Must-Try Denver Restaurants

From brilliant Israeli cuisine and daring tasting menus to marvelous Chicago-style tavern pizza and Australian-inspired rotisserie chicken, these noteworthy newcomers (coupled with Denver's favorite local restaurants) define why there’s never been a better time to take a bite out of The Mile High City.  

Diners at Safta in The Source Hotel
Safta in The Source Hotel
The dining room at Family Jones Spirit House in Denver
The Family Jones Spirit House in Denver
People walk through McGregor Square near Coors Field in Denver
McGregor Square near Coors Field in Denver
Tuna dish and a glass of red wine at Jax Fish House
Jax Fish House
A table setting at Tavernetta in Denver's Union Station
Tavernetta in Denver's Union Station
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Hot New Spots 

Toro Latin Kitchen + Lounge
Chef and prolific restaurateur Richard Sandoval (Tamayo, La Sandia and Avon-based Maya) introduces a progressive and eclectic wave of global flavors at Toro Latin Kitchen + Lounge, the newest food destination inside the classy JW Marriott Cherry Creek. Sandoval’s menu, absent culinary guardrails, latches on to ingredients from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Asia, Japan and Venezuela, a melting pot of flavors that translates to energetic dishes that dazzle on the plate. Contemporary banquettes and dark-wood tables share space with hand-painted bull murals (“toro” means “bull” in Spanish and “tuna” in Japanese), private tequila lockers and a dedicated ceviche bar from which dishes like the aji amarillo ceviche with hamachi, mango and cucumber, emerge. A large, open-air patio, softly lit with strands of white lights and decked out with tables and swanky lounge furniture, is a hotspot for happy hour. Get the smoked swordfish dip and a mercado margarita with jalapeño-infused tequila, passion fruit and hibiscus-rosemary foam. 

Jovanina’s Broken Italian
A months-long sabbatical, thanks to COVID, shuttered Jovanina’s for more than a year, but the brilliant Italian restaurant is finally open again. Bedecked with a stickered white Vespa scooter that poses as a host stand, pulleys and gears suspended from the ceiling, flickering candelabras, exposed brick walls and antique relics honoring the building’s heyday as a cigar factory, this hyperseasonal LoDo destination is the handiwork of spouses and co-owners Jake and Jennifer Linzinmeir, astute restaurateurs that have brought an exceptional warmth to the city’s dining scene. The menu, a romantically rustic collection of seriously delicious dishes, favors oysters, wood-fired steaks and chops, lovely vegetable creations, seafood and fresh, housemade pastas. The $55 Sunday suppers — convivial experiences that involve an excellent tasting menu, plus unlimited pours of chianti — are among the city’s most jovial communal dinner events. If you want to escape the crowds, sneak down the candle-waxed staircase into Sotto Voce, an enticing speakeasy that pours prohibition-era cocktails, many of which favor absinthe. 

Benzina
Occupying the bones of a former Meineke muffler shop — and, before that, a Phillips 66 as station — destination-worthy Benzina (the name means gasoline in Italian) has become a Park Hill hotspot for locals who have a serial infatuation with Neapolitan-style pizza and high-style, retro-cool aesthetics. The restaurant, whose open kitchen is helmed by Brian Lockwood, a Boulder native with a pedigreed resume sporting stints at the French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park, parades a mid-century modern tone, a jumbo-size outdoor patio, horse troughs overflowing with fresh herbs and tomatoes, a chef’s counter, housemade pastas that run to things like king crab and black truffles and thin-crusted pizzas surfaced with a slate of out-of-the-box toppings: fresh clams, maitake mushrooms, corn, taleggio and nduja, a chile-laced, cured pork sausage. For purists, there’s an elevated margherita pizza. And for dessert? Vanilla panna cotta.

La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal
Pozole is the name of the game at this festive Five Points experience steered by chef/owner Jose Avila, who grew up in Mexico City and — lucky for us — brought his culinary culture to The Mile High City. His pozole, of which there are five variations, is plumped with nixtamalized housemade hominy sidekicked with the requisite companions: cabbage, thin-sliced radishes, lettuce, lime wedges and potent white onions and, if you wish, avocado and chicharrons. The soft-lit pozoleria — the only one of its kind in Denver — pays homage to Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, with skulls and murals on the bricked walls, and the bar has a terrific cocktail program, most notably the madre facka with poblano agave, tequila, mezcal and a clever garnish composed of a lacy skeleton leaf procured from guava trees. 

Redeemer Pizza
Superlative pizzas are the star at this minimalist space in the River North Art District (RiNo) owned by Alex Figura and Spencer White, two established Denver culinary maestros revered for their handmade pasta-making prowess at Dio Mio, a counter-service spot just a dough’s toss from Redeemer. Here, at their new joint, terrific wines and cocktails, plus East Coast-style hoagies and naturally leavened sourdough pizza by the pie and the slice stamp the streamlined menu, and while every pizza is a commanding composition that channels an unassailable catalog of toppings, the kale, lemon, onion and sausage number paved with Calabrian cream sauce, might be one of the most riveting things in the universe. The tables and benches inside and out are likely to be occupied when you stop by, but patience is a virtue when the reward is a small miracle. Still, if you’re the antsy type, there’s a walk-up pizza window for a fast fix. 

