18 Denver Openings We're Really Damn Excited About
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.
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.
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