The 38 Essential Denver Restaurants, Winter 2018
An updated map of Denver's essential restaurants. This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all your restaurant needs
Today Eater updates the Eater 38, our list of Denver's essential restaurants. This list is our answer to any question that begins with "Can you recommend a restaurant?"
This eclectic group of eateries spans a variety of cuisines and collectively satisfies any restaurant need from the hole-in-the-wall casual to the hip and tip-top white tablecloth. Every few months, Eater staff add pertinent restaurants that were omitted or have recently become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months). Older restaurants that have stepped up their game may be added back to the list. Keep in mind, the restaurants are not ranked but rather organized alphabetically.
Without further ado, Rebel, Señor Bear, and El Five join the map, while Departure, Tacos Tequila Whiskey, and Linger depart.
Rather than a stage-4 meltdown over our having excluded your favorite restaurant from the list, wouldn't it be more productive to just nominate it for inclusion?
Note: Eater Denver's radius includes Boulder, Longmont, Golden, and a little bit beyond, not just Denver proper.
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A wood-fire station dominates the open kitchen that anchors this RiNo restaurant's dining room. Chef Steve Redzikowski (who also owns Oak at Fourteenth and Brider) charms diners with creative new American dishes that combine worldly flavors and classic techniques. Start with the kale and apple salad for lunch. At dinner, order the pork rinds and wood-roasted manila clams.
Brother and sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly created a restaurant that is comfortable in every way yet modern and elevated at the same time. There are always dinner specials, a well-curated wine and cocktail list, and desserts one should save room for. Keep an eye out for music-inspired special dinners.
Chef Lon Symensma, whose resume includes serving as executive chef at Buddakan in NYC, creates memorable and beautiful dishes inspired by Asian flavors and ingredients. The soup dumplings are a staple and the bacon fried rice a real diet splurge. Come for lunch for the Korean hot fried chicken sliders alone. And if you can't get enough, visit casual sister spot Cho77 on South Broadway.
One word: Authentic. El Taco De Mexico is the quintessential taqueria, offering a plethora of tacos (pork, beef, chicken, tongue, cheek, etc...) and some of the best green chili in town. It's not a show-stopper of restaurant where decor is concerned, but you don't come here for the aesthetics — you come here to eat, and eat you will.
This upscale yet approachable restaurant consistently ranks on Eater's national 38 list. It has an outstanding wine list curated by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey. The Northern Italian Friulian-inspired cuisine, under direction of chef Lachlan Patterson, takes guests on a tour of antipasti, risottos, pastas, and more, all crafted with the best ingredients. Book your anniversary here, but also feel free to sit at the bar and enjoy a glass of wine with salumi.
A decade old, Fruition is a mature and self-confident restaurant with an intimate dining room, an impeccably trained staff, and a thoughtful wine list. The dinner-only menu changes with the seasons, but certain staples such as carbonara (pictured) never leave the offerings.
Tucked in the Peloton complex on Boulder's East Arapahoe, this wood-fired eatery by chef Kelly Whitaker dishes out a variety of items from handmade pastas and Neapolitan pizzas to oysters and short ribs cooked sous vide. Go for expert wine advice, well-appointed cocktails, and creations from one of the most highly regarded chefs in the region.
Potager is Denver's original farm-to-table restaurant. Chef and owner Teri Ripetto along with her loyal team sources many ingredients locally and uses the seasons to guide her ever-changing menus. Not to miss: any version of the cheese soufflé and any version of the roasted chicken.
Chef Jennifer Jasinski and her business partner Beth Gruitch, along with their talented teams, have transformed Larimer Square and LoDo with their restaurants, and it all started with Rioja. This remodeled gem is a Denver staple, and Jasinski is constantly keeping her menu fresh, with the pork belly pictured above remaining a staple. Head across the street to Bistro Vendôme, around the corner at Euclid Hall, and to Union Station at Stoic & Genuine for more from these power houses of the city.
A force to be reckoned with, Sushi Den still offers Denver's best Japanese cuisine after over three decades in business. In addition to next door sister restaurant Izakaya Den, the Kizaki brothers, who own Sushi Den, brought back Ototo, just across the street. Stay tuned for another project in the same area.
Between the playful menu, the cozy decor, and spectacular wine list, Table 6 is the right place for a casual dinner, a boozy brunch, or a romantic date. Wine guru Aaron Foreman rules the dining room with velvet manners and can always be trusted to find the perfect pairing for dishes created by chef Mike Winston.
Chef Pete Ryan marches to the beat of his own drum. He opened this modern French restaurant in an unlikely location and proved that outstanding hospitality from a dedicated staff and heartfelt cuisine is what attracts a loyal guest base. A creative wine list and well-appointed cocktail selection complements dishes like the ever-present signature crispy chicken (pictured).
One of the original restaurants in RiNo, this quaint and welcoming spot helmed by chef Jonathan Power changes its dishes seasonally but always has a variation of agnolotti on the menu. Try the chef's tasting menu for two and head across the street to sister spot Fausto after dinner.
The Momofuku-inspired dishes at Tommy Lee's LoHi noodle shop are still just as popular as they were when the restaurant first opened. Ramen is a challenging food to master, let alone various styles of it, but Uncle has it down to a science executed every night but Sundays in a bright bustling dining room. Do not miss the kimchi ramen.
