Summer 2021 has been beautiful so far, as most Colorado summers are. But this season is especially exciting with many Covid-19 restrictions now lifted and most surviving restaurants reopening to full capacity. While many places are beckoning diners to their sunny patios, outdoor seating is no longer the only safe option to sit and enjoy a delicious meal and good service. From light Mediterranean fare to the newest place for Baja bites to a unique take on Italian cuisine, Denver’s dining scene is ready for a historic summer and fall revival.
The gist: A modern spin on traditional Italian cuisine using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients—and whatever creative inspiration strikes chef Jake Linzinmeir for that night’s dinner service. Now officially reopened to full dine-in capacity (be sure to check out the speakeasy-esque, underground dining room).
The food: Everything you might expect at an Italian restaurant, but with some added sparkle and bang. Fresh focaccia bread with Parmesan olive oil garlic butter, pickled vegetables, a variety of charcuterie options and bright, crisp salads to get dinner off to a good start. However you prefer to enjoy gluten—wood-fired pizza, hand-made pasta, or olive oil cake—there are no wrong choices here. And Jovanina’s does, in fact, offer gluten-free pastas, so you don’t have to miss out on the impeccable flavors of dishes like elk bolognese, cacio e pepe, or puttanesca. Round things out with an affogato and let your heart sing—you’ll be coming back time and time again for everything Jovanina’s has to offer.
The cost: Shareables from $9 - $25, pizzas $21 - $23, pastas $26 - $29, and hearty mains from $32 - $38.
The gist: The sister restaurant of Perdida, Lady Nomada opened this July in the quaint Olde Town Arvada, boasting a bright, coastal atmosphere and a menu full of “Baja bites,” tacos, and bright, refreshing cocktails.
The food: It’s hard not to imagine a sea breeze and sand beneath your feet when tasting the bright and colorful flavors of Lady Nomada’s coastal Mexican dishes. Enjoy classics like warm queso and Mexican street corn alongside unique takes, like the deliciously fresh melon and tomato salad with tajin and mint or the savory carne asada fries. Tender meats packed with flavor shine both in the selection of tacos (please see: birria and carnitas) as well as in the larger menu options like the posole verde, which features little neck clams, pulled pork, cilantro, and hominy nestled in corn tortillas.
The cost: Enjoy options for every budget, with shareable snacks from $5 - $9, small plates from $10 - $15, large plates from $18 - $25, and assorted tacos from $11 - $14.
The gist: Where most bars serve the same pub fare, Brass Tacks made it a point to shine. In addition to its thoughtfully crafted cocktails, the cool and curated space—with its velvet booths and Rainbow Room—is also home to a killer food menu. Executive chef JV Hernandez now commands the kitchen, sending out mouthwatering bites courtesy of a new summer menu.
The food: If nothing else, Brass Tacks has one of the most unique bar menus available. Split a mouth-tingling order of sea salt and vinegar fries complete with paprika ketchup and a chili-lime yogurt, or dive into uncharted (but exciting) territory via the roasted bone marrow with shishito pepper chimichurri. There are classics for the less adventurous folks, of course, by way of the fried chicken sandwich, and feel encouraged to satisfy your sweet tooth with the unforgettable sticky toffee cake.
The cost: Find bar snacks for $5 - $6, apps for $8 - $15, and mains from $15 - $24.
The gist: Opened initially in 2017 then gradually reopening as Covid-19 restrictions allowed, the popular Union Station restaurant within the Kimpton Hotel Born remains a favorite downtown spot for upscale, farm-fresh fare in the heart of the city.
The food: Produce-forward takes on menu staples, like the new Vegetable Charcuterie and Sourdough Bread Salad with summer squash and house-made ricotta, combine the freshness of summer with chef Christian Grave’s ever-present creativity. Coal simmered mussels and the Citizen Rail 50/50 burger remain on the menu for those who love a lasting fan-favorite, but new additions to the dinner menu include a bone-in pork chop and miso-glazed, dry-aged duck breast. Pair with any number of CR’s classic or seasonal cocktails, wine, or drink of choice for a meal that checks all the boxes.
The cost: Anywhere from $13 - $65 for small plates or entrees. But if you’re feeling fancy, opt for the 48-ounce dry-aged Tomahawk (for two), which also comes with two sides for $140.
