places to eat in denver
Shareable plates like this hamachi crudo are plentiful at the venerable Acorn in Denver.

When I left Denver in 2002 to move to NYC, it felt like I had left a food desert and landed in the mecca of tasty treats. Fourteen years later, the city that taught me Red Lobster was what seafood tasted like has blossomed into a fantastic place for eaters, and one I am happy to be part of again. After all, around 250 unique places opened up in 2015 alone.

It’s not just the fresh venues that showcase what’s going on in the Denver dining scene, but also the plethora of talent taking the reins at these places. From homegrown cooking superstars to top chefs branching out West to food trucks launching their brick-and-mortar spots, the way Colorado has embraced these new experiences mirrors many other major cities. And yes, you can still get great and cheap Mexican food, piping hot bowls of no-fuss pho and plenty of buffalo meat. But aside from those classic Denver staples, now chefs are churning out menus full of fresh Colorado ingredients, elevated Asian fare, American food with flavor and bar programs that could rival many in New York City or San Francisco. With that, here are 12 new, old and noteworthy places to check out the next time you dine a mile high.

Contributions by Matt Rodbard


There’s a reason chef and owner Steven Redzikowski’s three-year-old spot has made the top of most “Where to eat in Denver” lists — it’s damn good. Housed inside a former foundry from the 1800s in a complex known as the Source, Acorn offers lunch and dinner to both the casual diner and the special-occasion clientele. With exposed brick walls, metal tables and chairs and some graffiti thrown in, the setting looks more industrial than fine dining, though don’t be surprised to find Redzikowski’s menu full of unique and high-end bites. Guests will find shareable plates such as the wood-oven-roasted littleneck clams, an amazingly juicy grilled chicken with Gruyère bread pudding, local wagyu rib eye and hamachi crudo with passion-fruit vinaigrette. One thing not to miss on the menu is the kale salad, a version of that overplayed dish that will make eaters understand why kale had such a following in the first place. 3350 Brighton Blvd., Denver, CO;

Beast + Bottle

Not every restaurant sources meat from a local farm and receives its animals whole, but that’s exactly what chef and co-owner Paul C. Reilly does at this uptown darling. Not only that, but Reilly also gets most of his greens from nearby farms and changes up the menu weekly to reflect what’s in season. Items have included goat’s milk gnudi, burrata-and-peach salad, braised lamb tossed with fresh pappardelle and a charcuterie board featuring the restaurant’s own homemade cured meats and terrines. Beast + Bottle opened in 2013, the second restaurant from Reilly and his sister Aileen, who manages the front of house. Inside the quaint, bright eatery, guests can cozy into a booth or sidle up to the bar. At the latter, you watch beverage director Jonathon Feuersanger work magic with cocktails, often creating concoctions using bits and pieces one wouldn’t expect in a drink. 719 E. 17th Ave., Denver, CO;

Mercantile Dining & Provisions

With his first restaurant, Fruition, chef and owner Alex Seidel helped pioneer the idea of innovative, high-quality local food in a fine-dining setting in Denver. His second eatery, Mercantile Dining & Provisions, offers all that without the formalities. Is one better than the other? Not really, but Mercantile allows eaters to experience a more laid-back approach to what Seidel can do with carrots and farro, pig’s ears, bone marrow and sweet corn. Much of the produce used comes from the chef’s own property, Fruition Farms in Larkspur. Cheese also gets made there, and the restaurant works with its own cured meats. Go for dinner and come back for lunch, when things get even more casual and you can pick up a gourmet sandwich and cup of strong coffee. 1701 Wynkoop St., Denver, CO;

(Photo: Marc Piscotty.)
Look to Jennifer Jasinski’s latest success for some of the freshest seafood in town. (Photo: Marc Piscotty.)

