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8 Denver Restaurants You’re Not Getting Into (Unless You Read This)

Tips and tricks on scoring the hottest seats in the city
March 3, 2016
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by Lori Midson

Whether thrilling an out-of-state tourist, looking to woo a date or just wanting to hang out at a hot restaurant, snagging a seat one of Denver's most coveted restaurants isn't always easy. Especially during high times. But with a little luck on your side and a few in-the-know tips, there's always a way. Check out our cheat sheet below on how to beat the odds at these eight hard-to-score tables.

Torchy's Tacos

Why It's Hot: Not since Voodoo Doughnut thrust its deep-fried dough on Denver has a chain restaurant caused so much fervor. The Austin-based taco favorite opened here in early February. And while the Mile High City is lush with excellent taquerias, you'd never know it from the hour-long lines that spill out the door of this super-hyped newcomer. Is it worth the fanfare? We'll let you be the judge. 

How to Hack It: Early morning hours are mostly devoid of the chaos that ensues during lunch. If you can sneak away for a late lunch during the work week –– around 3:30 PM –– the waits are minimal. Another tip: you can bypass the line completely if there's counter space at one of the two bars, both of which provide beverage and food service.

1085 Broadway; 303-436-1704

Uncle

Why It’s Hot: This trendy LoHi destination strutting the talents of chef-owner Tommy Lee is a magnet for locals, neighborhood dwellers and foodies — it's menu a seasonally driven, ever-changing sampling of small plates and excellent ramen noodle bowls. The upside: the food is terrific. The downside: the food is terrific. Result: an exercise in extreme patience.

How to Hack It: It's not unusual to wait an hour during the week and up to two hours on Friday and Saturday nights. And since Uncle is a reservation-free zone, being in the know is paramount. Lee offers this tip: "We allow people to put their name on the waitlist for a specific time if they come talk to our hostess in person." In other words, pop by at 5 PM, right when it opens, and put your name on the list for 7:30 PM. The staff will do its best to seat you close to that time. Alternatively, there's a take-out option, which typically takes less than 20 minutes. And when the patio opens, so do an additional 22 seats, which helps alleviate the wait times.

2215 W. 32nd Ave.; 303-433-3262

Snooze

Why It’s Hot: It's not new; the food isn't groundbreaking; and for every person who insists that Snooze is the restaurant equivalent of sainthood, there's another who shrugs. Still, this long-standing local breakfast-and-lunch chainlet commands lines that slow traffic. (Tip: the pineapple upside-down pancakes are deserving of their cult status.)

How to Hack It: When it comes to breakfast, Snooze owns the title of impossibly long waits. On the upside, the doors open at 6:30 AM at every Snooze location, so, your best chance of snagging a seat is to set your alarm bright and early. Additionally, every outpost has a counter where there's often that one lone stool for solo diners. The Union Station Snooze seems to have the shortest wait times, and — even if you're relegated to the waitlist — it gives you an opportunity to stroll around the renovated historic train depot and window shop.

Multiple locations throughout the Front Range

Racines

Why It’s Hot: Politicos, publishers, lawyers and just about anyone else with an affinity for elbow-rubbing and hand-shaking can't get enough of this iconic three-meal-a-day gathering place that dishes out huge breakfasts (the bacon pancakes are delicious), salads, burgers, sandwiches and entrees. If you want to hang out with the power crowd, especially on weekday mornings, this is place to get plugged in.

How to Hack It: Reservations are accepted for tables of five and more; most tables are reserved for walk-ins; and while average wait times for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner are between 15 and 45 minutes at peak times, owner Lee Goodfriend suggests calling ahead. "Guests can call the restaurant up to an hour before they plan to get here, and we'll put them on our waitlist so they're near the top when they arrive," she says. In addition, Sunday and Monday nights are typically light, and when the patio is open, so are more seats.

650 Sherman St.; 303-595-0418

Work & Class

Why It’s Hot: Despite the fact that Work & Class is well into its second year in the RiNo Arts District, this modest-size Latin American charmer is still one of the hottest tickets in town. And now that executive chef Dana Rodriguez is a 2016 James Beard semifinalist in the Best Chef: Southwest category, food enthusiasts and curiosity seekers are more eager than ever to get a taste of Rodriguez's culinary magic.

How to Hack It: "Unless you're Jimmy Hoffa, we don't accept reservations," jokes co-owner Delores Tronco, noting that the typical waits  — weeknights and weekends — are between one and two hours, depending on the number of people in your party. To kill time, Tronco suggests exploring the neighborhood: "Stop by to put your name and phone number on our list and then take a walk around RiNo," she says. Alternatively, skip lunch and arrive at Work & Class at 4 PM (that's when the doors open) for an early dinner. The chef's counter also has an odd number of seats, so if you're dining alone, your chances of snapping up a stool sooner rather than later is highly probable. Oh, and read the house rules.

2500 Larimer St.; 303-292-0700

To the Wind Bistro

Why It’s Hot: There are fewer than 20 chairs at this lovely neighborhood bistro, where securing a coveted seat is no easy feat. There are numerous reasons for the adoration among locals: chef-owner Royce Oliveira, along with his wife, Leanne, are a beautifully hospitable couple who pay close attention to details and ensure that newcomers and regulars alike are treated like close kin. The food, steeped in seasonality and punctuated with harmonious flavors, is damn near flawless, and the prices are affordable too. Plus, the complimentary bowl of boiled peanuts that kick off dinner are ridiculously addictive.

How to Hack It: Reservations aren't accepted, but if you call ahead, they'll put your name on the waitlist. There's also a very small chef's counter, and while it fills up quickly, there's occasionally a solo stool if you're not adverse to dining alone. And you shouldn't be: Oliveira is a conversational chef who's happy to banter.

2335 28th Ave.; 303-297-1215

Sushi Den

Why It’s Hot: After more than three decades holding court on South Pearl Street, one of Denver's most popular restaurant rows, you'd think that the waits at Sushi Den would diminish. Nope. It's still very much a revered temple of worship for anyone and everyone who holds fish sacred, and its success has cemented owners (and brothers) Toshi and Yasu Kizaki as culinary luminaries.

How to Hack It: Weekend waits, especially between 7–8 PM, can stretch upwards of an hour, while weeknight lines are generally around 30 minutes, and reservations are only accepted for parties of five or more. Options: put your name on the waitlist, grab a pager and head next door to Izakaya Den, also owned by the Kazakis, and have a drink at the bar (your pager will buzz once your table is ready), or book an omakase dinner in the DenChu room, which seats six and costs $100 per person, a bargain at the Den considering that guests are treated to five or six courses of sushi plus a variety of raw and cooked dishes, including sashimi, soba, udon and freshly picked vegetables from the restaurant’s own Den Farm. And if you can sneak away during the lunch hour, waits are nominal, at least compared to dinner.

1487 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-0826

Bar Dough

Why It's Hot: The superb cooking from a dream-team kitchen crew, led by chef Max MacKissock, lures the fooderati to this bustling neighborhood Italian restaurant in LoHi. They come for the blistered wood-fired pizzas, the housemade pastas, the stellar cocktail, wine and beer scrolls and for the infectiously energetic vibe that makes you want to stick around...even while others are channeling your conscience to please, please give up your table already.

How to Hack It: If you're the kind of person who's organized, we recommend making reservations well in advance — especially on weekends. (Aim for seats at the prized chef's counter.) If you fly by the seat of your pants and don't mind sharing space at one of three communal tables, walk-ins are always welcome –– plus you're bound to make friends. 

2227 W. 32nd Ave.; 720-668-8506

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