Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

Best Restaurants in Denver, CO

by Rita Connelly

3501 E. Colfax Avenue
303 322-0363
There are plenty of very good modern, upscale steak joints in town that serve delicious, yet expensive, cuts of beef and a plethora of ala carte side dishes. But if you are searching for a more traditional kind of experience, a restaurant that prides itself on good old-fashioned service and a great food, Bastien’s is the place to go. The same family has owned and operated the restaurant for over seventy years. Touches of wood, leather and twinkling lights make the dining room a welcoming and comfortable spot. On the menu you’ll find huge portions of well-aged beef at most reasonable prices. The 16-ounce sugar steak is a house favorite, but you won’t go wrong with the ground buffalo steak either. Sides are included. The wine list is serviceable, but like steak joints of old, the cocktails here are top-notch. 


Barolo Grill
3030 E 6th Avenue
303 393-1040
Moderate to expensive
Reservations are highly recommended at this Northern Italian restaurant and with good reason. Not only is the atmosphere the kind of place that will bring you back, but also the food is outstanding. Rustic, with touches of exposed brick, Italian food art posters, a fireplace and warm colors, the dining room is totally romantic. The menu, a blend of old-world favorites with plenty of modern touches, is prepared by the creative kitchen masters. They also have a chef’s menu daily – it is updated on the internet - that includes such wonders as to die for pesce con mostarda and an oven-roasted salad. The wine list, although heavily Italian, is well-balanced. Part of the training of the staff includes a yearly trip to Italy – thanks to the boss, Blair Taylor.


Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
On the corner of 16th Street & Arapahoe Street
No phone
This is a hot dog cart like no other; just ask the folks at Food and Wine magazine which is just one of many publications to sing the praises of this humble street corner business.
Biker Jim himself sets up his cart late mornings on this corner in LoDo, so that everything is ready by the time the line begins to form, even in the winter months. Soft buns are wrapped around savory sausages, dogs and brats that are made from wild boar, pheasant, reindeer and buffalo. Prices are unabashedly cheap and there’s no charge for the banter. To round off the meal, grab a piece of Biker Jim’s world-famous cheesecake, which Jim makes himself. If, after a slice of dessert, you find yourself craving more, you can order a whole cheesecake but you may have to wait a couple of days. Biker Jim will not be rushed in baking these amazing treats. Lunch only.


Bistro Vendome
1424 Larimer Street
303 825-3232
Moderate to Expensive
This wonderful little bistro was recently brought under the guidance of one of Denver’s favorite and best restaurant teams, Chef Jennifer Jasinski and general manager Beth Gruitch, co-owners. While their other venue Rioja emphasizes Mediterranean food, this menu is totally French. Favorites include the pomme frites, soupe l’oignon and just about any of the seafood creations. The wine list also is French accented with wine tastings on Tuesday evenings and regular regional wine dinners. There is also a special prix-fixe menu created especially for the pre-theater crowd. Two things not to be missed: the lovely patio so reminiscent of Paris and the weekend brunch. Both are extremely popular so expect a wait.


Black Pearl
1529 South Pearl Street
303 777-0500
The Black Pearl combines an East Coast vibe with a Rocky Mountain sensibility. The owners, transplants from the lovely isle of Nantucket, have created a place that will impress. The multi-leveled dining room is striking and when all the doors are swung open an airy outdoor feel is created. The menu has been called “flirty” with everything from screamingly fresh oysters and the staff recommended candy apple duck. The wine list boasts items from plenty of the big guys as well as smaller boutique wineries and all are available by the glass. If you love people watching this is the place to be even if it’s only for bites in the bar and a drink or two.


Buckhorn Exchange
1000 Osage Street
303 534-3694
Moderate to Expensive
Ask any Denverite where to take out-of-towners so that they can get a true appreciation of all that is Denver and their answer just might be the Buckhorn Exchange. Part steakhouse, part museum, part game hunters paradise – you can’t miss the mounted heads of deer, elk, moose, etc. that hang throughout – there is nothing quite like the Exchange anywhere. As expected, the offerings are big on protein with such items as Rocky Mountain oysters (believe us when we say, they don’t come from the sea), buffalo, rattlesnake, elk and of course, great beef.  This is Denver’s oldest restaurant; in over 100 years of its existence it has served both the famous and infamous. And while this may not be the place to take your favorite vegetarian, it certainly will give you a feel for the Old West Denver style. Reservations are highly recommended.


