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A tablescape with different pastas, focaccia, a foie gras appetizer, and glasses of wine
A typical spread at Restaurant Olivia.
Joni Schrantz

The 38 Essential Restaurants in Denver

Here’s what’s elevating the Mile High City dining scene right now

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A typical spread at Restaurant Olivia.
| Joni Schrantz

Welcome to the Eater 38, a seasonally updated guide to restaurants that represent the growth and ingenuity of Denver’s culinary community. Since its launch in 2012, this map has traced the city’s evolution from what many outsiders dismissed as a cowtown to an ever-growing, prismatic dining destination that has earned a place in the national conversation for its youthful energy and freewheeling creativity.

Any given update, then, is designed to reflect what’s defining and redefining the dining scene now. Spanning a variety of cuisine types, price points, and neighborhoods, this one covers what might be called some of the cornerstones of the landscape along with recent arrivals that bring something new and necessary to the table. The fact that it can’t include every place fitting those descriptions is the nature of the beast; removal from the Eater 38 doesn’t, in short, mean that a restaurant isn’t still important and won’t return in the future.

Note, too, that while the map may include food trucks as well as the occasional Boulder establishment, it does not include bars, which have their own map. Don’t see your favorite restaurant? Nominate it for inclusion here. And for all the latest dining intel, subscribe to Eater Denver’s newsletter.

The latest CDC guidance for vaccinated diners during the COVID-19 outbreak is here; dining out still carries risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Frasca Food & Wine

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1738 Pearl St
Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 442-6966
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Renowned equally for its intricate Friulian cuisine, a wine program created by partner and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, and above-and-beyond service, this longtime Boulder destination has emerged from the pandemic with added value in the form of Alpenglobes. Guests now have the option of booking one for a five-course chef’s tasting composed of seasonal dishes like fennel- and marigold-laced chilled apricot soup and prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin over polenta with truffles; the tasting menu is also available as an alternative to the four-course version presented in the dining room, where the likes of squash blossom–caciocavallo risotto and lamb loin with porcini, fava beans, and carrots await.

A photo of a dish consisting of vegetables, including chopped vegetables, next to a bowl of black sauce from Frasca Food & Wine
Among many other things, Frasca is known for artistic presentation.
Ryan Dearth/Eater

2. Blackbelly

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1606 Conestoga St #3
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 247-1000
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Hosea Rosenberg spun his victory on Top Chef Season 5 into gold when he opened his flagship restaurant and butcher shop in 2014; Blackbelly’s been shining ever since. The meat of the matter here is, well, meat itself, be it a charcuterie board, the signature steak tartare, or a market cut of lamb, pork, or beef. But the contemporary American kitchen treats seasonal produce with equal respect: Take, for example, carrot farfalle in parmesan-seaweed brodo or burrata with smoked peaches and compressed plums in nasturtium sauce with black-garlic crumble. By day, the takeout-only breakfast burritos have earned themselves a cult following.

<span data-author="-1">Blackbelly</span>
With its own butcher shop, Blackbelly treats meat right.
Rachel Adams/Blackbelly

3. Dry Storage

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3601 Arapahoe Ave D-181
Boulder, CO 80303
(720) 420-0918
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This slot is typically filled by Basta, superstar chef Kelly Whitaker’s wood-fired, Italian-inspired flagship — but it’s currently undergoing a remodel. Good thing, then, that his slick little bakery, pantry, and coffee bar around the corner is filling the void. By day, the counter is lined with fresh loaves of bread, pastries, toasts, pan pizza by the slice, and more to accompany the slate of espresso drinks and teas; on the quirkier side are items like tinned seafood and onigiri, as well as a small beer and wine selection, while the retail shelves display bags of organic and heirloom flour from Whitaker’s own mill. By night, however — at least for now — Dry Storage is operating as “Basta East,” so the restaurant’s many fans can have that pizza and take home a kilo of the flour it was made with too.

