downstairs, Kiss & Ride serves casual, quick tipples for (in theory) commuters on the adjacent A Line; upstairs, Big Trouble mixes whimsical, Asian-inspired cocktails—just in case your journey leaves you parched. 3501 Wazee St., 720-460-1978

Readers’ Choice
Denver Central Market
2669 Larimer St.

Thai

Editors’ Choice
J’s Noodles Star Thai 2
J’s Noodles doesn’t have a menu or an atmosphere all that different from other area Thai restaurants. After all, its facade has all the appeal of a Federal Boulevard strip mall. The kitchen, though, is a different story. Often, Thai joints fail to achieve harmony (too sugary, skimpy with the fish sauce) or textural precision (flabby noodles, mushy vegetables). J’s Noodles’ sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy flavors, fresh ingredients, and precise techniques, however, are always beautifully balanced. We’ve yet to find a pad thai that can compete with J’s black-pepper-flecked version. 945 S. Federal Blvd., 303-922-5495

Readers’ Choice
US Thai Cafe
5228 W. 25th Ave., Edgewater, 303-233-3345

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Vietnamese

Editors’ Choice
Vinh Xuong Bakery
The Huynh family’s Vinh Xuong Bakery is as much a Denver institution as Casa Bonita—except with more, um, elevated cuisine. They’ve been making perfectly put-together banh mi since the 1980s; the first Vinh Xuong Bakery opened on South Federal Boulevard around 30 years ago, and the family added a second location on West Alameda Avenue in 2011. The Huynhs are so dedicated to the French-Vietnamese sandwich that at Vinh Xuong’s third location, inside four-month-old Zeppelin Station in RiNo, banh mi offerings comprise most of the menu. In fact, there are seven versions, among them the ever-popular grilled pork, a spicy avocado option, and, of course, the traditional combination of Chinese barbecue, Vietnamese ham, and pork head cheese. And should you crave dessert, simply spin around and walk down the hall to the Huynhs’ Dandy Lion Coffee for a traditionally sweet Vietnamese coffee made with Denver’s Commonwealth beans. The beverage injects just the right dose of caffeine to ward off a post-banh-mi-binge food coma. Zeppelin Station, 3501 Wazee St., 720-460-1978

Readers’ Choice

New Saigon
630 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-4954

Korean

Editors’ Choice
Angry Chicken
Think variety is the spice of life? Not at Angry Chicken, where the spice in its chicken more than makes up for the menu’s lack of variety. The seven-month-old Aurora restaurant, one of the first American franchises of South Korea’s Ssal Chicken, serves rice-flour-coated bird…and not much else. That said, Angry Chicken offers eight flavors (all of them packing heat)—such as green onion and sweet and spicy—plus nine cooking options, from oven-baked to fried in oil. As for that furious heat, it comes from the 24 hours the chicken spends soaking in a marinade bath of top-secret spices and herbs before being battered and cooked. The made-fresh factor means you’ll have to wait at least 15 minutes for your dinner, but that just gives you more time to sample and savor a few sips of “soju” (which is basically Korean sake). 1930 S. Havana St., Suite 13, Aurora, 303-353-2680

Readers’ Choice
Dae Gee
multiple locations

Taco

Editors’ Choice
La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas
Tiny taquerias can inspire #FOMO. (Maybe there’s a taco across the street that would’ve been even better!) La Calle puts your anxiety to rest; each of the more than a dozen incarnations at this snug Valverde spot—from nutty chorizo to crispy tripa—is seasoned and cooked to perfection. The lively orange walls and friendly counter service could fool you into thinking you’re dining in Mexico City, as could the bold flavors. Start with the al pastor. It’s the stuff taco fiends dream of: impossibly rich, sweet-and-smoky meat shaved straight from the spit into a soft double-tortilla cradle. Drizzle it with one of six homemade sauces from the fabulous salsa bar (including an addictive peanut option) and relax in knowing that, at least when it comes to tacos, you haven’t missed out on a thing. 1565 W. Alameda Ave., 720-583-6586

