Denver's best dishes from 2015 came from gastronomic temples chaperoned by big-name chefs, off-the-beaten-path storefronts and everything in between. Because the Mile High City, as those of us who live here already know, is a wonderful place to eat. But taste, of course, is subjective, so while these are our top bites of the year, we'd love to know what yours are too. Tell us about your favorite dish from the past year in the comment section below, or shout it out on Twitter: @ZagatDenver.
Scampi from Bar Dough
Before we ordered the scampi at Bar Dough, we asked chef and co-owner Max MacKissock to give us the lowdown. Suffice it to say he undersold it. Big time. If there's one dish in Denver that showcases impeccable technique and sheer greatness, it's this school of New Caledonia prawns — heads intact — displayed on an elegant glass platter and cloaked in a luxuriously rich sauce that boldly accentuates the oceanic nuances of the prawns. To create the dish, MacKissock makes a piping-hot shrimp stock, reduces it, then blends it all in a Vita-Prep with cold butter and xanthan gum. Lemon, garlic and parsley add pops of flavor. In a word: brilliant.
2227 W. 32nd Ave.; 720-668-8506
Littleneck clam pizza from Cart-Driver
In RiNo, a neighborhood that struts the city's most intriguing dining scene, there's a stand-out dish at nearly every restaurant. We, however, can't get enough of Cart-Driver's New Haven white clam pizza, a wood-fired masterpiece that exposes a pliant char-freckled crust festooned with littleneck clams, roasted garlic, fresh herbs, panna and sheets of guanciale. It's a remarkably good, mind-altering pizza that transports you to the East Coast and reminds us, yet again, that chef-owner Kelly Whitaker is truly a revolutionary creator.
2500 Larimer St.; 303-292-3553
Bluefin tuna collar from Land of Sushi
There's obviously the promise of sushi — glorious sushi — at this suburban, strip-mall hideaway in Centennial. And while we're hooked on everything from the uni to the quivering live scallops, nothing quite compares to the bluefin tuna collar. It isn't on the menu, nor does it make an appearance on the specials board, but regulars of this sensational shrine to pristine fish know that the roasted collar is the prize catch. The flesh, served on the bone, is meaty, tender, exquisitely rich and paired with wedges of lime and a spicy ponzu sauce. Once you've tried, it's all but impossible to stop thinking about it. (Call ahead to make sure it's available.)
2412 E. Arapahoe Rd., Centennial; 303-779-0608
Pozole from Acorn
At Acorn, Steve Redzikowsk's stellar restaurant inside the Source, the fragrant pozole is now, sadly, no longer on the menu. Autumn's ode to the city's celebrated chile season, tinted the color of a New Mexican sunset and judiciously jolted with lime for a tart finish, the earthy stew was loaded with roasted Hatch green chiles, white hominy, soft onions, Mexican oregano, ancho chile paste and tender cubes of smoked and braised pork. It had that requisite barnyard-y funk and arrived with avocado slices and a fistful of cilantro leaves.
3350 Brighton Blvd.; 720-542-3721
Paella moderne from Stoic & Genuine
The kitchen at Stoic & Genuine, superbly quarterbacked by Jorel Pierce, produces a saffron-stained paella that's a modern marvel of grilled salmon, shrimp, plump mussels, squid and housemade sausage. Seafood and fish float in a smoked-tomato broth, and the bowl arrives crowned with triangles of soccorat (crunchy, crisp-edged, caramelized rice cakes) and a side of cornbread — an unorthodox but perfectly suited partner.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474
Octopus à la plancha from Mercantile Dining & Provision
Denver is a city full of infatuated disciples of Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Fruition and Mercantile, both of which are transformative restaurants extolled by food hedonists from here, there and everywhere. And to be honest, Seidel's culinary prowess is rarely less than perfect, as evidenced by his octopus à la plancha. A splay of braised and whisper-tender arms, the suckers hued a vivid violet, is pooled in an embracing tomato broth that's punctuated with dried figs and a pine nut tapenade.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 720-460-3733
Thai coconut chicken curry from Cho77
Yes, the presentation is gorgeous. But while artistry is one of chef Lon Symensma's calling cards, so, too, is his cooking. His sublime curried coconut broth — aromatic with fresh herbs, rings of Fresno chiles and pronounced Thai spices — also showcases the virtues of fresh-pulled chicken, which tastes nothing like the chicken you've had to endure a million times before at the lackluster Thai joint down the street. His curry comes with sides of unconventional mustard greens and crispy egg noodles, proving, once again, that he knows how to gamble with success.
42 S. Broadway; 720-638-8179
Cauliflower salad from Old Major
Even though Old Major, chef-owner Justin Brunson's thicket of nose-to-tail cooking, is a universe of meat, Brunson is the kind of chef's chef who doesn't relegate vegetables to the sideline. This includes the lowly cruciferous vegetable that is cauliflower. The performance-art plate — a cauliflower symphony — is swiped with a swatch of cauliflower purée, then topped with crunchy housemade croutons, char-specked florets, pickled onions, fines herbs and sauce gribiche accentuating translucent slices of tart cornichons.
3316 Tejon St.; 720-420-0622
Pollo albondigas from Poco Torteria at Avanti Food & Beverage
At Kevin Morrison's popular torteria, located on the main floor of Denver's hottest food hall, fans line up for the pollo albondigas, a hefty torta smeared with chipotle sauce and stacked with homemade chicken meatballs, mojo-de-ajo-braised spinach and queso fresco. Served with superb fries, the delicious Mexican sandwich is large enough for sharing. But we're betting that you, like us, will want it all for yourself.
3200 Pecos St.; 720-885-5069
Corned beef hash from Central Bistro and Bar
Admirers of this LoHi seasonal American, whose kitchen is overseen by up-and-coming chef Jesse Vega, are enamored with the brunch-only corned beef hash — a crisp-edged, texturally perfect sphere of shredded potatoes and salty corned beef that's elevated with pickled shallots, scallions and a yolk-spilling poached egg. The effect is a delightful morning glory that you'll want to extend to a weekend ritual.
1691 Central St.; 303-477-4582