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Experts Agree: Pinche Taqueria is the Best Mexican Restaurant in Denver

Experts Agree: Pinche Taqueria is the Best Mexican Restaurant in Denver


It wasn’t so long ago when “Mexican” food was best represented stateside by a heaping platter of rice and refried beans along with gloopy enchiladas covered in melted cheese, with maybe a couple hard-shell tacos on the side. Thankfully we’ve come a long way, and now the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Today, most people realize that the standard menu of burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, and the like are in fact more Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican, and that once you head south of the border there’s a whole world of flavorful (and non-cheesy) possibilities to explore. Additionally, while authenticity is prized, some of this country’s most highly regarded chefs, like former pastry chef Alex Stupak and Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, have also turned their attention and creativity to Mexican, which has become somewhat of a cuisine célèbre.

To assemble our ranking of America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants, we analyzed results from surveys we sent out to some of America’s leading culinary authorities, writers, and critics, used to assemble our rankings of America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants and the 101 Best Restaurants in America. We supplemented those with best-of lists both in print and online, and rounded it out with our personal favorites from around the country. We also made sure to include restaurants that specialize in authentic Mexican fare; while some Tex-Mex classics on the menu are acceptable if done really well, the main focus had to be on true Mexican cuisine. We found that from a high-end restaurant in Chicago specializing in ribeye carne asada to a modest taqueria in Mountain View, Calif. serving some of the finest carnitas you’ll ever encounter, America has no shortage of great Mexican restaurants—and as it turns out, the fifth-best resides in Denver.

Pinche Taqueria’s name isn’t fit for translation—just think of what you say when you’re moved to be either exceptionally mad or really happy, and you’ll get the idea. You’re likely to be the latter when you visit chef Kevin Morrison’s restaurant. Originally a taco truck, it puts a modern twist on comida de la calle (Mexican street food), along with small-batch tequilas. You’ll want to start with an order of queso fundido con chorizo and homemade chips, but from there it gets more difficult to choose. Carnitas? Pollo a la crema? Asada, lengua, or rajas con crema y maiz? There are also chipotle-and-beer-battered fish tacos and citrus grilled shrimp. It’s all so good, the restaurant scored the very respectable #5 spot on our compilation, and since it’s the only one from the city to make the list, according to our panel of experts, Pinche Taqueria is the best Mexican restaurant in Denver.


The 10 Best Tacos in America

W hat&aposs the best taco you&aposve ever sunk your teeth into? Was it in Mexico? Los Angeles? San Diego? Your hometown? Or in your own kitchen? Or perhaps you are one of the many pilgrims still in search of your perfect taco.

A truly euphoric taco experience is defined differently depending on whom you ask. Some people prefer corn tortillas over flour. Some prefer their tacos stuffed with pork others, pulled chicken or fish. Some like their tacos to be sauce-free, and some enjoy a little guacamole and sour cream. We asked 10 food critics from 10 American cities to tell us how they found their favorite pick and what makes it so special. Read on to see if your top taco made the list.

Austin, Texas: Tacodeli
According to Rachel Feit of The Austin Chronicle, "tacos are like flavor bombs." For Feit, a memorable taco starts with great fillings, meaning slow-cooked meats stewed with plenty of chiles and spices. But she also believes in the allure of the complexity that comes from adding extra ingredients such as Queso Fresco, cilantro, and, of course, salsa. Narrowing down her favorite taco to just one was a challenge, Feit admits, because "Austin is a taco town, and there are tacos for every occasion, every mood, and every wallet." Ultimately, though, Tacodeli and its three locations rule her heart and her stomach. The Deli Belly (available on Wednesdays and Saturdays only) is a $4 marvel of slow-braised pork belly, sliced then crisped, topped with cilantro and onions on a flour tortilla. Feit recommends crowning the tacos with the mini-chain&aposs emulsified green Do༚ sauce (a secret recipe she hopes to snag someday). "I always add salsa to my tacos—it&aposs a key to perfect tacos," she says. (4200 N. Lamar 512-419-1900)

Chicago: Tio Luis Tacos
For Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune, finding his favorite taco entailed driving all over town and sampling everything the Second City has to offer until he made the acquaintance of a simple $1.95 taco filled with steak, onions, cilantro, and lime at Tio Luis Tacos. "When I saw the slight char on the skirt steak, I knew I was on to something," Vettel tells us. "The fresh veggies, soft tortilla, and Key lime all came together in wonderful harmony." (3856 S. Archer Ave. 773-468-2267)

Denver: Pinche Tacos
"The taco found me," Tucker Shaw of the Denver Post says of his quest for the city&aposs top taco. After months of searching, one day the Pinche Tacos truck pulled up right in front of Shaw&aposs office, and that was the beginning of his taco love affair. His must-have is the $3.50 "agridulce" taco, an inspired combination of sweet-and-sour braised pork belly, candied garlic, and cabbage and cilantro slaw in a corn tortilla. Shaw admits, "You&aposd think I&aposd have waited to bite into it before deciding whether it was my favorite taco in Denver, but the truth is I decided just by the aroma of it—meaty, fatty, sweet, sharp, and soulful—not to mention the look of it on the plate, so plump and glistening." (1514 York St. 720-475-1337)

Los Angeles: Los Cinco Puntos
As restaurant critic Patric Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine tells us, he first laid eyes on his "soul-taco" while driving around the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. Suddenly he saw the word masa displayed before him on the side of the building. He stopped the car to investigate what exactly was happening at Los Cinco Puntos, and found a group of women clapping out fresh tortillas and putting them on a griddle. His personal go-to taco from Los Cinco Puntos is sheep&aposs-head meat in a warm corn tortilla. It wasn&apost just the filler that won him over, Kuh explains. He finds that a good tortilla, made from freshly ground nixtamal, or dried corn, imparts a slightly acidic tang to a taco. "It sharpens all the other flavors, and I&aposve come to think of it as the tang of perfection." He doesn&apost even add hot sauce: "God forbid I make any changes to it." (3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. 323-261-4084)

Miami: Lucky Taco
When Daniel Treiman of the Miami New Times and Edible South Florida ate what he calls the best taco in Miami, he was actually looking for the best paleta in the Homestead region instead. An investigation in the Redland Market Village area with a friend who originally hails from Mexico revealed Lucky Taco, and the $1.50 al pastor goodness that would change their lives forever. Lean pork marinated with guajillo chiles and pineapple in a fresh chewy maize tortilla creates a uniquely sweet and spicy taco that is perfect on its own or equally delicious adorned with plenty of fresh cilantro. Treiman reports that his friend, an "al pastor aficionado," actually squealed with delight as she ate. High praise indeed. (291 W. Mowry Dr.)

New York: Tacos Morelos
Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice came face-to-face with his favorite taco around midnight while walking on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens one night. At a food truck turned gastro-pub named Tacos Morelos, he saw tacos being filled with yellow rice𠅊nd as if the double starch wasn&apost intriguing enough, Sietsema became even more compelled to try this taco when he saw that it also had a chile relleno inside, oozing over with cheese. Tacos Morelos sells these meal-size portions for $5 and serves them with a side of grilled peppers. Sietsema recommends adding chipotle hot sauce to this taco masterpiece. (94-13 37th Ave. 347-832-0193)

Phoenix: Tacos Atoyac
Gwen Ashley Walters, the Phoenix Magazine restaurant critic and food writer, admits that she drives 45 minutes from her house whenever a craving strikes for her favorite taco from Tacos Atoyac. Even though this bare-bones restaurant is known mostly for its Oaxacan street food, Walters is a devoted acolyte of the $1.50 Indonesian catfish-stuffed Baja Taco. What&aposs in it besides beer-battered fish? Red onions lightly pickled with jalapeño vinegar, shredded green cabbage, and Mexican crema spiked with hot sauce, all served inside a griddled flour tortilla. As Walters, who also happens to be a trained chef, puts it, "It&aposs a juxtaposition of cool and hot, crunchy and soft. In a word? Delicioso." (1830 W. Glendale Ave. 602-864-2746)

Providence, Rhode Island: La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos
"I want the real deal, the same kind of genuine article I would find on the streets of Mexico." That&aposs what Gail Ciampa of The Providence Journal said when we asked her what she&aposs looking for in the best taco in town. What&aposs more, she tells us, "I want to be surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, the range of flavors that come from a few expertly blended spices and meats that have been marinated or roasted slowly." She found exactly that at a taqueria in Olneyville called La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos. This half-grocery-store, half-restaurant neighborhood institution sells an array of taco fillers such as pulled pork, marinated pork, tripe, beef tongue, chorizo, ground beef, and steak, and they also do a veggie taco. But for Ciampa, it&aposs all about the Crispy Taco, which is rolled up and stuffed with pulled chicken, onions, and cilantro and then deep-fried. Though guacamole, cheese, and sour cream come standard, Ciampa prefers hers without, and instead dips it in two spicy salsas. Crispy Tacos are $1.62 each or three for $4.20. (1950 Westminster St. 401-331-2444)

San Antonio: Guajillo&aposs
"Balance, depth of flavor, and the ineffable taste of home—that&aposs what I want in my taco," proclaims Edmund Tijerina of the San Antonio Express-News. The first time he tried tacos al pastor was in Mexico City more than a decade ago. In San Antonio, however, he depends on Guajillo&aposs for his fix𠅎ven though, as he admits, it looks like a chain restaurant, it&aposs a pain to get to, and it&aposs at the intersection of a major thoroughfare and a freeway. According to Tijerina, it&aposs almost impossible to find a disappointment on this menu, but his taco craving is the pork, which is rubbed with a mixture of spices including achiote, slowly roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved onto an oil-moistened corn tortilla. One $6.25 order includes six small corn tortillas (about 4 inches in diameter) that slightly overlap and cover an oval plate topped with a generous mound of meat. A separate plate holds slices of pineapple, minced fresh cilantro, and finely diced onions, and there&aposs a small cup of sliced limes and another small bowl of a tangy guajillo-based salsa. Tijerina assembles the tacos by taking a single tortilla and topping it with a heaping tablespoon of meat, a couple of pineapple slices, a sprinkle of cilantro, and some onion, finished with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of salsa. "I don&apost add anything that&aposs not supposed to be there. It&aposs Mexican cooking as it should be." (1001 Northwest Loop 410 210-344-4119)

