In the past, Denver’s dining scene wasn’t much to brag about. There was little diversity, restaurants closed early and there were only a handful that were worth getting reservations at anyway. But times changed, and Denver’s food scene has come a long way. In the past few years, chefs started giving a damn and new restaurants in emerging neighborhoods have been making national headlines. The restaurant scene is finally booming, and these are the hottest places you’ll want to check out.
Acorn3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO, United States
For hip, young foodies to dine at the hottest restaurant, they actually had to go to Boulder for Oak on Fourteenth. It’s still poppin’ but now you don’t have to drive across the city limit for the primo spot. The owners and chef Steven Redzikowski opened Acorn, a more casual (and, to be honest, better) sister restaurant in Denver’s emerging River North neighborhood. The industrial space (think: graffiti murals, open kitchen, brick walls) is definitely laid back, serving up elevated New American comfort food in sharing portions. You can order everything from house-made agnolotti and crispy Icelandic cod to oak-smoked pork belly and tomato-braised meatballs. Go for the 24-oz oak grilled prime ribeye, which will set you back $75 for 3 people.
Hop AlleyHop Alley, Larimer Street, Denver, CO, United States
Denver’s contemporary, ethnic food scene is just starting to take off. There are a number of amazing, authentic spots, mostly family run, but seeing that locals wanted cooler places to get ethnic, a handful of new, modern restaurants have opened. The leader of the pack is Hop Alley, which refers to the original Chinatown here. The hip, very modern Asian-inspired restaurant serves up innovative and modern Chinese-American fare, and you must love soy and garlic to enjoy them. It’s really more of a bar scene (great cocktails) but people definitely come to chow from the small menu. There’s plenty of flavorful dishes, like beef chow fun, bone marrow fried rice and soft-shell crabs, and you can’t leave without getting the la zi ji, a fried-chicken plate with dried chilis and Sichuan pepper.
Stoic & GenuineStoic & Genuine, Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO, United States
With a restaurant name like Stoic & Genuine, you know the food is going to be just as creative. But even before we get to the food, let’s talk about the decor. You feel like you’re on a Wes Anderson film set, if the director was on a tight budget. The space has a nautical theme, with bright octopus arms painted on the walls and porthole-sized, lobster-trap style light fixtures. It’s not mind blowing, but it’s unique for Denver. Thanks to Top Chef Masters contestant and James Beard winner Jen Jasinski, it’s all about adventurous, delicious seafood here (scallops with cider gastrique, to give you an idea of where they’re going with the menu). The raw bar is where it’s at, but the lobster rolls are huge and impressive.
Denver DinerDenver Diner, West Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO, United States
While it’s been kicking since 1990, Denver Diner closed for a massive, $1.4 million renovation and reopened in 2016, so the 25+ year old, 24-hour institution feels brand spanking new. And who doesn’t love diner food? This modern-retro hot spot gets packed on the weekends for breakfast, lunch and brunch but, more importantly, it’s the place you go to cure a hangover or just eat great, non-fussy all-American guy food. The menu is diner-specific (burgers, biscuits and gravy, etc) but it’s also pretty diverse with some interesting stuff like Cajun pasta and shrimp, which we’re making you order.
The Way BackThe Way Back, West 38th Avenue, Denver, CO, United States
If you roll your eyes at the word “organic,” steer clear from The Way Back… but you’ll be missing out big time. Considered one of the best restaurant openings in 2016, The Way Back is actually two steps forward. Featuring farm to table, seasonal and sustainable American food that pays tribute to the Colorado culinary scene, this happening spot is all about the freshest of fresh ingredients (in fact, the name The Way back refers to how everyone processed their own food or produce back in the day). Think big, hearty dishes here like a Colorado trout served with crayfish, pecans and pickled currants and a fat, grass-fed steak, one of the best menu items and a must. The Way Back initially started as a cocktail lounge (food came later), so definitely order a craft cocktail or local beer the way The Way Back intended.