The anticipation for 5280 Magazine's 25 Best Restaurants list makes chefs and restaurateurs lose sleep. You can almost hear the collective whispers in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the sixth annual list: Did we make it? The magazine hits the stands on September 25, but the complete list is out right, along with insight from food editor Amanda Faison into how she selected the new and old places that she sees as setting Denver's restaurant benchmarks.
If there is a common thread among the 25, Faison shared, "it is the huge shift in dining in Denver towards a more fun and casual approach. The way we dine here and across the country has been changing gradually, but you really see a significant difference for Denver in this year's list. It has become easier to go out on a Tuesday for dinner rather than saving those outings for the weekend."
Age, class, consistency, or location don't matter if you wonder about why these specific places made the list. The youngest restaurant here, Blackbelly Market, will turn one in November. [Restaurants older than 6 months by end of August were considered]. The oldest one, Sushi Den, opened in 1984. The white tablecloth Mizuna and the super casual Cart Driver are separated by five slots here.
Six year veterans of the list (Sushi Den, Duo, Fruition, Frasca, and Mizuna) share the spotlight with virgins to it like three-year old Uncle and places like Rioja and Barolo Grill, who skipped some editions of the best-of chart only to make it back on stronger. If you look at past editions, it is refreshing and entertaining to see that a restaurant can climb up from 22 to number 7 (Beast + Bottle) or it can not budge from number 11 for three years in a row (Oak at Fourteenth).
Quaint bistros set in more non-traditional locations like the Plimoth (City Park North), Bistro Barbes (Park Hill), and To The Wind (East Colfax) are listed side-by-side with prime real estate spots like ChoLon (LoDo) and Mercantile Dining and Provisions (Union Station).
"This is a list of only 25 restaurants," Faison explained. "Denver has so many restaurants now, old and new that are really good. Some of the restaurants that fell off still do a great job, but the competition in this town is so intense. What you see here is a reflection of this dining moment in time in Denver and there are certain elements to it that will surprise."
What are these surprises?
For the first time in the six year history of this list, Frasca Food and Wine came in at number 2. Acorn, the two year old RiNo restaurant owned by chef Steve Redzikowski and beverage director Bryan Dayton, took the number one spot. "In terms of where dining is going in Denver, Acorn is the spot that reflects our restaurant culture best," Faison explained. "
Places like Potager (who has been on the list for five years in a row) and Lower 48 (who received a glowing review from 5280 last year) did not make the cut. And twenty-three year old Barolo Grill came in at number 12. "Barolo isn't new and, for many, it may not seem exciting, but for anyone who hasn't been there in a while, you need to go now. Chef Darrel Truett is skillfully toeing the line of tradition in Northern Italian cuisine and innovation. He is bringing in younger new diners without alienating the base of the restaurant," Faison shared.
Without further ado, here is the complete list:
6. Work & Class
7. Beast + Bottle
8. Sushi Den
9. To The Wind
12. Barolo Grill
15. Old Major
16. Stoic & Genuine
17 Guard & Grace
18. Cart Driver
19. Bistro Barbes
20. The Plimoth
24. Blackbelly Market
P.S. Sister places owned by the same groups — Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth, Basta and Cart Driver, Fruition and Mercantile, and Rioja and Stoic & Genuine — make one wonder whether Denver is growing a new generation of establishment in its dining community.
Disclosure: the editor is married to one of the developers behind The Source.