San Diego: Marisco&aposs German
Troy Johnson, food critic for San Diego Magazine and host of Food Network&aposs Crave, has a good street-taco-junkie friend to thank for introducing him to his ultimate taco. "I was born and raised in San Diego. We learn the Scoville scale (a form of measurement that relates to level of heat in a chile pepper) before basic math. Anyone can overload a tortilla to satiate the more-more-more ethos of American eaters, but very few people can keep it balanced—the veggies cut through the cheese, acid lances the fat, light permeates the heavy," explains Johnson. And according to him, that mythical balance is exactly what "The Gobernador" from Marisco&aposs German truck manages to achieve. This corn-tortilla wonder, which comes with a side of the truck&aposs famous xaldo de siete mares, packs in a massive heap of what Johnson describes as "bulging, steroidal-looking" grilled shrimp, saut onions, celery, bell pepper, and spices. The final touch is what some taco purists would consider blasphemy—melted cheese. Lots of it. "One taco (plus free soup) for four bucks? It&aposs a steal!" The taco truck parks in a dirt lot outside a liquor store. And Johnson is fairly certain that all of the tires are flat. He tells us that there is an awning, some plastic tables, and chairs. Anyone who can look past the absence of Dodd Mitchell design is greatly rewarded. (3505 University Ave)


America’s Best Tacos (and How to Make Them)

Ask five different taco chefs why the humble Mexican street snack is suddenly getting so much better and you’ll get five different answers. For Julian Medina of Manhattan’s Toloache, it’s due to a generation of Mexican-born chefs learning new culinary techniques abroad and then applying them to the flavors of their childhoods. Joel Fried, of Tacodeli, in Austin, cites sheer exhaustion with cheese-saturated Tex-Mex: “People had no idea what a rich cuisine Mexico has,” he says. Joe Hargrave, of San Francisco’s Tacolicious, points to the economic crash of 2008, when the already food-crazy nation began hungering for simpler pleasures. Whatever the reason, people across the country have raised their expectations of what a taco can be, and every major city now has at least one great chef combining first-rate ingredients with deep respect for Mexican tradition. And since no one’s trying to fancify them beyond recognition – tacos are tacos, after all – even today’s finest tortilla fillings remain well within the reach of the home cook. From classically simple stewed chicken to a modern take on sautéed shrimp, these five recipes work whether you’re cooking for one or hosting a big taco night beside the grill in the backyard. (All recipes make 12 tacos.)

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Alaska: The Missing Link at Lane's Quickie Tacos

The history of Lane's Quickie Tacos dates back to a freezing day in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2013. Soon after that, this taco place became a red hot name in the taco world, as awards and recognition started pouring in from across the state and throughout the country. While there are a lot of yummy looking tacos on their menu, it's The Missing Link that you should order. This unique taco features a sizable smoked sausage link in the middle surrounded by bell peppers, onions, and a creamy white sauce.


Machete Tequila & Tacos

In March 2014, Machete opened its second restaurant, this one in LoDo across from Union Station. While the original Cherry Creek eatery has a charming Mexican dive-bar feel, the aesthetic in LoDo is a bit more upscale. Interesting artwork was purchased on the streets of Mexico City, a fitting complement to the chef's menu inspired by dishes typical of Mexico's capital. Tacos are front and center but with twists, such as a version featuring grilled tilapia served with a squid-ink tortilla. Not to worry, there are versions with hangar steak, roast pig and lamb shank, too. Mezcals, dozens of tequilas and a fine selection of hand-shaken margaritas, including the Spicy Rico made with tequila infused with in-house with fresh jalapeños.

Recommended for Mexican because: Mexican food gets a creative update in a thriving, ever-evolving location

Christine's expert tip: Parking is a challenge in LoDo so consider using light rail or bus as both come into Union Station. Alternatively, there's valet parking in front of Union Station.


The 10 Best Tacos in America

What's the best taco you've ever sunk your teeth into? Was it in Mexico? Los Angeles? San Diego? Your hometown? Or in your own kitchen? Or perhaps you are one of the many pilgrims still in search of your perfect taco.

A truly euphoric taco experience is defined differently depending on whom you ask. Some people prefer corn tortillas over flour. Some prefer their tacos stuffed with pork others, pulled chicken or fish. Some like their tacos to be sauce-free, and some enjoy a little guacamole and sour cream. We asked 10 food critics from 10 American cities to tell us how they found their favorite pick and what makes it so special. Read on to see if your top taco made the list.

Austin, Texas: Tacodeli
According to Rachel Feit of The Austin Chronicle, "tacos are like flavor bombs." For Feit, a memorable taco starts with great fillings, meaning slow-cooked meats stewed with plenty of chiles and spices. But she also believes in the allure of the complexity that comes from adding extra ingredients such as Queso Fresco, cilantro, and, of course, salsa. Narrowing down her favorite taco to just one was a challenge, Feit admits, because "Austin is a taco town, and there are tacos for every occasion, every mood, and every wallet." Ultimately, though, Tacodeli and its three locations rule her heart and her stomach. The Deli Belly (available on Wednesdays and Saturdays only) is a $4 marvel of slow-braised pork belly, sliced then crisped, topped with cilantro and onions on a flour tortilla. Feit recommends crowning the tacos with the mini-chain's emulsified green Doña sauce (a secret recipe she hopes to snag someday). "I always add salsa to my tacos-it's a key to perfect tacos," she says. (4200 N. Lamar 512-419-1900)

Chicago: Tio Luis Tacos
For Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune, finding his favorite taco entailed driving all over town and sampling everything the Second City has to offer until he made the acquaintance of a simple $1.95 taco filled with steak, onions, cilantro, and lime at Tio Luis Tacos. "When I saw the slight char on the skirt steak, I knew I was on to something," Vettel tells us. "The fresh veggies, soft tortilla, and Key lime all came together in wonderful harmony." (3856 S. Archer Ave. 773-468-2267)

Denver: Pinche Tacos
"The taco found me," Tucker Shaw of the Denver Post says of his quest for the city's top taco. After months of searching, one day the Pinche Tacos truck pulled up right in front of Shaw's office, and that was the beginning of his taco love affair. His must-have is the $3.50 "agridulce" taco, an inspired combination of sweet-and-sour braised pork belly, candied garlic, and cabbage and cilantro slaw in a corn tortilla. Shaw admits, "You'd think I'd have waited to bite into it before deciding whether it was my favorite taco in Denver, but the truth is I decided just by the aroma of it-meaty, fatty, sweet, sharp, and soulful-not to mention the look of it on the plate, so plump and glistening." (1514 York St. 720-475-1337)

Los Angeles: Los Cinco Puntos
As restaurant critic Patric Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine tells us, he first laid eyes on his "soul-taco" while driving around the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. Suddenly he saw the word masa displayed before him on the side of the building. He stopped the car to investigate what exactly was happening at Los Cinco Puntos, and found a group of women clapping out fresh tortillas and putting them on a griddle. His personal go-to taco from Los Cinco Puntos is sheep's-head meat in a warm corn tortilla. It wasn't just the filler that won him over, Kuh explains. He finds that a good tortilla, made from freshly ground nixtamal, or dried corn, imparts a slightly acidic tang to a taco. "It sharpens all the other flavors, and I've come to think of it as the tang of perfection." He doesn't even add hot sauce: "God forbid I make any changes to it." (3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. 323-261-4084)

Miami: Lucky Taco
When Daniel Treiman of the Miami New Times and Edible South Florida ate what he calls the best taco in Miami, he was actually looking for the best paleta in the Homestead region instead. An investigation in the Redland Market Village area with a friend who originally hails from Mexico revealed Lucky Taco, and the $1.50 al pastor goodness that would change their lives forever. Lean pork marinated with guajillo chiles and pineapple in a fresh chewy maize tortilla creates a uniquely sweet and spicy taco that is perfect on its own or equally delicious adorned with plenty of fresh cilantro. Treiman reports that his friend, an "al pastor aficionado," actually squealed with delight as she ate. High praise indeed. (291 W. Mowry Dr.)

New York: Tacos Morelos
Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice came face-to-face with his favorite taco around midnight while walking on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens one night. At a food truck turned gastro-pub named Tacos Morelos, he saw tacos being filled with yellow rice-and as if the double starch wasn't intriguing enough, Sietsema became even more compelled to try this taco when he saw that it also had a chile relleno inside, oozing over with cheese. Tacos Morelos sells these meal-size portions for $5 and serves them with a side of grilled peppers. Sietsema recommends adding chipotle hot sauce to this taco masterpiece. (94-13 37th Ave. 347-832-0193)

Phoenix: Tacos Atoyac
Gwen Ashley Walters, the Phoenix Magazine restaurant critic and food writer, admits that she drives 45 minutes from her house whenever a craving strikes for her favorite taco from Tacos Atoyac. Even though this bare-bones restaurant is known mostly for its Oaxacan street food, Walters is a devoted acolyte of the $1.50 Indonesian catfish-stuffed Baja Taco. What's in it besides beer-battered fish? Red onions lightly pickled with jalapeño vinegar, shredded green cabbage, and Mexican crema spiked with hot sauce, all served inside a griddled flour tortilla. As Walters, who also happens to be a trained chef, puts it, "It's a juxtaposition of cool and hot, crunchy and soft. In a word? Delicioso." (1830 W. Glendale Ave. 602-864-2746)

Providence, Rhode Island: La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos
"I want the real deal, the same kind of genuine article I would find on the streets of Mexico." That's what Gail Ciampa of The Providence Journal said when we asked her what she's looking for in the best taco in town. What's more, she tells us, "I want to be surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, the range of flavors that come from a few expertly blended spices and meats that have been marinated or roasted slowly." She found exactly that at a taqueria in Olneyville called La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos. This half-grocery-store, half-restaurant neighborhood institution sells an array of taco fillers such as pulled pork, marinated pork, tripe, beef tongue, chorizo, ground beef, and steak, and they also do a veggie taco. But for Ciampa, it's all about the Crispy Taco, which is rolled up and stuffed with pulled chicken, onions, and cilantro and then deep-fried. Though guacamole, cheese, and sour cream come standard, Ciampa prefers hers without, and instead dips it in two spicy salsas. Crispy Tacos are $1.62 each or three for $4.20. (1950 Westminster St. 401-331-2444)

San Antonio: Guajillo's
"Balance, depth of flavor, and the ineffable taste of home-that's what I want in my taco," proclaims Edmund Tijerina of the San Antonio Express-News. The first time he tried tacos al pastor was in Mexico City more than a decade ago. In San Antonio, however, he depends on Guajillo's for his fix-even though, as he admits, it looks like a chain restaurant, it's a pain to get to, and it's at the intersection of a major thoroughfare and a freeway. According to Tijerina, it's almost impossible to find a disappointment on this menu, but his taco craving is the pork, which is rubbed with a mixture of spices including achiote, slowly roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved onto an oil-moistened corn tortilla. One $6.25 order includes six small corn tortillas (about 4 inches in diameter) that slightly overlap and cover an oval plate topped with a generous mound of meat. A separate plate holds slices of pineapple, minced fresh cilantro, and finely diced onions, and there's a small cup of sliced limes and another small bowl of a tangy guajillo-based salsa. Tijerina assembles the tacos by taking a single tortilla and topping it with a heaping tablespoon of meat, a couple of pineapple slices, a sprinkle of cilantro, and some onion, finished with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of salsa. "I don't add anything that's not supposed to be there. It's Mexican cooking as it should be." (1001 Northwest Loop 410 210-344-4119)

San Diego: Marisco's German
Troy Johnson, food critic for San Diego Magazine and host of Food Network's Crave, has a good street-taco-junkie friend to thank for introducing him to his ultimate taco. "I was born and raised in San Diego. We learn the Scoville scale (a form of measurement that relates to level of heat in a chile pepper) before basic math. Anyone can overload a tortilla to satiate the more-more-more ethos of American eaters, but very few people can keep it balanced-the veggies cut through the cheese, acid lances the fat, light permeates the heavy," explains Johnson. And according to him, that mythical balance is exactly what "The Gobernador" from Marisco's German truck manages to achieve. This corn-tortilla wonder, which comes with a side of the truck's famous xaldo de siete mares, packs in a massive heap of what Johnson describes as "bulging, steroidal-looking" grilled shrimp, sautéed onions, celery, bell pepper, and spices. The final touch is what some taco purists would consider blasphemy-melted cheese. Lots of it. "One taco (plus free soup) for four bucks? It's a steal!" The taco truck parks in a dirt lot outside a liquor store. And Johnson is fairly certain that all of the tires are flat. He tells us that there is an awning, some plastic tables, and chairs. Anyone who can look past the absence of Dodd Mitchell design is greatly rewarded. (3505 University Ave)

Note: All restaurant information subject to change without notice. Please contact the restaurant for the most current information.


