Looking for a cool cocktail lounge, brunch, a hot spot, or, really, just about anything in Denver’s booming dining scene? We’ve got it right here, right now. You’ll never have to ask “Where should I eat?” again.

Bucket-list Eats

Consider this your ultimate 2016 dining checklist. Ready, set, go!

The Paella at Café Aion

The best way to dine at Café Aion is to order the good-for-sharing paella with chicken, mussels, and house-made chorizo. The kitchen nails the socarrat—that delicious caramelized rice crust at the bottom of the pan—every single time. 1235 Pennsylvania Ave., Boulder, 303-993-8131, cafeaion.com

Thin-crust, wood-fired pizza might own the spotlight at Bar Dough in LoHi, but don’t skip the brassicas salad: roasted broccoli, pecorino, pumpkin seeds, apples, and brown butter vinaigrette. 2227 W. 32nd Ave., 720-668-8506, bardoughdenver.com

Nab Cafe Brazil’s Cazuela Colombiana, a prawn-and-chicken stew thickened with tomato broth, coconut milk, and the unlikely addition of Gorgonzola. The combination shouldn’t work, but it does—beautifully. 4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877, cafebrazildenver.com

We regularly drive across town for Buchi Cafe Cubano’s decadent café con leche, a highly caffeinated, highly sugared java made with full-fat steamed milk. It is, quite simply, heaven. 2651 W. 38th Ave. 303-458-1328, buchicafecubano.com

Secure a coveted table at To the Wind Bistro, and you’ll be rewarded with a bowl of Southern-style boiled peanuts. This messy, delicious freebie takes the place of bread and primes you for the meal ahead. 3333 E. Colfax Ave., 303-316-3333, tothewindbistro.com

Onefold has an entire menu of breakfast and lunch offerings, but we’re hard-pressed to order anything but the congee, a comforting, savory rice porridge topped with a poached egg and duck confit and stirred with green onions, soy sauce, and chile oil. 1420 E. 18th Ave., 303-954-0877, onefolddenver.com

The O.M.F.G. taco at Dos Santos

Dos Santos’ O.M.F.G. taco—sushi-grade tuna, lime-cilantro aïoli, pickled onion, avocado, and cabbage tucked into a Bibb lettuce leaf—induces cravings so strong, we actually dream about the dish. 1475 E. 17th Ave., 303-386-3509,

Ototo’s menu is so wide-ranging (raw bar, grilled items, traditional Japanese small plates, ramen, and so on), it’s easy to overlook the marinated and grilled whole squid. Don’t. 1501 S. Pearl St., 303-733-2503, ototoden.com

No meal at Platt Park’s Makan Malaysian Cafe is complete without an order of roti—a pliable, almost crêpelike flatbread that can be eaten on its own, filled with scrambled eggs, or dipped into dishes like the kari ayam (curry chicken). 1859 S. Pearl St., 720-524-8093, makanmyfood.com

Perfectly shucked oysters are a given at Stoic & Genuine, but we’re especially enamored by the Genuine. This varietal, plucked fresh from the Washington coast and flown in daily, hits you with a full, unctuous, and briny flavor. Save the mignonette and signature granitas for other oysters—this one doesn’t need it. Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 303-640-3474, stoicandgenuine.com

If you order just one thing at Hop Alley, make it the steamed eggplant. Served in a pool of spicy Szechuan bean sauce and topped with crispy garlic and a tangle
of bean sprouts and fresh herbs, this dish will be on your mind long after you’ve paid the bill. 3500 Larimer St., 720-379-8340, hopalleydenver.com

Delicious isn’t usually the word that comes to mind when describing the vegetable-centric, never-cooked cuisine of raw veganism. But Root Down’s four-course raw food dinners are eye-opening forays into just how tasty raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts can be. The menu changes monthly, but expect to be wowed by creative compositions like nori-wrapped veggie maki rolls with spicy nut sauce. 1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200, rootdowndenver.com

