Denver Rocks: 2018 Best Places to Live

Illustrations by Adam Vicarel

Great restaurants, swanky bars, unique shops, scenic parks—there are plenty of reasons to love living a mile high.

For more than a decade, Denver Life Magazine’s annual Best Places to Live issue has paid tribute to the great neighborhoods and ever-growing real estate market in our fair city. This year, we’re changing things up a bit and praising the shops, restaurants, adventure offerings and, of course, the people that make living here such a treat.

Along with what to eat and drink, where to shop and how to play, we’ve dug up hidden gems from nine local insiders, profiled three area tastemakers and rounded up loads of lists that will keep your calendar full for months to come. Denver, you really do rock.

SOLD!
With sales at a record high (and inventory at a new low) Denver’s real estate market continues to soar

broncos-sunset

“Broncos” sunset. Courtesy Visit Denver

15 MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE SPOTS IN DENVER
(According to us)

1. The Blue Bear at the Colorado Convention Center
2. The 30-foot “Big Sweep” dust pan outside the Denver Art Museum by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
3. Colorful, fresh produce at the South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market
4. The Union Station sign at night
5. The “Toxic Schizophrenia (Hyper Version)” giant, lit-up heart and dagger sculpture outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
6. That famous pink box from Voodoo Doughnut
7. Pretty much any “Broncos” sunset
8. “The Yearling,” Donald Lipski’s 21-foot horse standing on a red chair at the Central Library
9. A cone with the Little Man Ice Cream milk can building in the background
10. “The Dancers,” two 50-foot high sculptures also known as the aliens, outside the Denver Performing Arts Complex
11. You and your friends riding a B-cycle
12. Any of the many mural art walls in RiNo
13. A freshly poured beer at Tivoli Brewery on the Metro State campus
14. Bright flowers in the Denver Botanic Gardens tropical conservatory
15. The “Colorful Colorado” sign at History Colorado

ASK A REALTOR
CHRIS SCHACK
broker associate, RE/MAX Professionals

What are the biggest home trends buyers are looking for?
“Buyers are putting more weight on criteria such as the property’s surroundings, amenities and location. Within the home, we are seeing an increased demand for smart features, energy-efficiency and a work-from-home-suitable environment. Another trend worth noting is a demand for accommodations across multiple generations or for extended family.”

What are the top improvements sellers should make before listing their homes?
“Focus on improvements in the kitchen or bath or increasing the home’s livable space. If your budget is limited, paint and/or flooring continue to have hard-to-match returns dollar-for-dollar, in my opinion.”

JANET KRITZER
broker associate, LIV Sotheby’s International Realty

Any crazy stories of what buyers will do to snag a house in this competitive market?
“I have had clients write a personal check to the seller that was instantly negotiable upon their being awarded a contract.”

What are the biggest home trends buyers are looking for?
“Downsizing for empty nesters into nice, modern patio homes. We don’t have nearly enough products for those buyers.”

What improvements should sellers make before listing their homes?
“Get the kitchen in shape. Paint any old oak cabinets white. Paint any dark walls with a nice creamy white. And get rid of your extra stuff!”

-Annie Nagel

eat-and-drink-illo
BRILLIANT BANANA CREAM PIE
SUSHI DEN
So, here’s what you gotta do: As soon as you’re seated at this uber-popular Platt Park restaurant, put in your dessert order. Your edamame, nigiri and miso black cod can wait. See, this delicious recipe, from Michiko Kizaki, wife of Den co-owner Toshi Kizaki, regularly sells out, and if you miss digging into the display of bananas, custard cream and Belgian chocolate, well, there’s not enough sake in the world to soften the sting of regret. 1487 S. Pearl St.

FOOD FOR FITNESS FIENDS
JUST BE KITCHEN
When you’re on a strict diet, restaurant orders can be tricky. Not so at this fast-casual breakfast and lunch spot in Highland Park (formerly Mona’s), where everything owner Jennifer Peters serves is paleo and gluten free. Try a bullet coffee, grass-fed burger, seasonal salad or macaroons—or hit the bone broth bar—no guilt. This is why you go to CrossFit, right? 2364 15th St.

