In every city there are always those places that really make the dining and drinking scene. This can include the dive bar in the heart of downtown or the upscale destination miles away. For Denver, the greatest restaurants have a bit of history and a following so strong, you can’t get in without a reservation. There is a classic fried chicken joint not to miss, as well as an Italian restaurant that serves its food with an Indian twist. Green chiles are a staple ingredient, seen on this list at one spot with the city’s best green chile cheeseburger and another that puts the ingredient in unexpected places.
From Colorado-Mexican fare to game meat to menus full of local ingredients, get to know the Mile High City through these best places to eat.
When a place feels as special as chef and co-owner Cindhura Reddy’s Spuntino, it’s bound to remain one of the top restaurants in the city. The inside of this Highland spot is cozy and intimate, with dark wood accents and a long bar where one can sit and chat with co-owner Elliot Strathmann about his amaro program and the well-curated Italian wine list. Tap into his knowledge for the perfect drink pairing to go along with Reddy’s Italian food, which comes with a Colorado and Indian twist, a direct tip of the hat to her heritage. The menu changes all the time, depending on the season, with items such as toasty arancini with Hatch green chiles and white cheddar; capellini aglio e olio with Indian spice-preserved garlic; and house-made Colorado lamb keema sausage with tamarind rice, toasted peanuts, and spice-preserved tomato.
Dining at the restaurant: Sit inside at the bar for an intimate look at the beverage program, or at one of the snug tables along the wall. There’s also a large outdoor area to sit in, placed in an open-air tent with socially distanced tables
Takeout: Most dishes are available for takeout, and there’s also a whole Indian menu by Reddy that’s separate from the Spuntino menu.
When James Beard Award-winning chef Jennifer Jasinski opened Rioja, there weren’t many upscale restaurants around, and Larimer Square was just starting to offer the city places to go beyond the normal chains. Now, Rioja is a city staple that serves Mediterranean-inspired fare, but with a Colorado twist. Think Palisade peach and cornbread caprese, seared venison with blackberry, and handmade pastas tricked out with artichoke goat cheese mousse, seasonal produce, and guanciale. There’s also a tasting menu available upon request, and the restaurant serves lunch, brunch on weekends and does carryout as well. Despite the white tablecloths, Rioja maintains an easygoing vibe. Overall, Rioja remains a Denver staple, and the city wouldn’t be the same without it or Jasinski.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine inside this lauded restaurant for dinner and weekend brunch. There’s also a special lunch pop up dubbed The Flavor Dojo, put together by executive chef Gabe Wyman.
Takeout: Some of the dishes, wine, and beer can be ordered online for takeout. There’s also a picnic-for-two option, complete with meat, cheese, crackers and olives.
Welton Street Cafe (Five Points)
When Flynn and Mona Dickerson opened up their Five Points restaurant in 1999, there wasn’t much there in the way of cafes. But even as the neighborhood has exploded with more places to eat, the Welton Street Cafe continues to draw folks in thanks to its superb fried chicken kept up by the Dickerson family. Also find chicken wings on the menu, as well as fried catfish, jerk chicken, sandwiches, frybread, and more Southern and local food staples. Expect a boisterous setting filled with people there for the popular food.
Dining at the restaurant: Welton Street Cafe is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: All menu items can be taken to go by calling the restaurant.
The Blue Bonnet (South Denver)
For more than 30 years, this laidback, family-run Mexican food joint has served South Denver, and it hasn’t changed much to the delight of its fans. It’s a go-to place to get a taste of Southwestern Mexican fare and enjoy a crowd who has been frequenting the place for decades. Sit back in one of the large, roomy booths or outside on the covered patio, and sip a refreshing margarita on the rocks, fill up on chips and salsa, and indulge in a large platter of tamales, chile rellenos, enchiladas and tacos. Service is quick and laidback, and you won’t wait long for food, but you might for a table without a reservation on weekend nights.
Dining at the restaurant: There’s a handful of large booths, the bar, and some standalone tables inside to dine at, or take a seat on the covered and heated patio.
Takeout: Order any of the food to go by calling the restaurant.
Classic American is the best way to describe this restaurant, opened in 2006 by Secret Sauce, the same team behind Ace Eat Serve. It’s a place for solid comfort food, from pot roast to fried chicken to green chile cheeseburgers, which are a staple in the Denver diet. While other restaurants have tried to copy Steuben’s signature hipster-diner style, over the years this venture has remained consistent, without any huge changes save for adding hot chicken to the menu, a dish that helped heat things up for the restaurant’s fans. Steuben’s is also great for kids, with a lighthearted pint-sized menu that includes an optional milk flight.
