MCCALL BURAU PHOTOGRAPHY
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Denver Right Now

Published On 10/04/2017
Justin Lee

Acorn

Five Points

Technically, the name refers to the kitchen’s focus on oak wood-fired cooking. But it’s pretty fitting for a place that stands so tall and mighty among Denver’s top-tier destinations -- and that just keeps growing on you with every visit. At first glance, chef-partner Steven Redzikowski’s seasonal repertoire doesn’t seem so wildly different from that of countless other contemporary kitchens: you've got your pork belly, your short ribs, and your handmade gnocchi. But the distinction’s in the details: that gnocchi, for instance, sports a startling combination of butternut squash, chanterelles, and lemon confit in creamy onion sauce. And the cocktails are smarter than you are.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Bittersweet

Wash Park

From the cool-toned, streamlined decor, to the suave service and the painterly compositions on your plate, dining at chef-owner Olav Peterson’s hidden-in-plain-sight neighborhood gem is like visiting a modern art gallery. Only instead of pretending to appreciate how an all-white canvas represents the decline of civilization, you can actually appreciate silken fresh pastas, salads like tiny flowering gardens, and the revelation that is properly cooked roast chicken, washed down with a beer from Estonia or Spain that you’ve never tried .

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Guard and Grace

Downtown

When a chef celebrated for his globe-spanning imagination announces he’s opening a straight-up beef barn in a Downtown office tower, you’d be smart to smell a cash grab in the making. But you can be smart and wrong -- and in Troy Guard’s case, you would be. His steakhouse combines all the glitter and polish of your average Financial District destination with what feels like a genuine desire to please on the part of the entire detail-oriented staff. The result is relaxing yet exciting, comfy yet sexy, from the first bite of venison tartare through the wine-paired filet mignon flight, and the last crumb of cake from pastry talent Ryan Walker.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Rebel Restaurant

Five Points

Rooster-shaped ceramic pitchers and skull wallpaper, wooden planters full of herbs and Slayer graffiti, all coming together in a dusty old brick building that used to house a dive bar: this place is as metal as farm-to-table gets. And that goes double for the menu; it's as dynamic and downright ballsy as any Denver’s ever seen. While the signature whole roasted pig’s or lamb’s head warrants all the hype it’s generating, there isn’t a dish that doesn’t change whatever game it’s playing, from s**t on a shingle gone glam with brioche and walnuts in wine sauce, to a twist on poutine featuring fried tripe and foie gras gravy. The beer, wine, and cocktail lists are thrill-filled too.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Stoic & Genuine

Northwest

Rioja’s a pioneer (and better than ever). Bistro Vendôme’s a classic. Euclid Hall’s a pure blast. But Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch’s dazzling, buzzing seafood smash hit in Union Station already feels like a legit icon -- a Grand Central Oyster Bar for Mile High cool kids. After all, Chef Jorel Pierce is a cool kid himself, so while oysters on the half-shell and lobster rolls are forever, ever-changing originals like octopus mortadella, tuna tartare in chai vinaigrette with maple giardiniera, and live uni with lychee shaved ice from Stoic’s dedicated granita bar are really where it’s at, followed by freaking foie gras crème brûlée with fried rosemary.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Table 6

Southwest

Considering owner-sommelier Aaron Forman’s an ex-dog musher, the fact that a meal at this consummate neighborhood bistro remains full of surprises after a decade-plus shouldn’t itself come as any surprise. Chef Michael Winston takes the trademark playfulness of its New American menu seriously, which means at any given time you might get kimchi-Brie crepes, or yam kugel with the signature duck confit, or knock back some tater tots in fondue while you’re waiting for a foie gras tart with creamed spinach and pickled mushrooms. And the wine list’s still the vinous equivalent of the Iditarod: wide-ranging and racy.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

To the Wind Bistro

East Colfax

In a barely there East Colfax storefront, Royce Oliveira, Leanne Adamson, and their tiny crew serve up a slice of the good life with such intelligence, skill, and verve that, immensely satisfying as it is, you can’t get enough. Not so much a restaurant with an open kitchen as a kitchen surrounded by some tables and chairs, the twinkling two-room space sets a casually intimate mood enhanced by the chance to interact with the easygoing Oliveira while he’s cooking -- and whatever’s he’s cooking, you’ll want it, be it perfectly pan-fried whiting with crème fraîche, rye croutons and golden raisins, or luscious chicken and dumplings in mussel broth.

Courtesy of Work & Class

Work & Class

Five Points

“Hey, wanna go eat in a shipping container?” A few years ago, that may have seemed like an odd question, but this small (albeit mighty) restaurant has become a fast favorite landing on basically every “best of” list since it opened in early 2014. All the main proteins are available in varying portions so you can mix and match, or just go for a full pound of the tender cabrito (roasted goat) so the whole table can gorge on this must-order tender meat. Try it alongside sides like the green chile goat cheese green or, sneak out the office early and head in eats like the Colorado lamb al pastor torta which are only available on the happy hour menu.

Courtesy of Populist

The Populist

Five Points

Though it’s relatively new (it opened in 2012), The Populist somehow always feels like a classic. That’s not to say it’s not on trend: locally sourced ingredients, check; community tables, check; hip location in the hottest neighborhood, check. But while this restaurant is undeniably stylish, it’s also just damn delicious. So even though there are new options opening up in Denver every week, we’re sure you’ll regret it if you don’t stop in soon for its deceptively simple monikered bacon & egg or its newest seasonal take on agnolotti.