GROOVY GREEN CHILE
EL TACO DE MEXICO
Picking a top green chile in Denver can be like naming a favorite child, but today we’re going with the rich, savory tomato-free version from the casual, family-owned El Taco de Mexico in the Santa Fe Arts District. Get it smothered on a burrito or over huevos rancheros, on a Mexican-style hamburger or on the side of, well, anything, and we promise you won’t be sorry. 714 Santa Fe Drive

INSTAGRAM-FAMOUS DOUGHNUTS
VOODOO DOUGHNUT
Yeah, it started in Portland, Ore., but we think the beloved doughnut emporium was smart to choose the Mile High City for its first out-of-state outpost (the long lines that often snake down the block prove others agree). With crazy flavors (try the raised Voodoo Bubble, with vanilla frosting, bubble gum dust and a piece of gum on top, or the Voodoo Doll, which comes filled with raspberry jelly and pierced with a pretzel stake), you’ll get not only a giant sugar fix but tons of likes on social media, too. 1520 E. Colfax Ave.

STELLAR SOUP DUMPLINGS
CHOLON MODERN ASIAN BISTRO
Wait. French onion soup in a dumpling? Yep. There’s a good reason chef Lon Symensma’s version of the traditional soup dumpling has earned a cult following. Packed with melted Gruyère cheese, a sherry broth and sweet caramelized onions, it will soon have you addicted. You’ve been warned. 1555 Blake St.

TO-DIE-FOR TATOR TOTS
ORDER 26
As if drinking good craft beer at Station 26, housed in a former 1960 Park Hill fire station, wasn’t cool enough, now you can add tots to the equation. At this new food truck parked outside, smothered tots come Italian (marinara, fresh mozzarella, fried basil), buffalo-style (buffalo dressing, gorgonzola, celery salt) and, our fave, loaded (bacon, Juicy Ranger beer cheese, scallions). And if someone tries to swipe a bite, just channel Napoleon Dynamite—“No, go find your own!” 7045 E. 38th St.

HAUTE HOT DOGS
BIKER JIM’S ELK JALAPEÑO CHEDDAR DOG
From repo man to food cart hustler to proprietor of a brick-and- mortar restaurant in the Ballpark ’hood, Jim Pittenger is a true artist when it comes to dishing up great gourmet dogs. You’ll find reindeer, wild boar, rattlesnake and even—gasp—vegan versions on his menu, but the elk brat may just be his “Mona Lisa.” 2148 Larimer St.

BUZZ-WORTHY COFFEE SHOP
STEAM ESPRESSO BAR
Whether you’re a java snob, caffeine junkie or just looking for a hot cup o’ joe, this Platt Park independent shop is sure to please. Opened by twin brothers in 2013, it offers premium coffee ethically sourced from micro-roasters and brewed using cutting-edge techniques. The pastries and quiches? Yum. Bonus: Sit outside on a nice day next to part of a Beechcraft jet, left by the previous owner. 1801 S. Pearl St.

HAIL-WORTHY KALE
ACORN KALE AND APPLE SALAD
Over the kale craze? Not if you’ve tried this popular dish from James Beard Award finalist Steve Redzikowski. Topped with grana padano cheese, togarashi spice, candied almonds, Honey Crisp apples and a lemon vinaigrette, this salad is likely to show up in your dreams. 3350 Brighton Blvd.

DECADENT MAC & CHEESE
MIZUNA LOBSTER MAC & CHEESE
Frank Bonanno’s French restaurant in Governor’s Park has earned a reputation as one of Denver’s finest eateries, and this dish—a rich, indulgent pairing of butter-poached lobster, mascarpone and elbow noodles—is one reason why. In fact, Bonanno’s recipe was a winner on a mac and cheese-themed episode of “Food Network Challenge.” 225 E. Seventh Ave.

BEACHY-KEEN COCKTAIL
ADRIFT TIKI BAR ZOMBIE
Sure, you’re sitting on a patio in an alley on South Broadway, but you’ll feel like you’re in Polynesia as you sip on a Singapore Sling, frozen Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi or, our fave, the super-boozy Zombie, a rum-based drink that will instantly put you on island time. 218 S. Broadway

SOPHISTICATED SERVICE
BROWN PALACE AFTERNOON TEA
Feeling classy? Reserve a spot at this historic downtown hotel’s grand atrium (really, make a reservation—holiday seating is incredibly hard to come by) for a selection of tea, finger sandwiches, homemade scones, Devonshire cream and pastries and live piano music. Our favorite addition? Kicking things off with a Kir Royale. 321 17th St.

3 DELICIOUS DENVER OMELETS
The city’s signature breakfast includes eggs, cheese, diced ham, green pepper, onions and mushrooms. Here are a few we love.

