Despite omicron-variant-driven chaos, supply chain woes, labor shortages, and other ongoing challenges, members of Colorado’s restaurant community continue to impress us with their resilience. Some have even opened new restaurants and bars within the past few months, bringing fresh flavors and experiences to the Denver metro dining scene. Here, 15 spots that you should visit this winter and beyond.
The heavy-hitting Culinary Creative Group has enriched the Denver restaurant scene with several knockout concepts, from Cherry Creek’s Forget Me Not to multiple locations of Tap and Burger. Downtown’s A5—the group’s steakhouse, which debuted in November in the space previously occupied by Morin—is no exception. Led by executive chef-partner Max MacKissock, the restaurant offers a refreshing chophouse experience by offering a blend of classic and reimagined favorites in a delightfully funky bar and dining room furnished with artwork depicting likenesses of steers, plants, and neon lighting. As for what to order, start with MacKissock’s take on a crab cake—crab salad set on a thick slice of buttery French toast and topped with potato chips spiced with togarashi (Japanese chile pepper seasoning). Then turn your attention to the lineup of steaks, which features lesser-known cuts like striploin, bavette, and the Denver (our pick for its beautiful marbling). Get it with a couple of à la carte sauces such as the X.O. and chimichurri and the rib-sticking mac ’n’ cheese croquettes. Need we say more? 1600 15th St.
The hip-hop-powered interior of Merlin Vernier’s fast-casual eatery is a feast for the eyes, from the wall lined with vintage boomboxes to the colorful painting of Jay Fai (the first Bangkok food stall owner to earn a Michelin star) in the dining room. But the playful ambience is just a preamble for Street Feud’s lineup of globally inspired tacos, bowls, wraps, fries, and bao buns. The joint’s first brick-and-mortar landed on East Colfax in December after stints at Avanti Food and Beverage and Number 38. The 2 Shells, 1 Taco—tender chicken tinga, beans zinged with earthy huitlacoche (corn fungus), homemade cheese sauce, pickled onions, and cotija cheese snuggled between flour and crispy corn tortillas—is a must-order for Cheesy Gordita Crunch devotees. Or try the Luk Thung fries, crispy potatoes drizzled with peanut sauce and topped with spicy green beans, sliced boiled egg, and bean sprouts. The dish is inspired by an Indonesian noodle dish Vernier’s mother prepared for him as a child that’s also on the menu. Wash whatever you order down with a Purple Drank, a refresher made with lemonade and grape Kool-Aid. 5410 E. Colfax Ave.
Earlier this month, renowned French chef Ludo Lefebvre opened his first restaurant outside of Los Angeles: Chez Maggy, an upscale, 90-seat brasserie located inside the new Thompson Hotel on 16th Street. Lefebvre’s wife is from Denver, and the fine-dining spot’s name pays homage to her stepmother, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2019. With a menu that celebrates flavors of the Rocky Mountain region and Lefebvre’s homeland, expect classic French offerings with a Colorado twist. We like the luxurious bison tartare served atop a crispy potato chip; the butter-drenched local trout almondine with French beurre noisette; and the custardlike take on the classic Denver omelet—filled with ham and bell peppers and smothered with decadent cream sauce. 1616 Market St.
Since Dana Rodriguez and her team debuted Work & Class and Super Mega Bien in 2014 and 2017, respectively, the concepts have excelled at satisfying Denverites’ cravings for thoughtfully prepared Pan-Latin cuisine. However, no restaurant reflects Rodriguez’s culinary prowess and personality more than Cantina Loca, a spot she opened in LoHi’s Espadin building last month. The restaurant’s name is a nod to Rodriguez’s nickname, Loca, and is her dream come true: a taqueria representing Mexico City’s culture and food. The energetic space—which is decorated with a tree of lavender blossoms, a brightly lit central bar, and a whimsical, agave-leaf-centric mural by John Rumtum—invites diners to connect over plates of tacos, snacks, and drinks infused with Rodriguez’s line of agave spirits. Don’t miss the nopales fritos, cactus fried in a charcoal-darkened tempura batter; longaniza, house-made chorizo tacos with caramelized onion and salsa brava; and the tequila- and mango-forward Vincent Man-Gogh cocktail. 2890 Zuni St.
