Denver’s rapid growth isn’t limited to a parade of new apartment buildings and breweries: The Mile High City’s food scene has matured just as quickly, transforming the steak-and-potatoes town into an enviable dining destination—with new restaurants popping up too quickly to keep count. In nearly every neighborhood, visitors can find eateries to suit any budget and craving. Here’s where to start.
OK, so technically, Annette is located just over the city’s boundaries, in Aurora. But Annette is so good that Denverites claim the eatery as their own. Inside the Stanley Marketplace, a food and retail collective, chef Caroline Glover has created an inviting restaurant that combines the skill and precision of fine dining with the comfort and joy of eating at home with friends. From the wall of chopped firewood to the menu of farm-fresh eats, Annette is a true gem.
Beckon, in the always-lively River North (RiNo) neighborhood, is Denver’s first authentic chef’s counter restaurant. In order to snag one of the intimate eatery’s 18 seats, you need to luck out with a reservation and pre-pay. (There are six seatings nightly, starting at 5:30 p.m.; reservations open on the first of each month.) Upon arrival, you’ll hand your taste buds over to executive chef Duncan Holmes, who creates a monthly tasting menu of Scandinavian-inspired courses, all beautifully plated and served at the U-shaped counter. (It’s also worth checking out sister restaurant, Call, next door; the café was named one of the best new restaurants in the country in 2018 by Bon Appetit.)
Chef Kelly Whitaker is on a mission to bring heritage grains back to Colorado; he co-founded the nonprofit Noble Grain Alliance and highlights the ingredients at his Sunnyside eatery. The ever-changing lineup at the Wolf’s Tailor—inspired by both Italian and Japanese cuisines—includes pastas made with house-milled heritage grains as well as house-made piada bread. Whitaker’s commitment to reducing food waste is also apparent, with many dishes sharing ingredients or using the byproducts of one to craft something entirely new. The menu can be overwhelming, chock-full of unfamiliar words like chawanmushi and paccheri, but gracious service and a welcoming environment make this enigmatic restaurant wholly approachable.
Inside Denver Union Station, Mercantile serves crave-worthy eats all day long. In the morning, there are fresh-pressed juices and chia seed pudding made with sheepskyr (an “Icelandic-style yogurt-inspired cheese”) from chef-owner Alex Seidel’s farm and creamery. At lunch, the sandwiches—ordered at the counter and picked up by the kitchen—are best enjoyed on the expansive patio. And at dinner, Seidel’s commitment to sustainable dining comes through in perfect pastas and finely crafted mains. Seidel was named Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2018, an accolade that was a long time coming.
Some restaurants are simply fun, and Señor Bear is such a joint. The contemporary interior—brightened with wood accents, blue-and-white tiles, and beachy light fixtures—sets just the right tone for executive chef Blake Edmunds’s modern takes on Latin American cuisine. Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico are all represented in Edmunds's well-balanced, colorful plates (available for brunch or dinner), while pisco, tequila, and rum rule the tropical-leaning cocktail menu at this spirited LoHi eatery.
Chef-owner Lon Symensma has been busy opening new restaurants (Francophiles should make time for LeRoux), but his original downtown eatery, ChoLon, remains a must-visit. The space feels high-end with its funky chandeliers and constant swell of buttoned-up office workers, but there’s nothing stuffy about it. The innovative Pan-Asian cuisine—inspired by Symensma’s extensive travels—is designed for sharing, which is good news because it means you can try more bites of lobster crêpes, Brussels sprouts tossed with ground pork, and the addictive soup dumplings. To be safe, order two bamboo steamers of the dumplings.
Farm-to-table may be all the rage, but at Uptown’s Beast & Bottle, it’s all about nose-to-tail: a cooking philosophy that sees chef Paul Reilly and his team use as much of every ingredient as possible. Visit at brunch or dinner for precisely executed American eats—made primarily of ingredients sourced from local farms—served in a relaxed, homey setting. The fig and pig flatbread is a staple; pair it with one of the cleverly named, seasonal cocktails.