Lucy’s Burger Bar 
One of Minnesota’s greatest culinary legacies is the Juicy Lucy, a composition of two griddled burger patties, markedly seared to provide a degree of texture, with an avalanche of scorching-hot American cheese that lives in between the two patties. And now, with the addition of Lucy’s Burger Bar, a new joint in the Berkeley neighborhood, the revered Twin Cities cheeseburger has Denverites in a frenzied state of hysteria. You can see it on their faces after the first bite. Pure joy. And that messy and marvelous burger, which you should pair with a side of crisp-edged fries, is exactly what you want to be eating here. The restaurant, owned by Minnesota natives, grooves to a lively beat, its industrial-farmhouse aesthetic offset by living greenery and a long bar that flows with beer, wine and canned cocktails. 

Perdida
From the owners of Birdcall, Homegrown Tap & Dough, Park & Co. and Park Burger comes this rollicking, modernist and hipster Baja-inspired Mexican destination in the heart of Washington Park. The gorgeous quarters are ambient eye candy, with sea-hued tile, cowhide-covered barstools, light fixtures constructed from repurposed motorcycle parts and kaleidoscopic murals. Think swanky coastal club meets sophisticated urban glitz. Perdida is home to Mexican street corn-on-the-cob dotted with cotija cheese; citrus-spiked ceviche involving snapper, shrimp and bay scallops; chile-crusted carnitas tacos with charred pineapple and adobo sauce; carne asada paired with a sweet potato enchilada; and zarrandeado, marinated and butterflied striped bass matched with chayote and papaya slaw. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in Denver, but few with the kind of accomplished bar program paraded by Perdida, its cocktail syllabus an ode to artful mezcal and tequila potions. 

Carmine's on McGregor Square
Flanked by Coors Field, this 17,000-square-foot entertainment emporium in the Ballpark ‘hood is an intersection of lofty living residences, a swanky boutique hotel, retail shops, office space, an outdoor plaza, bars and cafes, a Colorado Rockies Hall of Fame experience, a food hall and Carmine’s, contemporary-chic lunch and dinner restaurant specializing in family-style plates of Italian-American obsessions. Much like the original Carmine’s — a staple in the Speer neighborhood since 1994 — the new iteration is all about abundance and celebrating that with friends and family. The tables, sheeted with brown butcher paper, double as a blank canvas for kids who want to doodle (each table comes with a cup of crayons) and servers who use those crayons to scribble your order. While there are menu boards scattered throughout the labyrinth of muraled dining rooms, the servers are more than adept at helping diners navigate the syllabus of appetizers, salads, side dishes, pasta, risotto, and chicken and veal dishes. Just remember: Everything here is on the big side, and desserts are no exception. Still, it’s worth leaving a spot in your stomach for a splash of the housemade limoncello.

Denver Locals' Favorites 

Tavernetta
From James Beard Award-winning luminaries Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca Food and Wine — Boulder’s lauded Northern Italian temple of gastronomy — comes Tavernetta, a regional Italian restaurant based at the boot of the Kimpton Hotel Born, prime real estate that overlooks the train platform of Denver Union Station. The superb menu from Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, antipasti, sensationally prepared fish and meat plates and breathtaking pastas that seesaw between lamb ragù with rigatoni and saffron-intensive bucatini enrichened with uni butter and trout roe. The refined space, graced with a fireplace lounge, a trio of patios, a centerpiece open kitchen and pasta station that buzzes with activity and walls mounted with Slim Aarons portrait photographs showcasing Italians on ritzy holidays, suggests a lost world of wine-soaked lunches and dinners and sojourns to fantastical faraway places. 

Safta
Alon Shaya’s dazzling Denver restaurant, situated inside The Source Hotel in the River North Art District (RiNo), has racked up an avalanche of accolades, all of them hard-earned and well deserved. His modern ode to Israeli cooking is composed, confident and pure, his flavors precise and pronounced. Pita bread, for instance, sounds deceptively simple, but the charred pillows of puffed dough that emerge from the wood-fired oven, are remarkable. So, too, is the hummus with lamb ragù, the smoky baba ghanoush, the vibrant Moroccan carrot salad and the impossibly crisp eggplant, the spheres crested with herb-specked goat cheese and tomato sauce. The space, befitting the food, is light, airy and modern, its fixtures and furnishings a mix of communal tables, a long, L-shaped bar overlooking the open kitchen, art and drinkware inspired by Shaya’s grandmother and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Denver skyline and mountain peaks. Like everything else here, the wines, many of which are from regions that are often overlooked (think Hungry, Greece and Israel), merit praise.

Jax Fish House
There may not be a more passionate restaurateur than Dave Query who ignited — and demystified — Denver’s seafood scene with the opening of this oceanic restaurant and oyster bar in LoDo that has since spawned offshoots across Colorado and beyond. From its rambunctiously energetic vibe, offset by a subtle nautical theme, to its fiercely seasonal menu of sustainable seafood sourced from passionate purveyors, it’s a fin-tastic favorite for slurping pristine oysters, although the rest of the menu — towering seafood platters, plump king-crab legs, fresh lobster, creamy clam chowder, spaghetti tangling with fresh clams and Alaskan halibut — is every bit as crowd-pleasing, as are the spirit-forward cocktails and compelling wines and craft beers.

The Family Jones Spirit House
A collaborative project from some of the biggest names in the city’s culinary landscape—including restaurateur Justin Cucci — this LoHi distillery, tasting room and restaurant is a bombshell of beautification. The tasting room, glorified with purple-surfaced stools, plush old glory blue banquettes, concrete block walls mounted with pots flush with juniper, soaring windows and a sunken bar, is perched below the mezzanine, which showcases a skylight-illuminated copper still. There’s a hybrid bar/kitchen — the team calls it “bitchen” — that dispenses innovative small plates from chef Tom Dotson, whose food — think fava bean hummus, curried red lentil dip with pineapple rum vinaigrette and pickled vegetables — is offset by a superb cocktail scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs.

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