The gist: Upon its opening in April 2021, Of A Kind set the precedent for this year’s crop of new concepts to persevere despite the disheartening pandemic. The Mediterranean restaurant offers plates meant for sharing and serves as the main food destination for the exclusive Clayton Members Club and Hotel, but is also open to the public.
The food: Helming the kitchen is executive chef Brandon Duley, who brings a culinary career of over 15 years and a particular knack for California coastal fare to focus on a fresh, produce-forward, and rotating seasonal menu. Expect bright, acid-forward flavors like citrus vinaigrettes on small, shareable salads and sides of pickled vegetables, fresh-from-the-wood stove pitas, a sweet, tart, and creamy blackberry currant labneh, and heartier plates like sweet corn gnocchi and turmeric confit chicken.
The cost: Smaller shareables range from $6 - $20, with larger plates and entrées between $18 - $50.
The gist: With a move from food hall Avanti to their own brick and mortar, which opened January 2021, this fast-casual concept is making it really, really easy to eat flavorful and healthy food when you’re not up for another night of doing the dishes.
The food: The menu here is built around a trio of rotisserie proteins: chicken, pork, and salmon. You can load those into a bowl, or opt for a sandwich or salad alongside super fresh veggies and any (or all) of their flavor boosting sauces. From there, add on any of their standout sides that go way beyond the typical fries or salad—think blistered green beans with garlic and fried capers or grilled polenta with wild mushrooms and shaved parm. They also offer a lineup of beer, wine, and ready-to-pour cocktails from The Family Jones.
The cost: Plates and bowls range from $14 - $20 and a la carte sides are $3.50 - $7.50
The gist: This new food hall packed with food and drink options is located in a historic building on the banks of Clear Creek and has downtown Golden’s first and only rooftop patio.
The food: There are five concepts inside: Republik of Chiken, which serves elevated takes on burgers, chicken sandwiches, and other comfort food classics; Tacos al Chile for Mexican; sushi from Sushi Sora; smoked meats from Rolling Smoke BBQ; and ice cream from Happy Cones. The space also features two self-pour walls where you can serve yourself up local beer, wine, cocktails, and a selection of sake.
The cost: Burgers and sandwiches are $13 - $16, tacos are $3, sushi rolls start at $6, BBQ plates are $14 - $18, and ice cream is $4.49 - $5.99
The gist: With homey, '70s retro vibes and a killer rooftop deck with mountain views, this is a top spot to grab a pizza and drinks.
The food: The 12” pies here are made with naturally leavened sourdough and are cooked in the brick oven for the perfect charred yet chewy crust, which is topped with options like local bison, cupping pepperoni, and castelvetrano olives. There’s also a selection of apps (just say yes to the pepperoni rolls) and salads. And while the pizza may be some of the best in town, don’t miss out on their beverage program which includes cocktails made with local spirits, craft beers, and, natural and organic wines.
The cost: Appetizers and salads are $8 - $14, pizzas are $12 - $18
The gist: Located inside the Rally Hotel at the new McGregor Square development next to Coors Field, this retro-inspired eatery is a bright and fun spot to grab a bite.
The food: Classic diner eats get a playful, modern makeover with options that range from the all-American cheeseburger and the BLT amped up with raclette to crab and trout dip served with a bag of bugles and everything bagel deviled eggs complete with house-made salmon bacon. The drinks also get a nostalgic twist, with non-alcoholic options like Yoo-hoo, root beer floats, and of course, milkshakes (which you can definitely get a boozy version of). And yes, there is pie.
The cost: Appetizers are $5 - $15 and entrees are $12 - $36
The gist: From hockey player to attorney, owner Natascha Hess took a winding path to the food scene and made a big splash with her food-truck-turned-recently opened brick and mortar location.
The food: Inspired by her time living in China and traveling to Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Hess’ street food inspired dishes go big on bold flavors. From the snackable Bangkok Balls to the playful Cheeseburger Fried Rice, the entire menu is full of crave-worthy temptations. But if you have to pick one place to start, it’s a bestseller from her food truck days, the tantalizing Char Siu pork with smashed cucumber salad.
The cost: Appetizers are $8, and entrees range from $13 - $17.
The gist: Chef Ty Leon, beverage director Austin Carson, front-of-house master Heather Morrison opened this fresh pasta haven in the former Cafe Marmotte space in January 2020.
