This winter, Denver bid farewell to several eateries, from beloved spots such as South Federal’s Savory Vietnam and RiNo’s Il Posto to newer additions like downtown’s Three Saints Revival and Ana’s Norwegian Bakeri. As we mourn those losses, a slew of new openings, concept expansions, and restaurant refreshes remind us that the Front Range dining scene continues to evolve and offer new flavors and experiences. Whether you’re craving inventive bánh mì, a chicken shawarma wrap, or a well-made martini, a restaurant or bar on the list below has you covered.

Alma Fonda Fina

The food, service, and ambience at Alma Fonda Fina, opened last December in the former space of the Truffle Table, are all top-notch. The warm, inviting space decorated with natural ceramics perfectly matches the contemporary Mexican menu led by Guadalajara native Johnny Curiel, who embraces refined ingredients and techniques without losing the charm of his food’s rustic roots. Case in point: The camote asado—spears of agave-roasted sweet potato with broken salsa macha and whipped ricottalike requesón cheese—doesn’t attempt to mask the humble root vegetable, but instead enhances its sweetness with punches of salt, smoke, and spice. Small plates spotlighting the in-house masa and flour tortilla program are also stunning, but don’t fill up before your entrée. The lubina rayada (Colorado striped bass) with a habanero-spiked masa sauce and buttered rice is as good as fish dishes get. 2556 15th St. —EP

Desert Social Bar & Lounge

The Roast Me Dirty and Adelita’s Espresso De Olla at Desert Social. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

This past August, the team behind Adelitas Cocina Y Cantina, Ni Tuyo, and La Doña Mezcaleria unveiled their newest concept, Desert Social, in the space formerly occupied by Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge on South Broadway. The petite watering hole invites patrons to enjoy thoughtfully crafted cocktails; wines from Spain, New Zealand, and South Africa; and a small selection of beer in a bar accented with neutral tones and boho-chic furniture. Linger over the Roast Me Dirty, a mix of Family Jones gin and vodka, house-made martini brine, and eight-year-aged Madre Espadin mezcal (which gives the sipper a gently smoky flavor). Or go for the Adelita’s Espresso De Olla, a pick-me-up of Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucian rums, local Atöst coffee liqueur, cinnamon, and piloncillo (a cane sugar with notes of burnt caramel). When the sun is shining, grab a seat in one of the umbrella-shaded wicker chairs on the patio. 1312 S. Broadway —PK

Kawa Ni

The shaved broccoli miso goma salad at Kawa Ni. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

Like many chefs and restaurateurs who relocate to Denver, Bill Taibe was enticed by the city’s proximity to the mountains and friendly, food-loving residents. That’s why the culinary pro chose LoHi for the second location of Kawa Ni, an izakaya-style pub and eatery he originally opened in Westport, Connecticut in 2014. While the contemporary concept was influenced by Taibe’s travels to Japan, the food menu and libations list are enhanced with flavors from across Asia. The dan dan noodles studded with chunks of lamb and the shaved broccoli salad served with thinly sliced ham and a honey- and miso-enriched dressing are must-orders. If you’re in the mood for a buzz, ask for one of the five sake bombs, such as the Samurai with yuzu, blood orange, sake, and beer. 1900 W. 32nd Ave. —PK

Trompeau Bakery

An almond croissant from Trompeau Bakery. Photo by Ethan Pan

Trompeau Bakery has long wowed Denverites with its sweet and savory croissants and other French goodies from its Englewood location on South Broadway. Now, a new two-month-old outpost on the 16th Street Mall is making it even easier to enjoy these fresh-baked items, which are delivered from the original bakery every day. Pair a classic pastry such as the almond croissant with a café au lait for a perfectly Parisian breakfast, or go for a savory croissant handheld stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese or a beef brat. If you’re just looking for a little treat, we also like the gluten-free amaretti: chewy, almond-based cookies made into mini sandwiches with a smear of apricot jam. 934 16th Street Mall —EP

Wonderyard Garden & Table

Wonderyard’s La Mariposa cocktail. Photo by Ethan Pan

Head to Wonderyard Garden & Table, a splashy, bar-forward restaurant that opened this month in Ballpark, to start your night out. Its expansive dining room and patio inspired by novels like the Great Gatsby and the Secret Garden has plenty of room for you and your party to stretch out and catch a buzz before it’s really time for debauchery. The eye-catching, fruit-centric beverage program includes large-format drinks like the Queen of Hearts, a four-person tequila-with-bubbles concoction served in a glass purse, but we especially like La Mariposa, a blackberry- and basil-forward bourbon cocktail topped off with ginger beer. As for food, we’re partial to the Lox in Translation pizza, which is topped with smoked salmon, arugula, shallots, fried capers, crème fraîche, and housemade everything bagel seasoning. 2200 Larimer St. —EP