Silvia at Lost City
While Denver has no shortage of burrito bowls, Silvia Hernandez—a Comal Heritage Food Incubator graduate and 2021 CNN Champion for Change—dishes up some of the best in town at her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Silvia, which opened inside Lost City last November. Hernandez, who grew up in Mexico City and also lived in Puerto Vallarta, brings her culinary heritage to the Metro via artisanal, build-your-own bowls stacked high with ingredients like grilled mushrooms, slow-cooked black beans, and zesty house-made guacamole. Our perfect bowl: tri-color quinoa topped with chile-roasted pork al pastor, calabacitas (roasted corn, zucchini, and red onion), fajita peppers, queso fresco, and curtido (pickled vegetables) drizzled with Hernandez’s fiery pineapple and arbol chile salsa. 3459 Ringsby Ct.
Nestled among South Broadway’s eclectic shops and eateries is one-month-old plant-based haven, Fellow Traveler. At this bar-forward restaurant, chef Ross Pullen (also behind the vegan barbecue spot JackBeQue) serves up vegetarian salads, sandwiches, and entrées, alongside a lineup of classic cocktails and house creations inspired by global destinations. Try the chile-kissed, crispy kung pao cauliflower along with a fresh, seasonal snow pea niçoise salad (topped with a vegan deviled “egg” and jackfruit crab cake). Pair your meal with a one-ounce neat pour from the Strange Cargo drink menu, which includes spirits you might find on your next international jaunt: We like the Arak, a sweet and pleasantly bitter anise-based Lebanese spirit, and the Blue Flower Baijiu, a subtly floral Chinese liquor made from sorghum. The space itself even feels like a respite for the weary traveler, with an inviting bar, cozy couch seating, and dining tables set among voyage-themed decor. 3487 S. Broadway, Englewood
Situated beside Pacific Ocean Marketplace in a bustling Aurora shopping center, fast-casual Porklet excels at producing renditions of katsu (fried cutlets encrusted in light, flaky panko breadcrumbs). Your choice of the pork (the Porklet) or chicken (the Chicklet) meal comes with two audibly crispy, immaculately breaded cutlets; a medley of sides, including miso soup, macaroni salad, pickles, and coleslaw; and a umami-rich dipping sauce. A Cheeselet, a cheese-stuffed fried pork cutlet, is also available. You can’t go wrong with any of them—but an order of the highly ’Grammable Volcano Fried Rice is a must. The mountain of fried rice is flecked with caramelized bacon or diced spam and corn; shrouded in a beautiful scrambled egg; and presented atop a pool of sweet-tangy brown sauce. The five-month-old Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant also offers a variety of rice cake appetizers, udon dishes, and wings that are worth a try. 12201 E. Mississippi Ave., Ste. 123B, Aurora
In mid-November, Gemini brought new life to Boulder’s 1115 Pearl Street, the previous home of Riffs Urban Fare, which closed in March 2020. The eatery is the result of the collaboration of two married couples: Catherine Neckes and Micheal Mehiel and Elizabeth Neckes (also Catherine’s twin sister) and Brian Pierce, Gemini’s chef. Pierce draws on his 10-year tenure at New York City restaurants such as Estela and time as a caterer and private chef in Aspen to curate a selection of charcuterie, hot and cold tapas, and entrées driven by Spanish traditions. Pair a glass of Grenche or the pickled pepper martini with the patatas bravas with garlic aïoli, croquetas de chorizo (chorizo and potato croquette), and beef and pork meatballs. Or if you’re craving something larger, the tortilla de papas, a Spanish omelet served with mixed greens, is a tasty choice for lunch or dinner. 1115 Pearl St., Boulder
When Third Culture Bakery closed its two Colorado locations in December, mochi doughnut lovers had to find other places to satisfy their cravings. Thankfully, two shops specializing in the rice flour treats now call the Denver area home: the first is Dochi, a Florida-based bakery that debuted a location in RiNo last May, and the second is Mochinut, a fast-growing chain from California with more than 20 locations across the U.S. This past fall, Mochinut turned on its fryers on Aurora’s South Havana Street, where you can get the crisp, toothsome doughnuts in a rotating selection of flavors like Churro, Strawberry Funnel, and Pistachio, alongside an array of boba teas and savory rice dogs. The latter are goodies on a stick filled with cheese, mashed potatoes, and/or hot dogs that are fried in a variety of crunchy rice flour coatings. The one blanketed in Hot Cheetos is a messy, finger-licking indulgence. 2222 S. Havana St., Unit A2, Aurora
What defines a stellar neighborhood bar in Denver right now? Look to beverage pros McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright’s’ Yacht Club, open since mid-December at 37th Avenue and Williams Street, for a prime example. The husband-and-wife team’s concept, which was at the Source in RiNo from 2014 to 2019, caters to admirers of laid-back dives, thoughtfully curated natural wines, and inventive craft cocktails. There, you can linger over beautifully presented offerings like refreshing, gin- and mint-forward Southside Swizzles and gently sweet banana daiquiris or knock back cans of $5 White Claw and $4 Coors Banquet. Complemented by a small-but-mighty assortment of hot dogs, ham rolls, and other bites and digs furnished with wood accents, coastal decor, and a disco ball, the vibe, bites, and sips at Yacht Club will make you wish you lived in the Cole neighborhood. 3701 N. Williams St.
