It’s been another indulgent year on the Food + Booze desk at 303 Magazine. From the butter to the cheese and the uncured meats to homemade pasta, we’ve managed to satiate all of our cravings without leaving the comforts of the Mile High city limits (okay, maybe we wandered into Boulder a few times). And since the most common question we are asked is, “What was the best thing you ate this year?” we decided to answer with the list below from our current staff and the alumni of 303 Magazine past.
The Food + Booze Staff
Handmade pasta was a big restaurant trend to hit the Mile High this year, and the response was a resounding “finally.” Before, when it came to eating Italian food in Denver, you had two options: Italian American joints that served classic Americanized Italian dishes designed solely to comfort, or a handful of restaurants that adhered to Italian principles of seasonal cooking. There were few exceptions in the city, but none of them ever gave me the feeling I was eating true Italian pasta — meaning pasta so fresh and so incredibly simple you had no idea how it could possibly taste that good.
Coperta, the new restaurant from the team at Beast + Bottle, finally gave me this feeling. The second after I devoured my first giant spooled fork of cacio e pepe I knew this place had captured the magic of Italian pasta making and brought it to Denver. I was ecstatic because for so long I really believed I’d only have this “pasta revelation” while in Italy. It felt like a big moment for the food scene in Denver because instead of flying across the globe, I could now have some of my favorite food right here in my own city.
Food + Booze Editor
There are the people who always order dessert and then there are the ones who never do — I have a hard time trusting the latter. This year has been a big one in the industry, and with it the dessert department is finally stepping up their game. That’s not to say that there haven’t always been a few gems to follow around, salivating over their next sweet culinary endeavor.
All it takes is mention of pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, and the flood of questions, commentary and not so silent sighs ensue. The loyalist of followers are slightly cult-ish in their praises over her chocolate sea salt caramel tart. And while I have yet to get my sticky little fingers on one, I have started my own “simultaneous bite and sigh” cult in honor of the coconut pana cotta with passion fruit crémeux, mango and merenguitos served at Avelina. Each decadent bite reveals new flavors and textures that can’t come from that person who declares, “I’ll just have one bite.” This isn’t the dessert you share, this is the dessert you devour and properly restrain yourself from licking the bowl clean in public, but I promise I won’t judge if you do.
Senior Staff Writer
One of my favorite dishes this year was Bar Dough’s pollo al limone. A chicken dish you ask? A chicken dish, indeed. A highlight of a diverse menu that’s studded with standouts, the dish masters the timeworn tradition of simplicity. The crispy, pan-seared chicken is perfectly cooked, the pan sauce — a classic mélange of butter and lemon — is tart and creamy (and honestly, unforgettable), and the grilled half of a lemon adds just enough smoky complexity to tie everything together. Bar Dough does many things right, but this may be the restaurant’s best example of execution.
Being a card-carrying carnivore, I was unaware and pleasantly surprised that the green curry jackfruit at The Populist was a dish designed with the vegan and vegetarian in mind. At first bite I was wholly convinced I had been mistakenly given the most tender pulled pork I had ever had. The jackfruit, a member of the breadfruit family with a reptilian-like outer shell and green hue, has a meaty and creamy inner flesh. Chef de cuisine Kathryn Gillette says the fruit is hot smoked with hickory and then sautéd in a black tea and date glaze to create caramelization and a subtle sweet flavor. What makes this dish a standout is the thoughtful approach to each component and its balance. The fall-apart tender faux protein of the jackfruit is balanced in texture by the perfectly al dente forbidden rice. Although curry and date glaze provide a deep richness and layers of flavor the dish is not overpowering and decidedly light.
It’s easy to think of a nice cut of steak or seafood when looking back on the best dishes of 2016, but mine’s a little more dirty than that. What started as a hunt for a bar playing the Atlanta Falcons football games quickly became an even better find for my husband and me. After a particularly long weekend, nothing cures a hangover quite like the patty melt at The Fainting Goat on Broadway. Smothered in swiss cheese, grilled onions and 1,000 island dressing, this slice of heaven is sandwiched between two crisp pieces of rye that are toasty instead of greasy.
Moving closer to Little Man Ice Cream from Boulder has been a huge part of my sanity staying intact while beginning my career in Denver. It may or may not also be the reason that I never follow through with my diet plans.
Every time I head over to the Lower Highlands, I can’t help but stop by and wait in the inevitable (and understandably long) line to the ice cream shop, hoping and praying that their salted oreo flavor is on their ever-changing menu. The flavor is by far my favorite dessert in Denver, because it takes the classic and delicious cookies-n-cream flavor but adds a salty twist. It’s the perfect mix of salty and sweet, which is ideal for the indecisive middle child that I am.
My standout meal of the year was that of the now two-year-old Blackbelly Market in Boulder. A perfectly executed experience encompassing hand-crafted cocktails, multiple appetizers including grilled octopus and steak tartar, charcuterie brandishing chicken liver mouse and delicate cured meats, and finished with an olive oil cake I still have inappropriate dreams about. But the dish that I still speak about in hushed tones was the wagyu beef. Perfectly seared on the outside, red in the middle, with marbling that will clog your heart just looking at it. Crisp greens on the side, a demi-glace brushed across the plate, all highlighting the melt-in-your-mouth steak sitting atop.
“There…”, the six-month-old bar and eatery in LoHi, captured my heart from the beginning. With its quirky accouterments, friendly staff, inventive food and overall great vibe, it pulls me in again and again. It’s the perfect spot to stop in for happy hour, dinner or even a late-night snack (kitchen stops serving at 1 a.m.). The entrées — dubbed “sharables” by the staff — change nightly, but you can always count on the fun, bite-sized starters, which range from kobe skewers and salmon belly tostadas to braised elk lettuce wraps and soft shell crab steamed buns.