Readers’ Choice
Dos Santos
1475 E. 17th Ave., 303-386-3509

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Indian

Editors’ Choice
Mehak India’s Aroma
Ganesh “Eddie” Adhikari, the Nepal native behind Colorado’s four casual Zaika Indian eateries, is marketing his seven-month-old Cherry Creek North spot as Denver’s first fine-dining Indian restaurant. Thanks to its elevated dishes—crafted by chef and co-owner Maha-Dev, who spent more than two decades in Indian-cuisine-crazed London—Mehak is living up to the tag line. Served in an elegant subterranean space, dinner ranges from classics like chicken tikka masala to 12 traditional vegetarian entrées to clay-oven-cooked options. The skillfully layered flavors in the “bharta makhani” (roasted and mashed eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and onions served with basmati rice) shine when ordered at Mehak’s medium-hot spice level. But if you have a bite that’s too hot, don’t douse the flames with one of Mehak’s inventive cocktails, such as the Light & Refreshing (vodka, coconut water, lemon, and curry leaf); they’re far too delicious to use as fire extinguishers. 250 Steele St., Suite 100, 720-638-9350

Readers’ Choice
Himchuli
3489 W. 32nd Ave., 303-728-9957

Ethiopian

Editors’ Choice
Ras Kassa’s
In 2015, Google bulldozed this longtime Boulder restaurant to make way for a $131 million campus. (If first-class Ethiopian is the price of progress, we’ll take a hard pass.) Luckily, Ras Kassa’s is back following a two-year absence with a new spot in downtown Lafayette, and chef-owner Tsehay Hailu is again churning out fantastic “gomen” (collard green stew), “kitfo” (steak tartare), and “yebeg tibs” (lamb with onions and peppers). Hailu is a master of Ethiopian cuisine and hospitality, talents she honed during 30 years of running the original Ras Kassa’s. She’ll make you feel like family as you sip a glass of honey wine and use pieces of spongy injera bread to pinch off little bits of red-wine-seasoned mushrooms and spicy chicken stew. Google all you want—you won’t have much luck finding better fare. 802 S. Public Road, Lafayette, 303-604-6885

Readers’ Choice
Queen of Sheba
7225 E. Colfax Ave., 303-399-9442

Italian

Editors’ Choice
Tavernetta
The menu at Tavernetta is loaded with options you’ve likely never encountered and will almost assuredly mispronounce. Don’t let that intimidate you. You can trust the staff at this 10-month-old eatery—from the team behind the notably hospitable Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder—to deliver what might be the best Italian food of your life. We put our fate in the hands of our server, and to start, he delivered impossibly thin and smoky wagyu bresaola and luxurious, creamy “sformato” (an Italian soufflé) with sunchokes as appetizers. For entrées, there were perfectly briny mussels and a buttery, herbaceous tagliatelle that disappeared far too quickly. We would order it again, but there are simply too many other dishes at Tavernetta we need to taste first. 1889 16th St., 720-605-1889

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Readers’ Choice
Mici Handcrafted Italian

Greek

Editors’ Choice
Athenian Restaurant
If you’re looking to revel in Greek kitsch without sacrificing the flavors of the cuisine, you’ll savor the atmosphere and fare at this longtime, family-owned Aurora eatery. Owners Tom and Angie Stathopoulos aren’t afraid to play to their birth country’s greatest tropes, having erected columns on the patio and named one area the Room of the Gods. Tom prepares every item on the menu, and his chef’s special is a sampling of well-prepared classics like spit-roasted gyro and tangy dolmades. The most appealing selection, though, is the flaming cheese saganaki. Flambéed tableside and extinguished with lemon juice, the appetizer boasts a thin, golden-brown crust that tops sharp, bubbling cheese. You’ll require extra pita bread to mop up the last of the oozing tart flavors—and, naturally, need to chase every bite with shouts of “opa!” 15350 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora, 720-449-0224

