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Great restaurateurs recognize the power of great design. But LivStudio, the Denver-based design and architecture firm behind RiNo’s Sushi-Rama and Bar Fausto, among others, wanted direct feedback. So, five months ago, LivStudio opened a cocktail bar behind its office. The Greenlight Lab is “a playground for working through new design ideas in a real-life setting,” says co-owner Brandon Anderson. That means you can weigh in on the furniture, lighting, and decor (comment cards come with the menus). Greenlight Lab also happens to be home to some of the city’s best cocktails. Bar manager Dustin Lawlor crafts beta drinks, such as a rum and tonic/daiquiri hybrid, for guests to critique; popular sips go on the “approved” menu. If you’re peckish, you can snack on a Burrata cheese plate from nearby Il Posto. Design aficionados and cocktail lovers: This date-ready watering hole belongs on your short list. 1336 27th St., 720-788-5320
Head south on I-25 and you’ll notice an increase in the number of chain restaurant signs. Fortunately for hungry suburbanites, the La Loma team opened a wood-fired eatery, Sierra, four months ago in Lone Tree’s RidgeGate development. And although the restaurant looks and feels nothing like the original or downtown iterations of La Loma—Sierra is all vaulted ceilings, soaring windows, and warm wood—the food feels familiar. Favorites such as guacamole, battered and fried chiles rellenos, and, of course, pork green chile are on the menu, but there’s also oak-fired rotisserie chicken, sweet-and-spicy shrimp with coconut rice, and spaghetti with a cumin-scented meat sauce. Diners are already driving to Sierra en masse, so reserve a table on the massive patio now that spring weather is almost here. 10680 Cabela Drive, Lone Tree, 303-662-8800
Bob and Harriet “Chickee” Sanchez, owners of Sunnyside’s walk-up eatery Chickee’s Lil Kitchen, have been crafting excellent made-to-order burritos, spicy green chile, red beans and rice, and more from a small professional kitchen located in front of their home on Zuni Street since 2009. They hope to expand soon so Harriet can cook more Cajun favorites from her childhood in Louisiana, but in the meantime, you should stroll up to the counter (from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends) and try the Sanchezes’ from-the-heart cooking. Bob hand-grinds the pork for his chorizo (get it inside a smothered breakfast burrito or on scrambled eggs), and everything from the tamales to the shrimp and andouille gumbo is made from scratch. If it’s too chilly to sit outside, take your meal to go—and while you’re at it, bring home a quart of that gumbo or, with 24-hour notice, a dozen of Harriet’s fresh flour tortillas for just $3. 4340 Zuni St., 303-477-0641