There’s a reason Columbine Steak House & Lounge still attracts crowds after 55 years in business. The restaurant’s prices (and decor, for that matter) hark back to days gone by: A $13.95 New York strip steak meal comes complete with salad, a potato, and Texas toast. Whether you choose to dine in the lounge (which offers table service and a seriously awesome jukebox) or on the quick-service side, it’s an only-in-Denver experience you won’t soon forget. 300 Federal Blvd., 303-936-9110

Order the Brooklyn Bridge at West Highland’s Blue Pan Pizza and you’ll soon be hooked on Detroit-style pie. The stellar combination of pepperoni, Italian sausage, creamy ricotta, and pecorino atop a caramelized cheese-laced crust (the hallmark of this variety) is seriously addictive. Bonus: There are gluten-free pizzas too. 3930 W. 32nd Ave., 720-456-7666, bluepandenver.com

You’re not likely to find a tastier snack in Denver than Old Major’s sublime biscuit-ham sandwiches, available as a small plate at dinner. Two tender cheddar biscuits are slit in two, slathered with sweet red-pepper jam, and then piled high with shavings of house-smoked ham. The little sandwiches are sweet and salty—and will surely incite future cravings. Consider yourself warned. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622, oldmajordenver.com

Domo Restaurant’s “donburi” (rice bowls) fall right in line with the Japanese restaurant’s simple country-style cuisine. Our lunchtime go-to is the shioyaki sake with lightly grilled salmon and shaved radish; it’s served with miso soup and three side dishes du jour. On sunny days, don’t miss dining in the manicured outdoor gardens. 1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666, domorestaurant.com


For those times when you want to eat and be amused.

Globe Hall’s Texas-style barbecue

Cold beer and smoky Texas-style barbecue go down easily with Globe Hall’s wide-ranging roster of live music. The four-month-old Globeville saloon meets concert hall brings in artists such as Patti Fiasco (alt-country), Rick Garcia Band (Tejano), and Mighty Diamonds (roots reggae), all to be enjoyed over meat and sides. 4483 Logan St., 720-668-8833, globehall.com

Sushi has always lent itself to a certain kind of drama, with knife-wielding chefs masterfully slicing fish and turning each piece into a work of art. But at RiNo’s Sushi-Rama, the theater is of a different sort: During peak hours, small bites make their way around the room via conveyor belt. Pluck dishes as they go by and pair them with a cocktail. 2615 Larimer St., 720-476-4643

At Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club in RiNo, you’ll find yourself inside a repurposed warehouse replete with dim lighting, candlelit tables, chic-industrial decor, and live jazz. While the atmosphere alone is worth a visit, the food and drinks aren’t afterthoughts. Cocktails include well-balanced compositions such as the Transcontinental Trade Agreement, a frothy cachaça-and-mezcal number, and eats range from small bites (try the gnocchi frito) to full-fledged five-course, jazz-inspired “renditions” (chef’s tasting menus). 1330 27th St., 303-295-3333, nocturnejazz.com

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox might be the only place in Denver where one could plausibly spend an evening watching a burlesque show while eating an ostrich burger. Justin Cucci’s quirky “gastro-brothel” (it’s housed in a former adult bookstore) offers a lusty mix of entertainment, from the sex-inspired decor to live music acts to sports on the huge projection screen. The eclectic menu spans everything from green chile cornbread to octopus a la plancha. 1215 20th St., 303-993-8023, opheliasdenver.com

Think of Baker’s bustling Punch Bowl Social as a more sophisticated, foodie-friendly version of Dave & Buster’s. Take your pick of darts, billiards, bowling, and pingpong. Then order a big bowl of punch (we like the Bachelor’s Bowl with bourbon and blackberry) and appetizers such as sweet chile cilantro wings and truffle chips to share. Now that’s winning. 65 Broadway, 303-765-2695, punchbowlsocial.com