Bakery-cafe counter lined with pastries and bottles of wine
The counter at Dry Storage.
Ruth Tobias

4. Kiké’s Red Tacos

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5226 Federal Blvd
Denver, CO 80221
(720) 397-0591
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Denver has long had its share of attention-getting food trucks, but few could claim to capture the zeitgeist quite like this one. Currently set up in a Chaffee Park parking lot beside a handful of picnic tables, Kiké’s Red Tacos burst onto the scene last fall with birria, birria, and more birria de res — not only in the form of tacos with consommé for dipping but also in quesadillas, mulitas, tortas, burritos, and ramen — and it’s been serving throngs ever since. Rich, heady with spices, cheesy, and alternatively crisp, soft, and dripping with juice in all the right places, every single item is a winner — but when they’re gone, they’re gone, so get here early.

Birria quesadilla with salsas and veggies
Kiké’s birria quesadilla.
Ruth Tobias

5. The Ginger Pig

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4262 Lowell Blvd
Denver, CO 80211
(720) 324-8416
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A loving homage to the family who hosted her as an exchange student in China, this brick-and-mortar spinoff of chef-owner Natascha Hess’s popular Pan-Asian food truck also reflects her extensive travels across the continent and her penchant for mixing it up with Western influences. At any given time, the menu might boast Korean, Japanese, and/or Chinese-style fried chicken; garlicky noodles tossed with ground pork and chili oil or shrimp and broccoli; and such Instagrammable stuff as cheeseburger fried rice or Korean-inspired hot dogs battered in rice and cornflakes. To complement it all are cocktails flavored with matcha, yuzu, shiso, and lemongrass; there’s even a twist on limoncello featuring baijiu.

Bowls of garlic noodles with shrimp and broccoli and cheeseburger fried rice with a takeout box of carrot chips
Ginger Pig’s garlic noodles with shrimp and broccoli; cheeseburger fried rice; and carrot chips.
Ruth Tobias

6. The Wolf's Tailor

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4058 Tejon St
Denver, CO 80211
(720) 456-6705
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Simply put, the Wolf’s Tailor is one of the most unusual and ambitious restaurants in Denver. But explaining the concept further is not so simple: Loosely mixing Italian and Japanese cuisines, it’s ultimately grounded in technique more than any one tradition, relying on a binchotan grill, a wood-fired oven, and donabes (clay pots) as well as house-milled heritage grains and produce from the garden. Pre-pandemic, chef-partner Kelly Whitaker offered both a la carte and multicourse prix fixe menus; currently, only the latter is available by prepaid reservation.

Fish soup in clay pot
Donabe, a Japanese clay pot, is put in service of grains and stews like this zuppa di pesce at The Wolf’s Tailor. 
Lucy Beaugard/Eater Denver

7. Comal Heritage Food Incubator

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3455 Ringsby Ct #105
Denver, CO 80216
(303) 292-0770
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Doubling as a business incubator and training kitchen for immigrants and refugees, this beloved RiNo lunch counter is currently run primarily by women from Mexico and other parts of Latin America — which means the menu abounds with such vibrant stuff as shrimp fajitas accompanied by handmade corn tortillas, huaraches (masa flatbreads) topped with pinto beans and carnitas in salsa verde, and Venezuelan split pea–pork rib soup.

Plate of griddled tacos with salsa and lime wedges
Griddled tacos at Comal.
Ruth Tobias

8. Safta Restaurant

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3330 Brighton Blvd #201
Denver, CO 80216
(720) 408-2444
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Among a handful of chefs to achieve national recognition for turning modern Israeli cuisine into a phenomenon is New Orleans’ Alon Shaya, who brought Safta (meaning “grandmother” in Hebrew) to The Source Hotel in RiNo in 2018. The wood-fired pita accompanied by multiple choices of hummus and an array of small plates such as baba ghanoush and whipped feta with figs and mint are the best places to start, but there’s always something new to explore — including a brunch menu featuring rose-tahini pancakes with orange butter and classic shakshouka.

Pita with hummus
Safta’s famous pita bread and hummus with lamb ragù.
Lucy Beaugard/Eater Denver

9. Temaki Den

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3350 Brighton Blvd
Denver, CO 80216
(303) 200-0530
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With the venerable Sushi Den and equally acclaimed Izakaya Den on Old South Pearl, the Kizaki brothers have been shaping Denver’s understanding of Japanese cuisine for decades. But they ventured into new territory, both geographical and culinary, when they opened this concept inside The Source last fall. Occupying the bar area at the center of the marketplace, it specializes in temaki, or hand rolls, filled with blue crab, yellowtail, salmon skin, and other delights along with treats like spinach goma-ae and yuzu–black pepper sorbet for dessert; of course, there’s a small selection of nigiri for the sushi die-hards, and for the drinkers in the house, a smart array of saké and Japanese whiskies.

