Epic Meal Time’s Harley Morenstein Hits up Dallas’ Underground Food Scene
A dream team of culinary talent under one food hall roof
The food hall trend in Denver isn’t slowing down anytime soon, but the bar has been raised with the addition of this latest culinary destination. Speaking of, let’s start with the bar: a still-to-be-named 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 Biju’s Little Curry Shop and 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 that’s not 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.
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 modern Chinese eatery is upping Colfax’s culinary game
Known for its plethora of dive bars, Colfax Avene has a well-earned reputation as being a little rough around the edges. And while we hope it never polishes up, new additions like Q House inject just the right amount of fresh energy to the neighborhood. Executive chef Christopher Lin cut his teeth at Momofuku, which shows in his unapologetically complex Chinese menu. Don’t sleep on dishes like crispy pig ear salad with spicy chili oil, tongue-numbing Chongqing chicken loaded with Sichuan peppercorns, and shacha barbecue ribs, showered with fried garlic, chives and, yes, more chiles.
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.
Denver’s first chef’s counter-only restaurant
Part of a dual concept that includes daytime favorite Call, moody Beckon offers a dining experience like no other in town. With an 18-seat chef’s counter and only two seatings a night, this small spot is truly intimate. Guided by executive chef Duncan Holmes’ Scandinavian, European, and American influences, the eight-course tasting menu changes monthly with themes like The Cold Moon and the upcoming Snow Moon -- social media posts hint at alpine flavors and preparations for the latter. Afterwards head to the patio for some fireside sips, a chance to savor the evening even after the last dish is served.
Home to the city’s best house-made pastrami
Along with Rye Society, Leven is leading the deli revolution in Denver. Here, Potager alums Anthony Lygizos and Luke Hendricks opened the deli of their dreams, bringing together classic comfort and modern edge. The house-made pastrami -- a signature -- is served simply on rye with mustard, but other options include sourdough flatbread stuffed with marinated smashed chickpeas, tahini, avocado, pickled onion, and shaved radish, which feels distinctly Mediterranean. You can’t go wrong with Leven’s solid sandos, like the loaded Italian sandwich, but you can also go light with crackers, veggies, and your choice of dips like smoky paprika spread.
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 eateries ChoLon and Cho77 but with his latest European fine-dining venture LeRoux, he’s getting 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.
Grab your stretchy pants: Here's the lowdown on some of Denver's best breweries, burger joints, diners, and steakhouses.
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 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 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.
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.
Serving up Denver’s best green chile since 1985
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.
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).
Aurora, Glendale, and Central Business District
Denver’s go-to diner for the last 50 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 one of their trio of restaurants (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
Since 2013, this eatery from sibling duo Aileen and Paul Reilly (the same team behind Italian fave Coperta) has been a Denver powerhouse despite its small space. The Reillys 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.)
Modern Latin served with a side of pure fun
From the same team that’s behind new favorite Morin and Bar Dough, home to Top Chef alum Carrie Baird, Señor Bear has quickly earned its place among Denver’s best since opening in mid-2017. The vibrant atmosphere mirrors the equally vibrant dishes, like bone-in pork chops, smoked and served with a bright sweet potato orange puree. Mofongo evokes the Puerto Rican classic, with added pops of flavor and texture via green papaya slaw and mango habanero dressing. Even kale and Brussels sprouts, ingredients seemingly on every hipster menu, feel fresh and new thanks to the addition of speck, serrano, nopales, and dried mango. And on top of all that, there are straight-up craveable choices like gordo crunches (a take on the Taco Bell classic) at happy hour, a burger loaded with French fries at brunch, and the best churros in town. Yeah, you’re gonna want to visit often.
A worthy cause dishing out some of the best Mexican and Syrian food in town
In late 2016, a group of low-income immigrant women began cooking their own recipes for the public as part of a program created in partnership with Focus Points Family Resource Center. Not only does this program help women in some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods develop business skills to eventually open their own restaurants, it’s also given Denver some sincerely delicious food. From Monday through Thursday, the casual counter service lunch destination serves up Mexican cuisine; swing by on Friday for Syrian fare. Ethiopian food has entered the rotation with offerings varying daily, so follow the incubator on Facebook to catch the day’s menu. Keep an eye out for the monthly Impact dinner series, a multi-course meal highlighting special offerings with proceeds benefiting the Focus Points nonprofit.