You’ll be tempted to fill up on pillowy, wood-fired pitas and silky hummus at this modern Israeli restaurant. Don’t. Here, in the rosy-hued dining room inside the Source Hotel & Market Hall, diners are meant to share and explore new flavors. So, save room for the salatim (salads and spreads), small plates, and mouthwatering entrees that easily serve a table of four (the harissa-roasted chicken is an easy choice). Safta, which means “grandmother” in Hebrew, is the second restaurant famed chef and restaurateur Alon Shaya opened in 2018 (his first, Saba, or “grandfather,” is in New Orleans). For those on-the-go, Safta also has its own market counter selling breakfast eats, pastries, spreads, and bread.
Denver considers itself the birthplace of fast-casual, and Dio Mio represents a grown-up version of the trend. You’ll order at the counter and grab your own water, and your wine will arrive in a regular ol’ glass—and then you’ll be completely wowed by the rich, al dente pastas chefs and co-owners Spencer White and Alex Figura cook up from scratch in the minimalist space. Start with the house-made sourdough and one of the amped-up veggie shared plates before moving on to the classic cacio e pepe (just $10 during happy hour, 5 to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday) or whatever the duo is tossing with its earthy squid ink noodles.
Roving food carts shouldn’t be limited to dim sum. At least, that’s the premise behind chef Dana Rodriguez’s Super Mega Bien, a funky Pan-Latin American spot in RiNo’s Ramble Hotel. Flanked by brightly colored walls and posters, diners eat family-style, choosing from the rotating options on the vibrant carts (the ropa vieja is a favorite). Be careful not to stuff yourself too early, though: There are also big plates—hot stone fish stew, Spanish rice with roasted vegetables—for groups of two or more to share. Refreshing cocktails continue the trend, with singles (try the house-made floral tonic with gin) or large-format options.
Denver has become a city of food halls, and Avanti is among the best. The food incubator houses seven unique concepts at time (many of which eventually open standalone, brick-and-mortar restaurants) split across two floors of a wood-and-brick building in LoHi. Two bars serve an extensive selection of beers, wines, sakes, and cocktails, and guests can take their drinks around with them as they explore their dining options. Visit near sunset to take in the view from the stadium-style outdoor patio.
Denver’s East Colfax corridor is peppered with dive bars and restaurants that feel like they’ve been around for generations. Q House, one of the strip’s newest additions, is neither of those things, but it still manages to fit into the gritty neighborhood with loud music, dim lighting, and a comfortable tête-à-tête between server and diner that makes one feel that this isn’t her first visit (even if it is). Chef Christopher Lin—who previously worked under David Chang, of Momofuku fame—immerses guests in his family’s native Taiwan through an exciting array of dishes, some familiar, some not. Be forewarned: The chicken-and-shrimp wontons are addictive.
Comal is so much more than a small, sun-dappled restaurant in an out-of-the-way, mixed-use community. The casual lunch spot doubles as a training program, run by the nonprofit Focus Points Family Resource Center, that teaches immigrant women the culinary arts and business skills. But it’s not just about learning how to cook or the ins and outs of running a company: At Comal, culture and tradition are celebrated and uplifted through the food that the women cook and serve each day. Monday through Wednesday, it’s Mexican cuisine; Thursdays are for Ethiopian spreads; and Fridays are focused on Syrian bites.
Colorado and New Mexico may forever be locked in an eternal ‘Whose green chile is best?’ contest, but one thing is certain: Denver institution El Taco De Mexico is among the strongest proof of the Centennial State’s superiority. The family-owned taqueria has been serving what they call typical (tamales, tacos) and not-so-typical Mexican fare (chilaquiles, sincronizadas) since 1985. If a burrito or enchilada smothered in green chile doesn’t put a smile on your face, the prices will.
Denverites were first introduced to Josh Pollack when he spent years perfecting his bagel recipe—going so far as to fashion a water system that mimicked the mineral content of the H2O in New York City—before opening Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen in 2014. (Expect a line, always.) Pollack returned to his East Coast roots in late 2018 with the opening of Lou’s Italian Specialties in Curtis Park. The deli-meets-restaurant-meets-market is stocked with grab-and-go cheeses, salads, and pantry items though the highlight of this corner shop are the subs, which see local City Bakery bread stacked with thinly sliced meats and a mountain of toppings.