Lobster nigiri topped with roe
Aburi lobster nigiri at Temaki Den.
Ruth Tobias

10. Hop Alley

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3500 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 379-8340
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Tommy Lee’s enduring RiNo favorite puts an exuberant modern spin on regional Chinese staples in an equally high-energy dining room. While all first-timers (if there are any left) should try the Chongqing-style fried chicken with chilies, Beijing duck roll, and bone marrow–fried rice, abundant seasonal and daily specials keep regulars coming back — whether for lobster dumplings, beef-and-celery shaobing, or turnip cake with shrimp in black garlic sauce. The bar team is more than up to the pairing challenge the menu presents, known as they are for cocktails infused with Asian ingredients as well as a geeky selection of wines and ciders.

Chongqing-style fried chicken with chilies and scallions
Hop Alley’s signature la zi ji.
Adam Bove

11. Dio Mio — Handmade Pasta

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3264 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 562-1965
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Sticking with counter service in a small, no-frills RiNo space, Spencer White and Alex Figura’s ever-popular pasta shop may have proven itself even more vital to the neighborhood than it already was in the takeout-only era (in fact, it has earned itself a sibling in the form of Redeemer Pizza, which just opened a few blocks away). The compact menu over-delivers on intrigue for its size: While spaghetti and meatballs or cacio e pepe are always a soothing option, it’s seasonal creations like sourdough spaetzle with maitake mushrooms, preserved lemon, and celery root puree or fazzoletti with ham, Swiss, and pickles that have earned Dio Mio its stripes. (The beverage list is equally smart.)

Fazzoletti with lamb and mint
Dio Mio always offers a seasonal pasta or two to supplement the staples.
Ruth Tobias

12. Mister Oso

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3163 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 677-6454
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Resembling but not imitating its older LoHi sibling Señor Bear, this red-hot RiNo spot in the old Populist space has every little thing going for it: splashy tropics-inspired decor; an equally atmospheric, ivy-lined patio; and, of course, bold, bright Latin-inspired eats and drinks. The menu here is more narrowly focused on Mexico, with tacos at its center, but ceviches and seasonal dishes like the brussels sprout-quinoa salad with avocado, dried cantaloupe, and almonds pair just as well with a tequila-spiked aguas fresca or the daily-changing congelado (frozen cocktail).

Pork belly taco with a margarita against a blue backdrop
The pork belly taco and other delights at Mister Oso.
Kayla Jones

13. Spuntino

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2639 W 32nd Ave
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 433-0949
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Spuntino is a special place. Chef Cindhura Reddy’s cooking is at once polished and deeply soulful, as revealed by her modern Italian menu subtly strewn with Indian influences: arancini with spiced cauliflower and mint-cilantro yogurt here, elk tartare with masala aioli and ajwain seed crisps there. Her husband Elliot Strathmann, meanwhile, oversees one of the city’s most exciting beverage programs, painstakingly sourcing uncommon wines from small producers while making his own amari and liqueurs. And the couple’s passion for cuisine extends to their — and their dedicated staff’s — warm and genuine approach to hospitality.

Noodles with sausage, pistachios, and herbs
Handmade pasta with sausage, pistachios, and herbs at Spuntino.
Ruth Tobias

14. The Bindery

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1817 Central St
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 993-2364
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As inexhaustible as she is imaginative, Linda Hampsten Fox was a ray of light in the darkness of the pandemic, proving that her eclectic market, bakery-cafe, and restaurant is indispensable to not only LoHi but Denver as a whole. Influences as diverse as Italy, Israel, and Mexico reflect her globe-spanning career prior to settling here; they’re revealed by day in dishes like uova alla flamenca with chorizo and grits or carrot waffles with mascarpone gelato and by night in creations ranging from steak tartare tostadas to Philly-style crab spaghetti.