Dining at the restaurant: Take a seat in one of the vinyl booths and order a plate of gravy cheese fries for lunch or dinner, or book a table outside and enjoy the bits of sunshine wafting down over a hearty wedge salad.
Takeout: Steuben’s offers takeout through OpenTable and delivery via third-party apps.
Q House (Congress Park)
Chef Christopher Lin has been immersed in Chinese-American food since he was a child, thanks to his Chinese immigrant parents and their New Hampshire restaurant. Lucky for Denver, Lin brought his skill to Congress Park, where he creates platters of shareable foods such as wok-fried cheung fun, bang bang chicken salad, twice-cooked pork belly, and more. A lot of the dishes sound familiar to any Chinese food lover, but they tend to have a little twist: The lo mein has duck in it and the barbecued spare ribs are spiced with peanuts, for example. The setting leans modern with thick wood tables, padded chairs, and a row of stools along a wall of windows. There’s also outside seats for those nicer days and a full bar that you can sit at to sip a yuzu highball or glass of dry Riesling.
Dining at the restaurant: Sit inside or book an outside seat on nicer days.
Takeout: Order takeout from Q House by calling the restaurant.
Carmine’s on Penn (Washington Park)
Family-style Italian used to be plentiful in Denver, but many of those places have sadly shuttered in the last decade. But thankfully not Carmine’s on Penn, open since 1994 in Washington Park. The restaurant looks like a traditional red-sauce joint, with candles on the tables and simple, sturdy furniture and decor. On the menu you’ll find two portion sizes, the smaller one for two people, marked with a T, or the larger for groups, marked with an F. Start dinner with a classic Caesar salad complete with white anchovies, then follow that with vodka sauce-drenched ravioli. For the main dish, the chicken piccata is popular, as well as cannoli for dessert. The wine list is made up of all Italian wines, perfect for pairing with the bolognese or spaghetti in clam sauce.
Dining at the restaurant: Take a seat inside Carmine’s on Penn.
Takeout: Takeout is available for family-sized meals, and there are gluten-free options, too.
OAK at fourteenth (Boulder)
Head to Boulder for one of the best restaurants around, the perfect spot when you want to treat someone to a high-end, memorable meal, that also has that local, no-frills vibe Colorado restaurants are known for. Chef and co-owner Steven Redzikowski spends a lot of time vetting farms and ranches in order to add standout produce and meat to his menu, which could feature dishes such as silky chicken liver with Palisade peach preserve, mushroom tempura, roasted potato gnocchi with baby turnip and rainbow chard, and cowboy-cut ribeyes with truffle butter. The service and beverage program are also top-notch, and no matter what brings you here, the experience will solidify OAK at fourteenth as one of the great restaurants in Colorado.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine inside OAK at fourteenth or at one of the tables along the edge of the restaurant overlooking the street.
Takeout: OAK at fourteenth has started offering takeout, so you can bring a special meal home. Just go online to order.
Buckhorn Exchange (Lincoln Park)
As long as you eat meat, Buckhorn Exchange in Lincoln Park should be on your list as a must-visit Denver restaurant. After all, it’s an iconic city place that was founded in 1893, back when the area was considered the Old West. The space and offerings have changed since then, and now Buckhorn Exchange specializes in steak and game meat. Among the beef and bison steaks, the menu includes more exotic meats including Rocky Mountain oysters, alligator, rattlesnake, elk, and quail. Reserve a table in one of the many rooms that make up this old house, where red-checkered tablecloths, deep red walls, and dark wood paneling make one forget for a moment they are dining in a National Historic Landmark. Not only that, but there are more than 500 taxidermy animals mounted on the walls and through the space, plus a whole lot of history to digest with your meal.
Dining at the restaurant: Take a seat inside Buckhorn Exchange seven days a week and enjoy the wild nature of the decor along with the meal.
Takeout: Order takeout by calling the restaurant.
ChoLon Modern Asian (Downtown)
This Downtown restaurant has been serving modern Asian food for more than 10 years, and it’s known for its French onion soup dumplings and shaking wagyu steak with wok-charred tomatoes. ChoLon is owned by chef Lon Symensma, who worked extensively in Asia with celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open his Shanghai restaurant. That influence is seen in the menu of items such as sweet corn crystal dumplings, miso-glazed cod, crab rangoon, and more. Take a seat inside at one of the stately tables, and, while there isn’t white linen, it feels fancy enough that bringing the boss, your mother-in-law, or having an adult celebration here is appropriate.
