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Top Ice Cream
We’ll admit it. We sometimes substitute a sweet treat for a sandwich at our midday meal. There is no shame in our dessert-for-lunch game, and a recent order at Smith & Canon’s new Colorado Mills location in Lakewood proved just how winning a combination ice cream and coffee is when you need to fuel up—especially when it’s a gourmet Philly-style take (i.e., no eggs, for extra creaminess) with a made-from-scratch base (most ice cream makers use a pre-formulated mixture and add flavor). Owner Curt Peterson, who named the shop after his daughters, shut his doors on East Colfax Avenue and relaunched the shop in its sleek new home in February. The rich, silky flavors are zesty and unexpected. Think: Foxy Brown (cinnamon rolls and cheesecake), Strawbanero (strawberry and habanero), and Dew Sabi (honeydew and wasabi). We took down a nitro cold-brew float with Butter Brickle ice cream and Whiskey Barrel coffee while our friend ordered the shop’s signature foamy affogato. We agreed that no other lunch was needed.
Top New Restaurant
In a lightly trodden corner of LoHi, Tim and Lillian Lu opened the elegant yet playful Noisette this past summer. Complete with charming mismatched floral chinaware, an impossibly chic, pastel midcentury vibe, and one of the most knowledgeable staffs we’ve encountered, the French eatery serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday and brunch on Saturday. The Lus’ adjacent bakery, which opened in the fall, doles out traditional croissants and delicate confections from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. In its first year, Noisette has dazzled Denver diners with its beautifully plated dishes and warm, sophisticated ambience. We caught up with the owners to get the lowdown on their style of French cuisine.
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It’s not that complicated.
“We’re trying to demystify [the idea] that French food is a fine dining thing,” Tim says. “We do use refined techniques we learned working in New York for over a decade. But we want to present it in a way that is basically just the protein, the sauce, and the potatoes—something you’d eat at home, but a little more refined. With French food, you either think of mussels and fries or really fancy stuff. We’re a middle ground between all the tripe dishes and steak frites.”
Classic is clutch.
“I’m trying to do a very classic French way of baking,” Lillian says. “I think that, in America, [California’s Tartine] has had a big influence on the modern bakery: Everybody likes to bake things really dark and get that deep caramelization. In the French way…our pastries are baked at a slightly lower temperature for less time [to a] golden brown. A croissant should not only be crispy on the outside but soft as well.”
It’s all in the sauce—and the wine matters.
“We use all the proper wines for our sauces; it’s not just some boxed wine,” Tim says. “Like the beurre blanc on the trout; it’s made with the same wine, Muscadet, [the French] would traditionally make it with. For bordelaise, Bordeaux. And the first thing you learn in culinary school is to cook with wine that you’d drink. Because, once you reduce the wine, it brings all the bad or good flavors to the forefront.”
Regionalism elevates the menu.
“We try to do regional dishes,” Tim says. “We have a couple of Alsatian dishes right now, a sauce from Normandy…. French is not just one all-encompassing food. Our servers will tell someone that our pintade au Riesling is an Alsatian dish versus just general French food. We’re trying to expose more people to these [distinctions].”
Noodle On This
Get your curries, rice, and everything nice at these flavor-packed spots serving Denver’s most mouth-watering Asian cuisine.
Snapshot: Frequently added menu items and special dishes (we dream about the January-only lump crab fried rice) keep this modern eatery fresh no matter when you go. Exhibit A: the recently introduced Thaigerrr green curry.
Must Try: Khao soi kai (traditional curry noodles from northern Thailand) or the Bangkok ribs (a salty-sweet starter that owner Ounjit Hardacre says is a family recipe).
Above and Beyond: Thai flavor combos are nuanced, and Daughter Thai is one of the few local eateries that has mastered the tricky dichotomy of boldness and subtlety.
Snapshot: The second outpost of the wildly successful Seattle original, Reckless opened its trendy digs in December and sizzles up a mélange of Asian ingredients but centers Vietnamese flavors in its spicy, snappy dishes.
Must Try: Crispy Saigon caramelized prawns, which are big, juicy, and cooked in a peppery, garlicky coating for an addictive blend of chewy and crunchy.
Above and Beyond: A killer happy hour (4 to 5 p.m. daily) offers sweet deals on starters such as the thịt nướng, a pork-stuffed roll with just the right blend of lemongrass, herbs, and Hanoi fish sauce.
