During a year in which an abundance of openings gave Denver diners a dizzying array of new restaurant options, these 10 spots distinguished themselves with fresh perspectives and clear points of view. That’s a big deal in a highly competitive dining landscape. And while these places may not be perfect—yet—you’re guaranteed to taste, and feel, greatness at each one. These are the eateries driving our dining culture forward. Go, eat…and enjoy!

Looking for Denver’s 25 Best Restaurants? Click here.

—> Continue to our 2015 list of Denver’s best new restaurants

Work & Class
2500 Larimer St., #101, 303-292-0700, workandclassdenver.com

The restaurant everyone’s talking about these days is Work & Class, where executive chef and co-owner Dana Rodriguez’s Latin-influenced American eats are bold and unapologetically casual. At this 51-seat spot on the edge of RiNo, dishes such as roasted goat and braised short ribs arrive on tin plates, servers are relaxed but smart, and the modular shipping container space is packed each night with hip, satisfied diners. No matter when you go, expect a wait—but rather than being an inconvenience, the no-reservations policy adds to the spontaneity of the place.

OPENED: January 2014

ORDER THIS: Lamb posole; cochinita pibil (red-chile braised pork); chickpea croquettes

DON’T MISS: The chef’s counter; Work & Class’ variation on the old fashioned

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The dining room is noisy; desserts are lack-luster

Mercantile Dining & Provision
Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3733, mercantiledenver.com

What makes Mercantile Dining & Provision so different from Fruition, chef-owner Alex Seidel’s first restaurant, is the market and cafe component. The Union Station space—1,800 square feet larger than his flagship—allows Seidel to expand beyond dinner. And there is much to love about the daytime offerings: The coffee station skillfully pours drinks, the made-each-morning croissants are hot from the oven, the charcuterie case is staffed by a knowledgeable crew, and the exquisite lunchtime sandwiches demand you pay attention to their craftsmanship. At dinner, the dining room morphs into a more formal, full-service restaurant with a huge menu laden with dishes that show Seidel’s evolution as a chef.

OPENED: September 2014

ORDER THIS: Ham and cheese croissant; Colorado quinoa salad; lamb shoulder; toasted farro carbonara

DON’T MISS: Breakfast and lunch menus; cheese selection; the bar

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Service, at times, can feel unsure of itself

Mercantile’s short rib with carrot pappardelle

24 Broadway, 720-550-7267, lenadenver.com

Chef Toby Prout’s impressive Latin and South American dishes have almost single-handedly reinvigorated the somewhat tired trend of small plates. Order an array of items—tangy ceviche, flaky empanadas, oak-grilled meats, house-made sausages—for the table and start sharing. The whitewashed two-story space is jammed on the weekends, and the pressed-tin ceiling means it gets loud. But the feel is communal and accessible, and Leña’s tango-inducing cuisine brings something entirely new to Baker.

OPENED: January 2014

ORDER THIS: Chilaquiles; yuca bread; “mixto” board with chorizo, bison, blood sausages, short rib, rib-eye, potatoes, grilled tomato, and chimichurri

DON’T MISS: A table near the energetic bar; mezcal hibiscus old fashioned

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Wine list is thin; servers are occasionally uninformed; desserts are uninspired

Blackbelly Market
1606 Conestoga St., #3, Boulder, 303-247-1000, blackbelly.com

In the six years since Hosea Rosenberg won Bravo’s Top Chef, the Boulder chef has further honed his culinary skills by running a food truck and launching a catering company. And now, finally, he has a restaurant to call his own. His skill in Blackbelly’s kitchen matches his dedication to making sure Colorado ingredients receive the spotlight. (Rosenberg also co-owns Blackbelly Farm in Boulder County, where he grows some produce and raises sheep, ducks, chickens, and pigs for the restaurant.) The much-anticipated eatery has been jammed since the day it opened as diners flock for bold dishes in a long-overlooked section of east Boulder.

OPENED: November 2014

ORDER THIS: Rotisserie chicken with garlic fries; squash soup; pan-roasted steelhead trout; duck breast

DON’T MISS: The market where you can buy meat, sandwiches, and various sundries

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: A busy kitchen means dishes can arrive underseasoned

Bistro Barbès
5021 E. 28th Ave., 720-398-8085, bistrobarbes.com

Worldliness blooms inside Jon Robbins’ petite Park Hill bistro. His cooking is rooted in French technique, but details such as Moroccan chermoula sauce on a fish entrée and baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend, tossed with potatoes will quickly transport you to places such as North Africa, Spain, and the Mediterranean. This sensibility comes from Robbins’ globe-trotting: Bistro Barbès is named for the multicultural Parisian neighborhood where he once lived. White walls, National Geographic–style photographs, and an intimate space packed with neighborhood diners complete the urbane experience.