Traveling Mercies

This cozy oyster and cocktail bar on the third floor of Stanley Marketplace is James Beard Award–winning chef Caroline Glover’s answer to locals demands for more Annette, her seven-year-old restaurant dedicated to wood-fired cuisine. While you still have to pop into Annette to get your fix of Glover’s deviled eggs, roast chicken, and pecan pie, Traveling Mercies is a lovely place to pair drinks with oysters from the East and West coasts and small plates. Nibble on Rezumar anchovies splayed over sliced baguette smeared with creamy French churned butter, or sink a steak knife into the wedge salad sprinkled with sundried tomato, blue cheese, and bits of pancetta. And don’t miss the rice pudding topped with lime whipped cream, which Eater says is leading the long unappreciated dessert’s comeback. 2501 Dallas St., Aurora —PK

Farm & Market

Farm & Market. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

This urban farm sprouted in RiNo this past September, bringing an upscale market and fast-casual restaurant to 24th and Larimer streets. Inside, patrons can view 1,100-foot vertical hydroponic towers growing leafy kale, butter lettuce, Thai basil, and other crops. Bags of the greens are sold in the market (some microgreens and herbs are even harvested on demand for customers at the check-out stand), as well as an assortment of other Colorado-made goods, including cheeses, pastas, and drinks. For a healthy lunch, visit the restaurant, which has a concise lineup of salads and soups made with ingredients grown on-site. The Jumper—which has a salmon filet, arugula, microgreens, grilled squash, zucchini, red onion, sun-dried tomato, and pickled mustard seeds—is a hearty and delicious choice. 2401 Larimer St. —PK

Boychik at Stanley Marketplace

The mezze platter at Boychik at Stanley Marketplace. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

Silky hummus, fluffy-crispy falafel, and spit-roasted chicken shawarma are among the Mediterranean-inspired delights coming out of the kitchen at one-month-old Boychik. Owners Chase Devitt (executive chef) and Charles Troup (sommelier/beverage pro) launched the concept as a stall at Boulder’s Avanti Food and Beverage in 2020, but the outpost at Stanley Marketplace is their first brick-and-mortar. Behind the bar—the centerpiece of the light-filled eatery—layers of juicy lamb and chicken roast on two vertical rotisseries. We recommend starting with a couple meze, such as the shrimp, presented on a bed of garlicky toum and topped with mint and cilantro, or the sweet grilled yam with labneh and balsamic. Then move on to one of the entrée plates, which are served with a combination of accouterments, including pita, hummus, tomato salad, and quinoa tabbouleh. While you can’t go wrong with the shaved-to-order chicken and lamb, Devitt’s light-as-air falafel is what we crave (along with the flourless chocolate cake with tahini ice cream). 2501 Dallas St., Aurora —PK

Urban Cafe & Restaurant

Urban Cafe’s zereshk polo. Photo by Ethan Pan

Iranian sisters Elnaz and Elhahe Azizi and their cousin Ferydoon Asgari debuted their colorful Lincoln Park eatery, Urban Cafe & Restaurant, on Christmas—and what a gift it is. It’s the family’s second food business in Denver after the now-closed Ladan’s, and while their first restaurant focused on their native Persian cuisine, Urban Cafe combines traditional Persian flavors with Lebanese and Italian influences, making for a diverse menu that’s sure to please. Try one of the many sandwiches constructed on Trompeau Bakery focaccia (see below); options range from a take on a burger made with koobideh (an Iranian preparation of ground beef), a vegetarian eggplant sandwich slicked with chile-spiked tomato sauce, and a pistachio-centric mortadella creation topped with Burrata. The zereshk polo—a saffron-infused pilaf topped with pistachios and dried barberries (a tart fruit similar to cranberries)—with chicken stew is a heartier option that’s also worthy of an order. 601 N. Broadway, Suite 115 —EP