Pick a few to munch on, but make sure to include the soft shell crab steamed buns with wild-caught Maryland soft shell crab, spicy and creamy sambal mayonnaise, freshly sliced cucumber and tobiko. The flavors are melt-in-your-mouth good, and the texture of the crab against the soft steamed bun keeps you coming back for more. Pair this with the jam cocktail of your choice, and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a wonderful meal.
Delivered in a small bamboo box, ChoLon’s four pack of soup dumplings introduce a sensory experience that will leave you positively addicted. The adorable orbs of French onion and gruyere cheese swirl in dough twisted off like the locus of a rose. Popping one on the tongue bursts the bubble of hot, savory elixir, flooding taste buds for a brief 10 seconds of bliss. Round two is basically irresistible, prolonging the edible ecstasy. I would win a bet eating only ChoLon’s soup dumplings for a week—there’s just no question about it.
The best of this year for me personally had to be the lengua tacos at El Taco De Mexico. This compact but bustling institution on Santa Fe Avenue was one of the first places I ever fell in love with when I first moved to the city ten years ago. However, it was not until this year that I discovered the lengua (tongue) tacos. Two lightly fried corn tortillas, a solid helping of beef-tongue, house salsa, onions and a slice of lime is all it takes. While phenomenal spots serving up their own innovative version of street tacos have become a Denver staple it is nearly impossible to beat a classic done to perfection. The service is fast, the food is cheap and the no-nonsense incarnation can easily compete with any taco in the city — whether classic or cosmopolitan.
In late October I fell in love with the chicken wings at one of Cherry Creek’s newest imported restaurant concepts. Sage Restaurant group duplicated their famous Oregon restaurant Departure below the Halcyon luxury hotel in the heart of Cherry Creek. These chicken wings have been on my mind ever since my first visit.
The bone-in set of five wings is to die for and come fried to perfection and tossed in a house sweet chili glaze. These wings deliver a crispy, sweet and savory crunch at each bite. The bright orange glaze is applied evenly and is plated with shaved carrot and vibrant green leaf of bibb lettuce. Executive Chef Gregory Gourdet has more than a dozen other impressive culinary fusions on the menu at, but these wings alone were enough to get me back in the door.
Curbed, Travel + Leisure, Ski Magazine, and EaterDenver
Acorn boasts a laundry list of dishes — like the hamachi crudo — that I return to eat again and again. But on a late-night dinner in early November the bustling restaurant managed to surprise even this jaded food writer.
The dish: house-made potato gnocchi in a rich sherry cream sauce, topped with a fresh egg yolk, parmesan, and shaved truffles. The cream mixed with the yolk was decadent and savory, a sauce that could be too heavy if not executed with attention. But paired with the fluffy, perfectly cooked gnocchi, I couldn’t stop licking my fork. Despite the skill it took to cook, it was the antithesis to many over-worked entrees I’ve tried elsewhere in town. This was a gnocchi that could be eaten both on white table cloths or shared while snuggling in a blanket by the fire. This was the best dish I had eaten all year.
Unfortunately, the restaurant’s seasonal focus means Acorn’s burgundy truffle gnocchi will soon be replaced by another—likely just as delicious—gnocchi dish. I’ll pine for it when it’s gone, but in the meantime you’ll find me at Acorn’s bar, sipping a glass of red and savoring every last bite.
Oysters continue to be popular on menus across Denver, and I ate plenty of them in 2016. While I loved Fruition’s potato-wrapped take on oysters Rockefeller, in my mind, nothing beats consuming the freshly shucked bivalves raw. RiNo Yacht Club’s Island Creek oysters on the half shell were among my favorites this year. These Massachusetts-grown oysters are served ice cold with lemon, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and shredded horseradish, but I prefer slurping them unadorned to best taste their clean, briny flavor.
Picking favorites when it comes to food is tough. It’s so dependent on circumstance, mood, time of day — is this my favorite at 2 a.m. after a night out, or my favorite to impress a date, or…you get the point. Until, of course, you find that certain something that you crave. Need. Must have immediately and often. And for me, this year has been filled with cravings for the pastrami at Owlbear. Yes, the everyday brisket is damn near perfection, but that extra bit of coriander and caraway-coated love pushes this into a whole new territory of satisfaction. Salty, smoky and seriously addictive, the pastrami is even more coveted thanks to its elusive nature — it used to be served up on Thursdays, but lately its appearances have been more sporadic. Thankfully Karl Fallenius, the name behind the smoker, did say that my 2016 favorite should be around more regularly in the future, so cheers to a pastrami-filled 2017!
Justin De La Rosa
The Denver Post
Picking a favorite dish of the year was no easy task. From squid ink vermicelli with bay scallops at Telegraph to a greasy cheeseburger wrapped in paper at My Brother’s Bar, I’ve had the privilege of enjoying amazing food all over the city. However, one dish still sticks out, and that is the heritage pork collar at chef Troy Guard’s Mister Tuna.
My first taste of it was over the summer when the RiNo restaurant first opened. The pork collar was slowly cooked over the rotisserie grill until it achieved a tender, juicy center with a sweet char on the outside. An accompanying salad of mizuna, watercress, radishes and edible flowers mingled with house-pickled mustard seeds and peppers. Each bite was a delectable, bright burst of summery flavor. I took the remaining pieces of it home, where I have no shame in saying they didn’t even make it to the refrigerator as I stood in the kitchen and finished the rest because it was just that damn good.