There’s no better way to ring in a new decade than by gorging yourself on the best food our beautiful city has to offer. Over the past year, the definition of dining in Denver has shifted to a food hall-heavy, dumpling-and pita-loving celebration of variety. The phrase “best new restaurants” is no longer synonymous with “best fancy place to take a date.”
Instead they include a food truck with a cult following, an off-the-beaten path Vietnamese delight with a 42-page menu, and even a barbecue joint -- finally smoked meats are rising to the top of the culinary scene in a town where crave-worthy barbecue was absent since the days of the Old West. It truly is a great time to eat out in Denver, and these new additions to the dining scene offer all the proof you’ll ever need.
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Capitol Hill A dream team of culinary talent under one food hall roof The food hall trend is still going strong as we roll into 2020, but it was this one that truly raised the bar. Speaking of, let’s start with the bar. It’s an oasis located in the center of the action where floral apron-clad staff will guide you through a selection of cocktails designed to be paired with the eclectic dining options. And what options they are. From a new location to score Justin Brunson’s much-loved Royal Rooster fried chicken sandwiches (and one of the best burgers in town), to both thin and thick Roman-style pizza from Paul Riley and the Coperta/Beast + Bottle team, as well as doner kebab from chef Daniel Asher and Josh Dinar at Mother Tongue. And those aren’t even all the options. Plus there’s an actual beer wall with 24 taps that pour your selected amount from the bottom up. Have you left the house yet? We’ll meet you there.
LoHi Isreali eats from a heavy-hitting culinary team What do Ash’Kara, Morin, Senor Bear, and Bar Dough have in common? Two things actually. They’ve all previously held a place on this list and they’ve all come from the same team that’s helping to push Denver’s culinary foundation to delicious new heights. This Middle Eastern venture technically opened in late December 2018, but does a technicality really matter when it comes to puffy pitas, cooked-to-order over wood-oven flames and perfect for dipping into a bubbling cast iron skillet of saganaki? We think not. As you eat your way through options like the whole Alamosa striped bass (a nod to Colorado), make sure to save room for a dessert cookie tray -- because why should you have to choose between baklava, brittle, and brownies?
Athmar Park Featuring a massive lineup of traditional Vietnamese dishes Fans of New Saigon take note. Savory Vietnam, which quietly opened in January of this year in the former King’s Land space near Pacific Ocean Mercantile, is run by chef An Nguyen, the daughter of New Saigon’s original owners. The menu comes in the form of a small book, with 42 pages (seriously) of dishes that range from the familiar (pho, noodle bowls, fried rice) to the harder to find (snails sauteed with lemongrass, garlic, coriander, and coconut milk, or squid and pork belly in a spicy fermented shrimp paste). You’re best play? Come with a group that likes to share so you can sample as many options as possible.
Washington Park West The second incarnation of Denver’s favorite ramen shop Maybe Uncle’s new location isn’t technically a brand new restaurant. After all, the original location in LoHi has had a line out the door for favorites like their spicy chicken ramen and steamed bun since it opened in 2012. But with a dozen new menu additions exclusive to this freshly opened second outpost, we think it’s got enough new vibes to earn a spot here. The old favorites are as good as ever in the new digs, but do yourself (and your tastebuds) a favor and explore the new additions, which include snackable fried mushrooms with house made hot sauce, an anything-but-traditional spin on shrimp cocktail with spicy pepper marinade and sweet chili sauce, and three new spins on mazemen (brothless ramen).
Rino The long-awaited brick & mortar location of Denver’s best destination for brisket Back in 2015, Karl Fallenius (who spent time working under Aaron Franklin at Austin’s famed Franklin’s) started serving barbecue out of a food truck at Finn’s Manor, quickly gaining a cult following. In 2017, that outpost closed and news of a permanent spot nearby on Larimer circulated among his smoked meat-seeking followers. More than two years later, Owlbear is really back. Meats are smoked for hours in two converted propane tanks then sold by the ½ lb or in sandwich form at a ridiculously great price considering the quality. Pro tip: Get there early to score a brisket sandwich ($6) and side of mac & cheese ($2.50) before they sell out.
Union Station 16th Street Mall gets gussied up with a local chef’s European fine-dining project Chef Lon Symensma is well known around town for his Asian-style restaurants, ChoLon and Cho77, but with this European fine-dining venture, he went back to his roots. Symensa is putting a modern twist on classic cuisine, like a delicately layered king trumpet mushroom mille-feuille, or Wagyu beef tartare, served under a glass dome that releases a puff of smoke. Stay for dessert, a show unto itself (the baked Alaska is lit aflame tableside).
Various locations The handmade dumpling food truck with a cult following They don’t have a website. They don’t have a storefront. But they do have dumplings worth waiting in line for. This food truck from chef Penelope Wong has changed the way Denverites eat mobile food. How, you implore us? With an amazing social media buzz that has resulted in crowds gathering wherever Wong’s slinging dumplings that day. From brewery stops to sold out pop-ups at Old Major, she seems to be everywhere, rain, snow, or shine, ready to please her adoring fans. Delicate, hand-folded chili wontons with spicy kicks have quickly become this food truck’s signature item, but your best bet is to order (at least) one of everything on the menu.
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Molly Martin is a Denver-based freelance writer who spends all year eating out as much as possible just for you. You’re welcome. Follow her @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram for copious photos of fried chicken.