The 11 Best Things We Ate This Year (So Far) in Denver

From sparkling seafood to sumptuous sweets
June 30, 2014
by Ruth Tobias

What an embarrassment of riches 2014 has already yielded. Narrowing down every spectacular thing we’ve sampled in the past six months to just 10 (ok, 11) would have been impossible without some ground rules. One: we limited our boundaries to Denver proper (sorry, Aurum and D’Angelo’s Italian Deli). Two: the dishes had to be new to menus this year — unlike, say, La Calle’s unforgettable tacos de cueritos and East Asia Garden’s tofu and black eggs. Three: they also had to be currently available to you, dear reader. That meant excluding To the Wind’s chicken and dumplings and pretty much anything on Lower48 Kitchen's exquisite but constantly changing menu, as well as overlooking this tonkotsu ramen (at least until Jeff Osaka’s upcoming noodle shop sets an opening date). Yet after all that, we were still left with a plethora of creations that will drop your jaw and blow your mind.

Billi Bi at Stoic & Genuine

Why We Love It: Ok, ok — we're stretching the definition of "currently" here, since one of the most-anticipated restaurants of the year hasn't arrived yet. But as of next week (probably July 9), when Jennifer Jasinski, Beth Gruitch, Jorel Pierce and crew throw open to the doors to their surefire seafood smash (we were lucky enough to have a preview), you'd better be ready to grab that slab of grilled ciabatta and sop up every last drop of this ultrarich, mysteriously exotic Bangs Island mussel soup. Union Station; 303-640-3474

Butterscotch Tart at Guard and Grace

Why We Love It: You can call Troy Guard's new Downtown destination a steakhouse if you like. We call it the whole package, from the raw bar and wine cellar to the fantastic desserts. A steel-cut oat crust and a dash of actual scotch sharpen this exemplary tart's creamy, dreamy contours of brown sugar, Tahitian vanilla and milk chocolate. 1801 California St.; 303-293-8500

Cabrito at Work & Class

The story of Denver dining in 2014 can’t be told without a lengthy passage on this RiNo game changer, where chef Dana Rodriguez pours her heart and soul into a comfort-food menu that’s two parts Latin, one part Southern and one part something wholly new. The depth of flavor in her cabrito, or slow-roasted goat, is a case in point. We like to scoop up the pulled shoulder and leg meat, doused in guajillo-chile sauce, with handmade corn tortillas, then dip the package into the lemony consommé she makes from the bones (though it’s really meant as a palate cleanser). Rodriguez herself votes for fried sweet plantains as a side. What the heck, get both. 2500 Larimer St.; 303-292-0700

Citrus Mount Baum Cake at Glaze by Sasa

Why We Love It: Intricately layered, tender, Cointreau-glazed baumkuchen stands in subtle contrast to the light, bright, savory-sweet notes of rosemary-honey cheesecake over salted, roasted-orange gel — and goes to show this brand-new Congress Park sushi bar and dessert lounge has already mastered the art of balance. 1160 Madison St.; 720-387-7890

Empanada Gallega at Maria Empanada

Why We Love It: Upon moving her beloved Argentine pastry shop from Lakewood to a roomier, airier space in Platt Park, Lorena Cantarovici also expanded the menu. This savory pie of tuna, egg, tomatoes and parsley in an expertly flaky crust is just one of many picture-perfect highlights that we crave for lunch on the regular. 1298 S. Broadway; 303-934-2221

Wild Escargot P'stilla at Bistro Barbès

Why We Love It: On the very day Jon Robbins opened his French-North African bistro in Park Hill, we fell head over heels for his painterly presentation of escargot with garlic flan in parsley beurre blanc. So we were disappointed to discover he'd replaced it with his take on the Moroccan stuffed pastry known as p'stilla — that is, until we tasted it. Now our heart belongs to the luxuriously earthy, complexly spiced mixture of snails and mushroom duxelles that bursts from the delicate dough casing, enhanced by a duo of sauces (one based on olive oil and herbs, the other on garlic and butter) as well as a traditional sprinkling of powdered sugar. Curious? Better hurry then — the dish won't be around forever. Then again, who knows what Robbins' next escargot experiment will entail? 5021 E. 28th Ave.; 720-398-8085

Lemonade-Cured Foie Gras at Central Bistro & Bar

Why We Love It: The words “foie gras” and “refreshing” rarely appear in the same sentence. But when they do, you can bet the name “Matt Selby” will be there too: as chef at this neighborhood magnet in LoHi, Selby has gone and built an exuberant showcase for everybody’s favorite liver. Exquisitely creamy and tinged with verjus, his torchon is set atop thin disks of custard-battered sourdough French toast, then accompanied by sweet-tart blueberry-rum jam and a zingy salad of mint and fennel whose seared slivers of yet more foie tie everything together. It’s an instant summertime classic, really. 1691 Central St.; 303-477-4582

Pappardelle Bolognese at P17

Why We Love It: Not to brag, but we've had our share of Bolognese in its hometown (most recently just a few weeks ago). We never expected to find its likes right here in Denver, especially not from a chef whose career was built on modern Asian cuisine. But Mary Nguyen has pulled a fast one on us all, and the version she's serving now at her Uptown bistro is a revelation — robust and velvety from the housemade pappardelle and ricotta to the lovingly crafted beef-and-pork sugo1600 E. 17th Ave.; 303-399-0988

Spaghetti Eastern at The Squeaky Bean

Why We Love It: Combining squid-ink pasta with XO sauce, shrimp, bread crumbs and both peas and pea shoots, then enriching it all with egg yolk, chef Theo Adley has found the missing link between Hong Kong-style noodles and Venetian spaghetti al nero di seppia — and it’s as funky as you’d expect from this LoDo fun zone, with all sorts of texture and plenty of garlic. 1500 Wynkoop St.; 303-623-2665

Smoked-Pastrami Tartine at the plimoth

Why We Love It: It's bold yet elegant. Crunchy yet melting. Salty and smoky yet sweet and succulent. When a French cafe classic meets a Jewish deli tradition, the fireworks fly and a beautiful baby is born in the form of an open-faced pastrami sandwich with schmaltz-cooked onions, broiled cheese and a perfect egg. Get it at Peter Ryan's hideaway in north City Park while the getting's good. 2335 28th Ave.; 

Wood-Roasted Clams at Gozo

Why We Love It: This Portuguese-style dish sounds simple enough on paper: clams, chorizo, chickpeas. But the meaty, spicy, garlicky, juicy sum of its parts positively sizzles on the palate, complemented by crusty grilled bread for dipping. Kudos to this Baker hot spot for bringing a touch of the Iberian Peninsula to Denver's doorstep. 30 S. Broadway; 720-638-1462

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