Denver’s 10 Best Restaurants

The Mile High City’s culinary scene is on the rise

10) The Buckhorn Exchange

One of America’s oldest restaurants (and the oldest in Denver) as well as the best restaurant for meat eaters in the country, Henry "Shorty Scout" Zietz opened the Buckhorn Exchange  in 1893, during a time when cattlemen, miners, railroad workers, silver barons, Indian chiefs, drifters, and businessmen all dined under the same roof. The restaurant was given the first liquor license in the state of Colorado and the food menu remains mostly unchanged to this day. The Buckhorn is a true Wild West holdout, with its circa-1857 antique bar, wooden fixtures, 575-piece taxidermy collection, 125-piece gun collection, and a menu that reflects that good ol’ American desire to eat some red meat. Giant steaks are the most popular offering, but there are plenty of exotic game meats on offer, too: elk, Cornish game hen, quail, and buffalo are available and can be served as samplers (elk and two quails; quail, duck and Cornish game hen; etc.) for those who really want to celebrate being on top of the food chain.

9) Pinche Taqueria

This taco spot’s name doesn’t translate well — just think of what you say when you’re moved to be either exceptionally mad or really happy, and you’ll get the idea. You’re likely to be the latter when you visit chef Kevin Morrison’s taqueria. Originally a taco truck, it puts a modern twist on comida de la calle (Mexican street food), along with small-batch tequilas. You’ll want to start with an order of queso fundido con chorizo and homemade chips, but from there it gets more difficult to choose. Carnitas? Pollo a la cremaAsadalengua, or rajas con crema y maiz? There are also chipotle-and-beer-battered fish tacos and citrus grilled shrimp.

8) Linger

Global-influenced street food and creative cocktails are the name of the game at Linger, located in an old mortuary building. The dishes are fun and creative, ranging from African roasted peanut soup to Octopus Español, Mongolian BBQ duck, Thai snapper, and chile relleno, and the room is bright and airy. If you can’t decide where to go for dinner, Linger can satisfy just about any craving.

7) Stoic & Genuine

“Fish, oysters, and happiness are flown in daily,” this restaurant’s menu proclaims, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue with that last one. Oysters are sourced from both coasts, and absolute freshness is owners Jennifer Jasinski and Jorel Pierce’s main priority. The menu gives equal opportunity to the classics as well as the inventive: Hamachi sashimi with Lebanese falafel and a beet and ginger-cured salmon sandwich share menu space with fried clams, a lobster roll, and a whole steamed Maine lobster.

6) Luca D’Italia

Named for the son of owner Frank Bonanno, the cuisine of Luca is intended to be a celebration of the richness of life. The cuisine invokes a range of Italian cuisine, from the food Bonanno grew up with in his mother’s kitchen to many of the finest restaurants in New York. Try the capellini carbonara, with housemade guanciale, Parmesan crema, and a soft-poached yolk, or the dry-aged NY strip with Taleggio gnocchi. Luca is widely revered by locals and media alike, having been named the top Italian restaurant in the western United States by Zagat.

5) Duo

Since 2005, this restaurant has been one of Denver’s most in-demand, and a second location opened recently in the inauspicious location of Brattleboro, Vermont. The secret behind the restaurant’s success? Fresh, seasonal New American dishes that are creatively planned and incredibly delicious. Don’t miss the squash and ricotta fritters, chicken confit, Rock River Ranch buffalo, or porcini and sherry-braised pork shank.

4) ChoLon

The first restaurant from a veteran of New York’s Buddakan and Spice Market, ChoLon is a modern Asian bistro with a whole lot of classical French technique thrown in. It may sound chi chi on the outside until you take a look at the menu and realize that it’s also heavy on the comfort food: bacon “fried rice” carbonara, Indian spiced lamb shank, sweet onion and Gruyère soup dumplings, and sesame-honey-glazed pork belly buns are just a few of the standouts.

3) Euclid Hall

This American tavern has a menu that’s committed to elevating traditional pub food from around the world to new heights, and owners Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch succeed with flying colors. The fun and casual space dates to 1883, and favorites include fried Cheddar curds, Buffalo-style frog wings, pad Thai pig ears, foie gras by the ounce, and killer chicken and waffles.

2) Rioja

Chef Jennifer Jasinski (whose name has popped up a few times on this list) took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest 2013, largely because of what she’s been able to accomplish at Rioja. With “a menu inspired by Mediterranean ingredients and influenced by local and seasonal products,” the elegant space serves dishes like duck confit with butternut squash, maple syrup, sage, and walnuts; handmade black truffle gnocchi with maitake mushrooms, arugula, and red wine emulsion; and Colorado lamb two ways (grilled T-bone and braised belly) with sunchokes, cocoa nibs, Chinese broccoli, and dates.

1) Colt & Gray

Elegant yet comfortable, sleek yet rustic, Colt & Gray is a restaurant that isn’t afraid to “go there.” Committed to remaining affordable and utilizing every part of the animal, they’re turning out groundbreaking cuisine every night of the week here. All charcuterie, including cured meats, rillettes, pates, and terrines, are made at their own curing facility; sautéed sweetbreads are served with foraged mushrooms, winter greens, bacon, and hazelnuts; Colorado lamb appears both as a tartare and alongside smoked fingerling potatoes, yogurt, faro, and Brussels sprout hash, and cranberry pan sauce; and a Hudson Valley duck leg is stuffed with foie gras. If you want a big piece of meat, New York strips, filets, and 42-ounce porterhouses are all dry-aged in-house.