Denver’s Best New Restaurants of 2018
Once upon a time in Denver, eating out meant literally going out for steak and potatoes. Lucky for us, that time is long, long gone. Now keeping up with the culinary scene is a nearly impossible task as new restaurants flood in seemingly as fast as new residents. But not all dining options are created equal, and you deserve the best.
Below you'll find the new must-try restaurants that opened in the Mile High in 2018 -- then keep scrolling for the always-on, essential favorites that’ve become institutions in their own right. There’s hummus and sushi and pastrami aplenty… and of course, some damn good steaks. You want comfort food? Check. Need an excuse to use some of that high school French knowledge to impress your date? There’s that too. Whatever you're craving and no matter the occasion, there’s a spot waiting to become your new favorite.
French cuisine with a modern, playful twist
The most recent addition from the Culinary Creative Group (the team behind Bar Dough, Señor Bear, and Tap & Burger) is pushing Denver’s boundaries when it comes to French dining in all the right ways. Forget the moules frites and coq au vin, you won’t even miss them. Instead, Morin takes its influence from modern French dining and while the menu can look intimidating upon first glance, the dishes that arrive boast both surprising and familiar flavors. Plus much of the menu features small plates, which makes tasting a wide variety of choices easy (and more affordable than you may think). There’s crispy sweetbread on fluffy milk bread which is the grown up sandwich of your dreams (complete with cut-off crust), oyster mousse tucked into a crisp, round pastry which evokes all the pleasure of popping very refined Combos in your mouth, and a lineup of $1.75 dessert bites that can, and should, be enjoyed right along with the savory choices.
Middle Eastern cuisine from a James Beard award-winning chef
Alon Shaya and his eponymous New Orleans restaurant made a huge splash in the culinary world complete with the awards to back it up. Now, he’s brought his take on modern Israeli eats to Denver with Safta (the Hebrew word for grandmother). The result: a spot serving up insanely fluffy wood-fired pitas, oh-so-smooth hummus topped with decadent lamb ragu, Moroccan-spiced carrots on a bed of creamy labneh, golden-hued crispy Persian rice, and much more. The cravings you’ll have for these dishes after visiting Safta are real. Our advice: just give in to the desire and dine here. Often.
Southern eats with a refined twist
This isn’t your typical heavy, fried Southern food. Instead, this spot from the husband and wife team of Kyle and Katy Foster shows off a whole other side to comfort food. Go against your instincts and order something veggie-centric, because the kitchen here excels at transforming ingredients normally relegated to side dishes into scene-stealing standouts. And if you can, snag the table upstairs to enjoy bird’s eye view of the action in the kitchen below while you sip a signature julep.
A small space packed with big, eclectic flavors
50 seats, a backyard garden, and an all-star team led by chef owner Kelly Whitaker (of Basta) make up the bones of this new addition to the dining scene. But this spot is far more than the sum of its square footage. The food coming out of the kitchen is hard to pin down with any one descriptor taking influences from both Italian and Japanese cuisine. There’s housemade pasta, but also skewers cooked over Japanese binchotan charcoal and brisket with tomatoes cooked until tender in wagyu tallow. Trendy natural wines flow from the bar, and airy piada bread rivals Denver’s other new carb-craving (that pita at Safta). The restaurant is also zero waste and the staff pools tips. But despite all the checkmarks in the “hot new restaurant” boxes, there is an authenticity to the food, the space, and the execution that makes this feel like more than just the newest shiny toy of the dining scene.
A new market with 16 venues debuts in Denver
Restaurateur Frank Bonnano has been a force in Denver for year thanks to his family of restaurants that includes Bones, Mizuna, and Luca. This year he propelled both his own presence in the Denver culinary scene and the city's trend toward food markets to a new level with the opening of Milk Market. Featuring 16 venues all run by Bonnano, the Dairy Block destination is serving up pizzas, burgers, poke, fresh pasta, hot chicken, and much more. In addition to the food options, the space also features Moo Bar, a central cocktail hub where you can settle in for sips of boozy beverages while you make a pretty tough decision - what to eat.
