Denver’s dining scene in 2018 saw more food halls, more national transplants, more regional and international specialties, more James Beard Award winners, and more high-end bars and restaurants. Also, there was Shake Shack. From the 100 or so opening stories we wrote over the past 12 months, here are the eight you read most, in reverse order.
While the stalls at Zeppelin Station are mostly adapted from chefs’ previous concepts — based across town on Federal Boulevard, down the street in RiNo, or out of Chicago — positioning them together in a modern food hall provides an altogether different experience. Two things are certain walking through this concrete concourse surrounded by cranes and construction: that Denver is growing and gentrifying like never before, and that it is poised to become an international city.
7. Shake Shack
The original Shake Shack opened in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2004 and has grown to global proportions, now with more than 150 locations stateside and internationally. The Larimer Street space is the first of three slated for the Denver metro area before year’s end, with spots in Highlands Ranch and Denver International Airport to come.
6. Q House
Christopher Lin’s food menu combines a childhood spent in restaurants (his Taiwanese parents owned one called Szechuan House in Manchester, New Hampshire); kitchen training at the Culinary Institute of America; and four years of practice with one of the country’s most cutting-edge restaurant groups (Momofuku). “These are Chinese recipes and ideas served in a modern Western style,” he says of Q House’s dishes, adding, “you don’t have to have a bowl of white rice to eat this food.”
On the one hand, Morin is a fine-dining destination, serving four- and seven-course tasting menus as well as plates like lamb tartare or bordelaise-topped wagyu ribeye (for two for $80). On the other hand, it’s a natural wine bar with well-priced hors d’oeuvres like beef marrow custard ($7), a sandwich of veal sweetbreads, and oyster mousse inside French pastry ($1.75). If at first glance this all looks a little challenging, it is. But the teams behind restaurants Bar Dough, Señor Bear, and Tap & Burger have put together a passion project of a restaurant that’s attempting to balance comfort with progress.
4. Death & Co
After more than a decade slinging cocktails in the East Village, the owners of a famed New York bar had to ask themselves: What does Death & Co look like somewhere else? Last spring, David Kaplan, Alex Day, and Ravi DeRossi revealed their answer as they opened the first Death & Company outpost inside Denver’s brand new Ramble Hotel. Throughout the summer and fall, this open lobby bar and cafe was joined by a moody mezzanine lounge and a rooftop deck under the same brand.
One of the most noticeable things about James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya’s big new Denver restaurant is how obviously feminine it feels. At Safta, orchids line the shelves, roses climb the glassware, blonde wood crosses the tables, a soft pink wallpaper and blush tiles cover all the walls. For a restaurant named after the Hebrew word for grandmother, the vibe makes sense. For a chef who months ago parted ways with high-profile restaurateur John Besh and the New Orleans-based Besh Restaurant Group, accused by 25 former and current employees of sexual harassment, the setting now makes a statement.
There are a lot of buzzwords one could apply to the Wolf’s Tailor, a small restaurant by chef Kelly Whitaker in North Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. So here they go: Zero waste! Natural wines! Japanese fusion! Italian fusion! Tasting menus! Large format! Omakase! House-made pasta! House-milled grains! Wood oven! Robata grill! Binchotan! Noodles! Vegetable-forward! Garden-grown! Meat-forward! Skewers! Craft cocktails! Savory desserts! A black sesame semifreddo!
The truth is the Wolf’s Tailor has all these things — but it’s also very hard to pinpoint. “It’s like, what grows together goes together,” Whitaker starts to explain, before shaking his head and cutting off mid-sentence. Regardless of how cool it all starts to sound, here is the type of restaurant that makes Denver’s dining scene better.
1. Milk Market
With the opening of Milk Market, 13 restaurant stalls, three bars, and an artisan food market are now within walking distance of thousands of downtown Denver residents and visitors. Located at Wazee and 18th streets, the new market hall is the first of its kind in the neighborhood. Food and drink offerings start as early as 7 a.m. and go as late as 3 a.m. (see pizza by the slice) on weekends. Yes, restaurateur Frank Bonanno has covered all the bases here. Unlike other local halls, he’s behind every single concept.