Courtesy of Osaka Ramen

Jeff Osaka

Osaka Ramen

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After six years, Jeff Osaka's Twelve closed in August, but its shuttering didn’t signify an ending. Instead, it was a sign of progress. Denver’s progressing quickly, and chefs need to be ready to adapt. Osaka's proven he can do just that. The location just reopened as a fresh concept called 12 at Madison. He was also one of the men behind our favorite new havens, the Denver Central Market, which is home to a number of vendors including Jesus Silva and Osaka's Silva's Fish Market. As if that wasn't enough, his conveyor belt sushi spot, Sushi-Rama, has three more locations planned for 2017 and Osaka Ramen continues to serve up piping hot bowls of rich, noodly satisfaction in RiNo. All of this adds up to one busy man who continues to show off his culinary skills in an array of diverse destinations.

Justin Brunson

Masterpiece Kitchen

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Denver fell hard in pork-studded love with this chef soon after he opened Old Major, but this year Justin Brunson continued to prove that his skills reach far behind his Highlands hotspot. 2016 kicked off with major buzz for Brunson thanks to his weekday lunch-only popup, Royal Rooster, which serves up fried chicken sandwiches that rival all others. That was followed by the opening of Masterpiece Kitchen in May (order the pastrami). When the Denver Central Market opened in September, it was meat cones from Brunson's Culture Meat & Cheese that took over Instagram, and in October, he headed for the Beard House in NYC for a Pork-a-Palooza feast. Whatever comes next for this cured meat loving chef, you can be sure we'll be there devouring it.  

Biju's Little Curry Shop

Biju Thomas

Biju's Little Curry Shop

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Curtis Park

With a popular location in RiNo and a new outpost on Tennyson, you've likely grabbed a flavor-packed, soul warming bowl from Biju's Little Curry Shop. But what you may not know is that Biju Thomas himself is a one man fast-casual genius. In a world of salads, burritos, and burgers, he perfected a lineup of Southern-style Indian offerings which are customizable and served up fast for the quick meal you never knew you needed. In addition to the new stand location, Thomas also brought his tasty creations to the Boulder location of Whole Foods this year, an experiment that was so successful you'll soon be able to order up Biju's at two Denver-area locations as well (Cherry Creek and Tamarac). Thomas' vision for Biju's extends beyond Colorado too, and with food as delicious as his, this "little" spot has a big future.

Courtesy of Troy Guard

Troy Guard

Mister Tuna

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Five Points

From burgers and tacos to steaks and Chinese, if you've got a craving, Troy Guard likely has a restaurant where you can satisfy it (TAG, TAG Burger Bar, Sugarmill, Guard & Grace). Even before this year, his collection of eateries was impressive, but 2016 brought several new additions to Guard's lineup that captured our attention. There was a quick makeover of Bubu's Lowry location as it transformed to Lucky Cat (Guard's spin on Chinese), and a new location of Los Chingones in the Tech Center giving the southern suburbs hope for more tasty options. But the stand out is Mister Tuna, Guard's ode to his Hawaiian upbringing with wood fired and rotisserie meats and a healthy lineup of seafood dishes including poke, mussels, and whole roasted sea bream. And now he's already kicking off 2017 with the announcement of a new breakfast spot, Hashtag, coming soon. No matter what type of cuisine he's selling, we'll be there, hungry and ready to eat whatever this chef-restaurateur is cooking up.

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1. The Denver Central Market 2669 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Five Points)

Housed in the 12,000sqft, restored H.H. Tammen Curio Company building, The Denver Central Market is an open-air gourmet market, food hall, and neighborhood community space in RiNo. From restaurateur Jeff Osaka, the market features about a dozen vendors -- local butchers, confectioners, coffee roasters, bread bakers, and fish markets among them. Stop in for an afternoon of sampling products from some of Denver’s best culinary talent, grab a glass of wine, grocery shop, or all of the above.

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2. Silva's Fish Market 2669 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Five Points)

Located in The Denver Central Market, Silva’s Fish Market is one of the most trusted fish vendors in the city. Co-founded by Jeff Osaka of Osaka Ramen, Sushi Rama, and the Central Market itself, Silva’s provides Denver’s restaurants and diners with fresh fish, any way you like it. Pick your favorite looking whole fish from the lot, and let the fishmongers show off their skill as they scale and filet it for your dinner. Indulge in freshly-shucked oysters, ceviche, or tostadas from the market while your dinner is being broken down and packed up by some of Denver’s best.