Latin dim sum from a local favorite
From dishwashing at Panzano to sous chef at Rioja, Dana Rodriguez has taken a culinary journey filled with learning and growth, guided largely by James Beard award-winning chef Jennifer Jasinski. At the perpetually busy Work + Class, she made a huge impression in the Mile High as executive chef. Now her latest venture (which is connected to the Ramble Hotel, aka the home of new stand-out bar Death & Co.) is giving the city something totally unique. A roving cart delivers a line up of small plates bursting with Latin flavor - think ropa vieja with plantain, fried squash blossoms, and ceviche. Taste your way through a few selections then move on to the family style meals like the stand-out hot stone fish stew that’s cooked tableside. Bottom line, the food comes quickly, the experience is fun, and the food is as delicious as you’d expect it to be coming from a seasoned kitchen vet like Rodriguez.
A classic Jewish brining big city favorites to the Mile High
Jerrod Rosen cooked under culinary legends Thomas Keller and Danny Meyer, but it’s his Aunt Selma who looks over his new venture - quite literally as a wall-sized photo of her is a feature of the decor. That photo also details Rosen’s family history in Denver’s culinary scene, from the grocery store his great grandfather once ran nearby to his parents’ time running Rosen’s Grocery store locations. Now he’s gone back to his roots and the beneficiaries are all of us. Rosen’s brought in pastrami from NYC’s Carnegie Deli which is piled high on sandwiches. He’s making pickles and matzo ball soup using old family recipes passed down over generations. The light a flaky rugelach is made by his Aunt Cindy. And Rosenberg’s, arguably the best bagels in Denver, are served with classics like lox and a selection of cream cheeses (try the horseradish, you won’t regret it. The menu is rounded out with some lighter options including a Feel Good Bowl with roasted veggies and quinoa, if you’re into that sort of thing. But even if opt to go healthy, pick up a couple of those rugelach. You will not regret it.
A destination for Spanish tapas and steak
Tapas are also central to the experience at this restaurant from Bryan Dayton ( owner of Acorn, Brider, and Oak at Fourteenth) and chef Amos Watts, but these are of the traditional Spanish variety, something that’s been lacking in the Front Range food scene. Soak in an unbeatable view of the Flat Irons while you eat your way through selections of cured meats and cheeses along with classic tapas like pan con tomate and patatas bravas. You could stop there, but you definitely shouldn’t. Corrida also has steak. Lots of steak. Including a show stopping angus tomahawk from Carter Country Meats in Wyoming and both local 7x wagyu cuts and Japanese wagyu. Wash down your feast with one of five G&Ts to complete your Basque country journey (no international flight required).
Comfort food with a classy edge
There is a time and place for trying new things, and then there’s crispy buttermilk fried chicken tenders. And Maryland-style crab cake with no filler to be found. And a big, juicy double cheeseburger with secret sauce and “way too much bacon.” These cravings will be more than satisfied at Officer’s Club, a spot that (literally) listened to what the neighborhood was asking for via focus groups then make it a reality wrapped in throwback, classic charm complete with live piano music on weekends. Make your way through the bar’s eight spins on the Old Fashioned while you dine on large portions of classic favorites that have that homemade vibe, but way, way better.
A neighborhood gem with artisitcally plated dishes and impeccable technique
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 .
A reliable, but never boring, classic
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.
A small eatery putting out big flavors
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.
Elevated comfort food and a European-style market
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.
Chinese that pushes the spicy, salty limits
If you still think Chinese in Denver means too sweet beef and broccoli and chow mein, you’ve been missing out. Owner Tommy Lee has been serving up ramen to the droves of customers that show up every night at his other hit, Uncle, for years. Now it’s Hop Alley, with a hip-hop soundtrack and high energy atmosphere matched only by the bold flavors that’s earning a whole lot of loyal followers. And once you taste the fried chicken with mouth-numbing (in a good way) Sichuan pepper and bone marrow fried rice, you’re sure to be among them.
The originators of quality seafood in Denver
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.