First Draft Taproom & Kitchen in RiNo makes guzzling a cold one a new kind of fun. Nab a wristband at the front counter, choose your glass, and then pour to your heart’s content from your choice of 40 taps (which include wine and cider in addition to beer). To avoid drinking foam all night, ask for assistance. 1309 26th St., 303-736-8400, firstdraftdenver.com

No one does dinner and a show quite like Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge. After nibbling rabbit cassoulet and sipping a cocktail, lace up your dancing shoes and hit the floor. Baur’s stage is regularly lit with local and national acts; we recommend going the first and third Tuesdays of each month when Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles raise the roof with vintage jazz and swing. 1512 Curtis St., 303-615-4000, baursrestaurant.com

Where the 5280 Crew Eats

“I can’t get enough of Dae Gee Korean BBq’s mandoo gook soup with dumplings.” —Daliah Singer, senior associate editor

“I like stopping at the North Carolina–themed Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen & Cafe before heading to the mountains.” —Henry Gargan, editorial intern

“For sit-down brunch in the suburbs, I like Early Bird Restaurant in Westminster for tasty egg scrambles and Novo coffee.” —Chris Outcalt, associate editor

“Sing On Pho 38 & Noodle House’s Hong Kong–style wonton noodle soup reminds me of the soup my mom used to make.” —Tamara Head, digital production manager

“The fact that Katsu Ramen’s broth is a solid mass after a night in the fridge is a testament to its richness.” —Dave McKenna, art director

“I love sitting at Sushi Sasa’s bar and ordering the pink lady roll (white asparagus tempura, spicy scallop, avocado, hamachi).” —Hannah Smith, account executive

“I drive to Lakewood for Frijoles Colorado’s lechon moro y yuca, a plate of pork, rice and beans, yuca, and caramelized onions.” —Lindsey B. Koehler, deputy editor

“I love Sputnik for what I call vegetarian comfort food: vegan mac and cheese, falafel sandwiches, and jackfruit tacos.” —Jerilyn Forsythe, digital associate editor

Green Chile Throwdown

Five bowls that pass this native New Mexican’s stringent taste test. —SS

Blackbelly market

Heat rating: 2 out of 4

You would expect that a Taos native (and Top Chef champion) would know green chile—and Hosea Rosenberg does not disappoint. His posole variation is mild, but the earthy flavors are spot-on. 1606 Conestoga St., Boulder, 303-247-1000, blackbelly.com


Heat rating: 2 out of 4

Hearty and satisfying, this chile has enough spice to make you sweat without smacking you in the face. Each spoonful contains tender pieces of pork and Anaheim chiles. 1530 Blake St., 720-904-8226, dcorazonrestaurant.com

Chili Verde

Heat rating: 1 out of 4

The serranos in Chili Verde’s recipe offer a sweet tanginess rarely found in other bowls around town. Bonus: It’s served with cilantro rice and corn tortillas. 2311 Federal Blvd., 720-287-2296, chiliverdedenver.com

The Original Chubby’s

Heat rating: 4 out of 4

Be careful with Chubby’s chile (or order extra tortillas). The heat will get you, but behind the fire the thick stew offers a savory backdrop that has earned the hole-in-the-wall locale a glowing reputation. 1231 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-9311

La Loma

Heat rating: 2 out of 4

At La Loma, copious amounts of pork complement a velvety stew and offer a nice respite from the chile’s mild kick. Scoop it up with the accompanying flour tortillas. 2527 W. 26th Ave., 303-433-8300, lalomamexican.com

Game Plan

If You’re Going Out on a…Monday

Hot spot: Beast & Bottle

$$$: Frasca Food and Wine

$: Cho77

If You’re Going Out on a…Weeknight

Hot spot: Brider

Adult time: Café Marmotte

Family in tow: Torchy’s Tacos

If You’re Going Out on a…Weekend

Hot spot: Hop Alley

$$$: Cooper Lounge followed by Mercantile Dining & Provision

$: Finn’s Manor

If You’re Drinking…

Early:  Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Vesper Lounge

Late: Cart-Driver, Fort Greene, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