Spatchocked hen with mushrooms in beet sauce
An elegant presentation of spatchcocked hen in hibiscus-beet-tequila sauce at The Bindery. 
Lucy Beaugard/Eater

15. Owlbear Barbecue

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2826 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 667-1181
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’Cue cravers need to plan ahead to get their fix from this RiNo smokehouse because it’s currently open Thursday through Sunday only from 11 a.m. until it’s sold out. But the eats are worth the effort: Franklin’s BBQ alum Karl Fallenius is the real deal, turning out showstopping brisket in various forms (including sandwiches and burgers), pork belly, spare ribs, and more, as well as specials like pulled duck and scene-stealing vegetarian alternatives involving jackfruit, seitan, or mushrooms.

Array of smoked meats with sides and bread
Smoked meats galore from Owlbear.
Courtesy of Owlbear

16. Nocturne

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1330 27th St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 295-3333
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Nocturne was notable as one of Denver’s only jazz clubs even before the pandemic hit performance venues across the city hard; now it’s all the more so for pulling through with its usual panache. Art Deco–inspired decor sets the stage for not only smoking live music but an accomplished seasonal menu: Burrata-artichoke bruschetta might be decked out with smoked almonds, fava-mint salsa, and tahini vinaigrette, while duck-fat potatoes, king trumpet mushrooms, asparagus, and celery-leaf gremolata might grace veal scaloppine. Artful cocktails and fine wines are in tune with it all.

Meat and cheese on toast with glass of sparkling wine
Nocturne offers a la carte snacks as well as a three-course prix fixe.
Ruth Tobias

17. Cattivella

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10195 E 29th Ave ste 110
Denver, CO 80238
(303) 645-3779
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Elise Wiggins was named Eater Denver’s 2017 chef of the year after opening this Italian kitchen, her first solo venture, that spring. A lot has changed since then — including the name of the neighborhood it’s located in, which is now officially Central Park — but her unique culinary approach is the same, revealed in robust signatures like charbroiled oysters with parmesan and garlic-herb butter; rabbit gnocchi with mushrooms, leeks, and preserved tomatoes in gorgonzola crema; and lasagna-like pasticcio baked in Cattivella’s wood-burning oven.

Broiled oysters with garlic butter and parmesan
Cattivella’s charbroiled oysters with garlic-herb butter and parmesan.
Ruth Tobias

18. El Five

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2930 Umatilla, Fifth Floor
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 524-9193
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The Edible Beats group is behind some of Denver’s most original dining experiences (see Linger, Root Down, Vital Root, and the currently closed Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox); this penthouse-level playground for pan-Mediterranean tapas is no exception. Eye-popping decor meets unmatched views of the downtown skyline and mountains to create an elaborate backdrop for such nibbles as crispy triangles of cauliflower flatbread over avocado fattoush and yogurt-braised lamb shank served taco-style in chickpea pancakes with pickled onions and cilantro sauce, as well as a few different types of paella. The bar rises to the occasion with colorful cocktails like the apricot frosé.

Brunch paella with egg
El Five serves up paella for groups at dinnertime and for one at brunchtime, as pictured here.
Ruth Tobias

19. Super Mega Bien

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1260 25th St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 269-4695
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Just as Work & Class makes frequent appearances among the Denver 38, its newer pan-Latin sibling across the street was becoming a regular contender before the pandemic. The dim sum carts that criss-crossed the dining room then are out of commission for now, but the dazzling small plates they carried remain: patatas bravas enriched with chorizo, arepas de queso with pumpkinseed pesto and lemon crema, and the signature Brazilian-style curried shrimp soup, for example. Chef-partner Dana Rodriguez’s large-format dishes, meanwhile, are always parties on a platter — think banana leaf–wrapped, braised lamb with tortillas, consommé, and all the trimmings — alongside glasses of rum-spiked chicha morada.

Cuban dish with beef, plantains, and olives.
Ropa vieja at Super Mega Bien.
Lucy Beaugard/Eater Denver

20. Uchi Denver

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2500 Lawrence St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 444-1922
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Denver lucked out when highly acclaimed chef-restaurateur Tyson Cole chose RiNo as the site for his first branch of Uchi outside of Texas. The modern Japanese destination has lived up the hype surrounding it since it opened in 2018, executing not only sashimi and sushi from scrupulously sourced fish but also a wide array of original creations both cooked and raw: olive oil–drizzled flounder with candied quinoa, say, or yellowtail collar in carrot zu with basil and pickled shallots. The seafood-averse will be no less wowed by the kinoko nabe (a rice dish with mushrooms) or the “ham and eggs,” a pork belly–omelet roll garnished with dots of beer mustard and yolk custard.