Dining at the restaurant: Dining inside the restaurant only.
Takeout: Order takeout directly from the restaurant by calling or via a third-party app.
Tamayo was local-favorite chef Richard Sandoval’s first Denver venture more than 20 years ago. Over the years, it’s consistently delivered inventive modern Mexico City fare to locals and visitors, and it’s always a go-to among the lunch crowd and theater goers. Order dishes such as crab-topped guacamole, birria tacos with braised lamb, chicken tinga enchiladas, and a side of caramelized plantains. Don’t forget the house-made churros at the end, which come with cinnamon-chocolate and caramel sauces for dipping. The drink list is equally impressive, with tequila and mezcal as the main spirit of choice.
Dining at the restaurant: Book a table inside the main dining area — where you can watch the downtown crowd walk by from a roomy booth — or upstairs on the airy patio, as long as there aren’t any events going on.
Takeout: Get tacos, enchiladas and even happy hour bundles to go by calling the restaurant.
Williams & Graham (LoHi)
Before decent cocktails could be found at any diner, dive, or takeout spot, Williams & Graham revitalized the speakeasy in Denver and started serving really, really good drinks. This place has true speakeasy vibes — when you walk into the tiny space, you can’t see the real bar. It’s hidden behind a bookshelf, and diners can enter only when a table or seat at the bar is ready. There’s a solid, simple, food menu by chef Grant Bushkuhl that includes a signature dry-aged beef burger, seasonal small plates, roasted bone marrow with bacon jam, steak frites, and more. To see the full, 60-plus list of cocktails, diners have to go inside the dark, intimate venue — but rest assured that if none of the craft drinks sound right, the bartender will tailor a beverage to your tastes.
Dining at the restaurant: You definitely need a reservation to score one of the few seats in this speakeasy. All diners are seated inside either at the bar or in one of the clandestine booths.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.
the plimoth (City Park)
As far as farm-to-table goes, the plimoth was one of the first in Denver to really dedicate its menu to this concept. The City Park restaurant opened in 2014 and has remained a neighborhood staple ever since. The menu changes with the season, and chef-owner Peter Ryan works with many local farms to get the freshest and best produce on the table. Make sure to order the French onion soup with cave-aged gruyere, fried eggplant with brie fondue, grilled Colorado lamb ribs, and the orange-lavender sorbet.
Dining at the restaurant: Sit outside on the patio when the weather is nice, or cozy up to one of the tables or at the bar inside the plimoth.
Takeout: Take out is available by calling, though the restaurant requests you allow at least 30 minutes for them to prepare the food.
When chef and restaurateur Justin Cucci opened this spot in 2011, he took over a building that used to be a mortuary. But nothing is stiff when it comes to Linger’s raucous vibe, tasty cocktails, or eclectic street food inspired by many countries. The kitchen whips up dishes such as tempura-fried fish and chips, Israeli salad with Colorado lamb sausage, Korean barbecue tacos, and Filipino spring rolls. Like Linger’s sister restaurants in the Edible Beats culinary group, the menu speaks to dietary restrictions and allergies with handy symbols next to each dish. Bonus: Linger has one of the best views of Downtown Denver, as long as you’re lucky enough to snag a table on the rooftop patio.
Dining at the restaurant: Linger offers indoor seating and upstairs rooftop seating.
Takeout: Rest assured you can also order take out, in case you forget to make a reservation and desperately need wagyu sliders and a side of five spice pork belly bao buns.
Afternoon Tea at the Brown Palace (Downtown)
Join the pinky-up crowd and enjoy an elegant tea service in one of Denver’s oldest venues, The Brown Palace Hotel. Since 1892 when the luxurious venue opened, afternoon tea has been a highlight of the hotel’s offerings. Today the service is held on the ground floor of the atrium each afternoon. Sit back in one of the lush chairs and choose from an array of loose-leaf teas and the optional glass of Champagne. Then enjoy fresh scones with Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches, and tiny pastries all while gazing around the hotel’s old school grandeur. Make sure to reserve a spot for any occasion; it’s a popular service especially on weekends and can only be enjoyed right then and there.
Dining at the restaurant: All tables for tea are inside within the atrium of the hotel.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.
Root Down (LoHi)
This LoHi restaurant is perhaps the most diet friendly of any place in town thanks to owner Justin Cucci’s dedication to accessible foods. A glance at the menu lets you know if any item is gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, and so on. Root Down serves dinner and weekend brunch, with menu items such as Colombian arepas, country fried tofu, carrot and Thai red curry soup, and a lamb burger. To drink, sample craft cocktails, a glass of wine, beer, or locally made soda. With such an eclectic offering, there’s really something for everyone, and it shows based on the local crowds that flock in.