Breckenridge Brewery
2220 Blake Street
303 297-2341
Breckenridge Brewery & BBQ
471 Kalamath Street
303 573-0431
Inexpensive to Moderate
There are two locations of this long-time Colorado brewery. One, near Coors Field has a menu as big as the Rockies and the other, which is located in the Golden Triangle District, is all about smokin’ barbeque. Of course, they both offer the hand-crafted ales that people crave. Often these very same brews are used in preparing menu items such as the ale battered shrimp and the barbequed ribs. The atmosphere is kicked back and friendly. The Kalamath site is where the beer is brewed and if you ask nicely they may even show you around.  And yes, there is another site in Breckenridge as well as the Ale House in Grand Junction.


Casa Bonita
6715 W. Colfax Avenue
303 232-5115
Okay, it’s been a long day of sightseeing. Everyone is really hungry, a little tired and the kids need to let off some steam after being on their best behavior all day. Now is the time for Casa Bonita. Here in the 52,000 foot dining room you’ll find a unique –and that’s an understatement - assortment of eye-popping entertainment and fun. Cliff divers, wishing wells, a thieving gorilla and strolling mariachi bands are all part of the mix. There’s really nothing like it anywhere; in fact, Denver’s Casa Bonita is the only one left of what was once a well-known chain. While the Mexican all-you-can-eat food may not win any James Beard Awards, it will certainly satisfy little and big tummies alike.


1365 Osage Street
303 595-3666
The Zen garden beckons and soon you find yourself in a most tranquil setting. The fact that you’re dining on some of the best Japanese food in Denver sure doesn’t hurt either. Chef Gaku Homma serves country-style Japanese food: fragrant bowls of nabe, unique, but most traditional, takes on sushi and sashimi and noodle dishes with your choice of toppings that include Japanese curry. All entrees are served with not just rice and soup, but also seven side dishes that Domo for which Domo is known. The sake choices are amazing. No wonder Domo has been called a “must dining experience” by the magazine 5280. Décor, too, has won raves thanks in part to the aforementioned Zen garden and seats made out of real tree trunks. You’ll learn a thing or two as well, if you visit the onsite folk art museum. Lunch and dinner. Closed Sundays.


2500 E. 1st Avenue
303 399-5353
Think Big -Real Big- when it comes to this steakhouse owned by Denver Bronco’s real life hero, John Elway. Here not just the steaks are big, but so is the scene because unlike many other celebrity restaurants, you’ll often find Elway shaking hands, signing autographs and generally entertaining guests. Located in Cherry Creek, Elway’s was designed with manly touches from the clubby bar scene to the elegant dining room where the friendly staff will meet your every need. Meat lovers will drool over the prime, wet-aged beef choices that can be accompanied by all those steakhouse sides you’ve come to expect. Everything else is served in a big way, too, such as the shrimp cocktail that is served atop a bed of “smoking” dry ice. As expected, the drinks are top-notch and the prices are high, but dining at Elway’s is a great way to see Denver at the top of its game.


Frasca Food & Wine
1738 Pearl Street
303 442-6966
In 2007, this charming Boulder restaurant was named one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants by Gourmet magazine. Not bad! It has also won raves from just about every local publication. With two former French Laundry employees – Bobby Stuckey, wine director, and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson at the helm in the kitchen, Frasca has placed Boulder soundly on the culinary map. A frasca is a type of neighborhood restaurant found in Fruili, Italy. They are known for their warm hospitality, fresh well-prepared food and a tree branch hanging over the door. As in the Italian tradition, much of the food at Frasca is delivered fresh daily from neighboring farms and ranches. Then chef Mackinnon-Patterson and crew make their magic and create satisfying and memorable plates. Don’t let the tome of a wine list intimidate, Stuckey is on hand to help with any and all questions. It’s easy to see why folks from Denver don’t mind the forty-minute drive to Boulder to sample the outstanding food at Frasca. 