Denver Series – Favorite Restaurants

I’ve been wanting to do this Denver series for a while now and finally got around to it! I’ll be doing 2 other posts that include my favorite places to stay and favorite things to do in Denver, so stay tuned for those!

I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life, but this city changes daily. New restaurants pop up all.the.time so I’ll definitely edit this post as new ones come up! This is a list of my favorite restaurants that all serve gluten free and sometimes even paleo items on their menu. When you come to Colorado, you’ll quickly see that it’s pretty damn easy to eat gluten free here! I’m not celiac but I still stay away from gluten all together and these are the places I’ve gone and never had an issue at! I’ll be sure to mention if it is a completely GF facility!

Just BE Kitchen – Just BE opened recently and this amazing restaurant is COMPLETELY paleo (meaning completely GF and safe for celiacs)! They are located in the amazing neighborhood off Platte, in walking distance to Downtown and LoHi. It’s so nice being able to walk into a restaurant that has options like a breakfast burrito or sandwich or green chile or amazing burger…and all ingredients are high-quality, grain-free and gluten-free, so you have nothing to worry about if you have dietary or autoimmune restrictions. And they even put a drink on the menu inspired by one of my recipes! You can also build your own bone broth so I’ll get one to go and drink it throughout the week! You’re going to love this place!

Rivers and Roads Coffee – This amazing and beautiful coffee shop makes almost everything in house, even their coffee syrups. But their menu is what really stands out. They offer gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and paleo options available daily and they even have a completely gluten-free specified fryer for any of their delicious treats and snacks. So far, I’ve tried an amazing gluten free berry cream muffin, a donut whole, and their gluten free cheddar biscuit breakfast sandwich made me want to pass out from happiness. Hands down the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had. And the owners of this shop are so incredibly kind. If you’re in Denver, go support this small business. They deserve all the love in the world!

Whole Sol – This 100% organic smoothie bowl spot is THE BEST!! They don’t overdo everything with unneeded sugars, they just let the ingredients speak for themselves. Everything in their bowls is organic, gluten-free, & dairy-free. And it’s run by really amazing people which makes me even more excited to order from them!

Quiero Arepas – Quiero Arepas started as a food truck and then grew into a space in Avanti in the LoHi. It’s a completely gluten-free truck/restaurant sharing Venezuelan-inspired food. Arepas have my heart, but their arepas are a step above the rest! They make their arepas from non-GMO masa and don’t fry them so they are light, fluffy AND crispy! Try my favorites like the Reina Pepiada or the Pabellón! And be sure to get a side of their sweet plantains and try a fresh cracked coconut or one of their amazing fruit juices!

Ohana Island Kitchen – If you’re a poke bowl fan, this small Denver restaurant is a must! It’s the best poke I’ve had in Denver! They have a limited menu, but what they offer is incredibly fresh and flavorful. You’ll find tuna poke bowls with the most delicious seasoning on top of the rice. And if rice isn’t your thing, you can always get your poke with kale.

Modern Market – This fast-casual restaurant makes eating healthy on-the-go so much easier! I go there weekly to get a chicken plate with potatoes and arugula salad. But they also have great GF pizza and wraps to choose from. And really good GF cookies. They are also available at DIA in Concourse B and C! So next time you’re in the airport, you don’t have to make a sh*tty decision and go to McDonald’s. No way, man!

Root Down – One of my favorite restaurants to take my gluten free and paleo friends to! They have a restaurant in the Highlands, but I honestly prefer their location in DIA in Concourse C more. Any time I go to the airport, which is pretty often, I get there early and get brunch before I leave town! I almost always get their burger with no bun and a side of sweet potato fries!

Bacon Social House – This restaurant in Highlands has a ton of gluten free and paleo options! Their benedicts are amazing and they have a side of GF bacon tots that are out of control! You can also get a platter of different kinds of bacon! Whenever I get a benedict, I ask for mine on sautéed greens and it’s so dang good! I really love their space and they have a nice outdoor patio with new shops popping up all around it! It’s a very up-and-coming neighborhood!

Patxi’s Pizza – Amazingly awesome gluten free pizza! Keep in mind that this facility is not GF, so this won’t work for you if you are celiac. But they have one of my all-time favorite GF pizzas. It’s thin crust and gigantic! I’ve eaten a pretty large amount of this entire pizza and never have had a stomach ache from it. But be careful, this pizza is addicting. And it’s on the more expensive side so it’s not the best addiction for the wallet.

Ester’s – I was pleasantly surprised when I had their gluten free pizza at Ester’s since I’m not a fan of the rest of their menu. They don’t have many GF options and it’s a neighborhood restaurant so it’s littered with children, but their fluffy GF pizza is AWESOME. Highly recommend trying their pizza with figs and prosciutto. It’s bomb.

Deby’s Gluten Free – I’ve only had the opportunity to eat from this little shop once, but it is amazing and COMPLETELY gluten free. They have specific hours so plan ahead and go early if you want donuts! They also have a ton of pastries, bread and other savory items to choose from! I had their cinnamon bread and it was the best GF bread I’ve probably ever had!

Olive & Finch Eatery – They have 2 locations now and I definitely recommend going to the Cherry Creek location because it has a little more parking and seating. This restaurant and bakery hash amazing hashes and a few GF baked goods to choose from. When I use to live right next to it, I would run there for to-go dinner sometimes and get their paella and it was SO GOOD.

Potager – This is officially one of my favorite restaurants in Denver (updated 2021)!! This restaurant is phenomenal, I love it with every piece of my heart. The dishes are so incredibly fresh, the flavors are out of this world, and you can get most things gluten free. Plus the staff and the owners truly care about their guests and their experience. Go here. You won’t regret it. And get the chicken!!

Vital Root – This is a completely vegan restaurant and even though I’m not vegan, I LOVE this spot. It’s in a great neighborhood with lots of walkable spots and shops, and they make being vegan incredible! I highly recommend the Korean BBQ Veggie “Wings” and the Falafel Wrap!

Ash’Kara – If you like Mediterranean food, you’ll love this restaurant. Their hummus is my favorite in Denver, especially when topped with their marinated feta and cauliflower shawarma! Incredible!

Guard & Grace – I think this is the best steakhouse in Denver! Just let them know that you are GF and they can help you with the menu! Definitely get the GF apple pie because it’s amaaaaazing! And get the beet cocktail!

The 9th Door – I’m not a huge fan of small plates but these Spanish-inspired small plates pack a punch. Love this place for a girls night out or for happy hour.

Sushi Den/Izakaya Den – Sushi Den and Izakaya Den are connected by the same kitchen but have slightly different menus. I prefer Izakaya Den and their atmosphere, especially their upstairs bar. They have a ton of sushi with GF options! Plus awesome cocktails!

The Plimoth – This new american style restaurant brings some delicious flavors and textures to the table. It’s not specifically gluten free there, but you can easily ask your server to help you navigate the menu to find what works for you and your dietary needs!

Gluten Escape – I first tried this place out when my sister-in-law bought me an entire cake for my birthday. And it was AMAZING!! The cake was rich, fluffy and moist (don’t get made I used that word) and the frosting was just right. I was able to freeze the cake and pull it out later and it was still amazing! I want to go back there a try a handful of other items, but I haven’t had time. I definitely recommend them for special events, but I know they have lots of other things to choose from like granola, bagels and donuts! I need to get back there and try more out! And they are also a completely GF facility!!

Hashtag – I don’t venture over to the Stapleton area very much, but this restaurant makes me want to go there all.the.time. So happy a reader recommendation this restaurant and told me to get the “Just the tips” has because it was unbelievable! This a sister restaurant to one of my favorite steakhouses Guard & Grace (which I talk about below) and they use Guard & Grace prime steak tips. Since I try to stay away from eggs, I asked for no eggs and veggies instead and I seriously licked my plate clean. I was legit sad when this meal ended. This is not a gluten free restaurant so definitely ask your server about options. They have a ton of naughty, bad for you menu items, but they have lots of creative omelets, hashes, tacos, and benedicts to choose from!

Breakfast/Brunch Favorites:

    – As soon as I get a photo of these AMAZING mochi donuts and waffle, I will add this spot to the top of my list. This spot is completely gluten free and the mochi waffle will BLOW YOU AWAY! It’s outrageously good! – The best GF pancakes ever and a ton of gluten free options! You can also mix and match your benedicts! – I use to live right by this restaurant and went there constantly…and still do, honestly! Build your own scramble and definitely get the sausage on the side! They also have a bakery with a few GF options. – NOT a restaurant – call ahead orders. They have the absolute best GF cinnamon roll I’ve had in town! They also have cakes and cupcakes and other GF goodies. – This restaurant is a sister restaurant to Root Down so they have tons of GF options. They also have delicious cocktails and you can eat there for dinner. AND they have concerts and shows at night to make it an even more fun experience! I went to a 90’s dance party there and it was amazing!

Coffee Shop Favorites:

    – Completely paleo & GF shop with coffee, drinks, small bites and some lunch items! You have to try their raw chocolate macaroons! – Obsessed with this coffee shop! They have their own homemade cashew almond milk for your coffee preference! – Their coffee is AMAZING. They are right by Denver University so they are pretty busy, but they are definitely worth the wait. – Love the atmosphere in this coffee shop! They also have food and cocktails! – I love this coffee shop mostly for it’s location. It’s in the Santa Fe Art District where there are a ton of shops and stores plus lots of art to look at! – Love the neighborhood that this coffee shop is in and the inside is adorable. Get the GF Financier. It’s fantastic.

