The Best Places to Eat in Denver Right Now
When it comes to iconic Denver foods, one reigns supreme: green chile. And it’s true, Colorado's version of this deeply flavored dish that’s often studded with tender pork can be found all over town, smothered over burritos and burgers or eaten straight from a bowl. And if you want to know where to find two of the best versions of this Mile High must, we've got that covered. (Spoiler: Hit up Sam’s No. 3 and El Taco de Mexico.)
But if you think that green chile is all Denver’s got to offer, you’re really missing out. In the last decade, the restaurant scene started to grow faster than the weather changes around here (i.e., really fast). Just this summer, spots specializing in regional American favorites like Nashville hot chicken, Texas-style BBQ, and lobster rolls that will satisfy those New England cravings debuted.
Further down the list, you’ll find longtime favorites like the seafood pioneers at Sushi Den (you read that right) and newer instant classics like Safta, the RiNo destination from James Beard award winner Alon Shaya, where you’ll find fluffy wood-fired pita and velvety smooth hummus topped with lamb ragu. From the freshest additions to the reigning best of the best, these are the places that make dining in Denver oh-so-satisfying.
An intimate live music destination with top notch eats
Despite some confusion over the name (there’s no relation to the Roxy on Welton, though the owner says pre-opening mixups have ultimately led to a new friendship), this new addition that’s taken over the former Syntax Physic Opera space is bringing fresh energy to South Broadway. The original Roxy is located in Encinitas, California, and this new spot should be a great fit for it’s sister location. Now, you can find nightly entertainment including live music of all varieties, open mics, and jam sessions. But we’re here to talk about the food. There may be a small kitchen, but the carefully crafted selections go way beyond bar snacks. The truffle fries are large with a satisfying crunch and should not be overlooked. Pastrami sliders on a pretzel roll pair perfectly with the lineup of classic cocktails (none of which are made with more than five ingredients to ensure no backed-up bar situation). And the candied bacon on the Broadway salad is the perfect mix of sweet/salty if you want a slightly healthier option.
A welcome taste of New England in the Mile High
East coast transplants having been rejoicing ever since this addition from the group behind other Mile High darlings like Senor Bear and Bar Dough opened in July. Paneled walls made with wood sourced in Maine, lobster traps dangling from the ceiling, and plenty of coastal memorabilia give this casual counter service spot a very sea-worthy vibe. Lobster rolls start at $22 and come in several varieties including naked and Maine Shack-style (mayo, melted butter, and sea water for a legit briny kick). If you don’t want to splurge on the main (Maine?) attraction, other picks include clam dip, lobster mac & cheese, a lineup of battered and fried seafood, and even surf & turf on a bug (that’d be a burger topped with 2.5oz of lobster meat for $20).
An ode to old Denver serving up new American favorites
Located just one block from Coors Field, this spot is a welcome upscale option in an area known more for sports bars and casual dining. The building itself was one of the city’s first fire stations and is the Union Station neighborhood’s oldest structure. Inside, exposed brick hints at the building’s history while juxtaposing with distinctly sleek, modern design details. While the menu doesn’t venture far from currently trendy “new American” favorites (think burrata, fire roasted carrots, flatbreads, and short ribs), they are executed flawlessly. Our favorite dish has to be the wagyu beef tartare. It’s adorned with a perfect orb of egg yolk jam and served with what might be the Mile High’s best housemade potato chips.
Post Oak BBQBerkeley
The best of the next wave of Mile High BBQ
For a long time, people complained about the severe lack of amazing BBQ in Denver. And they were right. And to be honest, most of our BBQ joints that ARE doing nice things with the smoker are not Colorado natives (want some examples? See Roaming Buffalo and GQue). Post Oak is one of the latest, and their Texas-style ‘cue is quickly becoming a favorite. All the meats, including brisket, pork shoulder, and house made sausage is smoked over authentic post oak wood. Try them solo or opts for a taco, sandwich, or loaded potato. Pair that with a made-from-scratch side (jalapeno bacon mac & cheese, anyone?) and you’ll be ready for a Texas-sized nap.
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, larger second outpost, we think it’s got enough new restaurant 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).
The resurrected hot chicken destination
The background on this not-entirely-new restaurant is a little complicated. The OG Lou’s Food Bar was on 38th and opened in 2010. After a trip to Nashville and a lot of in-kitchen research, restaurateur Frank Bonnano added hot chicken to the Lou’s menu in 2012 where it became the eatery’s beloved signature dish. The original Lou’s closed in 2017 but an outpost called Lou’s Hot & Naked, with a sole focus on fried chicken, is a part of Bonnano’s massive food hall project Milk Market. Still with us? This summer, Bonnano closed Bones (his Congress Park ramen shop) and pulled off a quick makeover. Enter, the new Lou’s Food Bar, a causal counter-service joint where chicken is served on sandwiches and salads, in the form of tenders and nuggets, and as a Sunday night whole fried chicken special -- all available naked, medium, or hot. And all delicious.
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 and quickly gained 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, truly back. Meats are smoked for hours in two converted propane tanks then sold by the ½ lb or in sandwich form at a ridiculously good price considering the quality. Pro tip: Get there early to score a brisket sandwich ($8) and side of mac & cheese ($6) before they sell out.