Dio Mio

Dio Mio’s new artichoke dish. Photo by Ethan Pan

Since 2016, Dio Mio has satiated Denverites’ appetites for perfect pasta. As of last month, though, chefs Spencer White and Alex Figura are giving fans of their counter-service concept fresh reasons to visit: an expanded beverage program and lineup of small plates and additional seating. Crowd your table with tried-and-true favorites such as the creamy cacio e pepe, lasagna with braised beef cheek, and spaghetti and meatballs along with new specialties like butter-soaked artichokes with oranges, olive sauce, and croutons, house-made potato chips and prosciutto, and charred cabbage atop Parmesan cream with crispy onions and salsa verde. All play well with cocktails such as the milk punch with Plantation pineapple rum and the Italian gin and tonic with yuzu-infused curaçao. 3264 Larimer St. —PK

O Liên Kitchen

The bánh Huế combination plate at O Liên Kitchen. Photo by Ethan Pan

Here in Denver, central Vietnamese cuisine rarely appears on menus beyond the occasional bún bò Huế, a noodle soup hailing from the city, Huế, that’s most culinarily influential within the region. But at O Liên Kitchen, a five-month-old restaurant in a strip mall on South Federal Boulevard, this fiery, seafood-heavy culinary style gets the spotlight it deserves. O Liên’s bún bò Huế is not overwhelmingly spicy, boasting a rich, lemongrass-forward beef broth and a variety of proteins including thinly sliced beef shank, Vietnamese pork roll, and pork blood. We were also excited to find a vegetarian version of the dish on the menu, as well as the selection of bánh Huế, a class of savory rice- or tapioca-based cakes and dumplings. Sample four different bánh Huế in a combination plate; our favorite is the bánh ít trần, steamed pork- and shrimp-filled dumplings made with sweet rice (i.e., sticky rice) wrappers. 781 S. Federal Blvd., Unit B —EP


Blackbelly’s bacon sandwich. Photo courtesy of Blackbelly

This week, Hosea Rosenberg’s Boulder-based deli, market, and fast-casual restaurant took over the previous home of Il Porcellino Salumi (now a wholesale operation) in Berkeley. With the help of former Il Porcellino butcher Evan Roxburgh, Rosenberg and Blackbelly head butcher Kelly Kawachi will be able to double their production of cured meats to sell and serve at both locations. Stop by for breakfast or lunch and ask for the bacon sandwich—shaved bacon, apple butter, tomato, arugula, and jalapeño aïoli on sourdough—which pays homage to a popular menu item at Il Porcellino. While you’re at it, browse the 20 to 30 different types of house-made salumi, a small selection of fresh meat cuts, and other food items. 4324 W. 41st Ave. —PK

Dough Counter

A Sicilian-style tricolored pizza.
Dough Counter’s Sicialian-style Triple Threat pizza. Photo by Ethan Pan

At face value, Dough Counter, a pizzeria which opened last September in University Hills, blends in with its fast-casual brethren. But as the sister restaurant to Marco’s Coal-Fired, an early pioneer of Neapolitan pizza in Denver, it displays a mastery over dough, sauce, and cheese that’s often only achieved after years in the biz. Unlike its older sibling, the red-tile-adorned eatery specializes in thin yet sturdy New York–style pies and focaccialike Sicilian pizza. You can’t go wrong with either; for the former, we like the BBQ Hawaiian topped with bacon, chicken, pineapple, red onion, jalapeño, and barbecue sauce, and for the latter, we recommend the inventive Triple Threat, which is striped with traditional marinara, pesto, and vodka sauce. And if excellent pizza wasn’t enough, the hand-breaded chicken strips are far juicier and more flavorful than the premade renditions served at comparable joints. 2466 S. Colorado Blvd. —EP

Sesame Sandwiches

The Saigonese at Sesame Sandwiches. Photo by Ethan Pan

Far from the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants on South Federal, three-month-old Sesame Sandwiches occupies a small storefront in a relatively dining-sparse section of City Park West. Owner Kim Le bases the lunch spot’s menu almost entirely around bánh mì sandwiches, which is exactly what you should order when you step up to the counter. The Saigonese with char siu pork and Vietnamese pork roll is a great choice, but Le also doles out less traditional fillings like spicy tuna, Korean barbecue tofu, and sweet-chile-glazed vegan meatballs. All the bánh mì come with standard fixings—pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro, mayo, and Maggi sauce—so if you’re really not feeling the flavor palette, opt for a curried chicken salad sandwich, a BLT with avocado, or one of the breakfast sandos on brioche. 1432 E. 22nd Ave. —EP

Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan is 5280’s associate food editor, writing and editing for the print magazine and Follow his dining/cooking Instagram @ethans_pan.
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.