1313 E. 6th Ave
303 831-1962
They say that good things come in small packages and this certainly proves to be true with Denver’s newest upscale eatery, Fruition. Winning accolades from Gourmet soon after opening their doors, the folks at Fruition – Chef Alex Seidel and Maitre d’ Paul Attardi – aim to give diners dressed up comfort food in a dressed up comfortable venue. And they do. The menu is seasonal and quite clever; one staff states that the chicken is the best bird he’s ever had. And the oysters Rockefeller, well you just have to see the dish to believe it. The staff believes in Seidel’s vision and accordingly goes out of their way to give diners the best service possible. Any option from the small but well-balanced wine menu will round out a practically perfect experience. This may be one of the area’s newest places to dine, but it is fast becoming one of Denver’s favorites.


Jax Fish House
1539 17th Street
303 292-5767
Moderate to expensive
Winning “Best of’s” from numerous publications near and far, Jax Fish House is the place to go for the freshest fish around (it is flown in daily, no easy feat when you living so far from the sea). Executive Chef Sheila Lucero showcases impressive presentations nightly. Any of her dishes with tuna will surely please. And then there’s the raw bar with oysters from around the world, lobster, crab and more. The martinis also win raves. Wrap all this great food up in a chic, urban venue and you’ve got yourself the place to be.
It does get noisy on occasion but that only adds to the great ambience that makes Jax such a winner.


1575 Boulder Street
720 570-8686
Moderate to expensive
No restaurant roundup of Denver restaurants would be complete without a Mexican restaurant and Lola is a natural choice. The point of view here is fresh, coastal Mexican.
But expect the unexpected. The house guacamole is prepared tableside and the ceviche is packed with bright flavors.  Food & Wine magazine named Lola one of the top five places to drink tequila (try the Black Mexican Martini, if you dare) and with over 100 choices it is easy to see why. Of course, those lovely views of the Denver skyline and the festive colors throughout also might have something to do with the praise. And that indoor/outdoor patio?  The tops. The weekend brunch is a great way to experience all that Lola has to offer but its proximity to the University of Denver makes Lola is a great before or after event kind of place.


Luca D’Italia
711 Grant Avenue
303 832-6600
Moderate to expensive
When Frank Bonanno opened the doors to this Italian restaurant Denverites knew they were in for a treat. After all, Bonanno had established himself as one of the city’s finest chefs at Mizuna, his Mediterranean restaurant just around the corner. Knowing that Luca was to feature the best of Frank’s East Coast Italian heritage was truly exciting. And Bonanno hasn’t let anyone down. In this warmly hued, chic dining venue meals start with homemade breads (the sausages, pastas and some of the cheeses are also made in house) and then continues through small courses, pastas, entrées and of course, the dolci. Dining at Luca will be memorable and you most certainly will want to return as Frank changes the menu monthly. Valet parking is available around the corner at Bonanno’s other restaurant, Mizuna. Dinner only.


225 7th Avenue
303 832-4778
Moderate to expensive
This is the older sister restaurant of Frank Bonanno’s Luca D’Italia and is located just around the corner. The dining room is small – only about a dozen tables – elegant and understated. The ever-changing menu is decidedly more offbeat. Bonanno takes the ordinary and puts his unique spin on each and every item. The six-course chef’s menu changes nightly at the whim, or better yet, the inspiration of the chef. One item that people have insisted Bonanno keep on the menu, though, is his lobster mac and cheese. After that, you’ll just have to be pleasantly surprised. Because Mizuna is so intimate, service is attentive and caring thanks to Jacqueline, Bonanno’s wife. Make your reservations well in advance. 


The Palace Arms at the Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th Street
303 297-3111
The Palace Arms is in every sense a true Denver Landmark. Here is where some of the biggest historic deals went down, a place where the glitterati of the last century partied, a place where until recently jacket and tie were required for men. Today, the menu is decidedly traditional, yet with a Western nod in such plates as the buffalo Rossini with seared foie gras. The wine list runs deep as do the prices. It’s not called a palace for nothing. But for a peek into why and how Denver came about, a trip to The Palace Arms is worth the extra cash. Of course, the cookies –sweet crumbly macaroons – that come gratis with your bill will ease your pain. You might want to try the afternoon high tea which is a Brown Palace tradition. 