Yellowtail sashimi in ponzu
Tyson Cole’s famous hama chili: yellowtail in ponzu with Thai chile and orange.
Ruth Tobias

21. Welton Street Cafe

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2736 Welton St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 296-6602
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It’s impossible to imagine Five Points without this family-run purveyor of Southern, soul, and Caribbean food. For more than 20 years, it’s been a neighborhood fixture, dishing up fried chicken and catfish and smothered pork chops, meat pies (pates) and frybread, hush puppies, and sweet potato pie with smiles and hugs. So when maintenance troubles threatened its survival this spring, the community showed up to support it — and now with its reopening for sit-down service, the comfy old dining room is sure to overflow with well-wishers and long-time fans.

Fried chicken with fried bread and cabbage.
Welton St. Cafe’s fried chicken with cabbage and frybread.
Ruth Tobias

22. Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen

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725 E 26th Ave
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 440-9880
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A true taste of the Lower East Side — from bagels made with water engineered to replicate the mineral content of that in New York City to myriad smoked and cured fish, pastrami and corned beef, rugelach and challah — is what Joshua Pollack’s deli is all about. Though there are outposts in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace and Boulder, the Five Points original has the sort of kinetic old-school vibe that makes, say, a bowl of matzo ball soup and an egg cream taste even better.

Bagel with gravlax, cream cheese, tomato, red onion, and capers
The Standard with gravlax, cream cheese, tomato, red onion, and capers.
Ruth Tobias

23. Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

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2148 Larimer St
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 746-9355
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In spring, just in time for baseball season, Jim Pittenger’s iconic Ballpark sausage parlor — which closed for several months during the pandemic — reopened its doors to the hot dog–gobbling hordes. The space got a refresh in the interim, but the menu hasn’t changed a bit: Some 13 links, from elk to veal to peach- and chipotle-flavored chicken, are in rotation, along with all those offbeat topping combos like the Sonoran (featuring pinto beans, jalapeños, mustard, and mayo) and the International (cheddar, caramelized apples, and wasabi aioli).

Greek-inspired hot dog with feta and cucumber relish
Biker Jim’s often serves up specials, like this Greek-inspired dog, in addition to its core offerings.
Ruth Tobias

24. Ultreia

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1701 Wynkoop St #125
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 534-1970
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Spanish and Portuguese cuisine is virtually nonexistent in Denver, but Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch’s Union Station homage to it single-handedly fills the void. The wraparound mural and terrazzo flooring in the two-story dining room, the colorfully tiled tabletops and fountain on the patio — it all sets the stage for tapas as classic as pan con tomate and as modern as roasted mushrooms with chimichurri, egg yolk, and dill, not to mention Wednesday night paella for two or olive oil pancakes with apricots and Marcona almonds at brunch. The bar follows suit with an all-Iberian wine list on the one hand, inventive cocktails like Veriditas with tomato-infused gin and cucumber tonic on the other.

Basque-style pintxos, or finger foods secured with toothpicks
An array of pintxos at Ultreia.
Ryan Dearth

25. Tavernetta

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1889 16th St
Denver, CO 80202
(720) 605-1889
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Denver’s answer to Frasca in Boulder (see above) is every inch as excellent. Set on the Union Station platform in full view of the trains, the sleekly designed restaurant and lounge takes a broader regional approach to Italian cuisine than its famed Friuli-focused sibling, proffering a seasonal menu that might find ricotta anolini with dandelion and truffles next to acqua pazza with halibut and green tomatoes; the splurge-worthy wine list naturally follows suit. And the service, of course, is as polished as the tableware.