Dining at the restaurant: During brunch there’s patio seating if the weather is nice, and inside the venue the floor is made up of a hodgepodge of half-booths and broad wooden tables.
Takeout: Root Down offers takeout through Open Table and delivers via third-party apps.
Il Posto (RiNo)
This cool Italian spot is one of the many sleek places in RiNo, but where some are more for show, chef and owner Andrea Frizzi’s Il Posto is no gimmick. The food is solid, the vibe fun but professional, and the cocktails spot-on. Order an epic charcuterie platter, then follow it up with dishes such as house-made burrata, crispy chicken Milanese, mushroom risotto, and pappardelle with Berkshire pork ragu. Don’t skip dessert — the key lime pie is the best in the city, even if it’s decidedly not a traditional Italian sweet.
Dining at the restaurant: Snag one of the round booths so everyone eating can see each other, or perch upstairs for a great people watching spot. There’s a wrap-around patio too, with heaters, so you can sip a negroni outside even in winter.
Takeout: Takeout orders from Il Posto can be made by calling the restaurant, or get delivery through a third-party app.
Sushi Sasa (LoHi)
For 15 years, Wayne Conwell has been running Sushi Sasa, an intimate Japanese restaurant in LoHi. Sake is a big deal here, and the menu features dozens of types and ways to drink it, including warmed, in a cocktail, and poured from a cute jar. While taking those first few sips, dig into dishes such as 72-hour pork ribs, Japanese-style eggplant, or chicken karaage. Then move on to a platter of sushi, making sure to order classics along with the venue’s signature rolls like the Pink Lady with spicy scallop, asparagus, and yellowtail. Aside from sushi, there’s also hot or cold soba noodles, udon, and tempura.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can take a seat inside at the sushi counter and watch the magic happen, or settle into one of the sturdy tables scattered about the long, thin space.
Takeout: Order Sushi Sasa as takeout or delivery via third-party apps.
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (LoDo)
Jax Fish House in LoDo has been sourcing some of the best oysters since 1996. Founded by Dave Query, who runs the Big Red F restaurant group, today the restaurant gets all its oysters from Rappahannock River Oysters in Virginia and maintains a dedication to keeping its seafood sustainable. Chef Sheila Lucero upholds this promise in a tantalizing menu that goes beyond oysters to include made-to-order seafood chowder, yellowfin tuna steak, pastrami-cured smoked salmon dip, and more. Pair the meal with a classic cocktail, local beer, or glass of bubbles, and search for the bits of nautical decor tucked here and there among exposed brick walls.
Dining at the restaurant: If you go for happy hour, take in some sunshine as it pours through the tall windows, or take a seat at the oyster bar and enjoy the show.
Takeout: Take a seafood feast to go, or have it delivered by ordering directly from the restaurant or via a third-party app.
Konjo Ethiopian Food (Edgewater)
Colorado has a large number of Ethiopian immigrants, and it’s reflected in the city’s excellent Ethiopian restaurants. Konjo is one of the best, serving the West Side of Denver in various forms since 2008. At first, owners Fetien Gebre-Michael and Yoseph Assefa started out as a catering company, then added first-of-its-kind The Ethiopian Food Truck. Now they also run Konjo Ethiopian Food, which serves those who want to dine on traditional injera flatbread with local berbere chicken, red lentils, yellow split peas, and tikel gomen, a dish of curried cabbage with carrots and potatoes in a more sit-down setting. All dishes are all free of gluten, soy, and nuts, and the vegetables options are vegan.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is located in the Edgewater Market and meant to be fast casual, either for dining in the shared seating area or taken to go.
Takeout: All food can be ordered at the counter to go.
Guard & Grace (Downtown)
Steak is the main affair at this Downtown restaurant, and chef and owner Troy Guard does it well. Choose from different cuts including wagyu filet mignon, grass-fed strip, and dry-aged, bone-in New York strip. There’s even a steak tasting so you can try and compare the different finishes of the meat. Add on unique sides of truffle macaroni and cheese, oak-grilled broccoli with cheese curds, and crispy Brussels sprouts with lemon to help round out the meal. And, like any quality steakhouse, there’s also surf and turf options. Though the space rocks 9,000-square-feet complete with private rooms and a patio, it’s still important to make a dinner reservation — people tend to linger in their roomy booths, sipping wine and slowly enjoying the meal.
Dining at the restaurant: There’s plenty of room to sit inside this large steakhouse, as well as on a small patio outside.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.