Lunch/Dinner Favorites:

    – This is another spot I need to get a photo of so it can go at the top of my list above. This lunch spot is AMAZING. Clean ingredients, gluten free/vegan/dairy free options, and the most delicious meats and side dishes. You can build a bowl any way you like and no matter what you choose, it will be fresh and absolutely wonderful! – A huge space with all sorts of restaurants and shops. They have a coffee shop, bakery, chocolate, meat and seafood counter, pizza, and a handful of other stores. I love going their for lunch because everyone can choose from whatever they want instead of just one menu. My favorite is Green Seed for a giant amazing salad or curry! – This is a Latin American Dim Sum restaurant that has a menu filled with gluten free entrees and a cart that comes around with tons of gluten free small plates! – Absolutely love this place. It’s super small and they don’t take reservations so get their early or just be prepared to wait outside for a while. Definitely get the lamb and fried plantains! – This is one of my go-to restaurants for a good burger and fries. I ask for my burger on greens and always get a side of sweet potato fries! – This is the sister restaurant to Cholon, which is an extremely nice restaurant. They have a ton of GF options and really creative cocktails. Their menu continuously changes but they always have delicious curry and wings! – This latin-inspired restaurant is fairly new to Denver in a super cute neighborhood of LoHi. I just recently tried the carnitas, their chicken and the albacore tuna ceviche and all three were amazing. I HIGHLY recommend getting the ceviche, it was phenomenal. And try their homemade agua frescas and even add a shot of your favorite alcohol to them! – Delicious Italian food that you can pair with their incredible wine list. – Just opened in the 2021 in the Wash Park neighborhood and it’s been a breath of fresh air in that older Gaylord block. Great ambience, pretty good food, and tasty drinks! – Sister restaurant to the restaurants above, just right across the street. I go here for small plates and ramen. Obsessed with their ramen on a snowy night. They have a ton of GF options – definitely get the Hamachi Carpaccio. – Another quick Thai curry restaurant with GF options! – Love this restaurant! It was my first introduction to Cuban food and I instantly fell in love with plantains because of them. Definitely go to the restaurant instead of the fast-casual restaurant (Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria) because it’s a really cool restaurant tucked within two connected houses. Amazing drinks, plantain chips, and definitely get the Lechon Asado (which I made in my latest cookbook inspired by them) or the Ropa Vieja! (previously called Pinche Tacos) – This is by far my favorite place for tacos in Denver. Every single taco I’ve had there is outstanding. You can’t go wrong! Go to the location in Highlands, it’s a little bigger space so there is less of a wait. – I had Hopdoddy the first time when I was in Austin and I was SO happy to find them in Union Station in Downtown. Their burgers are crazy amazing! – Tapas with the best view in town and super delicious cocktails!

Dessert Favorites:

    – GF cupcakes available, and they are nice and big! Get their early or order ahead of time! – GF cupcakes available. – GF cupcakes and frozen yogurt bar! Just tried this place recently and it was some of the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had! Plus you can add a GF cupcake to your frozen yogurt. That’s winning right there. – They have a huge dinner menu with a ton of GF items, but I usually go there just for dessert! Get the molten chocolate cake! – I’m not a huge ice cream person, but they never fail! And the location is in this iconic giant tin milk jug with a super cute courtyard, so it’s just a fun place to hang out. Not GF but they definitely have options. – Their ice cream is amazing and the owner use to work out at my gym so I know how cool she is and how much she loves what she does. They aren’t GF but they have some options to choose from.

Cocktail Spots:

    – This Latin restaurant not only has great food, but they have their Mercado Margarita which is my FAVORITE margarita in Denver! – I just went here (2021) and it’s an adorable spot in Cherry Creek with really great drinks! – I haven’t been here, but I’ve heard great thing for cocktails here – This spot has multiple bars in one place (I prefer on the rooftop, I like the drinks up there better) and they have a really fun menu and ambiance. – I know nothing about this bar, but it seems fancy and exclusive, so it might be fun to go to!! – One of my favorite cocktail bars in Denver. It feels like you’re in a speak easy and everyone is back in the prohibition era. They also have old school cocktails that they make the old school way. It’s a super fun experience! – I haven’t been here, but their website is rad so hopefully that’s a good sign for their cocktails, too

Places I haven’t been, but I’ve heard are amazing (I haven’t checked these menus out to see if they are gluten free or not):

    – Jazz AND delicious food – inspired asian street food – Farm-to-Table – Farm-to-table – Farm-to-table Mexican food – Indian food

Hope this list helps you plan your next trip to Denver! Be sure to check out my Favorite Things To Do and Best Places To Stay!


Denver's culinary scene owes a lot to our neighbors south of the border: From mariachi and Mexican art to Mexican-inspired beer and nationally televised tacos, this weekend is full of events that wouldn't exist were it not for our h.

The house margarita is a subtle masterpiece, at once crowd-pleasing and unique — after all, it must represent a Mexican restaurant to all of its tequila-loving customers. Here are the ten best house margaritas in Denver.

Brothers Jason and Kris Wallenta started talking about opening a restaurant together before they were of legal drinking age. For a long time, they imagined that their eatery would be a pizzeria, but they first went with a taco joint.

In 2015, our resident expert on all things shaken and stirred, Kevin Galaba, went on a weekly mission to uncover cocktail recipes from Denver's top bartenders. He tasted his way through, tequila, gin, bourbon and spirits ever more e.


The 100 Best Denver Restaurants for 2021

Dining rooms and bars are where we gather to share good food and drink and good times with friends, family and neighbors. And while 2020 made gathering together difficult, restaurants are still here for us, whether we're able to eat their food inside, on a patio or in our own homes. Since eateries are doing everything they can to keep open and keep serving the dining community, we decided to move ahead with our annual Eat Here list of the 100 restaurants we can't live without – and hope we never have to.

Our list recognizes that greatness continues when and where we least expect it, and also serves as a thank you to the people cooking, serving, washing dishes, answering phones, delivering your food, enforcing the rules and making Denver a better city every day. Now get out and eat!

Since Abejas opened in downtown Golden in 2015, the intimate eatery has become a standout for fine dining in the western suburbs. The name is Spanish for “bees,” after founders Brandon Bortles and Barry Dobesh, who were called “the Bs” by their friends. An eclectic, seasonal roster of clever yet grounded dishes incorporates influences from Italy, North Africa and even a hint of Mexico, and the food is bolstered by an excellent, value-based wine list. Whatever you decide to eat, it’s clear that these Bs are killer.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Ace owners Josh and Jen Wolkon, who also run Steuben’s, had a fast hit on their hands when they opened their ping-pong hall and pan-Asian eatery in 2012. The menu at Ace Eat Serve has just gotten better over the years, especially since chef Thach Tran joined the team, adding a Peking duck special, hearty noodle soups and new flavors from Vietnam, Thailand and China.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

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Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo launched their second eatery at the beginning of 2019, after the success of their Green Valley Ranch location, bringing their unique, delicious cooking to Lakewood. At African Grill and Bar, you’ll find bold spices flavoring uncommon dishes representing Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations, as well as warm service from the owners and their family. This is an unforgettable culinary journey for vegetarians and meat lovers alike.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($, $$)

American Elm opened last year with a seasoned pro calling the shots in owner Bob Reiter and a steady hand in the kitchen with executive chef Brent Turnipseede. Since Turnipseede hails from the South, you’ll find hints of country cooking as well as subtle and unusual ingredients integrated into nearly every dish. And don’t miss the bar offerings, which are among the best in northwest Denver.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Located in Stanley Marketplace, Annette is a beautiful restaurant flooded with light and dotted with natural elements that make the room feel sophisticated, not stark. Chef/owner Caroline Glover cooks seasonal ingredients over a wood-fired grill with equal parts reverence and panache, turning out dishes that read as home cooking, even when venturing into such chef-driven ingredients as beef tongue, octopus and heirloom vegetables.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

For a chef who’s been in the restaurant business as long as he has, Radek Cerny still manages to bring a sense of fun and whimsy to some seriously French cuisine. At Atelier, you can luxuriate in rotating classics like rillettes, escargot, foie gras and lobster, but Cerny also has a way with Western favorites such as elk, salmon and bison. Be sure to throw in a few extra bucks for a bottle of wine the list here is dazzling, and the food is built to match the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$, $$)

Longtime general manager Ryan Fletter purchased Barolo Grill from his former boss, Blair Taylor, who’d founded the Italian eatery in 1992. Since taking over in 2015, Fletter has modernized the service and menu, designed by chef Darrel Truett, and built a formidable wine cellar while maintaining a touch of the classic. As a result, today Barolo Grill is informed by its past without being weighed down by it.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$, $$)

Since it opened in 2010, Basta has evolved from a simple, wood-fired pizzeria to an evocative Italian kitchen favoring Colorado ingredients over imported products. The restaurant is tiny and hard to find, tucked away in a Boulder apartment complex, but chef/owner Kelly Whitaker’s reputation for honoring tradition while experimenting with new ideas has become a beacon for locals and visitors alike.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

There may not be another restaurant in Denver that’s used its history to such great advantage, keeping everything noteworthy from the past — from the mid-century aesthetic to the quality steaks that meet the expectations of modern diners. The family-run business dates back to the 1930s, but the current incarnation was constructed in 1958, in distinct Googie style from the roofline to the neon sign. Inside, dinner in the bird’s-nest loft feels intimate and old-school, and a sugar steak — served no more than medium-rare — gives a taste of Colfax Avenue’s swingin’, stylish earlier days.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Siblings Aileen and Paul Reilly have built a beautiful operation since they opened Beast + Bottle in Uptown in 2013, with an emphasis on warm, gracious and genuine service to bolster a brief but ever-changing slate of beast-based bites. The plates that fly from the tiny kitchen have an artistry that matches their creative flavors, from verdant vegetable dishes to local lamb and heritage pork presentations to hearty family meals.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

When the times allow, Beckon’s chef’s-counter dining room feels like a dinner party thrown by a close friend — if that friend happened to be the best cook you know. But even at scattered seating under the stars and in intimate greenhouse pods, or with food bundled up for a special evening at home, the Beckon experience is unique, thanks to thoughtful executive chef Duncan Holmes and the entire Beckon team, who exude hospitality even when you're picking up food to go.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$, $$)

How does a humble hot dog cart rise to the status of one of Denver’s top dogs in the restaurant business? Chalk it up to the creative and obsessive mind of Jim Pittenger, who started out with Coca-Cola-braised onions and cream cheese as a topping combo that elevated his wieners above the competition. Wild-game and specialty sausages have drawn food celebrities including Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Andrew Zimmern, as well as long lines of tube-steak tourists and frankfurter fanatics. ($)

