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Eat and Drink

How 5280 Selects Its Annual 25 Best Restaurants List

Truth is, the food editor decides. Here’s how she does it.

What’s your favorite restaurant? I’m often asked that question—and find it nearly impossible to answer—since I became food editor for 5280 about two years ago. I have so many favorites, from our preferred date night spots to the best places to go with my young son to where I like to grab a drink and a bite with friends. After all, there are seemingly countless places to dine in Colorado, even for someone who goes out to eat at least four (ahem, seven-plus!) times every week.

So when it comes to choosing the 25 Best Restaurants in the metro area and beyond, there have to be parameters. I mean, I adore super-casual spots like El Taco de Mexico and Blue Pan Pizza and Little Chengdu, but this particular list—the 25 best—is reserved for the local restaurants that I’d put up against any James Beard award-winner in New York City, Austin, or Los Angeles.

Food editor Denise Mickelsen (photo by Jennifer Olson Photography)

The team at 5280 trusts my opinion, which is based on a formal culinary education, restaurant experience (as a server and a cook), and 15 years in food media. In fact, the 25 Best Restaurants list is solely my opinion, reflecting a moment in time—a year, to be exact—during which I’ve tasted hundreds of dishes, watched national trends, and carefully observed our local dining scene’s evolution.

Here’s my methodology:

So, it’s all math, then? Not entirely. The numbers get me most of the way to deciding the top 25; gut feeling does the rest. I add up the entire experience of what it was like to spend time in that restaurant, with that staff, eating and drinking those things. The best I can sum it up is this: The 25 Best Restaurant list details the places I love the most right now, the places where I would send a visiting food pro from a major culinary city or take my best friend.

Amidst dire labor shortages and intense competition, Colorado restaurants are struggling; knowing how hard our culinary community works and the challenges they face on a daily basis, I loathe having to pass such definitive judgement. But my job, which I take seriously, is to fairly and objectively tell 5280 readers where I think they’ll have the most rewarding dining experiences in the year to come.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think, whether you like this year’s list or disagree with my picks. Most especially, shoot me a note if you know of a restaurant that I should consider for 2019. You can reach me at or on Instagram (@DeniseMickelsen). Happy eating!

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