It’s not easy to keep up with all the new dining options flooding Denver. Regularly eating out at the buzzy new restaurants is expensive, plus you probably just want to eat most of your meals at your favorite cheap taco place anyway.
We get it.
But if you’re looking for a good holiday date spot or just experiencing the FOMO induced by end-of-the-year lists, we’ve got some ideas about where you should make a reservation.
Note: You’ll notice a possibly disproportionate number of Italian restaurants on this list. That’s partly because Denver got a lot of new Italian restaurants in 2017, but mostly because this reporter loves Italian food.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d go to Tavernetta just to eat the housemade focaccia.
But that would be a dumb reason to put this restaurant on the list. Here are some better reasons:
- It’s a big space, but it’s cozy, with a fireplace, comfy chairs, cream-colored walls and a lot of wood.
- The regional Italian cuisine changes with the seasons.
- The menu hits a sweet spot between the overly large menus of some Italian restaurants and the tiny menus of hip restaurants.
What I loved: The menu’s changed a bit since I was last there, but they still have the Carpaccio alla Cipriani (grass-fed beef, parmigiano reggiano and espelette) that I tried and couldn’t get enough of.
You’ll probably see Annette on a lot of local year-end lists. It didn’t make Bon Appétit’s Hot 10 list of America’s Best New Restaurants, but it was one of just two in the Denver area and four in the southwest to be among the 50 finalists. (The other was Denver Central Market).
Though this is Caroline Glover’s first executive chef gig, the accolades are no surprise. Before Annette, Glover was the sous chef at Acorn in Denver and The Spotted Pig in New York.
With its menu of share plates, and as Stanley Marketplace’s fanciest offering, Annette makes a perfect date night spot, particularly for the Stapleton and Aurora crowd.
What I loved: The Sunchoke Gratin. You don’t see sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) on menus very often, but they’re great. I’ll save myself the embarrassment of trying to describe them and send you over to this guide. Or you can just trust me and order it.
The second project from the team behind The Way Back (reopening in its new Tennyson Street location next year) completely transformed the space that for 14 years housed the dark and moody Zengo.
Owners Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz brought something warmer to the 150-seat room on Little Raven Street, playing to the two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows and their farm-fresh sensibility.
“We are, just like The Way Back, focused on hyperlocal, sustainable, proper-rearing practices for our proteins,” chef Patrick Kelly told Denverite back in August. “A lot of these dishes were evolutions of places I’ve worked in the past. … Californian cuisine is kind of like that market-driven situation, and it really feeds well into what we’re trying to do here, which is great. I’m really excited about that philosophy.”
Wayward, like The Way Back, also has a great cocktail menu. The Bittersweet Symphony I loved when I went in August isn’t on the menu anymore, but if everything else is as good as that, you’ll be in great shape.
What I loved: That farro risotto you see above — Anson Mills farro, squash, fried brussels sprouts and sherry gastrique — was fun and delicious.
This one is brand spanking new, but it’s off with a bang.
If you like Sushi Ronin, you’ll like Izakaya Ronin. The dinner menus are just about the same, with a few variations. The exciting thing about Izakaya Ronin is the late-night service. In the former boiler room downstairs, they’re serving $10-12 plates from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Now, don’t get wrong, I love chicken fingers and french fries, but it’s nice to have a late-night dining option that’s not a very limited menu of American bar food. The 30-item menu at Izakaya Ronin includes rice bowls, skewers, ramen, curry, dumplings, sushi and more.
What I loved: I haven’t had a chance to actually sit down for a meal there since it opened a week and a half ago, but if you’re already familiar with Sushi Ronin’s menu, you don’t need my help anyway.
Among the strong options at Eastbridge Town Center — a development driven by Denver chefs who wanted something better for their common neighborhood of Stapleton — there’s Elise Wiggins’ Cattivella.
Wiggins has been taking biannual trips to Italy over the last two decades, and now she brings everything she’s learned to the wood-fired oven at Cattivella.
“What I wanted to do is bring back some really authentic dishes that you don’t really see here in Denver or in the States,” Wiggins said at a press dinner in March. “I wanted to provide a little niche of something you’re not really seeing.”
What I loved: The agnolotti dal plin is, traditionally, a dish made of leftover scraps, but don’t underestimate it. Wiggins makes this Piedmontese stuffed pasta with rabbit, veal, pork, demi, raisins and pinenuts, and it’s great.