Linda Hampsten Fox, the Bindery’s chef/owner, lived and worked in Italy for decades, and the elegant dinner menu of the restaurant she opened in 2017 reflects her intimate knowledge of that country. But the culinary roster ranges farther, with Mexican and New American influences that reflect experiences throughout Hampsten Fox’s nearly thirty-year career, as well as her penchant for unusual proteins — tuna ribs and rabbit — and brash flavor combinations.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$, $$)

In a neighborhood better known for convenience stores and takeout Chinese, Greek and Thai, chef Olav Peterson and his wife, Melissa Severson, have carved out a reputation for avant-garde cuisine with an eye toward seasonality. Since it opened in 2011, Bittersweet has never been pretentious or unapproachable instead, its offerings delight with discovery while remaining grounded in familiar flavors, especially when it comes to homey takeout meals built for the whole family.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$, $$)

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Black Cat offers the ultimate farm-to-table experience, especially in recent months, as dining has moved entirely to chef/owner Eric Skokan’s farm, which provisions the menu year-round. You’ll find heirloom tomatoes, bold peppers and plenty of greens in the summer, root veggies and grains in the colder months, and lamb, beef and pork all year. Pasture rotation, organic farming and biodynamic practices result in the highest-quality produce and meats, all expertly utilized by Skokan and his team.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Chef Hosea Rosenberg turned his 2009 victory on Bravo’s Top Chef into a growing culinary business that started with a food truck and catering company and turned into a full-fledged restaurant in 2014. The butcher-driven eatery encompasses all of the chef’s passions: charcuterie, top cuts from locally raised animals, and Southwestern flavors from his childhood in New Mexico. Blackbelly’s next-door butcher shop provides an endless supply of cured meats and fresh cuts for the restaurant as well as your home kitchen.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Denver embraced Detroit-style pizza when Blue Pan Pizza debuted in 2015 in West Highland. Chef Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch and partner Giles Flanagin now run two Blue Pan locations serving rectangular pies built on a traditional base — an airy, crackly crust, Wisconsin brick cheese and a thick, tangy sauce — with toppings that modern customers crave. But you should try all of the styles here: award-winning Italian thin-crust, an even thinner Chicago cracker crust, and big slices of New York-style pizza.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

The Buckhorn Exchange delivers a Wild West experience as a true, old-timey spot that still has meaning for today’s diners. Before Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz opened the Buckhorn in 1893, he rode with Buffalo Bill in 1905, he fed President Teddy Roosevelt, then headed off with him to hunt big game. The menu is loaded with big game to this day, meat that demands a pretty big price tag. If you’re on a nineteenth-century budget, head to the historic bar on the second floor, where you can snack on Rocky Mountain oysters, enjoy entertainment and gaze upon all the taxidermied specimens distantly related to what might arrive on your plate. ($$)

In a city with few Brazilian restaurant options, Cafe Brazil has managed to remain vital and popular for more than twenty years while teaching us the finer points of feijoada and xim xim and the various tropical preparations of peixe. If you’ve been in Denver long enough, you probably knocked back your first caipirinha at Cafe Brazil, possibly even at the eatery’s original Highland location (long before folks started calling the area LoHi), if not at the newer Berkeley cafe. While Brazilian steakhouses downtown offer showmanship and piles of grilled meat, Cafe Brazil relies more on flavorful stews and seafood — often imbued with dende oil, coconut and spicy chiles — to win Denver diners over to Brazilian cuisine. ($$)

Cart-Driver’s original location, a tight space built from recycled shipping containers, has always been a great pick for wood-fired pizzas and other simple Italian fare, and with a second spot at 2239 West 30th Avenue in LoHi, the eatery cements its position as a favorite for casual but still elegant street-style eats and drinks, from crusty focaccia to batched cocktails.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Chef Elise Wiggins finally opened her dream restaurant, Cattivella (“naughty girl” in Italian), on the eastern edge of Denver in 2017, creating a place that reflects her many experiences traveling, working and eating in Italy. The wood-fired pizza oven is used for far more than pizzas, and an adjustable charcoal grill gives meats (many of them brought in whole and butchered on site) and vegetables a rustic, old-world depth of flavor. Housemade breads and pastas separate Cattivella from the standard bistro or trattoria, too, making for a sensuous experience — whether you’re naughty or nice.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Over almost eight decades, the Cherry Cricket has morphed from smoky bar to burger institution, even as Cherry Creek has gentrified around it. The Cricket is beloved by chefs, musicians, Creekers, night creatures and neighbors for its smoky, char-grilled patties and the lengthy list of toppings with which you can personalize them, from sauerkraut to salsa to raspberry jam. (We prefer standards such as green chiles and cheese.) This is also a great place to grab wings, hefty sandwiches, enchiladas and some of the best green chile in town you’ll find the same food (but not atmosphere) at a second location in the Ballpark neighborhood.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

The menu at Cherry Hills Sushi Co. almost seems to be missing a page or two, so short and focused is chef Bradford Kim’s roster of hand-rolled temaki and meticulous sashimi. But therein lies the brilliance: perfection captured through simplicity. Since opening in 2015, Kim has added Sushi Co. locations in Berkeley and Park Hill, spreading the temaki concept throughout town — along with good sake and Japanese whisky and beer.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Edwin Zoe opened Chimera in 2018 alongside Zoe Ma Ma, his casual Chinese restaurant. The original concept spanned Asia, but ramen became Zoe’s obsession, and in 2020 he switched to an all-ramen menu, with even the noodles made in-house — a real rarity in Colorado. Deeply flavored broths illustrate Chimera’s dedication to traditional ingredients and methods, with just enough experimentation to set the eatery apart.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Chef Lon Symensma’s expertise in Asian cuisine reveals itself in the dumplings, bao buns, stir-fries, curries and noodle bowls bursting from a menu designed for the east Denver neighborhood where he opened his second ChoLon. (The downtown original is temporarily closed.) Family-sized dishes and steam-at-home soup dumplings — yes, Symensma’s famed French onion soup version — have become mainstays for customers looking for great takeout.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Chef Lon Symensma moved to Denver from New York City to unveil ChoLon in 2010. It wasn’t long before every soul in town had tried — and swooned over — Symensma’s French onion soup dumplings and kaya toast with coconut jam and egg cloud. ChoLon gave Denver something new: a menu that balanced the exotic with the familiar in dishes built for sharing. After a decade, the restaurant feels like a mainstay of the Denver dining scene, and the chef just added a location with a family-friendly menu in Stapleton. ($$)

Citizen Rail has proven that inventive, chef-driven fare can work in a hotel setting— in this case, at the Kimpton Hotel Born near Union Station. The kitchen focuses on artisan food production, with dry-aged steaks (some aged for up to a year) and handmade bread and pasta. The heart of the restaurant is an open kitchen with several wood-burning grills, where everything — from those flavor-packed steaks to cocktail garnishes — is kissed with flame and smoke.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

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Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly couldn’t have done a finer job with Coperta, their followup to Beast + Bottle a few blocks away. Knockout dishes culled from little-known regions and towns in Italy, an enticing bar program built on Italian spirits, and warm hospitality equal to that of its older sibling combine to give Uptown residents one of the best dining experiences in any neighborhood.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($, $$)

The menu at Daughter Thai reads as a little more upscale than the average neighborhood Thai restaurant, but it doesn’t give up on the bold flavors and fresh ingredients typical of the Southeast Asian country. So you’ll find beef panang curry in the style of Kanchanaburi, where chef/owner Ounjit Hardacre grew up, and a house pla-larb salad that’s the chef’s own invention, served with crispy frog legs that rival the best chicken wings in town. Since it opened in 2019, Daughter Thai has been a welcome addition to a rapidly changing Platte Street.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Food halls went from novelty to ubiquity in just a few short years in Denver, but only one of them serves food coming from the mind of a single chef. Restaurateur Frank Bonanno went big with Denver Milk Market, the food hall he opened in mid-2018. So big, in fact, that it takes up the better part of a block, with three bars and a dozen food counters serving pizza, fried chicken, salads, fresh fish, steaks, ramen, gelato and more for breakfast, second breakfast, tea, lunch, happy hour, dinner and snacks. You could spend weeks at Milk Market and not eat the same meal twice.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($, $$)

At its heart, Dimestore is easy to define: It’s a sandwich shop — but not just any sandwich shop. The specialty of the house is a rolled focaccia sandwich called a “dimeroll.” Chef/co-owner Tim Dotson more or less invented the configuration, taking spongy focaccia, toasting it on one side, and rolling it up around housemade pastrami, roast beef, pulled pork, meatloaf and other tempting ingredients. The results are so delicious and addictive that the Dimestore has become a Denver classic in the year it’s been open.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

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Alex Figura and Spencer White elevate pasta’s status as an oft-abused filler to the star of the plate, one handmade noodle at a time. Rather than taking an overtly refined approach, as you’d expect given their backgrounds in kitchens where success was measured in awards and Michelin stars, their pasta joint is a minimalist counter-service spot. But the lack of pretention only accentuates what will surely be the best pasta you’ve had in ages.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Few Denver restaurants are as transportive as Domo, a fantasy land that’s delighted diners for more than two decades with its farmhouse setting in an unlikely urban neighborhood. But even taken outside to the restaurant’s Japanese garden seating or removed from its rustic context to be enjoyed at home, the country-style Japanese cooking is a standout.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($, $$)

Chef/owner Justin Cucci didn’t build El Five just as a restaurant, but as an experience. It debuted in 2017 atop a five-story building in LoHi, with breathtaking views of downtown and the mountains. But the food — a variation on Mediterranean tapas — is dramatic enough on its own, making dinner a fascinating journey through the food of the Asian, African and European cultures surrounding the sea.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

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Perhaps no Mexican spot in the Mile High is as beloved as El Taco de Mexico, a no-frills joint that offers little in the way of ambience and even less in the way of service. But that hasn’t deterred the crowds that have been coming here since 1985 for tasty tacos and anything smothered in the lip-tingling green chile. In 2020, El Taco was honored by the James Beard Foundation as an American classic, a well-deserved honor.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Freshness and balance are the keys to great Thai cuisine, and this Lakewood kitchen, which opened in 2019, serves up both, whether in seasonal salads, rich curries and soups (don’t miss the incendiary khao soi) or enlivened classics, from the floating market noodle soup to the sublimely porky hang le curry. Everything is made from scratch and loaded with the flavors of galangal, lemongrass, garlic, tamarind, chiles and other Southeast Asian spices.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Bigger may be better for certain things, but smaller and louder are no-brainers when it comes to instant ambience — and Fish N Beer, from Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey fame, has it in spades. The menu is as compact as the fifty-seat space, offering oysters, shrimp and mussels plus wood-fired entrees, seasonal sides and a killer chocolate cake for dessert. The kitchen hums with confident precision, paying as much attention to Buffalo-style blowfish tails as to the signature grilled whole bass.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

Old-world elegance, attention to detail, an award-winning wine cellar and a great view from its perch above Boulder have all contributed to the staying power of the Flagstaff House, opened in 1971 by the Monette family, which still runs the place. Not content to rest on its laurels, the Flagstaff House keeps its menu updated and seasonal while still making use of such high-end products as foie gras, morel mushrooms, Japanese wagyu beef, Maine lobster and fresh truffles. Dinner’s a splurge, but you’ll be treated like nobility from the front door to the last glass of dessert wine. Even a seat at the bar is an experience in hospitality the way it’s rarely practiced anymore. ($$)

The word "hospitality" seems practically invented to describe the experience at Frasca, which won the Outstanding Service award from the James Beard Foundation in 2019. Of course, the food and wine are also worthy of the restaurant's international reputation, making it not only a top Italian specialist, but one of the best restaurants in any category in Colorado. Book a table at Frasca for beautifully composed plates, perfectly paced tasting menus, and stellar wine service from Master Sommelier and co-owner Bobby Stuckey.

