Guide

The 10 Hottest Restaurants in Denver Right Now

By Lori Midson
February 13, 2015
By Lori Midson  |  February 13, 2015
Photo by: Photos by Lori Midson

While it's only February, the number of new restaurant openings signifies an unprecedented year for Denver's dining scene. From two top restaurants unveiling bold makeovers to a ramen-ya and must-visit Chinese food mecca, here are 10 restaurants to move to the top of your where-to-eat-now list.

  • Photo by: Lori Midson

    Zoe Ma Ma

    Why It's Hot: The gleaming open kitchen of this brand-new family-owned offshoot of the Boulder flagship is overseen by matriarch Anna Zoe, who everyone endearingly calls "Mama," and just about everything that Mama makes is slightly exotic, deeply authentic and profoundly delicious. From her chicken noodle soup (pictured) floating with pickled greens, sprouts, fresh ginger, rice noodles and a cluster of spring onions, to her Chinese-Korean classic za jiang mian, a mosaic of fresh, organic egg noodles, minced pork slicked with a fermented bean paste and fresh vegetables and herbs, it's Chinese comfort-food cooking at its best. 
    Must-Order: Chicken noodle soup ($7.99), Sichuan-braised beef with noodles ($11.79) and the za jiang mian ($6.99).
    Insider Tip: As part of several sustainability initiatives, including a "living wage" for its full-time staff, a 20% charge is added to all orders in lieu of a tip. If you wish to opt out, that's fine too, but independent of whether you're for or against it, don't try to tip; your gratuity will be politely declined.

    1625 Wynkoop St.; 303-545-6262

  • Mercantile Dining & Provision

    Why It's Hot: When chef-owner Alex Seidel opened Fruition in 2007, Denver diners were instantly enamored. They were anxious, too, for the 2010 Food & Wine Best New Chef's next new spot. Seidel had long dreamed of opening a multi-concept eatery that included an artisanal market and wine library, and his dreams came true late last year when Mercantile opened inside Union Station. The European-inspired show-stopper has created audible buzz for everything from its housemade bread-and-butter pickles and farmstead cheeses, (some from his own local creamery), to the potted duck rillettes and family-style feasts.
    Must-Order: Cauliflower bisque with chanterelle mushrooms ($12), pot au foie gras with duck confit blinis ($17) and the Spanish octopus aa la plancha ($27).
    Insider Tip: Book a seat at the chef's counter for a front-and-center view of the showpiece exhibition kitchen.

    1701 Wynkoop St.; 720-460-3733

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Acorn

    Why It’s Hot: Despite the fact Acorn is well into its second year, the buzz surrounding Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski's superb restaurant in The Source isn't showing any signs of diminishing. Its combination of grit and polish perpetuates its stellar reputation — think street-style graffiti on the brick walls, creative plates like foie gras PB and J on brioche and lamb "shawarma" (among other globally inspired creations), plus Dayton’s ingenious cocktails.
    Must-Order: Squid-ink spaghetti ($14), oak-grilled bone marrow ($15) and the oak-grilled T-bone for two ($95). 
    Insider Tip: Unlike most cocktail programs with spirit-intensive drinks, Acorn's libations roster offers several booze-free and low-booze choices.

    3350 Brighton Blvd.; 720-542-3721

  • Photo by: Jennifer Olson

    Rioja

    Why It's Hot: Following its 10-year anniversary, Rioja, the Larimer Square restaurant that garnered chef and co-owner Jennifer Jasinski a 2013 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southwest, temporarily closed last month for a major remodel, and the results are jaw-dropping. Only one element — Jasinski's open kitchen — was left untouched. The dining rooms, now divided into two sections by a floor-to-ceiling whitewashed brick wall with elegant wine-cage cutouts, boast sexy lighting and moss-green crushed-velvet Saarinen-style chairs and banquettes. And in addition to an interior redo, there's a significantly expanded wine list, along with several new menu items.
    Must-Order: Duck confit ($11), black truffle gnocchi ($10 as a starter; $19 as a main) and the grilled Spanish octopus puttanesca ($29).
    Insider Tip: If you're not in the mood for a full-blown dinner, the bar menu, served nightly from 4 PM, features plenty of notable bites, including Jasinski's Rioja "picnic," a beautiful splay of artisanal meats, cheeses and accouterments for $16.50.

    1431 Larimer St.; 303-820-2282

  • Photo by: Lori Midson

    Katsu Ramen

    Why It’s Hot: Ramen has been trending in other cities for a few years, and it's trending here too, especially at Katsu Ramen, a newcomer in Aurora that may be commanding the longest waits of any restaurant in the city. The allure? Five ramen incarnations: shoyu (chicken, pork and soy broth); a mild miso; tantanmen, a spicy broth with chicken; a chilled hiyashi chuka ramen; and tonkotsu, a buttery broth scented with pork bones that bubble on the burner for more than a dozen hours. The various ramens are all priced between $9.25 and $9.85. The 50-seat space, whimsically decked out with Japanese anime, is a riot of controlled chaos, and while the queues are often long, the ramen is worth the wait.
    Must-Order: Tonkotsu ($9.85) and the karaage fried chicken ($5.95).
    Insider Tip: While the doors open at 11 AM, arrive by 10:30 AM if you want to score a table before the lunch crush. And be aware that the kitchen has sporadic dinner hours and often closes on the early side. Once the ramen is gone, the space goes dark.