1.THE DELECTABLE EGG This one includes three eggs, ham, green peppers, onions, cheddar and scallions (and comes with house potatoes or hash browns and toast or an English muffin). Multiple locations

2.PETE’S UNIVERSITY PARK CAFÉ For a slight twist on the classic, chow down on this version, with three eggs, ham, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and American cheese, served with hash browns and pita, toast or a biscuit. 2345 E. Evans Ave., petesrestaurants.com

3. RACINES Here, it’s a Denver Skillet, with sautéed ham, green peppers and onions served over potatoes and topped with two eggs, white cheddar and a biscuit on the side. 650 Sherman St.

carrie-baird

Carrie Baird. Photo by Jeff Nelson

Get to know… Carrie Baird
Chef/co-owner, Bar Dough

Sixty-hour weeks in a grueling job? Bring it on. “Being a chef is easy to love,” says Bar Dough executive chef and part owner Carrie Baird. “It’s fun, it’s rewarding and there’s nothing better than eating good food.” The Idaho native and Cordon Bleu Portland grad began her Denver culinary career at Rioja under Jennifer Jasinski, created the launch menu for the fast-casual restaurant Just Be Kitchen before moving on to Bar Dough and dates Blake Edmonds, who works as chef-owner at Señor Bear. Oh, yeah—and she also found the time to star on the current season of “Top Chef.” We recently chatted with the rising star.

“Top Chef” tales: “There’s no way to prepare yourself. In real life, you never have to feed 200 people in 20 minutes! The hardest challenge was having to cook with a child’s Easy-Bake Oven, with children’s-sized utensils, pans, cutting boards and knives. We were laughing the whole time, but it was hard.”

Feeling the heat: “After overseeing the kitchens at four hotels in Breckenridge—big job, big title—I still didn’t know if I was a good cook. I knew I was really good at executing and catering, but I wanted to feel the heat of a kitchen. When I got the job at Rioja, Jen Jasinski became my mentor and my friend. I adore that woman—I learned a lot from her.”

Her culinary style: “Not to sound clichéd, but we always try to source responsibly and use very fresh ingredients. Jen taught me the importance of having good relationships with your purveyors and using your farmers to find other farmers—if you know an egg guy, ask him if he knows a good chicken guy. It’s cool to serve something that is Colorado-raised and sustainable. When a farmer tells me, ‘This animal only had one bad day in his life,’ I like that.”

Denver’s food scene: “The city is attracting a lot of talent, and we’re also producing our own. One of the neat things about Denver is that not that many chefs here are native to Colorado so we are getting our culture and our food from every corner of the world—it’s a hodge-podge. And Denver is still Denver—even though we are competitors, the family of chefs here is very friendly. When Elise Wiggins wins Chef of the Year, I’m super proud of her.”

-Alison Gwinn

7 URBAN WINERIES
No need to hop on a plane to head to wine country. Stop in at these wineries and tasting rooms right here in Denver:

1 THE INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM
In a back alley in RiNo way before RiNo was cool, it’s got tastings, food truck goodies and lots of fun events (soul brunch, yoga, shopping pop-ups and more).

2 BIGSBY’S FOLLY CRAFT WINERY
The Roaring Twenties meets RiNo’s modern industrial vibe at this spot, perfect for tastings and tours (yummy cheese plates, too).

3 BALISTRERI VINEYARDS
Located in north Denver, this family-owned vineyard and tasting room features all-natural reds, whites and dessert wines.

4 BONACQUISTI WINE COMPANY
Head to this family-owned winery in Sunnyside for tastings, classes and music on Fridays.

5 KINGMAN WINERY
A husband-and-wife team are churning out award-winning wines here with grapes from Grand Valley—find it in north Denver.

6 WILD WOMEN WINE
Sample from a tasting flight or design your own batch at this downtown spot.

7 CARBOY WINERY
OK, so it’s in Littleton, but it’s worth the short drive to taste this wine by the glass (and from the tap), bottle, case or carboy (like a 1-liter growler).

Hidden Gems
DENVER INSIDERS SHARE THEIR FAVES

Lon Symensma
The chef-owner of ChoLon, Cho77 and Concourse has two new LoDo restaurants planned to open later this summer—the European bistro LeRoux and Kaya, a fast-casual Asian street food breakfast and lunch spot.

Onefold
Go to Onefold for an exceptional breakfast. Out of the many breakfast burritos in Denver, theirs, smothered with carne asada, tops my list. And they also have some of the best orange juice I’ve ever had! 1420 E. 18th Ave.