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From his tiny restaurant on Sixth Avenue, which he opened back in 2007, chef/restaurateur Alex Seidel looks outward, finding inspiration at his own farm and dairy, which provide seasonal produce and artisan cheeses for Fruition. An artist’s focus results in a compact menu, but each plate is an unforgettable masterpiece.

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Chef/restaurateur Troy Guard debuted Guard and Grace in 2013, and it instantly became one of Denver’s top steak destinations — no mean feat in a town known for its beef. A modern approach to service, plating and the meat itself — grass-fed and dry-aged steaks are offered alongside grain-fed choices — has kept the posh establishment at the top of the steakhouse game Guard recently launched a Guard and Grace in Houston, as proof that every cowtown can use a little shaking up.

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Building on the success of Uncle, his ramen joint, Tommy Lee opened Hop Alley (named for Denver’s long-gone Chinatown) in 2015. Lee’s exhilarating take on Chinese food, with interpretations of Cantonese, Sichuan and Beijing-inspired dishes (among other regions), translates surprisingly well for takeout and delivery, bolstered by an equally inspiring list of wine, beer and cocktails.

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At Il Porcellino Salumi, owner Bill Miner and his staff of butchers and cooks make every meat product themselves: pink hams, fat-streaked bacon, dry-cured salami and other sausages, as well as less common Italian-style meats that hang for months — sometimes upwards of a year — before they’re ready to slice and sell. So every sandwich here comes stacked with delicious meats you can’t get anywhere else in town. Add to that a market and butcher counter for take-home meats and pantry items, and you have a well-rounded neighborhood deli for every need.

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Il Posto moved from Uptown to RiNo in early 2017, but the new spot carries on the tradition of great Italian cooking started by chef/owner Andrea Frizzi in Uptown — with an added view. Stellar risotto and masterful pappardelle with pork ragu prove Il Posto’s prowess with the classics. You can often spot the chef himself, now as much of a neighborhood fixture as his restaurant, chatting with neighbors and strolling between Il Posto and Vero, his more casual eatery at the Denver Central Market just up the street.

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Sip, slurp and shuck your way to shellfish bliss with Jax, the fish house and oyster bar that Dave Query launched in Boulder in the ’90s, then introduced in LoDo over two decades ago. Start with raw, grilled or fried oysters, then focus on sustainably caught fish and other seafood rounded up by culinary director Sheila Lucero. Jax is now also leading the way with its own delivery team to bring the freshest catch to your door.

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The Street: There’s no better name for this former bungalow that’s been transformed into an iglesia for the worship of tacos. The menu offers more than a dozen preparations of beef, pork and goat in styles from around Mexico: cochinita pibil from the Yucatán, shredded pork mixed with pork rinds in the style of Campeche, and carne al pastor to rival the D.F.’s. And every house salsa and condiment has been made to match your taco of choice.

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La Fiesta has lasted through many changes since it opened in 1964 (in what had once been a Safeway), including the recent loss of founder and patriarch Michael Herrera, who passed away in February 2020. But the Den-Mex mainstay has carried on, with members of the extended family serving timelessly tasty chiles rellenos fried in giant wonton wrappers and smothered in hot, hot green chile. La Fiesta has become a living history museum of Mexican food as it has evolved to fit the tastes of the neighborhood.

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If the pastrami is good, the rest of the sandwich is sure to follow. At Leven Deli, chef Luke Hendricks makes pastrami from scratch, starting with whole beef brisket that’s cured for more than ten days before being smoked. Leven loads it up on fresh-baked rye or sourdough bread for an eye-rolling combo of homemade goodness. While Leven doesn’t have the broad range of classic Jewish delis, what it lacks in variety it makes up for in dedication to quality. Whether you’re swinging by for a sandwich or loading up with a full meal and bottles of wine, you’ll find that Leven fulfills the mission of a neighborhood eatery beyond being merely a sandwich shop.

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Linger, built from the bones of the old Olinger Mortuary building, burst onto the scene in 2011 with an international menu and a theme to match the surroundings (cocktails listed on toe tags, tables built from gurneys, water served in apothecary bottles). Although newer buildings have blocked some of the view from the rooftop bar/deck, Linger’s continued commitment to sustainable practices and carefully sourced ingredients have kept the restaurant at the top of the list of Denver dining destinations.

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An expansive tequila bar and delicious house margs, signature guacamole, a taco-filled happy hour, fresh oysters and inventive dinner specials are just a few reasons to love Lola, a mainstay in a neighborhood that has vastly changed since the restaurant debuted more than a dozen years ago. The east-facing, heated deck is a lovely place to soak up the sun or simply fortify yourself against the wintry nights ahead.

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Every restaurant is cooking with wood these days, it seems, but in the Ballpark neighborhood back in 2008, true Neapolitan pizza was unheard of. Owner/pizzaiolo Mark Dym’s obsession with every step of pizza production led to his earning the only Italian Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana certification in Colorado, and the dedication to tradition can be tasted in every slice to this day.

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What started as a cottage-industry bakery working out of a tiny Lakewood storefront in 2011 has evolved into an empanada mini-empire, thanks to the recipes and dedication of founder Lorena Cantarovici. In 2014, the chef moved her Argentinean cafe to a corner on South Broadway, expanding her offerings and adding a liquor license to serve malbec from adorable penguin-shaped carafes called pinguinos.

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Chef Nobu Matsuhisa brought everything we expected when he opened a branch of his namesake restaurant in Cherry Creek in 2016. The building is opulent and stunning, the plates executed with an artist’s skill and mastery of color and form, and the flavor pure and focused. Yes, Matsuhisa is destination dining for the most special of occasions, but its food is also perfect for an extravagant dinner at home.

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Megenagna serves Aurora’s Ethiopian community as well as other nearby residents who appreciate house-baked goods, meats and packaged Ethiopian specialties — along with fresh-made entrees that exude the welcoming aroma of spice blend. Every dish comes with tangy, spongy housemade injera, great for sopping up vegetable stews or wrapping up bites of spicy beef.

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Chef Bo Porytko was half of the duo behind Rebel Restaurant, which served some of Denver’s most thrilling cuisine for three years before closing in 2018. Now he’s manning his own tiny kitchen inside the Middleman, where he turns out a dizzying array of small plates and bigger dishes, with no regard for culinary tradition or international borders. Never expect the same thing twice, but always expect a balance of the delicate and the audacious.

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Mizuna was the first restaurant from chef Frank Bonanno, whose empire now includes restaurants, bars, a food hall and even a pie shop. The flagship has maintained its elegance and upscale tradition (in this case, French) while serving as a training ground for some of the city’s best chefs and acting as a neighborhood spot in Governor’s Park. Without Mizuna, Denver’s culinary landscape would be far less rich and varied than it is today.

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Yes, My Brother’s Bar has a fascinating history: The building has held a bar since the 1870s Neal Cassady hung out here when it was Paul’s Place and as My Brother’s Bar, it’s survived with no TVs while playing classical music and serving as a neighborhood joint for the whole city. But the most interesting chapter is the current one: After four decades, a longtime employee and her family bought the place from the Karagas family, vowing to keep My Brother’s Bar going. And they have, embracing safe outdoor dining without losing any of that historic charm.

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The legendary New Saigon has been holding down this spot on South Federal for over three decades, and it’s still a favorite for its soups, noodles, grilled meats and excellent curries. The Vietnamese coffee is sweet and comforting the massive bowls of warming soups prove perfect for a long lunch or early dinner. It could take you years to eat your way through everything on this thick menu, so get started: Those build-your-own spring rolls aren’t going to wrap themselves!

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While New Saigon offers a phonebook-sized menu with every possible combo of protein, noodle, rice and sauce, its spinoff, New Saigon Bakery, draws regulars with super-sized banh mi on house-baked French baguettes. Salty-sweet barbecued pork, luscious pâté and generous stacks of deli meats make for stellar sandwiches. Beyond banh mi, there are also grilled-meat-topped salads, pandan waffles and delicate desserts.

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Just off the main Larimer Street drag, Scott and Nicole Mattson’s Nocturne continues the jazz tradition of the neighborhood with its art deco-style bar, classic cocktails and stage-side dining room. While the stage and dining room are currently silent, you can still enjoy the Nocturne experience every Saturday night with takeout suppers accompanied by live-streamed jazz concerts.

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Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski opened Oak at Fourteenth in 2011, and almost immediately suffered a three-month closure because of a fire. But ever since then, Oak has been atop Boulder’s dining scene, thanks to Redzikowski’s inventive wood-fired cooking and Dayton’s eye for top-notch service. Years later, Oak has settled into an easy groove, turning out seasonal fare culled from local farms combined in novel platings.

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Olivia’s owners — Heather Morrison, Austin Carson and chef Ty Leon — have figured out how to adapt a small, upscale restaurant to difficult times with new ideas that could prove a future path for many other restaurants. Pre-paid dinners (with a built-in service fee to eliminate tipping) allow flexibility for guests while paying equitable wages for both front- and back-of-house staff and eliminating skipped reservations. And Olivia’s takeout menu options have been designed specifically with portability in mind. Add to those innovations pasta and cocktails that are among the best in town? Great food like this serves as an unchanging cornerstone in times of change.

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Chef/restaurateur Jeff Osaka closed his labor of love, [email protected], last spring, but his deft culinary touches can still be experienced through Osaka Ramen’s tight menu of Japanese small plates, bento boxes and, of course, steamy noodle bowls. Flavorful broths made from pork and chicken — or Thai-style green curry for a meatless option — bob with flourishes of mushrooms, scallions, jiggly eggs and slow-cooked meats. But don’t miss the chilled green beans dashed with sesame, addictive bacon-fried rice and some of the best fried chicken in town.