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3. Sushi-Rama 2615 Larimer St, Denver, CO (Five Points)

When designing the concept of RiNo’s Sushi-Rama, Jeff Osaka set out to change the perception that Kaiten or “conveyor belt sushi” relies on lower-grade fish to build its rolls and sashimi. To combat this flagrant social misconception, Osaka sources fish from Central Market to ensure quality and employs microchip-embedded plates -- they alert the kitchen when the plate has circled the belt one too many times and needs to be removed -- to ensure optimal freshness. The conveyor belt is undoubtedly the focal point of the colorful main dining room, rotating teeny, color-coded-by-price plates of nigiri and specialty rolls -- like the Hama Rama filled with crab mix, scallop, and cucumber, topped with yellowtail, kaiware, shishito peppers, and macho sauce -- as well as hot kitchen dishes like spicy rock shrimp. Thankfully, Sushi-Rama has managed to maintain a low price point, so once your plates are tallied at meal’s end, the resulting bill (hopefully) won’t be cringe-worthy.

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4. Osaka Ramen 2611 Walnut St, Denver, CO 80205

Jeff Osaka’s urban, underground noodle bar has an Asian food-friendly wine list, izakaya-inspired small plates, and of course, ramen, all of which reflect the Chef/Owner’s painstaking R&D. The ramen menu is replete with lighter, chicken-based shio (salt) and shoyu (soy-flavored) broths; medium-textured miso broth made with chicken and pork; and bold, whole-hog tonkotsu broth -- each distinguished by its own mix of toppings, from braised pork shoulder to black-garlic oil. Don't fret, plant-eaters, there’s a meatless alternative, but you really don’t know what you're missing from the juxtaposition of velvety pork belly paired with a perfectly soft egg.

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5. 12 @ Madison 1160 Madison St, Denver, CO 80206 (Congress Park)

After a two year stint in the Ballpark neighborhood, Chef/Owner Jeff Osaka's Twelve comes back to life, in a different location, and under a different name. 12 @ Madison is Congress Park’s revamped iteration of the fine-dining restaurant, with a casual atmosphere, craft cocktails, and a carefully curated wine list. The menu shifts seasonally rather than monthly — as it did in its last location — and features small plates listed in order from lightest to heaviest, with three sub-categories of each for an easy navigation. Osaka sources ingredients locally and internationally (like bread from popular local bakers or Prosciutto from Italy), as well as dishware. The ramekins, bowls, and other serving items are crafted by a local ceramic artist, with the purpose of making diners feel almost like they’re eating in the comfort of Chef Jeff Osaka’s own home from the sunny dining room in Congress Park.

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6. Old Major 3316 Tejon St, Denver, CO 80211 (Highland)

Located in a rustic, farmhouse-style space, Old Major -- named after the advising pig in George Orwell's Animal Farm -- is "dedicated to seafood, swine, and wine." Restaurateur Justin Brunson's Highland Park eatery sources sustainable seafood (read: not the farmed stuff from China), has in-house butchery and charcuterie programs, and an extensive wine list (note: every bottle is half-off on Sundays). The menu often changes, but one dish reigns throughout: the Nose to Tail. Let's just say it's a heaping pile of pork (of varying cuts, cures, and preparations) on a plate, and it's not to be missed.

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7. Royal Rooster 3316 Tejon St, Denver, CO 80211 (Highland)

Located inside Restaurateur Justin Brunson's Old Major, Royal Rooster is a lunch-only chicken sandwich-and-canned beer pop-up. It draws lunchtime crowds to the bar at Old Major with its hearty, innovative creature comforts, like the ever-popular fried chicken from its host's dinner menu, but in sandwich form with various toppings (get the Classic Rooster with pickles and mayo, the Korean with kimchi and Kewpie mayo, the Spicy with pickles and Sriracha mayo, or the French with ham, swiss, and mayo) on a soft Martin's potato bun. The menu is limited to just a few options beyond the Roosters, and yes, there is cheeseburger.

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8. Culture Meat & Cheese 2669 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Five Points)

Located in The Denver Central Market, Culture Meat & Cheese is Chef/Restaurateur Justin Brunson’s artisanal meat and cheese retail shop, featuring products from around the world, a selection of his own house-cured meats, and the accoutrements and cultured goods necessary to enjoy them properly. Stop by and pick up a ready-made meat and cheese board, get your sandwich wrapped up to go, or stick around the market and enjoy an abbreviated menu at the Culture counter for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. No matter what you do, don’t leave without a meat cone — a paper cup full of shaved, cured meat — because meat just tastes better when served out of a cone.

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9. Masterpiece Kitchen 84 Rampart Way, Denver, CO 80230

From Chef Justin Brunson of Masterpiece Deli, Old Major, and Royal Rooster comes Masterpiece Kitchen, a neighborhood restaurant in Lowry devoted to comfort. Local Colorado ingredient are sourced for his menu, which is chock-full of culinary creature comforts like kale and artichoke dip, a classic burger with McDonald’s-esque fries, and Key lime pie. Brunson also includes favorites from other endeavors, like Royal Rooster’s fried chicken sandwich served on the same squishy bun.