Classic Italian with a story waiting to be told for every dish
Elise Wiggins is anything but a newcomer after spending years heading up the kitchen at Panzano. But her solo venture that opened in early 2017 earned best new restaurant status thanks in large part to Wiggins herself. The chef’s regular trips to Italy steep each dish in personal ties and deep history. And when you visit Cattivella, you’ll likely hear at least a few of these from her passionate staff, or herself as she spends most nights cooking and chatting with guests along the longest chef’s counter in town. From fresh pastas and wood-fired pizza to the can’t miss Focaccia di Recco (an Italian cross between delicate pie crust and a cheesy quesadilla), you will want to (and you should) taste your way through the whole menu.
The nationally recognized scratch-to-table stand-out
Chef Caroline Glover’s name became a lot more recognizable this past year thanks to the fact that her first restaurant, Annette, landed on Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants list. Before opening this sleek and homey eatery, Glover worked as a sous chef at Denver’s own Acorn, as well as The Spotted Pig under April Bloomfield. But Annette’s dishes are all her own. And with wood-fired fare and farm-sourced ingredients, she’s able to turn everything, from a seemingly simple biscuit to a grilled beef tongue with marrow toast, into memorable comfort food.
Home of Denver’s best green chile
Yes, that’s a big claim. And personal preference will always rule the great Mile High green chile debate. There are as many varieties of green chile to be found in Denver as there are places that make it, but just mention the name of this low-key, counter service joint around town and mouths will begin watering as a debate begins over what’s the best go-to order. Many are loyal to the chile relleno burrito. The enchiladas are less talked about, but just as delicious. Cheek and tongue tacos are a must try. And a big bowl (‘cause you better order the large) of their green chile (you want pork), eaten alone or spooned over the “special breakfast” of eggs, rice, beans, ham, bacon, and potato is the epitome of craveable, Denver-style Mexican.
Stellar sushi with a bonus subterranean izakaya
This spot from chef Corey Baker (aka the man behind the much loved Sushi Ronin) is like three restaurants in one. In the main dining room, you can settle in for expertly crafted sushi, sashimi, and other small, shareable plates. Then there’s the sushi bar where you can watch the chefs in action. Downstairs, you’ll discover a darker vibe along with a different menu featuring items like ramen, karaage (Japanese fried chicken), and skewers cooked on a binchotan grill. And if you’re a whiskey lover, their large collection featuring more affordable choices alongside super rare bottles deserves your full attention.
Italian cuisine and impeccable wine pairings from the team behind Boulder’s Frasca
Dining here makes you feel taken care of, in every way. The sophisticated interior is your first sign that this is a place ready to impress. The service will lock you in, and the Italian eats will leave you craving a return visit asap. Stop by for happy hour for a quick introduction to the spot with an array of cicchetti priced between $2-$4. Then really get to know the place over dinner with a generous serving of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with lamb ragu or grilled branzino brighted with citrus and fennel. But whatever you do, listen to your server, because they are primed and ready to guide you through a stellar dining experience.
Spanish and Portuguese pintxos and tapas from one of the city’s most celebrated chefs
Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Euclid Hall, and Bistro Vendôme have all been lauded as some of the Mile High’s best. They are also all part of the Crafted Concepts restaurant group, as is this new addition headed up by James Beard winning chef Jennifer Jasinski. The menu offerings include an entire section of gin and tonics to choose from, some of the best hams in the world, and a litany of small plates that are meant for sharing (though you’ll have a hard time giving up those bites).
The lighter side of a dual restaurant concept
This small spot serving up coffee, pastries, and other daytime eats got a whole lot of buzz. And it’s well deserved. A pork and fried egg sandwich will have you rethinking all your past bacon or sausage debates, and the aebleskivers, a donut-hole like Danish treat, have become a signature dish no matter what variety is on offer. Next door, Beckon, Call’s sister restaurant, just opened. It’s Denver’s first chef’s counter-only restaurant serving eight course meals over two seatings four nights a week. As Beckon brings a whole new approach to dining in this city and Call continues to wow with it’s ever-changing offerings, expect more big things from this team in 2019.
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