The food: When Leon and his team first purchased Cafe Marmont in 2019, they kept the French cuisine intact, but after a brief makeover, they reopened with a new name and a dedication to Italian cuisines with a focus on Leon’s area of expertise: handmade pasta (do not skip the lobster spaghetti with black truffle). Carson’s cocktails are impeccably crafted whether you opt for a classic or one of his creative spins, like the caprese negroni (yes, there’s tomato and basil involved).
The cost: Starters are $8.50 - $16.50, entrees are $12.50 - $19.50, and cocktails are $15.50. They also have a five-course tasting menu option for $95/person
The gist: Chef Kelly Whitaker (the founder of Boulder’s Basta) opened this unique eatery in 2018 where seasonal ingredients, house milled grains, and playful cooking techniques come together in unexpected ways.
The food: Heritage grains milled in house take center stage here in the form of house made pasta which is a staple, although the preparations often jump the borders of global cuisines—for example, right now you’ll find both a lamb bolognese and radish kimchi fried rice on the them. Many dishes feature wood-fired and charcoal grilled elements, but the best part of the food here may be that you can always expect the unexpected.
The cost: A la carte items are available for dine in and pickup and range from $9 - $65. The Entrust omakase menu for dine-in is $90 per person.
The gist: A Texas-style BBQ hit from Karl Fallenius who spent time working under Aaron Franklin at Austin’s famed Franklin’s before bringing his smoking skills to the Mile High.
The food: Fallenius made Owlbear synonymous with stellar brisket via his original outpost behind Finn’s Manor, and after a long (but well worth it) wait finally opened a brick & mortar location. The brisket remains the best in town, and he continues to expand the selections with specials like a super craveable burger, house-made sausages, and gumbo.
The cost: Meats are available by the pound starting at $6 for a quarter pound. Sandwiches are $7 - $9 and sides come in a range of sizes starting at $4 - $6 for a small.
The gist: Known for his eponymous New Orleans restaurant, award-winning chef Alon Shaya brought his take on modern Israeli cuisine to Denver in 2018, and pita lovers all over the Mile High have rejoiced ever since.
The food: It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with this spot after just one bite of the insanely fluffy, perfectly charred wood-fired pitas. And it only gets better from there. Pair those pitas with oh-so-smooth hummus topped with decadent lamb ragu or lutenitsa, a flavorful blend of roasted eggplant, tomato, peppers, and garlic. Then move on to harissa roasted chicken or pomegranate braised lamb shanks or charred cabbage or anything really. There are no bad moves to be made here.
The cost: Starters and hummus range from $8 - $17, small plates from $8 - $16, and large plates for $37. For dine-in, you can choose from two prix-fixe menus for $50 or $70, or the weekend brunch menu for $45 per person.
The gist: After years of serving stellar ramen to the hungry masses at Uncle, owner Tommy Lee opened this Chinese powerhouse in 2015; its bold flavors continue to make it a must-visit spot today.
The food: If you still think Chinese in Denver means too-sweet beef and broccoli and chow mein, you’re missing out. The hip-hop soundtrack and high energy atmosphere pair perfectly with dishes that are ideal for sharing. Don’t skip the la ji zi (mouth-numbing—in a really, really good way, Szechuan fried chicken), bone marrow fried rice, and chilled tofu with bang bang sauce.
The cost: Plates range from $6 - $27
The gist: The first restaurant from Caroline Glover, one of Food & Wine Magazine’s ten best new chefs in America 2019.
The food: Glover’s driving goal for Annette is to make each service feel like a dinner party among friends, whether that means sharing snacks like house popcorn and chive-covered deviled eggs or conversing between bites of succotash and fresh, seasonal salads. While many items are perfect in their simplicity, like the sherry-glazed roasted half chicken, Glover’s also not afraid to tackle less common ingredients and transform them into comfort food, like the grilled beer tongue + marrow toast that’s become a staple on the menu.
The cost: Snacks are $3.25 - $4.25, plates range from $7.50 to $29.
The gist: Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine has long been lauded as one of the top eateries in the region, so when their team opened this Italian haven in the renovated Union Station in 2017, it was an instant hit.
The food: Elevated classic Italian at its best is what you’ll find here, from the burrata with trapanese pesto and the grass-fed beef carpaccio to melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with zucchini pesto. The wine here also deserves equal attention thanks to a program led by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
The cost: A selection of cicchetti (small snacks) are $4 - $8, starters are $13 - $26, pastas are $18 - $20, and entrees are $26 - $46.