Snapshot: This bamboo-chic neighborhood fave is an interactive, traditional, and hard-to-find-elsewhere Japanese experience, including DIY Japanese hot pot, a full sushi menu, and small plates.
Must Try: Shabu shabu (commonly called hot pot, this meat-in-a-bubbling-stew meal is mesmerizing and delicious).
Above and Beyond: First-timer at a cook-your-own-meat table? Don’t worry. Kobe An LoHi’s website offers a video tutorial for hot pot and a helpful blog detailing the origins of the eatery’s American Kobe (wagyu) beef.
Snapshot: In October, James Beard Award semifinalist Edwin Zoe opened a second iteration of his Boulder-based Dragonfly noodle house—which offers steamy, umami-rich bowls and bao—on the 16th Street Mall.
Must Try: Black tonkotsu ramen (a staff favorite with cherrywood-smoked pork belly, cloud ear mushrooms, and spicy sprouts bathed in a pork-bone broth laced with black garlic oil).
Above and Beyond: Dragonfly is one of only two local ramenyas that handcrafts its own noodles. “As a noodle nerd,” Zoe says, “I want our guests to enjoy fresh house-made ramen noodles—which are surprisingly rare.”
We were already enamored with this LoDo nook when we booked its chef’s tasting ($95 per person). Having previously inhaled chef Chris Henschen’s pastas, we couldn’t resist the chance to grab a reservation (720-541-7721) for the new-in-2022, up-close experience. The four-course menu changes daily, and Henschen’s offerings reflect the season’s bounty. Settled at the counter, we began with an oyster teaser, both raw and grilled with pancetta, followed by roasted tricolor carrots with burrata. Next we devoured handmade Yukon potato gnocchi pomodoro with chanterelle mushroom conserva, finished with balsamic vinegar and basil oil. But the star was a sliced New York strip settled in a bed of polenta over a red pepper coulis, accented by broccolini and black trumpet mushrooms. Well-timed appearances by a sommelier were enlightening, and between courses, Henschen’s amiable conversation made the evening special. Last out was a plate of triple dessert, anchored by a cannolo. We were almost too full to enjoy it.
An eatery’s oyster service is a solid way to gauge quality seafood. That said, the pearly little shellfish at these three outlets were too outstanding to select one winner—so we sampled their other offerings to help you decide where to go.
Go For: Fish
We called in the experts—visiting lifelong New Englanders with discerning saltwater palates—for a recent meal at LoDo’s stateliest taste of the ocean, which opened in early 2022. The verdict: near universal perfection on the fish entrées. The tuna was seared and togarashi-spiced flawlessly; the black cod was highlighted by an herbed soba broth; and the rich sea bass swam in a delicate sage butter.
Oyster notes: “This is the way an oyster should be,” came the definitive declaration from our coastal Mainers as they polished off a half-dozen briny East Coast varieties.
Go For: Scallops
A meal at this sleek Union Station ocean eatery never disappoints with its out-of-the-box takes on classic saltwater dishes. But a recent order of scallops—seared to a perfectly firm gold and dressed in a silky chipotle-squash purée with chile oil and root veggies—left us salivating for more.
Oyster notes: Half a dozen varieties from the East and West coasts arrived with a flavor profile card so we could identify the melon, brine, and mineral notes. Tip: Reserve a spot at the eatery’s oyster classes, which launched in February and are hosted by general manager Aaron Kimble one Sunday per month. Guests sample oysters with an optional wine pairing while they learn about the delicacies.
Go For: Octopus
Amid a buzzy crowd in this industrial-chic RiNo seafood joint—known for its simple, flavorful takes on a rotating selection of fresh fish and shellfish—we were wowed by a plate of wood-grilled Spanish octopus balanced by a Romesco sauce.
Oyster notes: This is an excellent place for nonoyster people to score oysters. The grilled varieties—both the kicky devil butter and the comforting garlic butter versions—disappeared in seconds at the hands of our slurp-shy crew. (All oysters are $2.50 from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.)
Behind the 18-seat chef’s counter in the Dairy Block’s intimate Brutø, you’ll often find a storyteller. That is, you’ll likely meet executive chef Michael Diaz de Leon, the culinary force behind the omakase-style restaurant where he and his team treat patrons to a multicourse tasting menu inspired by Latin American culinary traditions, Japanese techniques, and a zero-waste ethos. Diaz de Leon was tapped in late 2020 by chef-restaurateur Kelly Whitaker to bring his distinctive vision to Brutø after it launched in 2019. “I love to talk to people about my craft,” Diaz de Leon says. “You get to literally sit right in front of us, and we’ll have a conversation while I’m plating your food.”