Readers’ Choice
Pete’s Restaurants
multiple locations

Photograph by Aaron Lopez

Brunch

Editors’ Choice
Candela Latin Kitchen
Foodies who bemoaned the closing of Central Bistro and Bar, a brunch staple in LoHi, can face the midmorning again thanks to Candela Latin Kitchen, which opened this past summer in Central’s former space. Chef Jesse Vega still runs the kitchen. This time, though, he’s crafting dishes from his Puerto Rican roots. (Vega traveled to the island after Hurricane Maria to serve meals during the recovery.) Grab a patio table with views of downtown and peruse the Latin-, Caribbean-, and Mexican-inspired menu. There are brunch classics, too, but we’re partial to the “pegao,” a Puerto Rican crunchy rice dish with black bean purée topped with salsa rosa and a sunny-side up egg. It’s a delicious take on morning mealtime that, unlike omelets, you can’t find at most other a.m. eateries in town. 1691 Central St., 303-477-4582

Readers’ Choice
Snooze: an A.M. Eatery
multiple locations

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Breakfast Burrito

Editors’ Choice
Downpours Coffee
Locating a tasty breakfast burrito in Denver isn’t like searching for the Holy Grail. Most any local Mexican restaurant will serve a savory, rib-sticking version. We were downright shocked, though, to stumble upon a superior burrito in, of all places, a coffeeshop. Two coffeeshops, to be precise: Downpours Coffee, with locations in Berkeley and Congress Park, not only slings its own roasted joe enhanced with house-made almond milks and syrups, but it also crafts a magical breakfast burrito. It’s a slim, compact beauty, and the way it’s cooked—griddled on a panini press—creates a marvelous contrast between the soft egg, potato, green chile, cheddar, and (optional) smoky bacon inside and the crisp, browned tortilla crust outside. 3937 Tennyson St.; 1200 Clayton St.

Readers’ Choice
Santiago’s
multiple locations

Bagel

Editors’ Choice
Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen
We’re just going to come right out and say it: Rosenberg’s bagels are better than many of their cousins in New York City. The truth is, it’s exceedingly difficult to produce a great bagel, and many places in the Big Apple turn out subpar versions of this Jewish staple for wide-eyed tourists from Nebraska. Rosenberg’s carb-tastic treats, however, are a perfect interpretation of the boiled-then-baked guilty pleasure: firm on the outside, chewy on the inside. And they’re always fresh (Rosenberg’s doesn’t even have a toaster on hand). Go simple with a whipped cream cheese shmear, or try one of the outrageously indulgent sandwiches. The Heart Attack is a sublime concoction of bacon, sausage, ham, cheddar and American cheeses, and two fried eggs served on a butter-griddled everything bagel. Just try not to make it your morning routine. 725 E. 26th Ave., 720-440-9880

Readers’ Choice
Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen

Sandwich

Editors’ Choice
Little Carmine’s
The Italian sandwiches at this Speer neighborhood lunch spot don’t hail directly from the Boot; rather, owner Brad Ritter recreates fare true to the Italian-American immigrant experience. One standout example: the Chicago beef. The Windy City invention joined the menu at five-year-old Little Carmine’s—which shares a kitchen with its parent, Carmine’s on Penn—in July 2017, after Ritter experimented with the recipe for a year. His research included a trip to Little Italy in Chicago to ensure he got the flavors just so. And boy, did he. The hoagie roll, baked fresh in-house daily, is light and airy. Marinated in jus, the thinly cut beef is incredibly tender and delivers a hint of heat, courtesy of the mix of pickled vegetables (called “giardiniera”) on top. Wonderfully messy, this sandwich would give iterations on the Near West Side serious competition. 82 S. Pennsylvania St., 303-993-8742

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Readers’ Choice
Snarf’s Sandwiches
multiple locations