Ravioli with spring ingredients
Handmade pasta is core to Tavernetta’s culinary program.
Ryan Dearth/Eater Denver

26. Annette

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2501 Dallas St #108
Aurora, CO 80010
(720) 710-9975
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It’s no surprise that chef Caroline Glover hasn’t let stardom go to her head: After all, her renown is predicated on the down-to-earth, heartfelt approach to both cooking and hospitality she takes at Annette. Located in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace, Eater Denver’s 2017 restaurant of the year remains as relevant as ever, thanks not only to her talent but also to her advocacy for health- and justice-related causes in the industry and the community at large — ensuring that everybody who comes here feels well cared for as they tuck into tagliatelle with sardines, artichokes, and Calabrian chilies or roast chicken with Pedro Ximénez vinegar and escarole. (Don’t sleep on the Paris-Brest filled with seasonal creams or brunchtime bomboloni either.) Knockout cocktails and a boutique wine list enhance the feel-good experience.

Annette
Annette
Jonathan Phillips/Eater

27. Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar - LoDo

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1539 17th St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 292-5767
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A pioneer in LoDo in the 1990s — back when the neighborhood was just beginning to emerge from a long economic downturn — this seafood spot has evolved (and expanded) with the times while remaining true to the buoyant indie spirit it opened with. On the classic side are raw bar items galore along with crab cakes, chowder, caviar service, and so on; on the seasonal side, there might be a squid-octopus salad with cashews in a spicy ginger marinade or blue crab garganelli with peas and Calabrian chilies. All of it will be sustainably sourced, too, thanks to the longtime efforts of executive chef Sheila Lucero.

Crab legs over potatoes with white wine
A classic summertime crab boil at Jax.
Courtesy of Big Red F

28. ChoLon

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1555 Blake St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 353-5223
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With nightlife returning to LoDo, this showcase for contemporary Southeast Asian cuisine has quickly reclaimed its place at the center of the action. And deservedly so: few dining rooms in Denver are as sharply designed as this one, few dishes as iconic as chef-owner Lon Symensma’s Kaya toast or French onion soup dumplings, and few cocktails as incisive as the ones laced here with tamarind, Thai basil, or makrut lime. (Despite its more residential location, the Central Park outpost is no less sexy.)

ChoLon’s famous Kaya toast.

29. Coperta

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400 E 20th Ave
Denver, CO 80205
(720) 749-4666
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The recent closure of Beast + Bottle was a big blow to the Uptown neighborhood, but there’s consolation in the fact that its Italian sibling a few blocks away continues not only to survive but thrive. Amid mainstays like cacio e pepe and eggplant parmigiana, the menu’s seasonal offerings often have the potential to become classics in their own right, be it gnocchi tossed with roasted cauliflower, olives, mint, and pecorino or a wood-fired pork chop with caciocavallo, kale, and fennel-seed vinaigrette. And the wine list, dedicated exclusively to Italy’s central and southern regions, is a joy to explore.

Fried calamari with lemon, marinara sauce, and a glass of rosé
Classic calamari fritti at Coperta.
Ruth Tobias

30. Onefold

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1139, 1420 E 18th Ave
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 954-0877
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Making its own flour tortillas and frying its eggs and potatoes in duck fat, this Uptown daytime cafe has built a cult following on the strength of its breakfast tacos, congee with duck confit, and fried rice with Chinese sausage as well as sometime specials like loco moco and pozole, all paired with iced Vietnamese coffee or old-school Screwdrivers. If that sounds like an unusual mix of influences, well, it is, and Onefold is all the better for it — not to mention all the more popular. (No wonder it just opened a second location at Union Station.)

Savory rice porridge with egg
Egg-topped congee with duck confit at Onefold.
Ruth Tobias

31. Q House

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3421 E Colfax Ave
Denver, CO 80206
(720) 729-8887
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At this cozy but upbeat Bluebird District sensation, chef-owner Christopher Lin draws on his Taiwanese roots to create a repertoire of dishes that seem familiar at a glance but taste wholly original: Take the barbecued spare ribs, fried and coated in a sauce that make for next-level finger-licking, or the unexpectedly addictive fingerlings and cauliflower tossed with black-bean vinaigrette. And the cocktails are just as innovative as the food, infused with lemongrass or sesame oil and garnished with bonito or banana leaf.