Restaurant Kevin Taylor
1106 14th Street
303 820-2600
Taylor, one of the city’s most celebrated chefs, opened the doors to this sophisticated spot in 1998 and since then has won the highest honors from everyone from AAA to Zagat. With a spectacular dining room, impeccable service, a wine list with something for any palate and of course, Kevin Taylor in the kitchen, this could be called Denver’s finest venue. The dining room is decorated in warm pecan wood, gold embellishments and local art. Highly recommended is the anything with lobster or the Colorado lamb (the menu changes with the season, but the inventive preparations do not). You might want to save room for one of pastry chef Jason LeBeau’s offbeat renditions of old favorites. Indeed, for that special occasion Restaurant Kevin Taylor is a sure bet, but make your reservations well in advance. Dinner only. Closed Sundays.


1431 Larimer Street
303 820-2282
Moderate to expensive
Rioja is Spain’s most prominent wine region and serves here as influence for an award-winning menu. Chef Jennifer Jasinski creates amazing Mediterranean dishes with flair and passion. Rioja is located in the heart of Larimer Square right across the street from Chef Jen’s other claim to fame, Bistro Vendome. General Manager Beth Gruitch makes sure guests will receive only the best service. The setting is nicely appointed with hand-blown glass fixtures, a copper bar, exposed brick and welcoming large booths. This place has a loyal following that all absolutely adore the pork belly, although the handmade pastas also win raves. The regulars also suggest the beignets; warm pillows of sweet dough that are filled with goat cheese, ricotta and figs and then drizzled with a port wine sauce. Yes, many of the wines are from Spain, but you’ll also find plenty of other options many of them by the glass. If you get the chance opt for the chef’s counter dinner. Sushi bar seating overlooks part of the kitchen so you can be practically part of the action. There’s another similar yet smaller counter where you can watch pizzas, desserts and some appetizers being prepped.  Weekend brunch brings in the crowds.


Table 6
609 Corona Street
303 831-8800
Moderate to expensive
Table 6 is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, a hip neighborhood that is. Chef Aaron Whitcomb takes all those old bistro standards like roast chicken, frites, pork ribs and the like and turns them on their proverbial heads. The menu changes quite often and can be viewed on the large chalkboards that hang above the open kitchen. With plenty of gleaming wood, glass and exposed brick the dining room is both chic and cozy, which perfectly complements the thoroughly modern vibe. An internationally influenced wine list offers smart choices from many smaller wineries. 


Vesta Dipping Grill
1822 Blake Street
303 296-1970
Whether you’re a party of one looking for some company, a large group out on the town, or a couple in search of a little romance you’re bound to find what you’re looking for at this upscale eatery. Part of that is due to the convivial atmosphere and ultra-chic decor; part of that is due to how the food is presented. The menu offers plenty of delicious appetizers and entrees, but what makes dining here unique are the thirty-some sauces, created to enhance each and every dish. The menu gives suggestions if you can’t make up your mind. For example, should you order the pan seared grouper Provencal; the recommended sauces are a red pepper rica rouille, steuban’s chichurri or the cinnamon orange marmalade. Or try the Snake River Farms pork porterhouse cubano with the pepita mole, sunset hot (warning it’s “vesta” hot, which loosely translates to truly hot) or the salsa verde sauces. Of course, the food/sauces were designed to share, which only adds to the fun.


Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 18th Street
303 297-2700
Inexpensive to moderate
Located in the historic J.S. Brown Mercantile building, Wynkoop was Denver’s first microbrewery. Handcrafted beers with such artful names as Captain Hickenlooper’s Flying Artillery Ale and the Monkey Fist IPA will appeal to the beer lover in anyone. The food is hearty as expected from such an establishment: fried chicken, shepherd’s pie and hefty sandwiches. Breads and desserts are freshly made. The bar and dining area have retained much of the historic charm with exposed brick and a pressed tin ceiling. Brewery tours, where you can get an up close and personal look at all the magic that goes into producing the fine brews, are held every Saturday. There is also a special kid’s menu making Wynkoop Brewery a most family-friendly place.


Rita Connelly lives in Tucson, Arizona where she enjoys the sunshine, the laid back life and all the great restaurants The Old Pueblo has to offer.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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