OPENED: April 2014

ORDER THIS: Moroccan potatoes; any of Robbins’ soups; braised short ribs; quince tarte Tatin with foie gras ice cream

DON’T MISS: Framed photos by Andy Katz; Boulevardier cocktail; coffee service with warmed, frothed milk

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: There are unexplained delays in service

To The Wind Bistro
3333 E. Colfax Ave., 303-316-3333, tothewindbistro.com

In a year’s time, husband and wife Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson’s 20-seat (that includes four places at the bar) bistro on East Colfax Avenue has become one of the city’s most coveted dinner spots. That’s because Oliveira, who previously worked at Mizuna and Axios Estiatorio, cooks with soul, and the limited number of seats means he can do it freely and spontaneously. The beer selection is equally impressive: Picks like the difficult-to-find El Bizarrón (a collaboration brew from Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Cerveceria and Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida) often land on the list. To The Wind is a place for diners who crave the unpredictability of an ever-changing menu combined with the warmth of an intimate dinner party.

OPENED: March 2014

ORDER THIS: Chicken and dumplings; escargot empanadas; savory waffles

DON’T MISS: Focused whiskey (for sipping, not for cocktails) and beer lists; seats at the bar

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The lack of reservations can be frustrating for those on a schedule

Stoic & Genuine
Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 303-640-3474, stoicandgenuine.com

At Stoic & Genuine, the veteran team of Jennifer Jasinski, Beth Gruitch, and Jorel Pierce has crafted a seafood house that would feel right at home on either coast. Start with a glass of bubbly at the bar, then move to the food. The lunch and dinner menus are identical, which means the whole selection of fresh catch—which balances tradition (crab legs with drawn butter) with creativity (flash-seared scallops with delicate lemon-grass panna cotta and Thai curry)—is available in LoDo whenever you get the craving.

OPENED: July 2014

ORDER THIS: Oysters; crudo; crispy whole haddock with Fresno chiles; octopus; broccoli salad

DON’T MISS: The granitas, both in cocktails and as oyster accompaniments; seats at the raw bar

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Service can be distracted and, at times, lacking in knowledge

Guard and Grace
1801 California St., 303-293-8500, guardandgrace.com

Put your steak-house preconceptions aside before you walk into Guard and Grace. Chef-owner Troy Guard’s ode to beef is progressive and unstuffy—two words not normally used to describe restaurants in this genre. Guard integrates his trademark playful, bright cooking into this masculine (and very Denver) discipline with aplomb: Starters include kampachi crudo punched up with lemon grass, mint, and peanuts; a side of foraged mushrooms is oak-roasted; and a flight of filet mignon comprises four ounces each of prime, Angus, and grass-fed beef. This elegant Central Business District destination smartly looks like the present and future of steak-house dining.

OPENED: March 2014

ORDER THIS: Oak-grilled carrots; wood-charred octopus with chorizo; steak flight

DON’T MISS: Raw bar; barrel-aged Manhattan; social hour menus

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Service can feel rushed

Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen
725 E. 26th Ave., 720-440-9880, rosenbergsbagels.com

Rosenberg’s crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside bagel is the best “roll with a hole” to ever hit the Mile High City. The credit goes to New Jersey native and owner Josh Pollack, who was weaned on bagels, spent years working at neighborhood delicatessens, and attended classes (with the specific intention of mastering the bagel) at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. His secret? Pollack adjusts the mineral content of the water he uses so it mimics that of New York City. He also imports corned beef and other meats from the Big Apple and cures and smokes his fish in-house.

OPENED: July 2014

ORDER THIS: The Standard (bagel with cream cheese, gravlax, tomato, onion, and capers); the L.E.S. (onion bagel with hot pastrami, coleslaw, Swiss, and deli mustard)

DON’T MISS: Bialys; house-smoked fish; caviar cream cheese

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Fish has too much mayo; orders are occasionally mixed up

2500 Larimer St., #100, 303-292-3553, cart-driver.com

It might be tiny (just 640 square feet), but Cart-Driver is mighty. Indeed, Kelly Whitaker’s casual Basta offshoot is making a serious play in the Denver pizza market. Inspired by Italy’s horse-drawn “carrettieras,” the food is simple but exquisite: freshly shucked oysters, wood-fired pizza with minimal ingredient options, a couple of charcuterie offerings, and organic soft-serve. Eat standing up at the rail or nab one of the few seats. Either way, plan on soaking up the energy and urban vibe that permeate every square inch of this RiNo shipping container space.

OPENED: July 2014

ORDER THIS: The Cart-Driver pizza (sausage, Tuscan kale, mozzarella, red chile flakes); the clam pizza; oysters; seasonal bruschetta

DON’T MISS: Late-night menu; Prosecco on tap

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Ordering is rushed and the bill adds up fast

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2015.
Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.