White table cloths, an award-winning wine list, and a rich and attractive modern Italian menu: That is the now-classic Barolo Grill. Any of the pasta dishes will make you want to return and the duck will make you a fan for life. While a great special occasion place, this restaurant is also fit for grabbing a seat at the bar and grazing on a couple of appetizers alongside a glass of wine.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more intimate dining room anywhere in Denver. Chef Royce Oliveira and his wife Leanne run this gem reminiscent of a Parisian café with grace and a menu rooted in classic French recipes. Sit at the bar for a bird's eye view of the kitchen line. Note that there are no reservations, but the restaurant will hold a table for you for 15 minutes or give you an approximate time of availability if you call ahead.
A modern top-notch steak house, Guard & Grace offers a classic meat selection to its guests alongside a serious raw bar and enviable wine list. The sprawling dining room is gorgeous, and the vibe lends itself both to a power lunch and to a dinner that impresses the most demanding date. Don't miss the desserts, some of the best ones in town.
Pizza, oysters, and bubbles on tap are on the menu at this casual hangout set on Larimer Street. Get lunch or come by for a late bite, but whatever you do, don't miss the clam pizza. A small selection of expertly executed Italian cocktails and cherry-picked wines and beers go well with every meal.
This buzzing restaurant inside Denver's Union Station serves creative farm-to-table cuisine from chefs Alex Seidel and Matt Vawter. Visit for breakfast for house-made pastries and great espresso drinks, come for lunch and enjoy a banh mi sandwich, or go all out for a dinner, which comes paired with crafted cocktails and a well-curated wine selection.
Top Chef winning Hosea Rosenberg opened his flagship restaurant in an unlikely location in Boulder and has struck gold. The deliberately comforting yet creative food and spotless service keep drawing the crowds in. The sister butcher shop next door provides not only a chance to get some great cuts to go but also some outstanding sandwiches. And try out the new sister restaurant Santo, a tribute to New Mexican cuisine.
Returned to its original owners, this decades-old staple of South Federal offers authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a casual bustling environment. It is great for a quick solo dinner or a family gathering and sure to please adults and kids alike.
Small but mighty, this fast-casual curry shop brought deep and exotic flavors first to the RINo hood, then to Berkeley. Satellite outposts opened inside Whole Foods in Boulder and at Tamarac Square. The extra hot vindaloo chicken bowl is a sure bet for anyone who can handle the spice.
The second act from Tommy Lee of Uncle is a major hit in RiNo. The menu is centered around classic regional Chinese fare enjoyed best family-style in this no-fuss, hip-hop fueled dining room. When you go, order the steamed eggplant (pictured here) and be sure to try the excellent cocktails, but don't stray away from the thoughtful wine list.
Chef Nicholas Ames, along with the team at Abejas, have changed the dining game in Golden with this new American eatery that follows seasonality in its approach. Bonus: Brunch is served on weekends.
The LoHi spot helmed by 'Top Chef' contestant Carrie Baird charms with a vibrant and casual atmosphere and surprises with dishes that are always creative and expertly executed. If you stray from the pizza menu, find pastas that will win your heart as well as delicate and inventive veggies. Bonus: The brunch is fantastic and the wine list all-Italian.
When the hankering for a great plate of hummus or a traditional shawarma hits, head to this family-owned gem located close to the State Capitol. You may even spot your favorite local politician there.
Chef Corey Baker has quickly garnered a loyal following for his 2-year-old LoHi restaurant that just spawned a sexy sister izakaya in RiNo. The space at the original is welcoming, the staff well-trained, and the sake list very attractive. For the best experience, sit at the sushi counter and opt for omakase.
Classic New York City bagels, house-made lox, pastrami, and rugelach are what this Jewish deli is all about. Six days a week you can get your carbo-loading on at the Five Points original location and now at the Stanley also. Order Ronnie's Favorite with Scottish smoked salmon, whitefish salad, and cucumbers.
Powerhouse chef Dana Rodriguez and business partner Tony Maciag bring high and positive energy and a fun American-inspired menu with a Mexican touch to this RiNo hot spot. The blue corn empanadas are a must as is the Sunday-only fried chicken. Watch for the team's new project down the street in 2018.
Now with a second location in Cherry Creek, this bright and charming cafe led by chef Mary Nguyen morphs seamlessly from breakfast to lunch and dinner with a variety of options for guests. Whether you are going for a great pastry, a sandwich, or a comforting dinner item, Olive & Finch is sure to please.
After two decades in LoDo, this staple of the dining scene still fires on all cylinders. With new and talented chef Nicholas Kayser at the helm, Vesta is fresh and classic at the same time.
Chef Caroline Glover singlehandedly gives diners from all over the city a reason to visit the Stanley Marketplace. The attention to detail in this sweet and contemporary space is second only to that found in dishes like the charred endive and sunchoke gratin. After coming for dinner, be sure to check out the stellar brunch.
Relaunched a year ago in a new contemporary space in RiNo, Il Posto brings simple and thoughtful Italian cuisine with a side of very friendly service. Lunch and dinner is served. Sit at the chef's counter for a warm kitchen-side experience.
With an original location in Boulder and a second outpost in Denver right next to Union Station, this family-owned traditional Chinese eatery is a go-to for classics like dan dan noodles. Soon, the same team will open Chimera, a full-service spot in Boulder, focused on food and flavors of the Pacific Rim.
Congress Park's lovely 12 @ Madison is a mature reboot of Chef Jeff Osaka's former restaurant. The kitchen, led by chef Ashley McBrady, puts out ever-changing seasonal and new American menus in a bright neighborhood setting. Try chawanmushi, tamarind-glazed quail, and for weekend brunch a roast chicken.