Boundlessly energetic, marking its territory everywhere, and growing faster in three months than most cities see in three years, the Denver dining scene is a wild, slobbery puppy off its leash. Since early October, when we last rounded up our favorite new restaurants and bars, there have been dozens of openings, with dozens more on the way; here are 18 you need to check out pronto (including a few that snuck in under the wire for our Best of 2015).
As of January 5th, the The POST Brewing Company’s much-awaited quick-casual offshoot will be rustling up its killer fried chicken, biscuits, and pie -- plus grub you can’t get at the flagship, like dirty fries with roast pork and hot-pepper relish or egg-salad BLTs -- alongside house brews and rum slushies.
In a slick, light-filled two-story space, Pop Art-style graphics and turquoise-and-orange furnishings set the tone for this update on the all-day diner, which serves exactly what you’d expect from the name: tofu loaf and matzoh balls. Just kidding, it's bacon lots and lots of bacon -- crumbled into biscuits and over pancakes, layered on burgers and wrapped around shrimp, and infused into just about every condiment ever (salad dressings, caramel sauce, jam, butter) as well as several cocktails. There’s even a beer-and-bacon pairing on the happy-hour menu, because why wouldn’t there be?
You could probably root around Max MacKissock’s trash and wind up with a better meal than you could cook yourself, which is something we were actually starting to consider. Good thing for us (and our clean rap sheet) that he’s finally back in action at this stylish modern Italian spot, turning out salads, velvety pastas, and primo pizzas. Kick back with some antipasti and an Aperol-limoncello spritz, a quartino of the vino della casa, or a house-made coffee cream soda, and you’ve got it about as good as Marcello Mastroianni up there on the TV behind the bar, swanning around Rome with Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimée.
It’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone, but it’s also true that you don’t know what you’re getting until you get it -- which is to say that Acorn’s new sibling is a lot more than any of us bargained for. Come morning, this sleek, breezy cafe puts out a spread of pastries, loaded English muffins and bagels, and specialties like breakfast pizza and sausage-cheese pretzels to accompany fresh juices and coffee drinks; for lunch and dinner, its rotisserie churns out meats so succulent you’ll need at least two beers and six napkins (we counted) to fully savor sandwiches like the porchetta, dripping with melted cheddar and kimchi, or plates featuring leg of lamb or herb-rubbed chicken. You’ll also need at least one bag of cheese crackers and a cookie or two, and then you’ll need to come back tomorrow for cocktails and meatballs. Now you know.
Once upon a time, a honcho at Del Frisco’s corporate HQ tasked his team with designing a casual, affordable alternative to the steakhouse chain -- “something fresh and hip,” he likely demanded -- and lucky for them (and their job security) they nailed it with this modern, high-energy concept. Guilty pleasures like cheesesteak egg rolls and the textbook double cheeseburger are a given paired with easygoing cocktails like the gin-based Kilt Lifter splashed with St. Germain and Tabasco, but we could make a weekly habit of the Wednesday special that is thick, creamy tomato bisque and a fat grilled cheese on challah toast.
Over the years, chef Sean Kelly’s cult following has probably felt a little like the passengers in that one scene in Airplane! running from gate to gate as the runaway jet slides across the tarmac. But he’s once again come to a stop at this cozy, low-lit neighborhood tavern, where he’s dishing up an eclectic mix of small plates, from luscious potted salmon to extra-crispy Brussels sprouts with smoked-paprika aioli, to accompany an equally tidy yet varied selection of craft beers and wines by the glass.
If this place were a person, it’d be like a cross between Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, and Dolly Parton. Very strange looking, part honky-tonk, part smokehouse, part block party, all lowbrow fun.
Besides being hilariously fun to say 10 times fast, a “Hong Kong dai pai dong” is what inspired this follow-up to Uncle, and the result is an instant smash hit with all the grit of the humble, bustling street-food stalls it takes after, but all the panache you’d expect from chef-owner Tommy Lee. From tender, shredded Beijing duck wrapped in crispy scallion pancakes to salt-and-pepper soft shell crabs, every last dish is a winner, but don’t sleep on the rice cakes sliced and tossed with richly savory ground pork in oyster sauce. Likewise, while the cocktails couldn’t be more crazy awesome -- smoked tea, sesame oil, salted grapefruit and all -- the gorgeous, Old World-focused wine list will change your Asian food-pairing game for good.
