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For Denver’s dining scene, 2023 was a year of high highs and low lows. Michelin stars brought a new level of attention to the Mile High City’s finest restaurants, and each season ushered in a new set of eateries and bars for adventurous diners to explore. At the same time, a number of decades-old fixtures—El Tepehuan, the Truffle Table, Barry’s on Broadway—bid adieu to their loyal fans. A few openings, such as Sofia’s Roman Pizza downtown, even flamed out within the calendar year. It was a reminder that inflation continues to hit food and drink businesses hard, and maintaining profitable—or even break-even—operations is no small feat.
As such, 5280 staffers and contributors are honoring some of their favorite openings from this year, as well as acknowledging a few spots that have shuttered along the way.
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Despite opening at the end of June, Sắp Sửa has already earned an impressive amount of local and national media recognition—including a spot on our 25 Best Restaurants list. What I personally love about the Vietnamese-inspired eatery is how pared down its plates are. Nothing is added just for show, and the bold flavors, while certainly layered, aren’t muddled with extraneous foams, flowers, or powders. In fact, Sắp Sửa’s preparation of the humble cabbage—charred and accompanied by anchovy breadcrumbs and a moussy egg yolk sauce—still remains one of my favorite dishes of the year. —EP
I recently visited Jacques in LoHi with a good friend from the south of France. I wanted her opinion on how the new French spot stacked up, and in short, we will be back. It’s the perfect spot for a date night with a friend or partner, and the ambience is buzzy, elegant, and warm. We shared a sampling of small plates on the menu, all of which were flavorful and hearty. Most memorable were the roasted mushrooms and the croquettes. Don’t miss out on dessert here, either: We enjoyed every last bit of the passion fruit lime tart. —Allie Sivak, contributor
Molotov is Bo Porytko’s love letter to his eastern European roots—and he makes it easy for diners to fall in love, too. The chef, who is also the creative force behind Misfit Snack Bar, opened the intimate eatery decorated with lace curtains and cuckoo clocks in January, and the seasonal, Ukrainian-influenced cuisine delivers homey flavors with an eccentric flair. Some version of borscht is always on the zakusky (bites) menu, but the pelmeni and house-baked bread are also must-orders. —EP
Fans of Kiké’s Red Tacos no longer had to devour birria on the hood of their cars after the former food truck debuted a brick-and-mortar space off 38th Avenue in May. There, you can upgrade the brand’s signature queso tacos, stuffed with cheese and your choice of meat and fried to a crisp on the flat top, with a rainbow of sauces from the salsa bar and sample newer dishes such as loaded fries and churro bites. Bonus: Alcoholic drinks are also now available, such as the flight of cucumber, spicy, and strawberry margs. —Patricia Kaowthumrong, food editor
I love the fresh, approachable menu at Sonny’s Mediterranean. The Highland newcomer combines exceptional flavors and textures in each of their offerings. One particular standout is the fattoush salad—a chunky melange of crisp veggies, punchy pickles, pita chips, and herbs tossed in a bright vinaigrette laced with lemon and sumac—which I find particularly revitalizing in the winter. Insider tip: Do not miss out on the selection of outstanding sauces. The whipped garlic toum, paired with a golden heap of perfectly seasoned za’atar fries, is my go-to. —Eva Jee, contributor
To be frank, the drive to Westminster’s MoMo House from where I live in Denver is not ideal. But there’s something about the family-owned Nepali restaurant that makes me root for it (and want to haul myself 25 minutes north). Members of the Katila family are quick to offer tidbits about their home country in the Himalayas and its spice-infused cuisine. Their chicken-stuffed momo dumplings are simple and delicious, and I recommend ordering them as part of a combination plate so you can also sample the crispy samosas and o-marie (lentil pancakes). —EP
Plates by the Pound (Closed May 2023)
In its one-and-a-half-year lifespan, Aaron Gonerway’s Plates by the Pound quickly became a Front Range favorite for smoky brisket, tender ribs, and other barbecued delights. Yes, there would be a line at the Aurora spot each Saturday (the only day it was open), and yes, it was always worth it. Gonerway closed the joint to move back to Texas and run his family’s farm, but the standard he set for barbecue excellence will always remain a part of his impact on the local dining scene. —EP
Pizzeria Locale (Closed July 2023)
There’s not much left to say that I didn’t already express in the 700-word ode I penned in August to this fast-casual pizza chain. From the team behind Michelin-starred Frasca Food and Wine, Pizzeria Locale catered to a broad clientele with its perfectly crafted, swiftly made, affordably priced Neapolitan pies—light yet flavorful sauce; elevated toppings; that chewy, charred crust—offered across 10 years and five Denver-area locations. So, I’ll leave it at this: I’m still not over it. —Jessica LaRusso, deputy editor
Goed Zuur (Closed October 2023)
For a city with such a saturated beer market, Denver has rarely given its residents the opportunity to deeply explore the world of sour beers. That was until Goed Zuur came along six years ago. There, tart brews and artisanal cheeses and meats received the attention they deserve, and through renovations and major menu revamps, the Five Points beer haven maintained its friendly atmosphere and excellently curated taplist. Co-founder and chef Anthony Lopiccolo left his position at Goed Zuur in May, but to him and the rest of the team, thanks for all the good times. —EP
Africana Restaurant and Cafe (Closed October 2023)
I was able to eat at this decades-old bastion of Ethiopian fare at the beginning of the summer, and based on that visit, there was no sign of its soon-to-be fate. The place was packed with the guests of some celebration or banquet, and a good number of regular dine-in customers filled out a small seating area to the side. Alas, Africana’s closure seems to have been the result of unpaid taxes rather than underperforming business, which makes sense: The dish I tried—a lightly cooked mixture of lean beef, liver, and lamb tripe called “dulet”—made me want to instantly return. —EP
Apple Blossom (Closed December 2023)
When Apple Blossom opened in December 2021, the all-day eatery elevated downtown Denver’s hotel restaurant scene. Owned and operated by Paul and Aileen Reilly of Coperta and the dearly departed Beast & Bottle, the lunch and dinner menus sported dishes produced with locally sourced ingredients, including handmade pastas and protein-centered entrées. My favorite time to visit, though, was in the morning, when executive chef Russ Fox’s legendarily fluffy pancakes were available. I’ll miss Apple Blossom, but am thankful the brother-and-sister duo’s brand of culinary prowess lives on at Coperta—and whatever venture they and their talented crew bring to life in the future. —PK