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In 2007, things like burrata, housemade salumi and Sunday pig roasts weren’t part of the Italian-restaurant lexicon in Denver, but restaurateur Frank Bonanno made them household phrases, serving less common regional dishes alongside pizza and panini to help demystify the more esoteric side of Italian cuisine. These days, Negronis, fresh Italian cheeses and boards of cured meats are popular all over town, thanks in part to Osteria Marco, which is still among Denver’s best.

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The youngest of the Den Corner of restaurants run by Toshi and Yasu Kizaki, Ototo offers a more intimate experience, not to mention robatayaki — skewered meats and vegetables grilled over charcoal. But the concise menu also encompasses other Japanese specialties, whether you’re in the mood for expertly sliced sashimi, a rich bowl of ramen, or whole grilled squid. With 35 years of experience serving the food of their home country in Denver, the Kizaki brothers still know how to keep things fresh. Ototo is currently closed during the coronavirus pandemic, but is expected to open soon for takeout orders. ($$, $$)

Perfection is the elusive goal of every pitmaster cooking meat over wood, tweaking techniques and recipes until the ideal brisket emerges from the smoker encrusted in mahogany bark and dripping with fat. Owlbear founder Karl Fallenius has put it all together at the smokehouse he opened in 2019, where pork, beef, turkey and even burgers attain barbecue transcendence with equal parts oak and patience.

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Located in a sea of noodle shops along South Federal Boulevard, Pho Duy still serves the best pho in town from this former KFC it moved to in 2015. The aromatic broth, fresh and flavorful meats, and options far beyond the standards — there’s even a vegetarian broth — keep this pho joint on the top of everyone’s list of standby lunches, between-meal drop-ins and cold-weather haunts.

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Denver clearly has a love for tiny neighborhood eateries that turn out meals on par with those served by the big boys downtown. Under chef/owner Peter Ryan, the Plimoth captured the hearts of both City Park residents and those willing to take a drive into unfamiliar territory. Classic European technique, local ingredients and regional inspiration give guests something new to look forward to with each order, even when enjoyed on the patio or at home.

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Until the Post Brewing Co. came along, it was almost as if the Front Range had no fried chicken at all, so quickly did fans flock here. Quaffable beers and a supporting cast of other countrified fare bolstered the Post’s reputation, and devotees in need of a fix had no trouble trekking to the bedroom community of Lafayette. Thankfully, founder Dave Query, who also runs Jax Fish House and other Denver and Boulder eateries, soon added more Posts in south Denver and Longmont and on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.

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Capitol Hill neighbors who have frequented Potager since it opened in 1997 were worried about what would become of the place when founder Teri Rippeto sold it in early 2019. But their fears have been allayed by the restaurant’s continued dedication to locally sourced, seasonally driven fare. Potager was a bellwether for a style of cuisine that’s become almost cliché, but few new restaurants are as good or as devoted to simple, honest cooking with premium ingredients.

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Traditional Taiwanese and Sichuanese ingredients and techniques are at the heart of Q House, which earned a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in the spring of 2019. The upscale eatery has turned tingly Sichuan peppercorns, head-on shrimp, beef tongue and pig ears from exotic ingredients into craveable everyday fare.

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When you only make one thing, you’d better make it right. Igor and Beckie Panasewicz had compiled more than a decade of experience serving Venezuelan cuisine from their food truck and at the Avanti food hall when they finally opened their own Platt Park brick-and-mortar. Their experience shows in the succulent meats, fluffy corn-flour shells, savory black beans, sweet plantains and tangy sauces loaded with lime and cilantro.

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Ramen Star opened on a quiet Sunnyside street in 2019 with a couple of secrets hidden inside. First: a high-tech noodle machine that allows chef/owner Takashi Tamai to turn out springy ramen noodles every day (when most ramen shops purchase pre-made noodles). Second: Tamai’s dedication to building layers of flavor in his broths using traditional ingredients and methods. They add up to the best sips and slurps in town.

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In 2004, chef Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch opened Rioja, a game-changer in Larimer Square. Since then, Rioja has only gained in popularity and national praise, with Jasinski winning Colorado’s first Best Chef: Southwest award from the James Beard Foundation, in 2013. The fare coming out of the open kitchen remains a jumble of Italian, French and Spanish influences highlighted by handmade pastas, exquisite sauces and carefully chosen wines.

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Denver lacked its own barbecue identity until Coy and Rachael Webb opened Roaming Buffalo in 2015. Coy, a trained chef with roots in Texas and a career in professional kitchens, decided early on to capture the spirit of Colorado in smoked lamb shanks and shoulder, bison ribs and game sausage he also turns out more typical pork ribs and pork, sliced beef brisket and smoky chicken. Roaming Buffalo has almost single-handedly created a style of barbecue that Denver — and now Golden, too — can call its own.

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DIY decor with industrial elements and roll-up garage windows have become the norm in Denver restaurants, but it was awe-inspiring and new, as was the menu, when chef/restaurateur Justin Cucci opened Root Down in an old garage in 2009. Bold mashups of international influences, along with a commitment to pleasing vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free customers, remain the draw a decade later.

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Josh Pollack brought the East Coast with him when he moved to Colorado, in the form of bagels just like those he remembered from growing up in New Jersey. Stack those bagels with smoked and cured fish (all made on site) or house-cured pastrami, and you’ve got winning sandwiches that still please customers every morning (don’t wait too long, or your favorites might sell out) at the Five Points deli.

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Safta, which means “grandmother” in Hebrew, is a personal project for New Orleans chef/restaurateur Alon Shaya he opened his first restaurant outside of Louisiana at Denver’s Source Hotel in 2018. Inspired by his grandmother’s recipes and the cuisine of Israel, where he was born, Shaya has given the city a new taste of Mediterranean cuisine, with wood-fired pita bread, an expansive hummus menu, and a range of other dishes including kebabs, falafel, braised lamb shank and duck matzoh ball soup.

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Sam’s No. 3 — the flagship in a then-fifty-year-old restaurant empire — finally closed in 1969, but the Armatas family returned the diner to its original downtown block in 2004. The menu is voluminous, with eight pages crammed with specials and sides and extras. Although the core offerings remain the Coney Island favorites that made Sam’s reputation back in the 1920s, there are also skillet breakfasts, burgers, breakfast burritos and other Mexican grub.

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Chefs Blake Edmunds and Max MacKissock have worked on numerous projects together, but Señor Bear is the purest distillation of their intelligence and adventurousness, combining a variety of Latin American culinary traditions into a tight and lively menu. Puerto Rican, Mexican and Peruvian flavors showcase the creativity of the kitchen, and new cocktail kits, happy-hour packs and meals for two to four hungry bears at home have elevated LoHi’s takeout game. ($$)

Chef Bill Espiricueta used childhood memories of barbecue in Austin and Kansas City to build a menu of oak-smoked brisket, ribs, housemade sausage and other mouth-watering meats. Smok offers down-home flavors and familiar smokehouse favorites, all filtered through a chef's detail-oriented lens. ($$)

This plant-based eatery feels casual and lighthearted, but the food is serious business, built on real vegetables, nuts and grains rather than relying on fake meats. Somebody People, named for a line in a David Bowie song, opens up a whole new world of light yet satisfying fare, along with market boxes of seasonal produce and other kitchen needs.

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Chef Cindhura Reddy and her husband, Elliot Strathmann, took over Spuntino in 2014, adding their own touches to the intimate Italian eatery. Today, hand-rolled pastas and braised meats are the stars, while goat from El Regalo Ranch and creamy arancini have become signature items. At the bar, Strathmann has amassed a collection of Italian amari, the bitter after-dinner spirits that give diners one more reason to linger. Since June, Spuntino has been serving dinner entirely outdoors, while Strathmann has personally walked to-go orders to Highland neighbors.

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Steuben’s is named after a Boston diner once run by founder Josh Wolkon’s family. Since 2006, this retro joint has paid tribute to regional American favorites, from well-made lobster rolls to juicy green-chile cheeseburgers. Steuben’s was also a pioneer in large-format cocktails, so the bar has years of experience batching booze — which you can now enjoy at home.

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Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch made the short leap from Larimer Square to Union Station in 2014 with Stoic & Genuine, the oddly named but well-appointed seafood bar inside the refurbished train station. Raw oysters draw seafood lovers with unparalleled freshness, while playful interpretations of tuna melts and chowdah as well as unique presentations of mussels, scallops, shrimp and other delights make for a lively lunch or a serious supper.

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Chef Dana Rodriguez brings magic to even the humblest of ingredients at Super Mega Bien, where dim sum-style small plates offer diners tastes of Oaxaca, Yucatán, Puerto Rico and other Latin American culinary hotbeds. Family-sized dishes have always been part of the menu, and they’ve adapted well for takeout and delivery, particularly the succulent cochinita pibil complete with tortillas, salsas and toppings.

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A cluster of dim sum houses surrounds the intersection of Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue, and all of them have their strengths — but the most consistently excellent is Super Star Asian, a bare-bones cavern whose back wall is lined with seafood tanks. When the carts are parked, takeout is an excellent option, but make sure to read through the restaurant’s menu of excellent Cantonese offerings beyond the dumplings.

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Denver has a longstanding love affair with sushi, thanks in large part to Sushi Den, the pristine house of Japanese seafood that brothers Yasu and Toshi Kizaki opened in 1984. As testament to Sushi Den’s status, chefs at just about every other revered sushi restaurant in town have spent time working here. Rather than resting on reputation, though, Sushi Den stays at the top with its commitment to the best seafood available while adapting to the times with top-notch packages for home diners.

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Wayne Conwell has been slicing fish and finding new ways to turn Japanese tradition on end at Sushi Sasa since 2005. By synthesizing Western technique and current Denver tastes with the traditions of sushi that evolved in isolation long before it hit American shores, the chef has continued to stay relevant in a scene that shifts and changes like an undulating school of tuna

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Kevin Morrison has taken a taco cart with a bawdy name and turned it into a thriving taco business. Back in 2010, Morrison often had trouble getting licenses to set up street-food sales because of his business’s original name: Pinche Tacos. Now there are three brick-and-mortar locations under the simple but descriptive Tacos Tequila Whiskey moniker. While the menu remains true to Morrison’s street-food days, the food seems to get better with each passing year.

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Taste of Thailand was one of metro Denver’s first Thai restaurants when it opened in Englewood in 1994, and since its move to South Broadway in 2015, it’s remained one of the best. Chef/owner Noy Farrell visits her home country regularly, touring Thailand on the hunt for new flavors and trends, which she brings back to Denver. Light and vibrant salads share space on the menu with blazing hot preparations and complex soups — all with the fresh flavors of Farrell’s kitchen garden

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Frasca Food and Wine founders Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson brought their impeccable hospitality from Boulder to Denver with Tavernetta in 2017, creating a more accessible Italian menu than Frasca’s, but not sparing any details in the sumptuous decor or deep wine list. The result is magnificent, and the team has put the same attention to detail into new meal kits for takeout and delivery.

