New Kids on the Block

Dig into Denver's top 10 new restaurants.

When it comes to Denver’s restaurant crop, the last year has been nothing short of a whirlwind. Every time you checked one restaurant off your list, another one popped up, just as deserving of your attention. But we’re not protesting: The sheer quantity of new eateries has given the Mile High City an audible—almost ear-piercing—buzz that’s only becoming more intense.

And your next fantastic meal is just as likely to come from a barbecue rig as it is from a high-end temple to sushi. We have a wonderfully democratic dining scene in Denver, and these 10 new restaurants, in particular, all of which opened within the last 12 months, have set themselves apart from the pack, giving us multiple reasons to ballyhoo their attributes. Now it’s your turn to savor the culinary magic.

Sushi Ronin

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: January 2016

The dish: It’s rare to come across a restaurant that’s on top of its game straight out of the gate, but that was the case with Sushi Ronin, the first restaurant to open in Denver in 2016. Chefpartner Corey Baker, a multi-year alum of Sushi Den, never fails to amaze us with his impeccably sourced fish, exquisitely plated and festooned with modernist flourishes like whisper-thin, diaphanous Japanese tree leaves. His small-plates menu—a tidepool of hamachi, halibut and Alamosa striped bass matched with a forest of salads—rejoices in the shift of the seasons: Diners can revel in pickled vegetables, including burdock root, then Southern-style Japanese smelts, then peak-season oysters. Baker’s omakase, a seven-course parade of marvels, is lovely, as is the understated dining room that’s equal parts modern and rustic. If someone offers you a cocktail, don’t demure, and take notice, too, of the Japanese whisky selection.

What we love most: The understated elegance of Baker’s cooking.

Small gripe: Service can be slightly aloof.

Sushi Ronin
2930 Umatilla St.
303.955.8741

Telegraph Bistro & Bar

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: October 2015

The dish: Schooled, in part, by Jennifer Jasinski, Christopher Sargent, a former pupil of Rioja, is on a roll. In 2014, the restaurateur opened Brazen on the edge of Sunnyside, and while there was a shift in the kitchen hierarchy not long after it opened, Sargent quickly snagged chef Brian Wilson (also a Rioja alum) to man the burners, which continued to ignite a swell of accolades. Wilson has since become the kitchen magician of Telegraph, the stylish restaurant Sargent unleashed last year on the fringe of Washington Park. From the smashing cocktail program (don’t miss the spirit-forward punch bowls) to the spectacular seafood tower torpedoed with oysters, crab, shrimp and clams to the ragout with housemade pappardellle noodles and wonderfully rich braised pork cheeks, it’s only a matter of time before downtown city dwellers make the trek. And when they do, they, like those of us who make Telegraph a weekly ritual, will revel in conviviality and the everpresent purr of conversation.

What we love most: It epitomizes the very essence of a neighborhood restaurant.

Small gripe: When it’s humming, the noise level is deafening.

Telegraph Bistro & Bar
295 S. Pennsylvania St.
720.440.9846

Owlbear Barbecue

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: September 2015

The dish: For years—decades even—Denver was a barbecue desert. This past year, however, resulted in an onslaught of smoked meat joints that finally gave the city some low-and-slow street cred. And Denver’s most impressive barbecue happens to be dispensed on the street or, more accurately, in the food-truck pod that occupies the concrete courtyard of Finn’s Manor, which is where you’ll find Karl Fallenius, the kingpin of ’cue, manning his rugged rig. Fallenius is no stranger to barbecue: Before relocating to Denver, he spent time in Austin, Texas, working at the legendary Franklin Barbecue, where he clearly mastered the art. His chalkboard menu is full of Texas-style stunners, from the seriously awe-inspiring smoked pastrami to the best damn burnt ends and brisket in town. Once you go, eat and repeat, you’ll echo our sentiments: Holy barbecue!

What we love most: This is the real deal.

Small gripe: The lines can be excruciatingly long on busy nights (but they’re justified).

Owlbear Barbecue
2927 Larimer St.
970.708.3954

Bawarchi Biryani Point

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: December 2015

The dish: In a storefront in a suburban strip mall, Bawarchi is a bustling hideaway that’s garnered the attention of Indian food enthusiasts enamored of flavor-bombed curries, burnished, wispy dosas roughly the size of a rocket and turmericstained biryani (pictured), a slow-cooked rice casserole dish that’s the pride and joy of Hyderabad, the capital of Telengana, a southern Indian state. You probably will not find a better kadai gosh, a goat curry fragrant with fried curry leaves, in Denver, and while the vindaloo isn’t quite the spitfire that it could be, it has a requisite vinegary tang, an element not accentuated at most Indian restaurants around town. There is no liquor license (the mango lassi, however, is just fine), and the fluorescent lights, blazing down on an otherwise handsome space, might make you think you’re at one of those big-box chain stores. But everything else, including the humble and endearingly polite staff, evokes pure pleasure.

What we love most: We’re ridiculously smitten with the dosas.

Small gripe: The lights are garishly bright during dinner hours. Please, please dim them.

Bawarchi Biryani Point
11001 E. Arapahoe Place
720.799.5666

Rebel

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: July 2015

The dish: We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Rebel is one of the most eclectic, ambitious and gutsy restaurants in Denver. Still, those traits alone certainly don’t make a restaurant notable; everything else has to click, too. And at Rebel, quarterbacked by a trio of kick-ass male chefs, it’s not about tricks: It’s about creating conversations that involve food and nudging the dining public to give a restaurant—one that squats on a gritty corner near railroad tracks and factories— the opportunity to prove that it’s OK to be unconventional. So there is a half of a grinning pig’s head, roasted, fried and splayed on a silver platter; carrot enchiladas ringed with a bracing beet mole; and poutine that’s amplified with foie gras gravy and ribbons of fried tripe. The food is experimental, to be sure, but it’s also coherent and flat-out fantastic. And the beer and cocktail lists? We love those, too.