Stoic & Genuine

While one doesn’t necessarily think of mountains and plains as being correlated with fresh seafood, restaurateur and chef Jennifer Jasinski (of Rioja fame) has been bringing some of the best catches in town to her crisply modern and stylish establishment. The menu, thanks to chef Jorel Pierce, a Top Chef contestant and protégé of Jasinski, features items such as uni fried rice, mussels in smoked jalapeño butter, white Mexican shrimp and octopus mortadella, to name a few. Don’t pass up the oysters, either — Pierce is a bit of a bivalve expert, a tidbit that shines in his excellent country-wide selection. As a bonus, you can top the fresh oysters with a variety of house-made granitas; the cucumber-tarragon and sake-lychee are personal favorites. Also not to be missed are simple but elegantly prepared cocktails, a list that includes tipples made with the aforementioned frozen delicacies, such as the Lacey Underall, a lovely concoction of Cap Rock gin, lavender simple syrup, lemon juice and rosé granita. 1701 Wynkoop St., Denver, CO;

ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro

“There’s a lot of Vietnamese influence here,” says ChoLon chef-owner Lon Symensma. “I really love the French colonization and European influence within the Vietnamese culture.” Before opening his Lodo hot spot, Lon spent time running the kitchen at upscale dim sum parlor Buddakan in New York City. There’s a crab summer roll (ridiculously fresh crab with roasted peppers, charred corn, cilantro, scallion, vermicelli noodles and a Sriracha mayonnaise) and some European-styled soup dumplings with a deep onion-Gruyère broth. Wok-fired Brussels sprouts with pork and mint round out the order. His chicken wings (you gotta have wings in Denver) arrive with blue cheese “Toga-Ranchie” sauce, a fun play on the Japanese spice mixture togarashi. There are also mini hot dogs topped with kimchi and spicy mustard. This is the type of place to grab a front-row seat at on a monthly basis, especially if living in a town with minimal Asian options. 1555 Blake St., Denver, CO 80202;

Bar Dough
Head to LoHi for well-crafted pizzas, pastas and other creative dishes at Bar Dough. (Photo: Adam Larkey.)

Bar Dough

New on the scene is Italian concept Bar Dough, a casual eatery featuring chef Max Mackissock’s wood-fired pizzas, handmade pasta and plenty of bright, fresh salads. Order the mezzaluna stuffed with sweet corn and mascarpone, a little gem salad with house-crafted green-goddess dressing and crispy confited sunchokes with lemon aioli. The pizzas, too, prove totally worth a gander, featuring pies such as the mountain man, a combination of Gorgonzola, montasio, onion, guanciale, Calabrian chile honey and pistachio; or the smoked mushroom, with olive oil, oyster mushrooms, charred onion, stracciatella and aged balsamic. Overall, the restaurant is cozy but has plenty of room for big parties, families and single diners lining the elevated community table or nestled into the bar. 2227 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, CO;


Some people have nothing but hyperbolic love for owner Justin Cucci’s take on global small plates at his smartly designed, slightly clusterfuck-y popular restaurant in the Highland neighborhood. The menu’s 30 items are grouped into different shades on a spinning globe: Americas, Asian, South Asian, Africa, Europe and Eurasia. And some locals, well, aren’t into picking a color — or three. Diners jump between Oaxacan tamales, paper-thin lentil dosas and crispy chicken buns dressed with kimchi and maple syrup. This sort of A.D.D. dining is not for everybody. “We’re both wannabe vegetarians,” says Cucci of his chef Daniel Asher. And true to the statement, Linger is sort of a wannabe vegetarian restaurant — in the best possible sense. Sure, you can order short-rib tacos, but meat is certainly not the focus (which is a lot to say for a city that was known until recently for its steak-and-potato joints). It’s healthful dining at Linger, with many of the menu items designated as “available vegan” and “available gluten-free.” Cities, New York included, need more of this. 2030 W. 30th Ave., Denver, CO 80211;

The Way Back’s impressive drink list includes tipples influenced by all parts of the country. (Photo: Adam Larkey.)

