Denver may not have celebrity chefs or the reputation of the coasts, but there is exceptional food being made here—and people are taking notice. New Denver restaurants are constantly opening, and many of the city’s best chefs have started expanding into new neighborhoods.
10 Best Denver Restaurants
For a taste of Denver’s restaurant renaissance, make reservations at one of the 10 best places to eat in Denver.
Farm-to-table isn’t a trend at Fruition—it’s a way of life. Chef-owner Alex Seidel (a James Beard Award finalist) is also a farmer, running Fruition Farms Dairy & Creamery in Larkspur, about an hour south of his restaurant. Since opening more than 10 years ago, Fruition has become one of the best restaurants in Denver with its thoughtful, comforting, and innovative seasonal food. It’s fine dining without the fuss, served in a cozy, living-room-like setting. The wine list is fantastic, and service is among the best in town. If you find yourself a fan of Seidel’s after dining, stop by his second restaurant, Mercantile Dining & Provision, inside Union Station.
Beast & Bottle
Siblings Paul and Aileen Reilly—he’s the executive chef, she’s the general manager—just get hospitality. From the friendly greeting at the door and the dining room’s relaxed elegance to a menu of perfectly executed American dishes that don’t take themselves too seriously, Beast & Bottle always delivers. Paul is known for his nose-to-tail cooking, using as many parts of the animal or vegetable—responsibly sourced from local farms, of course—as possible. The cocktail menu at the Denver restaurant is an expert lineup of cleverly named tipples, and the Uptown eatery’s brunch lineup is just as satisfying as dinner.
Every meal at ChoLon should start with the soup dumplings. The chewy pillows are filled with a rich French onion soup broth that is comforting and so expertly executed that one wonders how so much flavor could come from a single bite. Here’s how: Executive chef Lon Symensma worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Spain before choosing Denver to open his first restaurant in 2010, and ChoLon’s menu was inspired by a year spent traveling around China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Asian street food is the focus, so while the quality of the dishes and the chic-minimalist space are high-end, nothing feels overly fancy. Order a variety of dishes to share to experience this Denver restaurant as it was meant to be.
Restaurateur Justin Cucci is known for crafting imaginative spaces with food to match. So it goes with El Five, the sixth eatery in his Edible Beats empire. Located on the fifth floor of a mixed-use building in LoHi, El Five is decked out in colorful, vintage Egyptian movie posters. If possible, take your drink—the bar program is stellar and creative—onto the open-air patio, which affords prime views of the Denver skyline. Once seated, ask your knowledgeable server for recommendations on which of the Mediterranean tapas to order (don’t skip dessert), and plan to share.
Recipe for a perfect evening: Sit down at the sushi counter at Sushi Ronin in LoHi and hand executive chef Corey Baker the reins to your meal. Sushi Ronin is known for its Omakase dining, which the menu translates as, “leave it to the chef.” You also can’t go wrong ordering à la carte from the selection of warm and cool appetizers, donburi bowls, and sushi at one of the best places to eat in Denver. Servers know their fish, so ask them anything. Pair your meal with a Japanese whiskey or sake from the extensive menu. You’ll quickly forget that Colorado is a landlocked state.
The line at Tommy Lee’s first Denver restaurant, ramen shop Uncle, was near-constant, and the theme continues at Hop Alley. (Reservations are limited.) His 57-seat Chinese restaurant in RiNo is loud, the food is spicy, and the energy is palpable. The small bar is always packed; the beers all make smart pairings for the cuisine, and every cocktail has at least one nod to Asia. The best seat in the house is the corner table with a built-in lazy Susan, perfect for sharing bites of the duck rolls, chilled tofu, or bone marrow fried rice coming out of the open kitchen.
Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge
With its sleek, futuristic look and dolled up patrons, you wouldn’t guess that Departure is a Portland, Oregon, import. The U-shaped bar is the clear centerpiece, with the tail of a white airplane hanging above white leather stools. The modern Asian restaurant is run by culinary director and former Top Chef competitor Gregory Gourdet, and the menu is an eclectic blend of flavors and dishes that skew Japanese. Visit at brunch to sample from the roving dim sum cart. Departure’s prime Cherry Creek location, inside the swanky Halcyon hotel, makes it a place to see and be seen.
Located in the Stanley Marketplace, a food-and-retail collective in Aurora, Annette is Colorado through and through. There’s the wall lined with chopped firewood, the gold light fixtures and blue chairs reminiscent of the sun and sky, and, of course, the grub. Chef Caroline Glover’s menu is comfort food crafted with the classic technique and attention to detail of a New York–trained chef. (Glover once worked at the Spotted Pig in New York’s West Village.) One of Glover’s missions is to “serve diners as though they were guests in my home”—and she’s succeeded.
Frasca Food and Wine
If you were to visit only one restaurant while in Denver, it should be Frasca. OK, technically it’s in Boulder, but forget the semantics. The white-tablecloth restaurant is focused on the cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region in northeast Italy. From the graceful service to the on-point wine pairings (put your trust in owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey to guide you through the 200-plus options) to course after course of flawless creations, eating at Frasca is truly an experience. It’s no wonder the restaurant has received multiple nods from the James Beard Foundation.
Oak at Fourteenth
As its name implies, the menu at Boulder’s Oak at Fourteenth is centered around wood-fired cooking. Chef and co-owner Steve Redzikowski is masterful in the kitchen, and his New American cuisine is plated so beautifully that, for a second, you’ll think twice about digging in. The contemporary space is sleek but unfussy, and service is top-notch. And the wine selection, curated by sommelier Bryan Dayton, is impressive. Oak at Fourteenth is one of those rare restaurants that manages to serve upscale food in a refined space while still feeling approachable to anyone walking in off the street.
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– Original reporting by Daliah Singer
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