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Vince Howard’s spartan deli has only been open a year, but already the neighborhood has embraced his breakfast and lunch sandwiches as if they’ve been mainstays for much longer. And Howard has returned the favor by providing a variety of experiences throughout the year, from burger nights to South Indian feasts (courtesy of his sous chef) to occasional barbecues. Like a multi-layered Reuben on flavorful rye, the whole is greater than any single ingredient at Tessa.

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Well-edited: That’s how we’d describe To the Wind Bistro, the restaurant from husband and wife Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson. The space is snug but smartly appointed, the wine list short but clever, and the menu brief but long on winners — no easy feat, given that it changes often. While To the Wind is an ideal setting for a romantic date when the dining room is open, it's also a wonderful takeout option, with a unique selection of wines and beers to accompany you home.

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It takes a lot of confidence to take a concept successful in one town and translate it for a new audience in a faraway city. But chef/restaurateur Tyson Cole exudes confidence with his repertoire, which re-envisions Japanese sushi-house fare without ever disrespecting its roots. The Denver version of Uchi remains true to the Austin original while adding just enough Colorado originality to entice dubious diners. We’ll take this Texas invasion.

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Tapas, gin and good times have turned a once-dark corner of Union Station into a destination for folks seeking Spanish cuisine in Denver. While the interior is tight at this restaurant from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, a table outside makes for a pleasing outing when accompanied by rounds of small plates filled with the flavors of the Iberian Peninsula.

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Uncle was Denver’s first modern entrant in the ramen-shop craze, and what an entry it was. Owner Tommy Lee took a less traditional approach to the time-honored Japanese noodle soup, creating intensely complex and tasty broths as a base for a nest of noodles and other delicious accoutrements. Years into this restaurant’s run, its popularity shows no signs of abating, even as it expanded to a Washington Park West location and switched to takeout only for the majority of 2020.

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Handmade dumplings and a little Sichuan spice make Uncle Zoe’s an eye-opening experience compared to standard American-Chinese fare. The kitchen takes the time to pleat every soup dumpling and season every dish just right. Go ahead, ask for the wontons in spicy chili oil so that you can experience the balance of heat and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Also not to be missed are the savory pastry pockets filled with beef and celery or shrimp and pork.

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Aurora’s Mango House bills itself as “a shared space for resettled refugees” and includes medical and dental offices as well as space for youth organizations and community programs. But there’s also a small food court with international vendors selling the best of their country’s food. Siri Tan launched Urban Burma here in early 2019, with the most complete roster of Burmese dishes the city has seen. But Tan’s restaurant isn’t just a novelty. The beef curry, nan gyi dok noodles and occasional mohinga, a catfish noodle soup considered the national dish of Myanmar, are all made with love and care.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Banh mi are big these days, but the Huynh family that founded Vinh Xuong Bakery served the sandwiches decades before son Duc Huynh opened his stylish and sunny cafe in 2011. He’s continued his family’s banh mi tradition of using baguettes baked in the shop every morning, then loading them with barbecued pork and chicken, pâté, meatballs and other housemade meats. Vinh Xuong is also a full Vietnamese bakery cafe, so you can grab coffee drinks to take out with your moon cakes, sesame balls and other delights.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Five Points has long been the focal point of African-American culture and community in Denver, with jazz and supper clubs and a variety of storefront restaurants offering homestyle cooking. The one with the most staying power is the Welton Street Cafe, where the Dickerson family has kept the catfish, fried chicken, smothered pork chops and other soul-food specialties coming for more than twenty years. Just make sure you leave room for some peach cobbler or a slice of sweet-potato pie. The Welton Street Cafe is currently open for takeout only see the restaurant's Facebook page for current menus and ordering details.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Yes, the Wolf’s Tailor combines influences from Italy, China and Japan, but if your mind is wandering to fusion, you should know that chef/owner Kelly Whitaker focuses more on what the different cuisines have in common: grilled meats served on skewers, raw-fish preparations, fermented vegetables and noodles made from fresh-milled grains. Most of the food is cooked in a wood-burning oven and on charcoal grills, and the results are subtle, strange and often stunning.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

What possessed chef Dana Rodriguez and her business partner, Tony Maciag, to open their first restaurant inside a space created from recycled shipping containers is beyond us, but the result is a joyous celebration that seamlessly combines Rodriguez’s Mexican roots with traditions from the American South. Since day one, Work & Class has served family-style fare, making the food excellent for taking home.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($$)

If you haven’t been following chef Penelope Wong’s scarlet-and-black food truck, you’d better start — stat — because you’re missing out on some of the best food in Denver. The chef loads steamers full of dumplings and pans full of potstickers, and garlic-chile wontons, pan-fried soup dumplings and adorable bao in the shape of pigs and pandas are on the roster. Over the past year, Wong has joined other chefs for one-time pop-ups, each selling out well in advance. Keep an eye on @penelopewong and @yuanwonton on Instagram so you don’t miss the next one.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($)

Chef Micheal Beary moved his Aspen-based Mexican restaurant to Denver in the waning days of 2018, bringing with him the biggest selection of Oaxacan dishes the city has ever seen. The bold, smoky flavors of Oaxaca are bolstered by chiles and other ingredients that the chef imports from southern Mexico through his own company, which works with Mexican farmers to grow chiles rarely found outside the region.

Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options. ($, $$)


Show me the Yummy in Denver!

Hi everyone!
My co-workers and I will be in Denver June 22-26 for a work trip. We are in our mid twenties and are MAJOR foodies! We will be staying at the Marriott City Center and would LOVE to receive some dinner recommendations. We are open to all types of food---but are on a budget. We would like to spend no more than $25 pp for dinner (tip included and we dont drink). Also, any advice on what we should do/see/visit would also be a plus! Please help us make this a yummy (and fun) trip!

It might be difficult to eat at Rioja or Panzano on your budget but you can get creative or just do entrees. Panzano has a good happy hour with specials on apps and pizzas until 6pm. Mici (italian) gets pretty good reviews and My Brother's Bar has good burgers.

You might try some places in the Highlands, which is just northwest of downtown. Root Down, Lola, Vita, Z Cuisine, Duo. Again if you order right you could probably stay under budget. A Cote, the bar attached to Z Cuisine, is generally lower priced and has a $12 menu deal going on Tuesday nights. And Denver is known for mexican food, which is generally affordable. Taqueria Patzcuaro and quite a few others in the Highlands are popular.

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Lola for under $25 with tax and tip? Maybe at happy hour. Doesn't strike me as the best bargain on a tight budget. Also, you won't find much on what to do/see here because Chowhound's all about the food check 5280 Magazine and the weekly Westword for local info and entertainment listings (Jason Sheehan's current and archived restaurant reviews for Westword are excellent and fun to read).


America's Best Tacos

When you close your eyes and picture a perfect taco, what do you see? Is it the Ortega taco-night special: a hard-shell taco, spiced ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce, and tomato? Or is it something from your favorite taco stand: two small corn tortillas, shredded pork, onions, and cilantro? Or maybe something in between? There are plenty of tacos out there, from fried fish to pork with pineapple, and from roasted goat to cow's tongue, and we set out to find America's 50 best.

First, let's define what exactly a taco is. By the broadest definitions, it's a handheld, folded, unleavened flatbread encasing something edible. And while some companies might be able to get away with calling the Choco Taco or Taco Bell's waffle taco a taco, for our purposes we're defining a taco as meat or vegetables placed onto a warmed tortilla, with the express purpose of folding it and eating it with one hand. And man, there are some amazing tacos out there.

One great thing about a taco is that it's one of the most democratic foods known to man. You'll find them at the most homespun, rustic roadside shacks as well as on the menu at some of the country's most high-end Mexican restaurants. One reason they're so popular is because they're so inexpensive, usually selling for just a couple of bucks. The low price and smallish size also makes it easy to become a self-styled taco expert, as seeking out great tacos and eating as many different varieties as possible is as honorable a pastime as any. On our quest for the country's best, we tracked down not only authentic Mexican offerings but also Tex-Mex tacos and a few that are decidedly not authentically Mexican but delicious nonetheless.

Even though tacos trace their roots to Mexico, they're quickly becoming more and more of an American staple. The 2012 census found that nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population is now Hispanic or Latino, up more than three percent from 2002. This increasing cultural influence has certainly made its way into the food we eat, with results that are decidedly positive. From Baja-style tacos (grilled or fried fish typically topped with slaw, pico de gallo, and sour cream-based sauce) to chopped meat from a cow's head (cabeza), the possibilities really are limitless.

Tacos are a food that inspires fierce loyalty. Ask someone in Texas (Austin, in particular) where the country's best tacos are and they'll tell you've found it. But head to Los Angeles and you'll meet people convinced that there's nothing better than a perfectly fried fish taco. And you know what? They'll both be right. New Yorkers have complained for years that it's tough to find a great taco in their city, but in recent years several have been introduced that rival the best you'll find in Mexico. Over in Chicago, a town that has never exactly been a taco paradise, the Maxwell Street Market is becoming a world-class taco destination.

In order to assemble our ranking of America's best tacos, we asked more than 200 of the nation's leading food writers and taco authorities to send over a list of their absolute favorite tacos in the country. Not taquerías, mind you, but individual tacos they believe to be the absolute finest offering from their favorite taco shops. We asked them to include only brick-and-mortar taquerías as opposed to trucks, carts, and the like (that's a ranking for another day, and also rules out Los Angeles' popular Ricky's). We also didn't include breakfast tacos, because most would agree that those are an entirely different food altogether. We rounded out their submissions with tacos mentioned in best-of lists, both in print and online, as well as our personal favorites, and then assembled a list of more than 150 tacos, which we divided by region: East Coast, Midwest, Texas, Southwest, and West Coast. We then invited our panel of experts to vote for their favorites. At the end of the day, we were left with the 50 best tacos in America.

Some of the tacos that made the cut are certainly surprising. In posh Riverside, Conn., for example, an unassuming carnitas taco has won over legions of fans, and in Denver a slab of sweet and sour braised pork belly with candied garlic is quickly becoming one of the city's must-eats.

So what makes a taco great, exactly? We polled our experts and most replied with similar qualifications: Great tacos are simple, with clean, vibrant, and varied flavors, each component able to stand on its own. A perfect taco is balanced in flavor, and not loaded down by extraneous add-ons. The tortilla should be super-fresh and ideally handmade. The filling doesn't have to be too simple or fancy, just made with care and an eye for balance and moisture level. The toppings, be it onions and cilantro or chipotle harissa, should brighten, heighten, and tie the whole taco together.

Thanks to a growing Latino population and technological advances like, say, the Internet, not only are there more great tacos out there than ever before, but it's becoming easier to track those tacos down. A truly great taco is nothing short of a work of art. Click here to learn which 50 tacos are America's best.


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