If You’re Headed…

West: Abejas, U.S. Thai Cafe

Boulder: Wild Standard, Rincon Argentino

Central: Avanti Food & Beverage, Barolo Grill

East: Desmond Bar & Grill, Masalaa

South: Los Chingones DTC, Parker Garage

North: Georgia Boys BBQ Company, Cracovia

If You Need a Table for…

One: The Populist, Black Eye Coffee, Comida

Two: Work & Class, To the Wind Bistro, Bistro Barbès

Three to Five: Rebel Restaurant, the Plimoth, Potager

Six-plus: Mezcal, Dae Gee Korean BBQ, the Crawling Crab


Let your sweet tooth be your guide.

At Devil’s Food Bakery & Cookery in Wash Park, the scratch-baked desserts, displayed temptingly on the counter, really, ahem, take the cake. Offerings change, but the oversize house-made Oreos, peanut-butter-and-chocolate cake, and cinnamon rolls are perennial favorites. Bonus: During dinner, the spot also offers refined plated desserts. 1020 S. Gaylord St., 303-733-7448, devilsfooddenver.com

The next time you dine at Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve, or Vesta Dipping Grill, don’t skip dessert. Pastry whiz Nadine Donovan is the group’s executive pastry chef, meaning there are multiple ways to experience her sweet artistry. Whether it’s sublime bao doughnuts tossed in five-spice sugar at Ace, a lemon icebox bar at Steuben’s, or malted chocolate mousse at Vesta, you can’t miss. steubens.com; aceeatserve.com; vestagrill.com

For a study in the magic properties of ice, order Linger’s Taiwanese shaved ice. The treat eats like exotic ice cream, especially when you top it with sweetened condensed milk, fresh fruit, and boba. 2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120, lingerdenver.com

The counter at Olive & Finch is always stocked with a bounty of goodies like mini coconut cakes, layered alfajores, and chocolatey brownies—many of which are gluten-free. Whether you’re watching your wheat or not, pick up a fantastic gluten-free peanut butter cookie for an afternoon treat. 1552 E. 17th Ave., 303-832-8663, oliveandfincheatery.com

The cozy windowside seats at Wooden Spoon Café & Bakery create the perfect setting for catching up over the Highland bakery’s creamy and crispy macarons (in flavors as varied as sea salt and mint), squares of tart Key lime pie, and hunks of tantalizing carrot cake. 2418 W. 32nd Ave., 303-999-0327, woodenspoondenver.com

The Inventing Room is so much more than an ice-cream shop—it’s a laboratory along the lines of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Ian Kleinman spins cotton candy to order, freezes caramel corn with liquid nitrogen, and serves scoops with exploding whipped cream. Don’t miss these wild, and delicious, experiments. 2020 Lawrence St., Unit A, 303-885-2802, inventing-room.com

CoraFaye’s Café’s nondescript exterior belies the rich history inside its doors. Owner Priscilla Smith’s Southern food is the result of recipes that have been in her family for generations. Don’t miss the towering cakes—red velvet, German chocolate, coconut cream cheese—that are served by the wedge, with or without a 50-cent scoop of ice cream. 2861 Colorado Blvd., 303-333-5551, corafayes.com 

5280’s offices used to be within a block of Gateaux Bakery, and that was trouble. The bakery’s tea cookies—thin, ridiculously buttery, and beautifully iced—were so close they were a distraction. (We still pick them up for special occasions.) 1160 Speer Blvd., 303-376-0070, gateauxpastries.com

A Churro a Day…

There’s more than one way to tackle this treat. —SS

Served around the world with or without cinnamon sugar, fried or baked, spiraled or straight, and dipped in chocolate or filled with fruit, the illustrious churro can be eaten for breakfast, dessert, and every meal in between. Don’t miss Denver’s own variations on the classic.

