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First Word: 5280 Magazine Picks Its 25 Best Restaurants

The October issue of 5280 Magazine is the most anticipated one of the the year for one reason only: It includes the list of Denver's 25 best restaurants.

Ryan Dearth

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:

1. Acorn
2. Frasca
3. Mercantile
4. ChoLon
5. Populist
6. Work & Class
7. Beast + Bottle
8. Sushi Den
9. To The Wind
10. Basta
11. Oak
12. Barolo Grill
13. Mizuna
14. Fruition
15. Old Major
16. Stoic & Genuine
17 Guard & Grace
18. Cart Driver
19. Bistro Barbes
20. The Plimoth
21. Bittersweet
22. Duo
23. Rioja
24. Blackbelly Market
25. Uncle

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.

Work & Class

2500 Larimer Street, , CO 80205 (303) 292-0700 Visit Website

Cart Driver

, Denver, CO (303) 292-3553


95 South Pennsylvania Street, , CO 80209 (720) 638-1859 Visit Website

Sushi Den

1487 South Pearl Street, , CO 80210 (303) 777-0826 Visit Website


15 Henry Thomas Drive, , LA 70124 (504) 218-5413 Visit Website


16 East Martin Street, , NC 27601 (919) 977-3829 Visit Website

The Populist

3163 Larimer Street, , CO 80205 (720) 432-3163 Visit Website


225 East 7th Avenue, , CO 80203 (303) 832-4778

The Plimoth

2335 East 28th Avenue, , CO 80205 (303) 297-1215 Visit Website


1555 Blake Street, , CO 80202 (303) 353-5223 Visit Website

Duo Restaurant

2413 W 32nd Avenue, Denver, CO 80211 303 477 4141


1431 Larimer Street, , CO 80202 (303) 820-2282 Visit Website

Beast + Bottle

719 East 17th Avenue, , CO 80203 (303) 623-3223 Visit Website

Mercantile Dining and Provision

1701 Wynkoop Street, , CO 80202 (720) 460-3733 Visit Website

Stoic & Genuine

1701 Wynkoop Street, , CO 80202 (303) 640-3474 Visit Website

Bistro Barbes

, Denver, CO (720) 398-8085

Guard and Grace

500 Dallas Street, , TX 77002 (346) 326-0789 Visit Website

Frasca Food and Wine

1738 Pearl Street, , CO 80302 (303) 442-6966 Visit Website

Old Major

3316 Tejon Street, , CO 80211 (720) 420-0622 Visit Website

To The Wind

3333 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206 (303) 316-3333 Visit Website

Barolo Grill

3030 East 6th Avenue, , CO 80206 (303) 393-1040 Visit Website

Fruition Restaurant

1313 E 6th Avenue, Denver, CO 80218 303 831 1992


1400 Pearl Street, , CO 80302 (303) 444-3622 Visit Website