If you work or live in downtown Denver, you may already know that the restaurant space inside the Denver Place Building (at the corners of Champa and 18th streets) has sat empty since a Baja Fresh Mexican Grill outpost there closed in 2016. The long wait for a new concept is almost through—and well worth it—as chef-owner Michael Beary is just about ready to take over with his formerly Aspen-based Oaxacan restaurant, Zocalito Latin Bistro.

“Construction is underway, and paint is going on the walls,” says Beary. “We’re very excited to join the Denver restaurant community and share the ingredients and culinary traditions of Oaxaca.”

Zocalito’s Mile High City home is being designed by local firm KD Fikso (also behind the look-and-feel of Coperta and Beast & Bottle). “We’re going for a fresh, new look of Southern Mexico,” says Beary, “focusing on the fabrics, masks, costumes, and art of Oaxaca.” There will also be massive wall murals running the length of the restaurant, featuring photographs of Oaxaca City, agave plants, and the like. With 100 seats inside and 50 more set up on the glass-walled, south-facing outdoor patio, natural light will offset Zocalito’s art as well as its food.

Beary’s chile-centric menus will remain the same as they were in Aspen. “We don’t want to change a thing,” says Beary. “The only difference is that we’re adding lunch service; that menu and our happy hour menu will come from our specials lists so that each is unique.”

Chef-owner Michael Beary (photo courtesy of Zocalito Latin Bistro)

Beary’s flavors are unique too, centered around rare chiles from the Oaxaca region—chilhuacles, chilcosles, taviches, pasillas de Oaxaca, costenos—that he imports directly from farmers there. “These chiles have such complex flavors, but none are so spicy that they’ll blow your head off,” says Beary. “We take them way past moles, using them in all of our sauces, our pico de gallos, and any creative way we can think of.” Black bean-stuffed rellenos, banana-leaf-wrapped chicken, and skirt steak with Oaxacan mozzarella and negro chilhuacle mole are just a few of the dishes making their debut, alongside a beverage list of mezcals, tequilas, and affordable wines, at Zocalito’s new location.

While there’s no official opening date just yet—we’ll update this story when we know more—it’s expected that Zocalito’s Denver doors will open before the end of the year.

999 18th St. 

Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.