The Way Back

Your dining companions will try to get you to split the ravioli at this new cocktail bar, and even the waiter will weigh in that the menu is comprised of shared plates. Don’t listen to them: Get your own order and enjoy each of the tender pockets of pure lemon, ricotta and poppy seed joy, a trademark dish created by chefs Samuel Charles and Marcus Eng. There’s a reason the venue only offers a set number of ravioli orders — they are quite addictive, and I am convinced no one would get anything else off the food menu if everyone knew about it. Of course, the other reason to head to this establishment is to sample tipples from co-owner Chad Michael George’s innovative cocktail list. Highlights include Carroll Gardens, a drink inspired by the Brooklyn and Vieux Carré drinks, which features local spirits, the Cherry Pickin’ Thyme with whiskey- and thyme-infused cherry liquor. Another winner is the two-person vodka tipple, I’d Buy That Drink a Drink, which comes in a copper pineapple. 4132 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO;

Work & Class

The premise of this simple, industrial-style restaurant is to give guests food that has neither frills nor too many ingredients, while also paying attention to quality and taste. The results are superb, and with one bite of the coriander-roasted Colorado lamb, gooey Wisconsin cheddar mac and cheese or silky butterscotch pudding, you will be eager to try more of chef Dana Rodriguez’s contemporary American fare. The menu is laid out with separate à la carte options, giving sections like meats, sides, breads and salads their own room to shine. Work & Class doesn’t take reservations, which means getting a table at this RiNo hot spot at peak times can be a little dicey. If you have to wait, take advantage of its special waiting cocktail, a bartender’s choice that costs only $4. 2500 Larimer St., Suite 101;

Steak houses aren’t rare in Denver, but downtown’s Guard and Grace takes it to the next level.

Guard and Grace

It’s not hard to find a steak house in Denver. In fact, quite a few good ones exist. But of those, Troy Guard’s two-year-old downtown establishment offers things the others don’t. For starters, there is one of the best French dip sandwiches I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Aside from that, this sleek, modern restaurant gives guests house-made charcuterie, oak-fired octopus, a house salad featuring white-balsamic miso dressing and about a dozen beautiful cuts of beef. Of course, you can expect a lot of steakhouse staples, both on the menu and in the 9,000-square-foot space itself. Take the vast 4,000-bottle temperature-controlled wine cellar or the array of private rooms for secret business transactions. And it wouldn’t be a true steakhouse without that now-ubiquitous side of black truffle macaroni and cheese. 1801 California St., #150, Denver, CO;

Sushi Ronin

While one may not think of Denver as having great sushi, this innovative, darling den offers some of the best in the city. At the helm, executive chef Corey Baker offers an omakase-forward menu, meaning the chef serves you whatever the heck he feels like. Let him do just that and you could have one of the best and most beautiful meals in Denver. Though not Japanese, Baker would say sushi is in his blood. After all, he started making the stuff at the tender age of 17 when he worked at another lauded sushi spot in town, Sushi Den. From there, the chef worked his way in and out of many sushi spots in Denver before opening his own in January of this year. 2930 Umatilla St., Denver, CO;

Blue Pan Pizza

Sure, plenty of pizza snobs will say no good pizza exists outside of New York or Chicago, but they are wrong. For example, you can get an amazing Detroit-style pie at Blue Pan Pizza in the Highlands neighborhood in Denver. Here, Motor City transplant and international pizza master Jeff Smokevitch whips up quality pizzas that showcase a cheese-laden golden crust that’s deep, supple, and the perfect vehicle for superb toppings. This could include roasted Anaheim green chilies, house-made pesto, fresh pineapple, applewood-smoked bacon, roasted garlic and plenty of cheeses. Of course, if you really need a little NYC in your slice, opt for the Brooklyn Bridge, a stunning pie with New York ricotta, natural-casing pepperoni, Italian sausage, garlic, mozzarella, brick cheese and Sicilian oregano. Aside from Detroit-style, Blue Pan also serves Chicago thin crust and classic Italian pies. 3930 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, CO;