The Best Restaurants for Every Budget in Denver

Where to dine on your preferred dime, whatever the occasion
February 13, 2017
by Ruth Tobias

Your boss, your sweetheart, your pals, your kids: so many people to please, so little time. We get it — so we devised this guide to show your best bets for impressing and entertaining the fellow food lovers in your life, whatever your budget.

Adventurous dining

Inexpensive: El Coco Pirata
Our answer to this one changes by the day, but right now, we can’t stop raving about this Sinaloan hole in the wall. Colorful and family filled, it’s such a happy place — made all the merrier by the sheer abundance of seafood in all forms, from the treasure trove of raw marinated shellfish like the botana altata, pictured, to Mexican-style sushi rolls (yes, that's really a thing) to knockout micheladas.

Moderately priced: Rebel Restaurant
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: We’d put the guys behind this RiNo hideout up against the most creative chefs in the country. Whether they’re sprinkling fried pinto beans and dehydrated hot dogs on popcorn, making pastrami-liver tacos in rye shells or going whole animal from head to, well, testicles, every menu is a bigger trip than the last.

Worth a splurge: Stoic & Genuine
The prodigious talent on Team Jennifer Jasinski goes without saying — yet somehow we’re startled time and again by the culinary imagination on display at her Union Station fish house. Pickled sardines with mushroom custard in almond vinaigrette? Yellowtail sashimi with falafel and tahini aïoli? Parsley-mint cake with black-garlic ice cream? Yes, yes and yes, please — but first, a round of granita-garnished oysters, per Stoic tradition.

Business Powwows

Inexpensive: Boney's BBQ
Because there’s no business so serious as to negate the bonding experience of colleagues licking their fingers over a mess of rib tips and hushpuppies. Lure a particularly prickly coworker downstairs to this beloved basement joint, butter ’em up with an order of cobbler on you, and you’ll have a new office ally in no time.  

Moderately priced: Coperta
Take a breather from the Downtown bustle with a short stroll over to Paul and Aileen Reilly’s Italian refuge (pictured). Not only is the dinnertime hot spot calm enough by day for discreet wheeling and dealing, but it offers a “power lunch” supplement to the regular menu that gets you in and out quick (in case the negotiations don’t go so well).

Worth a splurge: Guard and Grace
Wooing clients at a steakhouse may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason — and besides, Troy Guard's meet-and-meat market is no ordinary steakhouse. The look’s slick, the energy’s high, the seasonal menu transcends the genre and the many amenities come with courtesy, not formality.

Family outings

Inexpensive (tie): Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery and Olive & Finch Eatery and Bakery
At the forefront of the chef-driven fast-casual trend when they opened their flagships a couple of years ago, Chop Shop's Clint Wangsnes and O&F's Mary Nguyen have proven godsends to parents looking for quick and affordable yet civilized meals. In just the past few weeks, both have opened new branches — and all four locations now turn out such adult treats as banh mi (Chop Shop's version pictured), bistro filets and breezy cocktails alongside kid stuff done right, from Wangsnes' housemade corn dogs to Nguyen's quinoa pancakes. 

Moderately priced (tie): 12 @ Madison and The Goods Restaurant
Thanks to 12's Jeff Osaka, celebrating happy hour with your children no longer sounds like grounds for legal trouble. Observing that early exposure to sit-down restaurants “helps my daughter and teaches her manners,” in his words, Osaka is now offering a weekly changing kids' menu ($12) that includes soup or salad, entree choices such as ricotta gnudi and sesame-grilled prawns, a hot fudge sundae and a (virgin) beverage from 4–6 PM Wednesday–Sunday. And for you? Go for a reduced-price cocktail and downright cheap bar snacks like spicy fried chickpeas and stuffed Parker House rolls — or order off the regular menu to match your little one course for course. As for The Goods, not only does it contain a dedicated playroom, but it also happens to serve kids for free all-day Wednesday.

Worth a splurge: Domo
It doesn’t have a separate menu, but assuming your kiddos are cool with teriyaki or simple noodle bowls — and assuming you can keep them from running too wild — this Japanese land of enchantment will thrill them with its elaborate artifact displays (swords, masks) and picturesque gardens.

Dining with a group 

Inexpensive: Little Chengdu
Word of mouth spreads fast around here. This little DTC gem was introduced to us by writer Laura Shunk, who learned of it from Hop Alley's Tommy Lee — and it's already our newest go-to for family-style Chinese feasts of Sichuan hot pot, “big platter chicken” and silken noodles that are shaved or hand-pulled in plain sight (pictured). Bring at least three buddies, a massive appetite and a yen for spice.

Moderately priced: The Post Chicken & Beer
A bucket of this instant Rosedale fave’s fried bird (or two) comes with chorizo gravy, buttermilk biscuits, pickles and sides like green-chile mac and kale-cashew slaw. It does not come with a pitcher of beer, but get one anyway — you and your compadres are gonna need at least one to wash down all that grub.