As if combining Old World craftsmanship with Colorado ingredients (bison and lamb, green chile, beer) to produce some of the city’s best sausages, spreads, and sandwiches weren’t enough, the lovely gents behind this salumeria vera will soon be adding wine, beer, and small plates to the mix.
They pop, they smolder, they wiggle, they float: thanks to Ian Kleinman’s use of molecular techniques, his desserts are more active than you are, and watching him and his crew do their thing with canister whippers and smoking guns is almost as much fun as eating the sweet, sweet lab specimens they yield on the regular. On the not-so-regular, Kleinman opens the workshop doors early to serve doughnuts to unhinge your jaw (think pomegranate bubbles, Nutella powder, and walnut paper), and also hosts occasional dinners involving immersion circulators, dry-ice grills, magnets, and other culinary-science experiments that will earn you a year’s worth of date-night IOUs.
Jewish grandmothers (or bubbes) are known for cramming tons of comfort food down your cakehole, and this sunny little cottage in the burbs does them proud with a breakfast and lunch lineup of knishes, blintzes, and above all potato pancakes that arrive as small, fat, oniony disks smothered in your choice of toppings, from lox and dilled cream cheese to brisket and beer gravy. (Granted, it also offers pork green chile with cheddar and a fried egg to break a kosher heart.)
Hard-to-find entrance? Check. All of 20 seats surrounding a low-lit bar that leads to an art gallery in back? Check? Equally tiny yet wildly eclectic selection of craft beers, cocktails, and boutique wines? Check. If you’re here, you’re automatically cool, and if you’re cool, you’re already here. Allllright, allllright.
We’ve got Henry’s Tavern, we’ve got the Thirsty Lion -- does downtown Denver really need one more beer bar moving in from the Pacific Northwest? Oh wait, this one serves currywurst and döner kebab? And it looks like a banquet hall built for the Teutonic hordes? And it’s got a bocce ball court? Well, OK, then. Just one more.
Right next door to Pon Pon is its daytime counterpart Stowaway: a cafe serving up all the third-wave roasts, avocado toasts, and organic oats you need to fuel the day you’re about to spend being smarter and sexier than almost everyone in your general vicinity. Hey, good things happen when you start your morning with a single-origin pour over and a bowl of pomegranate granola.
Meanwhile, just around the corner from Stowaway, Jeff Osaka is taking cool to a whole other level -- a split-level, in fact -- with this two-story kaiten-zushi, where the nigiri, maki, and classic starters like edamame and tempura are yours to snag right off the conveyor belt, and the “bar” is an airliner-style storage cart filled with batched cocktails, a few wines and sakes, and both local and Japanese beers. Come on, that’s way sugoi.
As if to prove our point about the breakneck pace of Denver’s dining scene right now, chef Corey Baker -- who’s been slicing and dicing his way through local Japanese kitchens for some time now -- went and opened his own sushi bar mere hours before our deadline. Consider it the yin to Sushi-Rama’s yang: intimate, upscale, and centered on chef-driven, multi-course, omakase- and kaiseki-style dining.
Washington Park West
In a two-room space that has seen its share of closures, Brazen’s quieter, cozier little sibling appears to be here to stay. Turns out all its neighbors needed was a little bistro-style comfort: some wine and $1 oysters here, some rum punch and roast chicken there, a little brunch now and late-night nibbles later. It boils down to good customer service, and Telegraph nailed it.
A neighborhood without a sushi bar might as well be a war zone, so we’re greeting the sweet-as-could-be staff of this comfy, casual corner Japanese joint as heroes, liberating the Civic Center locals one rainbow roll at a time. But it’s not just a raw-fish fest: the huge menu extends to teriyaki, noodle bowls, and pan-Asian staples like sesame chicken, and pad Thai, while the happiest happy hour around gets you BOGO beer, wine, and hot sake to go with cheapo snacks like the takoyaki and half-price nigiri.