Coffee Roaster

Editors’ Choice
Pablo’s Coffee
Arguably the original hipster of Colorado’s caffeine culture (it started roasting beans in 1995, when baristas only wore beanies when it snowed), Pablo’s Coffee is nearing the quarter-century mark. But owner Craig Conner’s third location, a three-month-old spot in the East Colfax neighborhood, shows he’s not planning to cede the scene to any javas-come-lately. The new 6,000-square-foot facility boasts two small-batch roasters and enough storage for 67,500 pounds of fresh beans from Colombia and other global hot spots. The increased capacity enables Pablo’s to satisfy in-store demand for its trademark Danger Monkey dark-roast blend and rotating varieties while also expanding its wholesale business. And even more than Pablo’s other shops, the Colfax addition serves as a convivial meeting place: There’s free Wi-Fi, abundant natural light, and an ever-growing collection of houseplants. Plus, at Pablo’s coffee lab, skilled staff host tastings and can teach you how to make a pour-over like the pros. multiple locations

Readers’ Choice
Corvus Coffee Roasters
multiple locations

Bakery

Editors’ Choice
Detour Bakery
At this minimalist bakery in Virginia Village, co-owners Florence and Jeffrey Payne bring the quintessential boulangerie experience to Colorado. Florence, born and raised in France, adheres to the baking techniques she learned in her family’s kitchen and refuses to add preservatives or dough conditioner—or, for that matter, oils and sugar, unless specifically called for by the recipe. That translates to tasty baguettes: both the chewy, crispy, pull-apart “epi” versions and rotating varieties such as goat cheese and tomato. But bring your sweet tooth to the carb party too. Detour’s just-out-of-the-oven croissants speckle gold, buttery flakes across your plate, and the dense, perfectly sweet chocolate cake pairs impeccably with a hot cup of coffee. Be sure to arrive early in the day, though. The display cases, brimming each morning with warm treats, can be rather sparse come day’s end. 1479 S. Holly St., 303-756-2020

Readers’ Choice
Nothing Bundt Cakes
multiple locations

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Bottle Shop

Editors’ Choice
Divino Wine & Spirits
This South Broadway spot took home Top of the Town honors nine years ago, and it’s back in the winner’s circle thanks to its flawless adaptation to changing liquor palates (in addition to its small-ish yet carefully curated wine selection). For example, in response to the mezcal boom, owner Dave Moore and his staff traveled to the Oaxaca region of Mexico to ensure Divino carries not only dozens of varieties, but also the best. At the same time, the spirit shop’s founding mission hasn’t changed much: to introduce Denver to, in Moore’s words, “crazy shit.” Divino works with almost 100 small distributors to unearth things like unaged garlic brandy from France. Moore’s only problem with this all-encompassing approach? Finding enough room on his shelves. 1240 S. Broadway, 303-778-1800

Readers’ Choice
Bottle Shop 33
1080 S. Gaylord St., 303-722-2129

Dessert

Editors’ Choice
The Inventing Room Dessert Shop
Chef-owner Ian Kleinman had only a year at his original location, in Ballpark, before receiving a surprise eviction notice (through no fault of his own) in late 2016. Safely ensconced in West Highland for the past eight months, the Inventing Room 2.0 delivers what it did at its former digs: a can’t-find-it-anywhere-else dessert experience. The backbone of Kleinman’s offerings remains ice cream, which his “nitro chefs” create from cream before your eyes using minus-321-degree liquid nitrogen (the colder the freeze, the creamier the treat). And there’s still the sweet and slightly salty—and free!—liquid-nitrogen-frozen popcorn while you wait. But Kleinman has added new features, too. A make-your-own sundae option, for instance, offers intriguing toppings like exploding whipped cream, liquid nitro chocolate, and house-made marshmallows in addition to your classic sprinkles and Oreos. Whatever you decide to indulge in, trust us: It’ll taste even better than it looks. 4433 W. 29th Ave., Suite 101, 303-960-6656

