2500 Larimer St., RiNo
The second restaurant from restaurateur Kelly Whitaker, Cart-Driver occupies an unimaginably tiny shipping container tucked into a cozy corner of RiNo. Like at Basta, his restaurant in Boulder, Whitaker specializes in perfect-crust pizza, and here, the only other menu items to distract you are fresh oysters and a small handful of appetizers. There's a lovely patio and simple, all-you-need cocktail list, plus prosecco on tap, so it makes a great happy hour spot when you want to do a bit of snacking. (That said, they're open until midnight every night.)
Colt & Gray
1553 Platte St., LoHi
Colt & Gray is a little dressed up for Denver, but in a good way: It’s an upscale white-tablecloth establishment that’s still very cozy (exposed brick and a fireplace). While the atmosphere is enough of a draw, they have exceptional cocktails, fresh oysters, and best of all, a top-notch charcuterie program—it’s all cured in-house, and they’re committed to high-quality regional ingredients and nose-to-tail utilization. The rest of the menu is standard but inventive New American fare, like Moroccan lamb with kale panisse and clams and octopus with white runner beans. Bonus: There’s a speakeasy downstairs, Ste. Ellie, where you can expect the same great cocktails and service in a more intimate (and even cozier) space.
1475 E. 17th Ave., City Park
A relative newcomer to Denver’s taco scene, Dos Santos is among the best: Whether you choose their grilled steak, slow-roasted pork, or chicken tinga tacos, you won’t be disappointed. Our favorite is the O.M.F.G., a bib lettuce-wrapped offering filled with raw tuna, lime cilantro aioli, pickled onion, avocado, and cabbage. (Their guacamole is just as inspired: If you’re so inclined, you can try it with fresh fruit and bacon, or with pumpkin seed, nopal, and roasted tomatillos.) Cement floors, exposed brick, and colorful chairs add to the taqueria’s charm—as does a nice selection of local and Mexican beers, plus amazing margaritas.
2413 W. 32nd Ave., LoHi
This bistro has been in the neighborhood for a decade, making it a LoHi mainstay. Over the years, the upscale (but relaxed) restaurant has maintained more than 40 local partners, who make their farm-to-table commitment possible—and ensure their seasonal menu continues to impress with selections that range from crispy cauliflower with stewed red lentils to country ham carpaccio to “chicken & waffles” (chicken liver mousse on a brown butter waffle with date chutney and pickled shallot). Note: The small space is reliably packed, so it’s good to make a reservation.
Guard & Grace
1801 California St., Downtown
Named after chef Troy Guard (and his daughter, Grace), this 9,000-square-foot space tucked into the street level of the fifty-six-floor CenturyLink Tower is home to the best steaks in the city. Bright, airy, and sleek, with just enough touches of warmth to keep it from being too corporate, Guard & Grace offers everything we’d want from a modern steakhouse: elevated, fresh seafood (plus a raw bar), amazing charcuterie, perfect martinis, and of course, local grass-fed cuts of beef offered in 4 to 22 oz. portions. There’s no official dress code, but it is definitely dressed-up for Denver.
2601 Larimer St., RiNo
After nine years at its original location in Uptown, Il Posto has recently re-opened in this two-story space, double the size, in the RiNo area. The sculptural light installation, 12-seat bar topped with a slab of Carrara marble, dark wood floors, and impressive views of Downtown are certainly a sleek departure from the old space, but Chef Andrea Frizzi’s Italian menu continues to impress—take, for instance, the beef candle, a bone marrow appetizer that melts into a dip, or more classic Italian standbys like their house-made burrata with huckleberry jam and lavash cracker. The menu may be relatively small, but you can’t go wrong, whether it’s their made-to-order risotto or classic calamari.
2030 W. 30th Ave., LoHi
Most people choose not to dwell on the fact that the building Linger occupies was a former mortuary called Olinger's—the "O" on the neon sign had long been busted, and the restaurateurs chose the name of their "eatuary" accordingly. Right in the middle of all the action of LoHi's busiest street, the restaurant has two levels: a dining room downstairs, and a more casual rooftop patio upstairs. The street-food-inspired menu highlights a few different cuisines, with dishes like a falafel lettuce wrap alongside Vietnamese surf 'n turf and a masala dosa. For a casual vibe fitting of the food (or a great happy hour), we actually prefer the second floor, which features a bar housed in a refurbished VW bus and beautiful views of downtown Denver.
1701 Wynkoop St., LoDo
This spot, on the eastern edge of the newly renovated Union Station building downtown, is part white-tablecloth restaurant and part takeaway market. The sit-down portion serves a roughly Italian menu (caramelized potato gnocchi, parsnip tortellini, burrata with beets and citrus confit) with a few American menu items thrown in (broccoli cheddar soup, crispy chicken with vegetable pot pie) in a dining room that features Union Station's signature high ceilings and tall windows that look out onto the plaza. In the takeaway section, you'll find a deli counter with imported cheeses and sliced-to-order prosciutto, plus pastries, a coffee bar, and office-lunch-style sandwiches and salads—including an Italian sandwich that's in the running for Denver's best.
190 Clayton Ln., Cherry Creek
In a neighborhood that's known for glitzy steakhouses and sometimes overpriced fine dining, this straightforward Italian spot is a welcome respite (and makes for an excellent lunch pit stop when you're in the area for a day of shopping). The interior is clean and warm, with exposed brick and fresh flowers in the entry, and the service is always excellent. The menu is inspired by Northern Italy, with great pizzas and pastas that they make in-house, plus some solidly filling salad options like a Tuscan kale with grapes and apples, and a seasonal vegetable chop with butternut squash and brussels sprouts.
3316 Tejon St., LoHi
Justin Brunson is known as a meat guy (his other restaurants include Masterpiece Deli, Denver Bacon Company, and Culture Meat & Cheese), and Old Major is his fine-dining celebration of whole animal butchery, which all come from his in-house butcher and charcuterie program; you'll see the charcuterie room just off the dining area. The casual vibe here is quintessentially Denver, with an industrial space flecked with barn wood, exposed brick, a wide patio, and—importantly—a great bar. Brunson's best dishes, understandably, are meat-centric, like a gorgeous dry-aged Colorado ribeye, an excellent charcuterie plate, and the nose-to-tail, a plate of Italian sausage, red wine-glazed confit belly, crispy ears, and pork shoulder ragú served with vegetables. It's a lot of food, but take it from us: You'll want to save room for the pretzel knots.
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