    1930 S. Havana St.; 303-751-2222

  • Blackbelly Market

    Why It’s Hot: It's been three years in the making and a "lifelong dream," says Hosea Rosenberg of Blackbelly Market, his first solo effort after winning season five of Top Chef. And since its November debut, it's been nothing but success for the Boulder-based chef, whose restaurant routinely commands two-hour waits at peak times. The space, which also doubles as a retail market, curing room, catering operation and temple to whole-animal butchery, features a chef's counter that yields a frontal view of Rosenberg and his dream team of kitchen magicians, a convivial bar that unleashes smashing cocktails and a casual vibe that pulsates with energy.
    Must-Order: Hatch green chile posole ($6), the house-ground burger with hand-cut fries ($14) and the rotisserie chicken ($17).
    Insider Tip: The grab-and-go market, open for breakfast and lunch only, offers a grilled cheese sandwich and San Marzano tomato soup special for $7 between the hours of 11 AM and noon.

    1606 Conestoga St., Boulder; 303-247-1000

  • Photo by: Lori Midson

    Work & Class

    Why It’s Hot: When humble restaurateurs Delores Tronco, her finance Tony Maciag and exec chef Dana Rodriguez opened Work & Class just over a year ago in RiNo, they never could have predicted the fanfare and accolades that would follow. But even after its first year in business and more than 300 new Denver restaurant openings between then and now, their diminutive charmer, a paradigm of love, passion and extraordinary hospitality, is still one of the hottest tickets in town. And it's no wonder: This is that perfect restaurant that just continues to get better and better with time.
    Must-Order: Let Rodriguez get your goat with her signature slow-roasted cabrito — and be sure to soak up all its juices with her handmade tortillas.
    Insider Tip: The dining room, patio, chef's counter and bar are solidly packed within minutes of the start of dinner service, so if you can sneak away from your cubicle before the rest of Denver, you can take advantage of the "early work-release program" — aka happy hour — which begins at 4 PM.

    2500 Larimer St.; 303-292-070

  • Fruition

    Why It's Hot: Eight years ago, Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef Alex Seidel amassed an immediate cult following when he opened Fruition, proving that despite impossibly tiny quarters and a kitchen roughly the size of a cottage closet, he was more than capable of delivering captivating dishes that left memorable imprints for days to come. But like Rioja, Fruition wanted to enter 2015 with a new look, so Seidel shuttered his restaurant for a few weeks last month and reopened last week on the anniversary of Fruition's eighth year, and what a difference a makeover makes. The polished space, with its light, white and sunlit dining room, conversation-piece wine display and plush banquettes, is now just as lovely as the food. Seidel's newly minted menu continues to wow, as does the eclectic wine list.
    Must-Order: Split pea and ham soup ($11) and pan-roasted lamb loin ($29).
    Insider Tip: The best seats in the house are along the south window overlooking the streetscape.

    1313 E. Sixth Ave.; 303-831-1962

  • Bubu

    Why It's Hot: Prolific chef and restaurateur Troy Guard, whose kingdom of restaurants (TAG, Guard and Grace and Los Chingones, among them) just keeps swelling, added another winner this week with the arrival of Bubu, a sibling to his Larimer Square fast-casual spot of the same name. But Bubu, the second incarnation, and the third restaurant in the Hangar 2 development project in Lowry, is a modernized full-service restaurant that's more festive and far larger than its flagship counterpart, and the menu's repertoire has likewise expanded to include everything from ramen and rice bowls to proteins (think pork shoulder, sirloin steak, tiger shrimp, Pacific salmon and crispy tofu). All of these options are available by the quarter-, half- or full-pound, and there are roasted chickens and daily white fish specials too.
    Must-Order: Dungeness crab salad ($16), chicken-fried duck tongue ($8) and the house-cured corned beef bao buns ($8).
    Insider Tip: The 10-seat chef's counter that faces the exposed kitchen is where all the action unfolds.

    7559 E. Academy Blvd.; 303-364-2025

  • Biju's Little Curry Shop

    Why It's Hot: Biju Thomas, a former competitive cyclist, prolific author and South India native, opened Biju's Little Curry House, a fast-casual tribute to the heart and soul of Southern India, last December in RiNo, giving Downtown Denver denizens a super-cool spot to sample excellent curries, whether wrapped in a roll or lobbed in a bowl. "The menu is all stuff I grew up eating and making at home with family and friends," says Thomas, adding that Southern Indian cuisine, unlike its Northern counterpart, is more about "building layers of flavor." And that's exactly what you'll get: rollicking, pronounced flavors that linger long after you've eaten that last delicious bite.
    Must-Order: The combo bowl ($12.95).
    Insider Tip: The wine list is surprisingly deep and extremely food-friendly, and the housemade chutneys are terrific.

    1441 26th St.; 303-292-3500

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Places Mentioned

Work & Class

River North Art District

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Acorn

Eclectic • River North Art District

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Fruition Restaurant

New American • Country Club

Food28 Decor23 Service26 Cost$56
 
 
 
Rioja

Mediterranean • Central Business District

Food28 Decor24 Service26 Cost$49
 
 
 
Blackbelly Market

American • Boulder

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Bubu

Central Business District

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Biju's Little Curry Shop

Indian • River North Art District

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Katsu Ramen

Japanese • Aurora

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
 
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