Revelry Kitchen

The churro doughnuts at Revelry Kitchen are enough to drag anyone out of bed. Coated in cinnamon sugar and served with dulce
de leche and chocolate ganache, these doughy rounds are sweet and convenient to share. 4140 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-3132, revelrydenver.com 


This Governors’ Park spot is known for its eclectic noodle bowls, but don’t cheat yourself by skipping dessert. The churro ice-cream sandwich boasts Bones’ house-made vanilla soft serve layered between two deliciously airy, crispy, spiraled churros. The treat comes cut in half for easy eating and divvying up. 701 Grant St., 303-860-2929, bonesdenver.com

Pinche Tacos 

Sit at Pinche’s bustling bar and be patient. Soon, piping-hot churros with a side of thick, rich Mexican chocolate sauce for dipping will appear. These snacks are chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and sweet without being cloying. 1514 York St., 720-475-1337; 3300 W. 32nd Ave., 720-502-4608; tacostequilawhiskey.com

—Churro image courtesy of Shutterstock


Sometimes you just need a drink.

Williams & Graham’s speakeasy vibe is elevated when you’re drinking a flip—an old-school cocktail shaken with a whole egg. The emulsion makes for one smooth drink, and W&G’s house version—Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cynar, and bitters—is outstanding. 3160 Tejon St., 303-997-8886, williamsandgraham.com

Occidental is Williams & Graham’s sister bar, but don’t go for the same pomp and circumstance. Instead, stop in for the punk rock and garage band decor—and a Gooch cocktail (rye, applejack, and amaro). 1950 W. 32nd Ave., 720-536-8318, occidentalbar.com

Nestled beneath Colt & Gray, Ste. Ellie boasts a lounge-y vibe. Order the Geriatric Hat Trick (named for a band one of the bartenders wanted to start in high school) with El Dorado 5 Year Rum, Lustau East India sherry, and Campari. The boozy drink works well with dishes like the crispy pig trotter. 1553 Platte St., 303-477-1447, saintellie.com

Coffeeshop by day, cocktail lounge by night, Capitol Hill’s Black Eye Coffee is the perfect hangout for any hour. Order the deconstructed cup of coffee for a nightcap. Rotating medleys—such as cherry whiskey, dehydrated pear, and dark chocolate—almost magically recreate the flavors of different javas. 800 Sherman St., 303-955-1205, drinkblackeye.com

Bar Fausto in RiNo is slinging some of the best cocktails (and eats) in town. Order a perfectly crafted classic or one of the numbered seasonal selections (like the number 21 with brown butter, rye whiskey, and green Chartreuse) and pair it with the seasonal bruschetta, and this watering hole will become your new favorite hangout. 3126 Larimer St., 720-445-9691, barfausto.com

Some occasions call for unabashed luxury, for which our go-to will always be Union Station’s glamorous mezzanine bar, Cooper Lounge. Pull up a tall stool at the marble counter and watch as bartenders stir cocktails like the Coloradier 13 (sweet vermouth, Breckenridge Bourbon and bitters, and an orange twist) and serve them on silver platters accompanied by house-roasted nuts. The small menu of dishes prepared tableside (like the sumptuous cauliflower gratin with black truffles and a perfect crêpe suzette) adds to the glamour. Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3738, cooperlounge.com

If you think three-year-old Bar Max is simply about coffee, you haven’t been to the Colfax spot recently. Order the charcuterie plate, sip on a Not Enough Night (a boozy blend of rye, amaro, Punt e Mes, and maraschino liqueur), and enjoy the sophisticated European vibe. 2412 E. Colfax Ave., 303-333-0003, barmax.co

Top Shelf

 A stockpile of rare whiskies for the true connoisseur. —AMF

Whiskey lovers, take note: Over the past two years, Green Russell’s beverage director, Adam Hodak, has amassed an impressive collection of what he calls “rare, endangered, and extinct” whiskies. His stash currently includes more than 80 American whiskies, more than 80 single-malt Scotches, and 10 Japanese whiskies.