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10. Biju's Little Curry Shop 1441 26th St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

Biju's Little Curry Shop is a dhaba-style, fast-casual Indian joint in RiNo with a heat index that will induce sweat in even the highest of tolerant tongues. The menu is packed with southern Indian-style ingredients and curries, with flavors equally as vibrant as the turquoise-yellow-fuscia-colored space in which it lives. According to Guy Fieri, standouts include biryani with beef and vindaloo (extra hot) chicken. Cool off with a frosty beer, you're going to need it.

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11. Mister Tuna 3033 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216 (Five Points)

RiNo’s Mister Tuna is an American restaurant, specifically inspired by Hawaiian-style wood-fire grilling. With favorites like the King Crab with local apple, brown butter, and black lava salt, Chef Troy Guard’s menu includes raw bar, appetizer, and entrée options that emphasize produce, cheeses, and meats. The 3,500-square-foot space is lined with garage doors on one side and a large, open kitchen on the other, with a bar stretching the length of the room. The beverage program includes six beers on tap and a series of meticulously crafted cocktails for your sipping pleasure.

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12. Lucky Cat 7559 E Academy Blvd, Denver, CO 80230

A part of Chef Troy Guard’s TAG Restaurant Group empire, the one-time Bubu is now Lowry’s Lucky Cat (not to worry, Bubu is still up and running, in full force, on Larimer). Lucky Cat’s menu is inspired by the time Chef Guard spent living in Asia. With dim-sum share plates like Cantonese-style barbecue pork shoulder bao buns, sushi, lo mein, ramen and Dan Dan noodle bowls, and Thai chili-infused vodka cocktails, the food and drink proffer cover a variety of regions of Asian cuisine regions from its sunny post in Lowry.

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13. Guard and Grace 1801 California St, Denver, CO 80202

In a huge, bright space that sprawls out to a patio and includes three private dining rooms, Guard and Grace's expert staff delivers the likes of grilled beef short ribs, raw bar oysters, and solid wine selections. It's not just the myriad chops (including a filet mignon flight) that make it a stunner; the kitchen conceives of everything on the seasonal menu with care and flair then executes it just as beautifully -- breads, salumi, starters, seafood, sides, exquisite desserts, and all. This is one of Denver’s best restaurants, period.

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14. TAG Restaurant 1441 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202 (Lodo)

The sign on the storefront reads TAG: Continental Social Food. From Chef/Restaurateur Troy Guard, TAG is a hip, eclectic restaurant in Larimer Square. Small plates -- listed on the menu as “Social Beginnings” -- are comprised of bold flavors from local, fresh ingredients, resounding in Guard’s innovative vision of today’s New American cuisine, like fried oyster bao buns with bacon, squash, and Asian pear slaw, or kobe been sliders with gorgonzola aioli and duck fat fries. The raw bar features hamachi, crudo, and intricate sushi rolls, and the larger, composed plates are categorized by protein (or vegetable). The Larimer Square eatery is Colorado-inspired, globally-influenced, and always crowded.

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15. TAG Burger Bar 1222 Madison St, Denver, CO 80206 (Congress Park)

From acclaimed Denver Restaurateur Troy Guard, TAG Burger Bar is a neighborhood bar and grill with high-quality, inventive burgers, craft beers, and elevated New American food. Customize your own burger and mac and cheese -- build on the base (a1/3lb burger and pasta with cheese sauce and Goldfish-Cheez-it topping), with proteins, veggies, and various sauces. With 20 craft beers and seemingly endless burger and mac options, you may never have the same meal twice.

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16. Los Chingones 2461 Larimer Street #102, Denver, CO 80205 (Five Points)

Located in downtown RiNo, Los Chignons is a bi-level, modern Mexican restaurant and lounge from Colorado Restaurateur Troy Guard. The contemporary taqueria features creative and unexpected Mexican street snacks and cocktails like salsa flights, pig ear nachos, and octopus tacos, and a tequila cocktail with Mexican coke... and pop rocks. You can stick to the basics in food and drink -- vegetarian options are also on offer -- or take an adventure into Guard’s “badass Mexican” cuisine with a Beergarita (it is exactly as it sounds) to accompany your rattlesnake chorizo queso fundido.

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17. Sugarmill 2461 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

Though Sugarmill is, as its name suggests, a dessert mecca, it is also a destination for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The brainchild of Chef Troy Guard, Sugarmill features sundaes made with a fresh brioche donut base topped with caramel ice cream, warm caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and candied nuts as well as baked Alaska with blueberry compote and a pumpkin cheesecake mille feuille. Savory menus include selections of small bites like fried green tomatoes with burrata and ginseng chicken soup and large plates like handmade pastas and chipotle-glazed meatloaf.



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