Worth a splurge: Hearth & Dram
A "Whole Beast Feast" at this glam new showcase of wood fire and whiskey is not for the disorganized: You have to order it five days in advance and get six to 10 people in the same place at the same time. But if you can pull that off, a three-course banquet awaits, starring your choice of standing rib roast, salt-crusted sturgeon, dry-aged glazed duck or suckling pig.

Game day

Inexpensive: Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill
We consider it our civic duty to remind Denverites now and then about this lovably shabby legend, at once a former lair of Kerouac and Ginsberg, sing-along piano bar and last refuge for scoundrels — it has a smoking patio, along with plenty of flat-screens. Granted, TV viewing here can easily take a backseat to people-watching and overindulging in the twice-daily BOGO happy hours.

Moderately priced: D Bar
Who decided that rooting for the home team meant scarfing down nothing but wings and chili? Sit at the bar of this Uptown fave, and you can catch the game while nibbling on passionfruit soufflé or banana–white chocolate bread pudding à la mode. Heck, you can even indulge in afternoon tea without forfeiting your fan cred. Not into sweets? Snacks like butternut fondue with garlic breadsticks and duck confit–foie gras nachos could be game changers (so to speak).

Worth a splurge: Del Frisco's Grille
The bar at the Cherry Creek Elway’s has been the reigning champ in this category for years, for obvious reasons. But if you’ve had one too many wild times there already, head around to the corner to Del Frisco’s lounge (pictured), which offers a similar mix of business-casual comfort and swank: plenty of TVs and easy seating on the one hand, Wagyu corn dogs and filet mignon meatloaf on the other. 

Cart service

Inexpensive: Star Kitchen
Everybody loves loads of food on wheels, and Cantonese yum cha (i.e. the occasion for drinking tea and eating dim sum) is the ultimate expression of the amenity. Among Denver’s longtime top three parlors (the others being Super Star and King’s Land), we’ve never had a strong preference — but this Athmar Park fixture does seem to offer just a little more variety, especially when it comes to dumplings. 

Moderately priced: The Cooper Lounge
How to feel like a high roller on, well, a medium roll: split a cheese plate at Union Station’s posh mezzanine bar. It won’t set you back too much, and you’ll be treated to the old-school glamour of rolling-cart service — choosing your cheeses tableside before they’re presented with oil-cured olives, honeycomb or fruit compote and a few types of breads.

Worth a splurge: Departure Restaurant + Lounge
Sure, doing dim sum at this glam Cherry Creek destination is going to cost you a lot more than it does at the usual suspects. But you’re paying for a whole lot more atmosphere. You're also going to drink a lot better — think tamarind mimosas and Thai-spiced micheladas. You’ll sample things you’d never see in a traditional context, like smoked-chicken spring rolls with sweet-and-sour cranberry sauce or crispy lamb cakes — along with a full brunch menu (don’t miss the steak and eggs). And finally, there’s always the off-chance that star chef Gregory Gourdet himself (pictured) will appear behind the wheels.

Romantic dinners

Inexpensive: Blueprint Bar
Though it's set on a well-trafficked Uptown corner, the low-key façade of this lovely little lounge from Ryan DiFranco and chef Nicole Layog means it's under wraps from the hordes — and selfishly, we like it that way. Croquettes, calamari, cocktails and conversation equal a night well spent.

Moderately priced: To the Wind Bistro
This acclaimed but tiny City Park haunt (pictured) makes for an extremely tight squeeze — which is kind of the point of date night, right? Besides, the place emanates such warmth you can't help but feel at home instantly. 

Worth a splurge: Fruition
What can we say? Ten years in, Alex Seidel's Country Club flagship (pictured top) remains a romantic rendezvous extraordinaire: cozy yet polished, fabulous without flash.

Dinner and a show

Inexpensive: Globe Hall
It's quirky, it's groovy, it's down-home and funky — this Globeville honky-tonk is all that and a side of chips. Actually, forget the chips. Make it a platter of smoked brisket and ribs with baked beans and slaw. You can work it off on the dance floor.  

Moderately priced: Ophelia's Electric Soapbox
Reggae, flamenco, alt-country, hip-hop: The music at Justin Cucci's neo-cabaret is as wildly eclectic as the menu, a gleeful mash-up of South American, Scandinavian, Indian, Italian, Korean, French and innumerable other influences. Of course, the racy decor is a show in itself.

Worth a splurge: Nocturne
Don't let a little thing like an aversion to jazz stop you from a night at this RiNo supper club (pictured). For one thing, the art deco space sets such a sultry stage for the music that you can't help but get caught up in its electricity. And for another, the supper itself rocks. Spring for the five-course tasting menu inspired by albums, imaginative and luxury-laden from first bite to last. 

happy hour
nobu matsuhisa
lincoln park
capitol hill
city park
cherry creek
alex seidel
jennifer jasinski
chinese food
italian food
city park west
country club
keegan gerhard
washington park west
japanese food
union station
athmar park
central business district
jeffrey wall
el coco pirata