Pours range in price from $12 for Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon to $147 for Bowmore Small Batch 25 Year Old Single Malt Scotch. With 25 pours to a bottle, Hodak estimates some bottles could last him four years. “We don’t make money on this; it’s not about price gouging,” Hodak says. “It’s about starting a conversation.”

And to make sure there’s an ongoing dialogue, Hodak only sells most of these whiskies Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights. 1422 Larimer St., 303-893-6505, greenrussell.com

Breakfast & Brunch

Get up on the right side of the bed.

Walk into Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and you only need to know five words: “caviar cream cheese” and “steelhead trout.” Choose a bagel and you’ve got your new favorite start to the morning. 725 E. 26th Ave., 720-440-9880, rosenbergsbagels.com

We’re forever on the hunt for migas, the Austin, Texas–style egg scramble made with crumbled tortilla chips and salsa verde. We’ve found our match at North County in Lowry, where we add a Bloody Maria for good measure. 94 Rampart Way, 720-532-0106, northcountydenver.com

Duo Restaurant’s Sweet Sunday breakfast, with whole-grain mustard cream sauce and poached eggs atop grilled ciabatta, greens, shiitake mushrooms, and onion confit, is the ultimate way to begin a lazy weekend day. And don’t miss out on a Bloody Mary—served mild or spicy, it’s one of the best in town. 2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141, duorestaurants.com

If you’re looking for a good ol’ hearty breakfast, the Universal is your place. With menu items like monster blueberry pancakes, spicy biscuits and gravy, and a variety of egg scrambles, this comfortable hangout is a Sunnyside staple. Don’t forget to ask about the daily grits special. 2911 W. 38th Ave., 303-955-0815, theuniversaldenver.blogspot.com

Beast & Bottle, the Uptown eatery known for its seasonal menu, also serves one helluva brunch. Once you’ve decided on a boozy drink (try the pomegranate mimosa or cucumber Bloody), tuck into the corned lamb shank hash with a poached egg, Calabrian chile, and Tokyo turnips. Up for sharing? Order the poutine—crispy fries under a sea of gravy, cheese curds, and meaty pieces of house-cured bacon—for the table. 719 E. 17th Ave., 303-623-3223, beastandbottle.com 

The easy and colorful space of Gallop Cafe invites passersby in for hot cups of coffee and hefty breakfasts. Order at the counter and then find a table (either inside or outside). We recommend the burrito: a giant flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, jalapeño bacon, sausage, and potatoes and smothered in green chile and cheese. It’s so filling, it may be the only meal you need all day. 2401 W. 32nd Ave., 303-455-5650, gallopcafe.com

Central Bistro & Bar’s weekend brunch may not win any awards for most creative menu, but in this case, that’s a good thing. The LoHi kitchen deftly executes familiar a.m. favorites such as breakfast burritos, corned-beef hash, and eggs Benedict—no overcooked yolks or burnt potatoes here. For a dash of innovation, try the smoked salmon flatbread, which is an homage to the beloved flavor combination of lox, red onion, fried capers, cream cheese, and everything bagel. 1691 Central St., 303-477-4582, centralbistrobar.com

To start your day off with French flair, head to Highlands Ranch’s eight-year-old artisan boulangerie and cafe, Pierre Michel, run by a family from Lyon, France. The flaky croissants in the pastry case are reason alone to get out of bed early (especially when you nab the highly sought-after variety filled with smooth chocolate
ganache). If you haven’t already ruined your appetite with pastries, grab a table in the bustling dining room for French-style scrambled eggs or a croque monsieur on house-made brioche. 2201 Wildcat Reserve Parkway, Suite C10, Highlands Ranch, 303-471-4828, pierremichelbakery.com 

—Photography by Aaron Colussi (unless otherwise noted)

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2016.
Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.