Since opening ChoLon in 2010, chef and restaurateur Lon Symensma has been delighting Denverites with modern, Asian-fusion cuisine, and last November he opened YumCha, a new dumpling and noodle house located downtown in the former Cho77 location. To bring the menu of traditional and inventive dumplings to life, Symensma tapped ChoLon’s dim sum chef, Michelle Xiao, who hails from a Cantonese city near Hong Kong and has over 30 years of expertise. Together, they dish out steaming Shanghai-style xiaolongbao filled with pork and crab, Cantonese chicken dumplings, and a crispy, fried pork variety, among others. Also look for pan-Asian-inspired noodle dishes, including comforting miso-and-pork-belly-laced ramen and Wagyu beef chow fun with Chinese broccoli. 1520 16th St. Mall
Earlier this month, Colorado’s first Water Grill started slinging fresh fish, crustaceans, and other ocean dwellers in LoDo. On the menu: favorites like oysters, scallops, and octopus alongside harder-to-find specialties like Florida stone crab and red sea urchin. The West Coast–based restaurant with four locations in California and one in Las Vegas fills its tanks and raw bar with the freshest catches flown in daily from its own exclusive distribution company, King’s Seafood Company. For Denverites, that means access to seafood that, by dinner time, traveled only hours to reach their tables. Ask your server for a seasonal recommendation—right now, they’ll steer you toward the live California spiny lobster, which is available October to March—or choose among sustainable options like Marine Stewardship Council–certified Chilean sea bass with butternut squash gnocchi and sage brown butter sauce. 1691 Market St.
Since Lydie Lovett debuted Chicken Rebel as a food truck in 2017, her giant fried chicken stackers have earned a place in the Mile High City’s sandwich hall of fame. With the opening of Chicken Rebel’s second location in Westminster this month (the first is in Highland), fans in northern suburbs have easier access to Lovett’s decadent creations, including classics like the Rancher, layered with bacon, avocado, and buttermilk ranch, and Fancy Tots, taters laced with parmesan and lemon zest. But what we’re most excited for is the newest item on the fast-casual spot’s all-day breakfast menu: the Captain Crunch French Toast, a sandwich stuffed with cream cheese and strawberry; encrusted with crushed cereal; and fried to golden perfection. More bonuses: The Westminster store has a drive-thru and Lovett plans to open another location in Littleton in September. 10448 Town Center Dr., Westminster
Earlier this month, Cherry Creek’s bar count grew by one with the addition of Five Nines, a semi-hidden burlesque bar in the belly of the Clayton Members Club. To find it, look for the southeast-facing door marked with, well, five number nines, and enter into a dimly lit, velvet-bedecked watering hole where the friendly, vest-clad bartenders stir up classic cocktails and their own cheeky concoctions. Go for the Pornstar Martini (vodka, lime, passionfruit, and vanilla served with a floater of sparkling wine), or the Dragon’s Breath, a refreshing tiki-style drink made with rhum blanc, lime, coconut cream, yellow chartreuse, and mint. Every hour, turn your attention to the back stage (which is outfitted with sultry curtains that disguise a dancer’s pole) to see a short burlesque show by professionals from Hard Candy Dancers, a Denver-based aerial troupe and dance ensemble. The whole experience feels a little too risque for Cherry Creek—but that’s what makes it worth adding to your bar-hopping roster. 233 Clayton St.
In October, Paul and Aileen Reilly, the siblings behind Coperta and dearly departed Beast & Bottle, opened Apple Blossom in the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver. As the all-day eatery’s culinary director, Paul works with chef de cuisine Russ Fox and pastry chef Jodi Polson to execute a roster of specialties spotlighting sustainably farmed meat and produce—which is paired with warm hospitality led by Aileen’s front of house expertise. Trace the seasons through specialties like tahini-dressing-kissed grilled winter squash with sesame candy or dig into heartier offerings such as chicken-fried duck livers with pickled scallion ranch and country-ham-studded fusilli alla vodka slicked with tomato cream. Save room for Polson’s excellent house-made cookies and ice creams (she’s also the talented artist behind the whimsical mural of the eponymous flower in the dining room). 866 18th St.