What we love most: The unapologetic creative energy.

Small gripe: The desserts could use some retooling, and some of the plating is a bit haphazard.

Rebel
3763 Wynkoop St.
303.297.3902

Brider

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: December 2015

The dish: Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton’s third restaurant—their follow-up to Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn—isn’t a fine-dining mecca or over-the-top trendy. But with a handful of clever cocktails, lovely wines on tap (available by the glass, a half carafe or a full carafe), a short but stout roster of craft beers and, most importantly, a menu that extols a brilliant board of housemade pastries (the apple fritters, in particular, are swoon-worthy), sandwiches, salads and rotisserie meats, the high-reaching fast-casual locale delivers just about everything you could want with the added benefit of quick service. We’re smitten with the housemade sausageand- cheese-stuffed pretzels; the Wagu beef French dip, quite possibly one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had; and the rotisserie-roasted porchetta sandwich smeared with herbed aioli and scaled with kimchi, arugula and cheddar.

What we love most: The rotisserie meats, especially the porchetta, are superb.

Small gripe: Some of the pastries run out long before you’d expect them to.

Brider
1644 Platte St.
303.455.3084

Hop Alley

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: December 2015

The dish: Hop Alley, chef and restaurateur Tommy Lee’s successor to Uncle, his superb noodle house in LoHi, is the kind of Chinese restaurant Denver has needed (and wanted) for a long, long time. He nailed it with Uncle, and he’s nailed it here, too, unleashing a remarkably solid scroll of hits that are likely to become rituals in your repertoire of Chinese dishes. There’s nothing here that’s a consolation prize: Everything, from the Shanghai rice cakes matched with ground pork and topped with a fried egg to the superb eggplant, steamed and slicked in a Sichuan bean sauce, is better than it has a right to be. And it’s not just the food that’s the star: The cocktail scroll, which features a dozen libations, all named for the Chinese zodiac signs, is a beauty, as are the smartly chosen beer and wine labels.

What we love most: The flavors, while bold, are beautifully harmonious, and the kitchen isn’t afraid to play with textures.

Small gripe: The absence of desserts.

Hop Alley
3500 Larimer St.
720.379.8340

Black Eye Coffee

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: October 2015

The dish: With an incredibly diverse spirits collection that lines the shelves dominating the gorgeous back bar, Black Eye Coffee, despite its name, is far more than a java joint. By day, it’s laptops and lattes, but come late afternoon, when the 5 p.m. cocktail bell chimes, the beautifully appointed quarters, with their vintage accents and Art Deco elegance, morph into a low-lit cocoon that whispers romance. And that’s when chef Alex Figura, formerly of the now-closed Lower48 Kitchen, hits his stride, turning out a welledited menu that strikes the right balance between light-handed dishes, such as a starter of pickled and preserved vegetables, and heartier plates like the Carolina wild rice flecked with andouille sausage, green chiles, shrimp and black eyed peas. And the cocktail syllabus, a bounded book that extols boozy pour-overs and drinks that range from “featherweight” to “heavyweight,” is simply one of the best in the city.

What we love most: We’re suckers for coffee, cocktails and finessed food.

Small gripe: The bartenders, on occasion, thwart the experience with an air of arrogance.

Black Eye Coffee
800 Sherman St.
303.955.1205

Il Porcellino Salumi

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: October 2015

The dish: An altar to housecured meats that perfume the air with the essence of swine; sandwiches that make you embrace your bread habit; a deli case to fawn over—that’s Il Porcellino Salumi, an urbanrustic specialty market and sandwich shop that culminates in thrilling results. One, two, even three visits aren’t nearly enough to indulge your salumi and charcuterie addictions—as soon as you demolish the shaved bison pastrami number (pictured) swelled with housemade kraut, Swiss fondue and a liberal smear of dressing stained the same hue as Thousand Island, you still have the bacon sandwich to consider: two slices of griddled jalapeñocheddar bread smudged with apple butter, pecora cheese fondue and aioli and propped with smoked pork belly and ripe tomatoes. All of the meats are sourced from local farms and ranches, and the deli case—a house of worship to guanciale and fioccho, cacciatore and coppa, head cheese and pork rillettes—causes head rushes and feverish dreams.

What we love most: That bison pastrami sandwich is exemplary, and the cured meats are in a league all their own.

Small gripe: The soups need more attention and finesse.

Il Porcellino Salumi
4324 W. 41st Ave.
303.477.3206

Bar Dough

Photo by Annette Slade

Opened: October 2015

The dish: A coveted seat at the chef’s counter is a spectacular place to witness the culinary artistry of executive chef Max MacKissock and his motley crew of talent who turn out refined thin-crusted pizzas, housemade pasta dishes with pizazz and main plates that zigzag from a hulking bone-in ribeye scented with garlic and rosemary to a red wine-glazed lamb shank that mimics something out of the Middle Ages. MacKissock, whose unassailable cooking resulted in James Beard Foundation nominations for his time behind the line at the Squeaky Bean, continues to produce some of the finest food in the city—food that’s matched by a lovely wine, cocktail and spirits scroll and a rollicking dining room that pulsates with energy.

What we love most: The lamb shank and the Mountain Man pizza dotted with Gorgonzola, guanciale and pistachios and smeared with Calabrian chile honey.

Small gripe: There’s nothing wrong with loud music, but a recent playlist was designed more for high school hooligans than adults dropping a good chunk of change on dinner.

Bar Dough
2227 W. 32nd Ave.
720.668.8506