That ability to translate the backstory of his dishes into a captivating dining experience is just one of the reasons the 35-year-old toque earned a 2023 James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Best Chef in the Mountain West. Among the other reasons are his work toward sustainable local agriculture and, largely, his prowess with culinary experimentation. “It’s thinking outside the box and saying, ‘How can we utilize the whole vegetable?’ ” he says. “In the summer, when we have an abundance of sweet corn in Colorado, we use it to smoke some dishes, and we use the strands of hair from the corn and fry them to make almost, like, a cotton candy of corn. We use the kernels for cooking and the husk for fueling the hearth and for stock to make sauces.”
Diaz de Leon hopes that Brutø’s rising reputation will be a catalyst for others to develop deeper connections with local food systems and educate the next generation of chefs to cement Denver as a Michelin-worthy culinary destination. In the meantime, we suggest you pull up a bar stool, order a drink, and get ready for story time.
Lunch Four Ways
The best options for your daily crunchtime bite.
Were it up to us, we’d order a flaky handmade lemon croissant and call it a meal at this unassuming French bakery in Lafayette. But if a savory midday bite is more your jam, the curated selection of brunch fare (ham, cheese, and egg croissant sandwiches; quiche Lorraine; and croque monsieur and madame) will transport you right to the corner bakery of an idyllic French village. In fact, executive pastry chef Julien Jeannot, who launched the bakery in April 2022 with his wife, Teresa, spent his formative years sampling oven-fresh pastries in Provence.
Top Food Hall
The first time we walked into Freedom Street, a year-old, 12,000-square-foot space in northwest Arvada, we immediately wished we’d brought our (young) kids. While we enjoyed a build-your-own noodle bowl, self-ordered via a tablet at Balance Pan-Asian Grille, we could practically see our littles beelining for the play area located in the center of the hall. If you happen to be there sans entourage but with a laptop in tow, grab a bite from one of the nine vendors while you work. Argentina-inspired Gaucho Parrilla opened in March, but you can also order a macchiato from Pressed Coffee & Vinyl or nosh on birria tacos from Osito. Whatever you choose, take your setup to the adults-only (on the weekends!) second level till happy hour.
Top Food Truck
It may not be open for weekday lunches yet, but this camper is worth an Instagram follow (@lady_inthewild) for the lowdown on brewery pop-ups or its hours at the City Park farmers’ market on Saturdays this summer and fall. Since June 2022, the food truck, helmed by chef-owner Camille Shoemaker, has been plating locally sourced, Mediterranean-inspired fare, such as shawarma wraps with baba ghanoush and lamb meatballs over turmeric rice. Our tip: Go for the mezze platter and indulge in three hummus flavors plus other dips, salads, and veggies.
This 10-month-old eatery’s very name signals something coveted. And indeed, the New Orleans–inspired sandwich purveyor is a treasure chest of tantalizing lunchtime booty, like the roasted pork loin tonnato and the French club stuffed with red-wine chicken, bacon, and mushrooms. Tucked inside LoDo’s historic Ice House building, the deli runs on a pop-up schedule, so you’ll need to check Instagram (@piratealleydenver) for updates. No matter—we’ll take what we can get, even if it’s just a handful of times per month.
4150 Tennyson St.
150 Clayton Lane | 303-253-3000
3500 Larimer St. | 720-379-8340
2050 Youngfield St., Lakewood | 303-955-4734
123 W. 12th Ave.| 303-325-5691
5505 W. 20th Ave. (inside Edgewater Public Market), Edgewater | 720-310-5551
5505 W. 20th Ave., Edgewater | 720-749-2239
1616 Market St. | 720-794-9544
576 Dayton St., Aurora | 303-360-5200
2500 Lawrence St. | 303-444-1922
3330 Brighton Blvd. (inside the Source Hotel & Market Hall) | 720-408-2444
2245 Kearney St. | 720-814-1053
1801 California St. | 303-293-8500
2900 Larimer St. | 303-816-3300
5228 W. 25th Ave., Edgewater | 303-233-3345
5505 W. 20th Ave.,Edgewater (inside Edgewater Public Market) | 303-276-3309
1312 E. Sixth Ave. | 720-570-8800