1. Bacon Social House1451 Bannock St, Denver
2. Bar Dough2227 W 32nd Ave, Denver
3. BriDer1644 Platte St, Denver
4. Del Frisco's Grille100 Saint Paul St, Denver
5. Desmond Bar and Grill2230 Oneida St, Denver
6. Globe Hall4483 Logan St, Denver
7. Goodbird Kitchen1258 Hover Road , Denver
8. il porcellino salumi4334 W 41st Ave, Denver
9. The Inventing Room2020 Lawrence St, Denver
10. Latke Love699 W Littleton Blvd, Littleton, CO 80120, Littleton
11. Pon Pon Bar2528 Walnut St, Denver
12. Rhein Haus Denver1415 Market St, Denver
13. Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen2528 Walnut St, Denver
14. Sushi-Rama2615 Larimer St, Denver
15. Sushi Ronin2930 Umatilla St, Denver
16. Telegraph Neighborhood Bistro & Bar295 S Pennsylvania St, Denver
17. Tycoon Ramen & Sushi Bar338 E Colfax Ave, Denver
18. Hop Alley3500 Larimer St., Denver
With a beer and bacon pairing on the happy hour menu, there's not much not to love about Bacon Social House. Besides for the fact that bacon is used in almost every menu item (is this heaven?), this fun, two-story restaurant serves up quality food and cocktails.
This cozy neighborhood bar offers casual Italian fare, with wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas, plus creative cocktails and craft beers.
This brand new Denver resto is named after the string tied around meat to help keep its shape while grilling. Therefore, meat is heavily featured on the menu, in the forms of rotisserie chicken, porchetta, and lamb.
This isn't the Del Frisco's you think it is. The Cherry Creek outpost of this classic steakhouse takes a fresh, playful approach to fine dining with seasonal and flavorful entrees and apps.
Fresh Mediterranean flavors shine in market-driven small plates like 'nduja with fried peppers and toast and roast vegetables sides at homey spot in Park Hill.
This unpretentious saloon has a custom-built smoker out back that crafts some of the best barbecue in the city. There's live music as well, all hosted in a Croatian/Slovenian meeting-lodge-turned-tavern atmosphere.
Formerly housed in the Post Brewing Company complex in Lafayette, Goodbird Kitchen has struck out on their own with a new brick and mortar in Longmont. Stop by for chicken tenders, wings, and rosemary cheddar biscuits, all made in house.
This cheery salumeria serves sandwiches, soups, salads and sides like pork-green chile head cheese and scrapple that makes you actually excited about scrapple.
This casual dessert lab -- and Denver's leader in molecular gastronomy -- offers creative concoctions like freezing chocolate-cinnamon nitro popcorn, coconut sorbet with pomegranate bubbles, and Lemonhead-candy space foam.
This Littleton spot will act as your proximate Jewish mother and stuff you to the gills with delicious homemade potato pancakes, apple sauce, and sour cream.
This recently opened quirky cocktail bar in RiNo is run by an artists collective who specialize in mixing up inventive drinks and bringing the party.
This massive 14,000sqft German-style beer hall traffics in the three Bs: brats, bocce, and brews. The expansive all-in-one location is decked out with elaborate chandeliers, majestic wooden staircases, and bocce courts on both levels -- an apt setting for enjoying house-made sausages and sour, Belgian-style, and dark beers. Rein Haus is a popular option for large groups and it gets crowded on the weekends, but the attentive staff keeps the mood jovial.
Consider this comfortable cafe and kitchen in Curtis Park your new favorite coffee shop and weekend breakfast spot. You can hang out with a coffee and a book, people watch, and snack on an avocado toast or go all-out with Dukkah eggs and trout. You'll probably have to wait with a crowd for a table, especially in the morning, but its worth it even just for a cup of Boxcar Roasters coffee or a glass of root-beer flavored (yeah) milk.
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.
An intimate sushi restaurant and sake bar in Highland, Sushi Ronin features upscale Japanese cuisine. With a focus on the seven-course omakase, the menu -- a la carte included -- is rooted by traditional Japanese dishes, with innovative flavor combinations to a modern touch to Chef Corey Baker's artful presentations. For an authentic omakase experience, explore the Japanese whiskey and sake pairings to enhance each course.
Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, Telegraph serves up creative dishes with great flavor and a long list of handcrafted cocktails to keep you completely satisfied all meal.
You didn't think this comfy and casual Japanese restaurant only serves sushi and ramen did you? Come for the fish and stay for the pad Thai, sesame chicken, teriyaki bowls and so much more.
Appropriately located in an old soy sauce factory and wonton commissary, Hop Alley -- from seasoned Denver restaurateur Tommy Lee -- is a modern Chinese restaurant in RiNo with hip hop, a wood fire, and large format drinks like punch bowls and magnums of wine. The cuisine features regional Hong Kong dishes with modern interpretations, like bone marrow fried rice or the mouth-numbing (in a good way) la zi ji -- fried chicken with dried chiles and Sichuan peppers. With a reservation policy dedicated to large parties only, the 57-seat space is always busy, so be prepared to wait... with a cocktail.