Buchi Café Cubano
I love a good Cuban sandwich, and I think Buchi Café makes the best one in town. Pair it with one of their addictive cafe con leches and it’s even better. 2651 W. 38th Ave.

Tokio
I live near Tokio and I think they offer a great late-night menu, which isn’t always easy to find. They are always packed with industry people getting off work and looking for a good bite to eat. 2907 Huron St.

Sweet Cooie’s Ice Cream and Confectionary
Sweet Cooies’s has great ice cream—they have both classic and inventive flavors, and the atmosphere is old-timey, which makes it a whole experience. 3506 E. 12th Ave.

Pat Miller
Miller, host of “The Gabby Gourmet Show” on 630 KHOW for nearly 40 years, is on her 30th edition of her Denver restaurant guide.

Family Jones Distillery
The alcohol choices here rock—especially the Rock & Rye, which mixes rye with fall spices, dried fruit, kola nut, orange peel and a huge FJ-engraved ice cube. 3245 Osage St.

Ultreia
A step inside Jennifer Jaskinski’s Ultreia brings a feeling of glamour and intimacy to its Union Station surroundings. Great wallpaper, a gin bar and Portuguese and Spanish shared plates delight. The octopus and Pan con Tomate with Mangalica ham keep bringing me back again and again. 1701 Wynkoop St.

Pizzeria Lui
This hole-in-the-wall rates about the best pizza around—as evidenced by the frequent line at this one-room, two-man pizza joint, which houses six community tables, a 900-degree pizza oven and a counter to order. The pies amaze with red and white toppings on a thin, crisp crust. The “Lawn Boy” is my top pick, with pesto, artichokes, sundried tomato, fresh Mozzarella, garlic and arugula. I really want a slice right now. 5380 Mississippi, Lakewood

Barbara Macfarlane
With her husband, Pete Marczyk, Macfarlane has helped run Marczyk Fine Foods (locations at 770 E. 17th Ave. and 5100 E. Colfax Ave.) since 2002, offering sustainably raised beef, pork and lamb from family farms, Italian imports, old-fashioned sodas, Colorado-made products and more.

Happy hour at Solera
The menu is always solid and a great deal, there’s a beautiful wine list and chef Goose Sorenson always has a story to tell! It helps that it’s one street over from where our son plays piano. 5410 E. Colfax

The bar at Barolo Grill
The lovely Katie will take good care of you and read your mind about what you really need to drink. Have a snack and see friends. 3030 E. Sixth Ave.

Coperta
It’s just the right amount of cozy, and the simple and elegant food is spot on. 400 E. 20th Ave.

Tavernetta
The service! The food! The elegant surroundings! Last time I was in, the server recognized me from two weeks past—and remembered what I ate. You can’t train that. 1889 16th St.

on our list
4 FAB FOOD HALLS
Can’t decide where to eat? Head to a food hall for an eclectic mix of offerings all under one roof.

Avanti Food & Beverage
You’ll find seven rotating restaurants (from pizza to arepas to poke) at this LoHi hotspot, plus a large bar area and outdoor patio with a fab view of the city. Try this: Italian street food at Chow Morso (especially the Arancini—lightly fried risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese). 3200 N. Pecos

Central Market
The lunch crowd in RiNo flocks to this gourmet food emporium, where you’ll find coffee (Crema Bodega), ice cream (High Point Creamery), a fab Italian beef sandwich (The Local Butcher), cheese boards (Culture Meat & Cheese), the freshest seafood (Tammen’s Fish Market) and more. 2669 Larimer St.

The Source Denver
With artisan vendors ranging from craft beer (Stave) to Mexican street food (Comida) to a butchery (Western Daughters) to a French bakery (Babettes), you may not want to ever leave. Lucky for you, a hotel is set to open in the RiNo space later this spring. 3300 Brighton Blvd.

Stanley Marketplace
Stapleton residents are overjoyed since this nearby market featuring 50-plus independently owned local businesses opened last year. Food offerings range from The Denver Biscuit Company to Sweet Cow Ice Cream to Rosenberg’s Bagels to Annette. And a stop at the Stanley Beer Hall is practically required. 2501 N. Dallas St., Aurora

6 MUST-VISIT FARMERS’ MARKETS
Cherry Creek Fresh Market • City Park Esplanade Fresh Market • The Farmers’ Market at Highlands Square • Stapleton Fresh Market • Union Station Farmers’ Market • Old South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market

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