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.
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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 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 trendy European-style market
Though chef Alex Seidel'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 a 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 nationally recognized scratch-to-table stand-out
Chef Caroline Glover’s name became a lot more recognizable in 2018 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.
The spot to find 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.
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.
Denver’s go-to diner for the last 20 years
In the 1920s, Sam Armatas opened several Coney Island hot dog joints in Denver, but by the late '60s, only one remained: No. 3. Flash forward to 1998, when Armatas’ three grandsons felt the pull of the family business, resurrecting a new generation of businesses. All three locations sling the same menu of American, Greek, and Mexican fare, including that iconic Coney Island-style dog smothered in red chili. The wait can be long, especially during weekend brunch, but when it comes to massive green chile-smothered breakfast burritos, home-style classics like the meatloaf melt, and wedge salads draped in chunky blue cheese and onion rings for good measure, no one does it better. Pro tip: Try the Tex-Mex chili, a mix of green and red chilis topped with cheese and onions served in a bowl with tortillas or, even better, over tots or fries.
The originators of quality seafood in Denver
Over the past 30-plus years, brothers Toshi and Yasu Kizaki have innovated Denver's sushi scene with their system daily shipments of fresh, carefully selected fish straight from Japan. Any restaurant involved in their trio (their first venture, Sushi Den, Japanese gastropub Izakaya Den with its stunning rooftop bar, and OTOTO with its raw bar and Japanese robata) deserves to be listed among Denver's best. But it's Sushi Den’s dishes like honey miso-glazed eggplant, duck udon, and platters of sushi and sashimi that make it an icon not to be missed.
The OG of responsible sourcing and whole animal butchery
Sibling duo Aileen and Paul Reilly (the same team behind Italian fave Coperta) have worked hard to develop relationships with local purveyors, highlighting the beauty of Colorado’s bounty. And they have a little fun with it too. Whether you come for the thoughtfully crafted New American cuisine or the cocktail list full of puns (how about a “Your Own Pear-sonal Jesus"?), beast + bottle is a serious affair without being precious. (Pro tip: Check out the Musical Chairs dinner series, which brings multi-course meals inspired by albums from influential musical artists.)
Creative modern cuisine with a dash of Southern charm
From the team behind Boulder’s beloved Oak, this spot has always been a go-to for great food. But now, chef Ian Palazzola (who came on board at the end of 2017) is rolling out some big menu updates. Combining his Southern upbringing with a background in fine dining that includes time at Mourad, a Michelin-starred restaurant in SF, the new menu overhaul combines comfort food with surprising touches in a lineup of totally shareable picks. From the blue-hued heirloom cornbread that’s served with red eye butter and surryano ham to castelvetrano olives served warm with small cubes of lardo, every bite of every dish is worth savoring.
Not your average Italian eatery
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a classic red sauce joint, but this small neighborhood spot that’s owned and operated by the husband and wife team of chef Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann makes Italian their own. In the kitchen, Reddy cooks up dishes with classic Italian flavor profiles alongside creative spins that use local and seasonally available ingredients and unexpected additions that often tie back to her Indian heritage. Start with a customer favorite, the CarbonArancini, a fried rice ball with Parmigiano béchamel, Tender Belly bacon served with an egg yolk and black pepper aioli, then move on to one of the seasonal specials like turmeric and chile-infused fettuccine with South Indian spiced and braised Colorado lamb shoulder. And a bonus: Strathmann is an amari master -- let him guide you to the ideal sip to end your meal right.
The famed home of the sugar steak
Some restaurants go for the retro design. Others, like this Colfax institution, are actually retro. The property has been owned by the Bastien family since 1937 when they bought the Moon Drive Inn. In 1958, that building was replaced by the current iteration which remains pretty much the same today, complete with the neon sign out front and tassel-adorned lamps. Walking inside immediately puts you in the mood for a martini, extra-dirty (this is Colfax after all). The menu is filled with old school staples, from the jumbo shrimp cocktail to the iceberg wedge salad, but it’s all about that caramelized sugar steak here. Just don’t try ordering it cooked well done. It’s served rare or medium rare only and you’ve gotta respect traditions.
Denver’s oldest restaurant (and also home to the most taxidermy)
It doesn’t get more Old West than this. The Buckhorn Exchange is a National Historic Landmark and the holder of Colorado’s first liquor license. In its long history, everyone from presidents (five of them in fact -- Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) to Hollywood icons like Bob Hope and Charleton Heston, have dined on game of all kinds here. The menu’s impressive selection of options for carnivores is rivaled only by the decor -- a huge collection of taxidermied animals that hang wall to wall. For a truly classic Colorado experience, stop by for happy hour and get an order of Rocky Mountain oysters. Yup, this old school icon of Colorado cuisine is served here, sliced, fried, and with a side of horseradish sauce for dipping.
A fried taco institution
A true staple in an area of town that’s changed a lot in the last couple of decades, this low key spot is famous for one thing: fried tacos. Sure, they also serve up plenty of other regional Mexico favorites like giant green chile smothered breakfast burritos swathed in orange cheese, but the golden-fried white corn tortilla filled with your choice of steak, beef, or chicken is the real reason Mexico City is a Mile High must, and one we hope stays around for another 40+ years.
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