Duck lo mein with chilies
Duck lo mein at Q House.
Ruth Tobias

32. El Taco De Mexico

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714 Santa Fe Dr
Denver, CO 80204
(303) 623-3926
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Last year, this little yellow taqueria in Lincoln Park received a James Beard America’s Classics Award — an honor that’s been more than earned over the decades by a crew dedicated to serving up not only quintessential tacos but also some of the best green chile–smothered burritos in town (among many other Mexican mainstays optimally paired with horchata or agua fresca). If any place is a rite of passage for Denver diners, El Tac is.

Carne asada tacos with rice and beans
Tacos de carne asada at El Taco de Mexico.
Ruth Tobias

33. Fruition Restaurant

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1313 E 6th Ave
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 831-1962
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At 14 years old, Alex Seidel’s special-occasion flagship has stood the test of time thanks to its intimate vibe and emphasis on elegant presentation. Though the pasta carbonara is a neoclassic and there’s almost always a duck entree to dig into, the market-driven menu sees weekly updates that underscore the kitchen’s European influences, also reflected in the Old World–leaning wine list.

Duck over spring vegetables
Though the preparation changes with the seasons, duck is a near-permanent feature on Fruition’s menu.
McCall Burau Photography

34. Restaurant Olivia

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290 S Downing St
Denver, CO 80209
(303) 999-0395
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Run by three seasoned Mizuna alumni, this Italian date-night spot in Wash Park opened just a few weeks before the city went into lockdown, but it pulled through with the class and grace that also emanate from its small dining room and its seasonal menus. Handmade pastas take special pride of place here, and the wine list was naturally built to showcase them — but no meal is complete here without at least one drink from the bar, be it a Carrot Negroni or a glass of spring pea- and mint-infused limoncello.

Seared foie gras with banana bread, bacon-Madeira jus, and foie gelato
Olivia’s seared foie gras with banana bread, bacon-Madeira jus, and foie gelato.
Joni Schrantz

35. New Saigon

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630 S Federal Blvd
Denver, CO 80219
(303) 936-4954
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New management took over this decades-old Vietnamese institution on South Federal Boulevard a couple of years ago, but you wouldn’t know it from a visit: The casual, comfy vibe hasn’t changed in any material way, and neither has the enormous menu, covering everything from rice paper wraps and noodle bowls to seafood-crammed clay pots and DIY fire pots to stir-fried frog’s legs and snails.

Vegetarian curry stew
Vegetable curry at New Saigon.
Ruth Tobias

36. African Grill and Bar - Lakewood Colorado

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955 S Kipling Pkwy
Lakewood, CO 80226
(303) 985-4497
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Walk in a first-timer, walk out a family member: That’s what a meal at African Grill and Bar feels like. Owners Theo and Sylvester Osei-Fordwuo emanate endless warmth while also cooking up a storm to showcase the diversity of regional African cuisine. For newcomers, fufu or red red with goat or oxtail are great places to start, washed down with the fresh ginger drink; regulars tend to work their way through the menu until they’ve tried every last stew and staple starch.

African melon seed–spinach stew with lamb and  fermented cornmeal dough
Egusi, or melon seed–spinach stew, with lamb and kenkey (a fermented cornmeal staple) at African Grill and Bar.
Ruth Tobias

37. Somebody People

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1165 S Broadway #104
Denver, CO 80210
(720) 502-5681
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One of Denver’s only vegan restaurants also happens to be one of its coolest. All done up in fresh hues of turquoise, pink, and lemon yellow, it turns out an array of seasonal dishes that look simple on paper but prove satisfyingly complex on the plate, be it charred broccolini with roasted eggplant, almonds, and golden-raisin gremolata or scape-and-scallion farinata topped with skordalia. The same could be said for cocktails featuring the likes of green bean–infused vodka or red bell pepper shrub; the wine list, meanwhile, naturally emphasizes small biodynamic and organic producers.

A photo of the grilled romaine, oyster mushrooms and a funghetto pasta with bolognese at Somebody People.
Pasta is a mainstay at Somebody People.
Jonathan Phillips/Eater

38. Seoul ManDoo

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2222 S Havana St Unit J
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 953-9590
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Aurora’s home to most of metro Denver’s best Korean restaurants and bars, but you don’t find the giant dumplings called wang mandu at many of them. This tiny cafe, by contrast, opened in May 2020 to offer very little else. As it turns out, that’s more than enough. The fluffy steamed versions come stuffed with pork or kimchi or veggies (along with glass noodles and herbs); there’s also a juicy pan-fried version containing shrimp — and they’re all served four to an order, which means leftovers are virtually guaranteed. Seoul ManDoo may only have room for six tables, but it’s built to expand locals’ understanding and appreciation of Korean cuisine.