Readers’ Choice
D Bar Denver
494 E. 19th Ave., 303-861-4710,

Photo courtesy of Sweet Action Ice Cream

Ice Cream

Editors’ Choice
Sweet Action Ice Cream
This Baker shop partners with local companies (see: Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle) and uses curious ingredients (the cherry basil has a sweet, slightly herbaceous finish) to churn out unusual flavors Denverites have long adored. Recently, though, outsiders have begun to take notice: In 2017, the Food Network named Sweet Action the best ice cream purveyor in the state. We love that Sweet Action is demanding attention…except for the out-the-door line it’s created. Fortunately, in 2016 the co-owners opened a 5,000-square-foot plant to expand its wholesale business. Now that you can pick up a pint of baklava or Thai iced tea at Whole Foods, Tony’s Market, and other local grocers, you’ll never have to face a night of boring ol’ vanilla again. 52 Broadway, 303-282-4645

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Readers’ Choice
Little Man Ice Cream
2620 16th St., 303-455-3811

Photograph by Sarah Boyum

Doughnut

Editors’ Choice
Hedge Row
Hedge Row in Cherry Creek fries up the Halley’s comet of O-shaped pastries. Served only during brunch (Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), its maple old-fashioned doughnut is a masterpiece, with craggy, crunchy fried nooks and crannies and a tender, cakey crumb that delivers just a hint of sweetness. This doughnut doesn’t require flamboyant decorations or garish gimmicks. Only a delicate maple glaze is needed to make this pastry a must-eat whenever it makes an appearance. 100 Steele St., 720-642-8292

Readers’ Choice
Voodoo Doughnut
1520 E. Colfax Ave., 303-597-3666


The Foodie Five

In honor of our 25th anniversary (you did know July is our birthday, right?), we’re highlighting the restaurants that most influenced the local dining scene over the past quarter century. Just think: Without this quintet, your dining-out options in Denver might still be limited to rare, medium, or well done.

1. Chipotle
Founded: 1993
Despite this chain’s recent betrayal, founder Steve Ells used responsibly raised meats, local produce, and non-GMO ingredients while forging a new food-service model: fast-casual. So despite the news that Chipotle is moving to California, we’ll always appreciate what it first delivered to Denver.

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2. Jax Fish House
Founded: 1994
The Front Range has long been known as a great place to order a slab of beef. Oysters, though? Not unless they were the Rocky Mountain variety. Then Dave Query, a Culinary Institute of America alum, debuted Jax in Boulder in 1994. Query’s Big Red F Restaurant Group now operates 13 eateries, including five Jax locations, but Query hasn’t lost his commitment to hauling fresh, sustainably caught seafood from the coasts to Colorado on a daily basis.

3. Mizuna
Founded: 2002
Casual might be the rage nowadays, but a city can’t be a true culinary paradise without nailing fine dining. For 17 years, Frank Bonanno’s French–New American restaurant, with its white tablecloths and dinner-only menu, heavy on the butter and cream, has been a destination for celebratory meals. At the same time, Bonanno has also mentored chefs who have launched Mercantile Dining & Provision, Old Major, and a slew of other elite local restaurants.

Jennifer Jasinski. Photograh by Clayton Vurciaga

4. Rioja
Founded: 2004
The fact that chef/co-owner Jennifer Jasinski was the first Denverite to claim the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest would be enough to land her Mediterranean-inspired restaurant on this list. But Rioja’s impact goes much deeper. Its appearance on Larimer Square in 2004 reinvigorated one of the city’s most cherished districts, transforming the historic block into a dining hub—a rep that was further burnished when Jasinski added Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen and bought Bistro Vendôme.

5. The Kitchen
Founded: 2004
Also a member of the Front Range’s impressive class of 2004 (which includes Frasca Food and Wine and Table 6), the Kitchen touched off the farm-to-table trend in Colorado. Former tech CEO and co-owner Kimbal Musk has a passion for sustainable, locally sourced food. The movement obviously caught on. Even the Kitchen’s hanging chalkboard, proudly listing the locals who grew or made its ingredients, has been cribbed by almost every other farm-to-table purveyor. We assume Musk and his partner, Hugo Matheson, are flattered by the imitation.

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