Courtesy of Old Major

Old Major

Highland

Old Major Executive Chef and owner Justin Brunson is undeniably the king of meat in Denver. He’s launched the Denver Bacon Company and opened Masterpiece Deli, the fast-casual Honor Society, and recently added Masterpiece Kitchen in Lowry, too. But it’s Old Major that remains a can’t-miss thanks to its in-house butchery and charcuterie programs, as well as a consistent ability to turn out perfected plates. Whether it’s the famous nose-to-tail platter or a delicate, flaky cheddar biscuit, whatever you get will not disappoint.

Courtesy of beast + bottle

beast + bottle

Uptown

Relationships can be a lot of work, right? But (usually) you’re only involved in one at a time. At Beast + Bottle, though, there are countless relationships being managed all of the time. From the local purveyors who supply the restaurant with an ever-changing lineup of fresh ingredients to the diners who are each treated to a dose of old-school hospitality on every visit, everything is orchestrated flawlessly by the team of Paul and Aileen Reilly, who have yet another kind of relationship: they’re brother and sister.

McCall Burau Photography

Mercantile Dining & Provision

LoDo

Though Chef Alex Siedel’s Fruition is a perennial Mile High favorite, it’s his addition to the redesigned Union Station that's become a hotspot thanks to creative dishes elevated with fresh ingredients served in a bustling atmosphere. Nothing here is ever boring -- even trendy ingredients like shisito peppers get a memorable boost from sesame caramel and crispy pig’s ears. As Mercantile's name denotes, you can do more than just dine here. Be sure to browse their selection of charcuterie, preserved goods and more, or pick up a coffee and sandwich to go from the counter.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

The Plimoth

City Park

This restaurant touts a qualifier after its name: “neighborhood eatery.” If only all neighborhoods had a place like this. But no matter where you live in Denver, don’t wait to dine here. The menu changes constantly, offering up new takes on ingredients each time you visit. Right now you'll find dishes like country style pork rillette and Toulouse sausage and smoked pork belly with horseradish gnocchi. No matter what you get, don't skip dessert. The offerings always go beyond the average sweets. Head in this summer to try the blueberries and sweet corn with a cornmeal cookie, cornbread gelato, pastry cream and maple caramel corn.

Courtesy of Onefold

Onefold

Uptown

We fell in love with it when it only served breakfast and brunch dishes, but now that they offer lunch, we're really hooked. The globally inspired additions include chicken adobo and carne asada. These join items like ultra-comforting congee, a savory rice porridge that’s popular in Asian countries, and a breakfast burrito complete with duck fat fried potatoes. Duck fat, in fact, is used to cook many dishes here and it's addictive powers alone are enough to keep us coming back.

Courtesy of Cart Driver

Cart-Driver

RiNo

Another place that’s proving that a small space can produce big flavors is this pizza and oysters mecca. With only a handful of tables, a 1,000-degree wood-fired oven, and a knack for turning something simple into something memorable, Cart-Driver is anything but just another pizza joint. And though chefs Andrew Van Stee and Eric Cimino are well-versed in Italian techniques, they're also committed to using local ingredients whenever possible. The result: food that will have you coming back no matter the season.

Ruth Tobias/Thrillist

Bar Dough

Highlands

With a team that includes the owners of a local-burger favorite (Juan and Katie Padro of Highland Tap & Burger) and acclaimed former Squeaky Bean chef Max MacKissock, expectations were high and, well, they've definitely delivered. From elegant antipasti like the grilled octopus to house made pastas, hearty mains and flawless wood fired pizzas, every dish is impressive. Order one of their spritzes (try the grapefruit basil) with house made limoncellos and relax. You made the right decision coming here.

Dag Larson

Hop Alley

Five Points

Hop Alley is another recent addition to the Denver dining scene (it opened in December 2015), but owner Tommy Lee is no newcomer. He's been serving up ramen to the droves of customers that show up every night at his other hit, Uncle, for years. So it's no surprise that this new venture is already a favorite among those that enjoy eating fried chicken with mouth-numbing (in a good way) Sichuan pepper and bone marrow fried rice. And really, who doesn't?

Courtesy of Cho77

Cho77

Baker

Chef Lon Symensma's ChoLon is a Denver classic, but with Cho77, he's embraced a more casual atmosphere which is a perfect fit with this eatery's Southeast Asian street food inspired eats. The combination makes for an energetic dining experience, transporting you with the scent of curry, ginger and chiles as dishes are cooked in the space's open kitchen. A mixture of classic favorites like green papaya salad and pad see ew along with more creative options like the red curry fritters makes dining here an adventure that we're more than happy to go on often.

Adam Larkey Photography

Mizuna

Capitol Hill

Chef Frank Bonanno's Denver restaurant empire includes plenty of spots that are beloved, but right now, it's Mizuna that stands out. Since 2001, this restaurant has been serving up creative American cuisine using French techniques. It's all about indulgence here, with dishes like pan roasted foie gras and their often lauded lobster mac and cheese. Planning for a special occasion? With an intimate setting, stellar service and impeccably executed food should put this eatery at the top of your list.

Adam Larkey Photography

Izakaya Den

Southwest

Over the past 30+ years, The Kizaki brothers (Toshi and Yasu) have innovated Denver's sushi scene with their system of having fresh, carefully selected fish shipped in daily from Japan. Any one of their trio of restaurants (the iconic Sushi Den, recently relaunched OTOTO, and Izakaya Den) deserves to be listed among Denver's best. But it's Izakaya Den's sheer beauty that has us swooning this summer, especially the stunning rooftop bar. There's no other place we'd rather sip sake while enjoying dishes like curried diver scallops and, of course, sashimi.

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