As I write this, I’m about six weeks shy of my one-year anniversary as 5280’s food editor—and what a delicious year it’s been. I’ve consumed more calories than I can (or care to) count; I’ve dined at white-tablecloth restaurants and spots where you order at the counter; and I’ve watched our dining scene continue to evolve. Fine-casual, wood-fire cooking, and more Italian fare than ever before are just three of the trends swirling around town. It’s an important moment in the Denver dining scene, as the city and region grows and restaurants open (and close) with surprising frequency—and as the very idea of what a restaurant is and can be is challenged daily.

In the face of such change, I’ve been on the hunt for consistency and focus, seeking out the restaurants that deliver thoughtful hospitality, comfortable surroundings, and exceptional food, day in and day out. Our October issue’s “25 Best Restaurants” list (which will be online and in subscribers’ mailboxes on Wednesday and on local newsstands by the end of the week) is a fresh look at the spots doing just that. We made big changes this year, and there are surprises in store. But for now, here’s a taste of a few of the best restaurants in Denver:

New to the list and representative of the booming dining scene in Stapleton, Elise Wiggins’ lively, hospitable Italian restaurant offers sublime standbys (pizzas, house-made pastas) and unexpected delights (ciccioli, dry-aged steaks, cannellini beans cooked in a glass flask atop a wood-fire grill). Sure, getting there is a bit of a haul from central Denver, but food this tasty is something to hit the road for.
Eastbridge Town Center, 10195 E. 29th Drive, Suite 110, 303-645-3779

Izakaya Den
Back on the list for the first time since 2011, Izakaya Den, the Kizaki brothers’ Japanese gastropub, in some ways offers more for diners than the OG, Sushi Den. Its sky-lit second floor dining room is one of the most beautiful in town, especially on warm evenings when the ceiling opens to the heavens, and the weekly specials and global small plates are as imaginative as they are expertly executed.
1487-A S. Pearl St., 303-777-0691

Chef-owner Steven Redzikowski and talented chef de cuisine Kate Horton are not only masters of the grill—many dishes on Acorn’s shareable small plates menu are cooked via oak-fueled fire—but they season their food with a mastery many chefs strive for their entire careers. Their use of acid (in the form of citrus and vinegar—and even piquillo peppers), in particular, makes each dish sing. The vibe at Acorn is buzzy, the service is friendly, and the cocktails are as balanced and smooth as the seasonal fare. Go now, because it’s just as good—if not better—than it’s ever been. The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd., 720-542-372

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.