Giant steamed veggie dumplings in a takeout box
Veggie-stuffed giant dumplings (served right in the takeout box, because leftovers are inevitable).
Ruth Tobias

1. Frasca Food & Wine

1738 Pearl St, Boulder, CO 80302
A photo of a dish consisting of vegetables, including chopped vegetables, next to a bowl of black sauce from Frasca Food &amp; Wine
Among many other things, Frasca is known for artistic presentation.
Ryan Dearth/Eater

Renowned equally for its intricate Friulian cuisine, a wine program created by partner and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, and above-and-beyond service, this longtime Boulder destination has emerged from the pandemic with added value in the form of Alpenglobes. Guests now have the option of booking one for a five-course chef’s tasting composed of seasonal dishes like fennel- and marigold-laced chilled apricot soup and prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin over polenta with truffles; the tasting menu is also available as an alternative to the four-course version presented in the dining room, where the likes of squash blossom–caciocavallo risotto and lamb loin with porcini, fava beans, and carrots await.

1738 Pearl St
Boulder, CO 80302

2. Blackbelly

1606 Conestoga St #3, Boulder, CO 80301
<span data-author="-1">Blackbelly</span>
With its own butcher shop, Blackbelly treats meat right.
Rachel Adams/Blackbelly

Hosea Rosenberg spun his victory on Top Chef Season 5 into gold when he opened his flagship restaurant and butcher shop in 2014; Blackbelly’s been shining ever since. The meat of the matter here is, well, meat itself, be it a charcuterie board, the signature steak tartare, or a market cut of lamb, pork, or beef. But the contemporary American kitchen treats seasonal produce with equal respect: Take, for example, carrot farfalle in parmesan-seaweed brodo or burrata with smoked peaches and compressed plums in nasturtium sauce with black-garlic crumble. By day, the takeout-only breakfast burritos have earned themselves a cult following.

1606 Conestoga St #3
Boulder, CO 80301

3. Dry Storage

3601 Arapahoe Ave D-181, Boulder, CO 80303
Bakery-cafe counter lined with pastries and bottles of wine
The counter at Dry Storage.
Ruth Tobias

This slot is typically filled by Basta, superstar chef Kelly Whitaker’s wood-fired, Italian-inspired flagship — but it’s currently undergoing a remodel. Good thing, then, that his slick little bakery, pantry, and coffee bar around the corner is filling the void. By day, the counter is lined with fresh loaves of bread, pastries, toasts, pan pizza by the slice, and more to accompany the slate of espresso drinks and teas; on the quirkier side are items like tinned seafood and onigiri, as well as a small beer and wine selection, while the retail shelves display bags of organic and heirloom flour from Whitaker’s own mill. By night, however — at least for now — Dry Storage is operating as “Basta East,” so the restaurant’s many fans can have that pizza and take home a kilo of the flour it was made with too.

3601 Arapahoe Ave D-181
Boulder, CO 80303

4. Kiké’s Red Tacos

5226 Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80221
Birria quesadilla with salsas and veggies
Kiké’s birria quesadilla.
Ruth Tobias

Denver has long had its share of attention-getting food trucks, but few could claim to capture the zeitgeist quite like this one. Currently set up in a Chaffee Park parking lot beside a handful of picnic tables, Kiké’s Red Tacos burst onto the scene last fall with birria, birria, and more birria de res — not only in the form of tacos with consommé for dipping but also in quesadillas, mulitas, tortas, burritos, and ramen — and it’s been serving throngs ever since. Rich, heady with spices, cheesy, and alternatively crisp, soft, and dripping with juice in all the right places, every single item is a winner — but when they’re gone, they’re gone, so get here early.

5226 Federal Blvd
Denver, CO 80221

5. The Ginger Pig

4262 Lowell Blvd, Denver, CO 80211