For those that aren’t so frugal — an expensive, regal dining experience every once in a while is a way of life. Most people — rich or not — like to splurge on something be it clothes and shoes, music festivals — or the occasional night of filet mignon and champagne. If you’re looking for the best seafood or best bottle of Cabernet on your search for the perfect evening of treating yourself and the company you keep like royalty — look no further. Here in Denver and up the road in Boulder — there is no shortage of world-class dining and places to fulfill your food and wine guilty pleasures. And it’s not just limited to dinner — brunch and lunch can be exquisite, too.
Where: 1431 Larimer St., Denver
The Lowdown: Another downtown gem — specifically Larimer Square — Rioja serves Mediterranean cuisine using local and seasonal ingredients. The ambiance is simple with hand-blown glass fixtures throughout but not much else so that the food can be the centerpiece. The menu isn’t huge — which is usually a good sign. One of the many creative appetizers is the Rioja “picnic” plate ($19.50) — a charcuterie board of artisan meats, goat cheese, gorgonzola, olives, fennel salad, orange confit and almonds. And then three kinds of handmade pasta to choose from which can come as an appetizer or entree.
Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
Where: 1330 27th St., Denver
The Lowdown: If you’re trying to be extra fancy, adding a little jazz to your dinner is just the way to do it. Jazz is still alive and kicking — and you don’t have to fly all the way to New Orleans or Manhattan to experience it. Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club here in Denver hosts live jazz music Tuesday through Saturday along with a menu of superb provisions and cocktails. Its artist residency program gives local musicians a chance to showcase their talent through four to eight-week runs. The music switches up frequently keeping things fresh and exciting.
Where: 1555 Blake St. #102, Denver
The Lowdown: The chef of the modern Asian restaurants Cholon and Cho77 recently opened a European restaurant, LeRoux. Chef Symensma actually started out cooking European food in restaurants in France and Spain. In other words — he knows all about high-end European dining and that’s just what LeRoux is. And as for the atmosphere — it’s dark and sexy with big crystal chandeliers, elegant lighting and checkered floors.
OAK at Fourteenth
Where: 1400 Pearl St., Boulder
The Lowdown: Pearl Street in Boulder is home to many good restaurants, especially OAK at Fourteenth. It has been a James Beard nominee and its lead bartender Scott Ruggiero has participated in several bartending competitions. In other words — it is home to unparalleled dishes and libations. Dinner is laid out in a family-style way with big shareable plates and cocktails are characterized as low or high alcohol.
Mercantile Dining & Provision
Where: 1701 Wynkoop St. #155, Denver
The Lowdown: Located in the heart of downtown inside the Denver attraction, Union Station is the bright and beautiful Mercantile Dining & Provision. One of the city’s most sought after chefs — Alex Seidel — crafted a European market, cafe and restaurant all in one. So any time of day, you can enjoy a worldly, relaxing meal or latte and croissant with views of the city through the big windows. During the day it has a low key breakfast and lunch menu with pastries, breakfast sandwiches, salads and flavorful sandwiches. And its market offers fresh bread, cheeses, charcuterie and house-made condiments. Come dinnertime — the vibes and dishes get kicked up a notch — though more casual than your average fine dining experience.
Where: 225 E. 7th Ave., Denver
The Lowdown: Mizuna by one of Denver’s chef moguls, Frank Bonanno is one of the top-rated restaurants in the Western US. The concept is inspired by French cooking techniques and the menu changes with the seasons. And it’s a neighborhood eatery — in case you like to avoid the bustle of downtown. Though it’s neighborhood-based, it’s still very fancy — offering private parties, special events and regularly scheduled world-class dining.
Where: 1313 E. 6th Ave., Denver
The Lowdown: Alex Seidel’s first restaurant definitely makes this list — Fruition Restaurant which opened in 2007. It landed Seidel a spot on Food & Wine’s best new chef list in 2010. And much of the provisions used here are from his Fruition Farms (FF) Creamery — also used at Mercantile. The 10-acre farm is Colorado’s first artisanal sheep’s milk creamery and is also home to Heritage Breed hogs, honey bees and a large garden of vegetables and fruits. So if you’re looking to have a nice dinner with local and organic meats and produce — Fruition is your spot.
Where: 1138 Flagstaff Rd., Boulder
The Lowdown: Known most notably for its spectacular views — Flagstaff House sits atop Flagstaff mountain at 6,000 feet in Boulder. Overlooking the city and the plains that go for miles give this restaurant one of the best outlooks in the state. Not only is the view amazing, but the food is world-class. It’s a place guaranteed to satisfy the taste buds and the eyes. Open for dinner only and reservations are highly encouraged — worth it for this one of kind experience.
Where: 1465 Larimer St., Denver
The Lowdown: Originating in Columbus, Ohio — and with several locations around the country — this establishment brings premium seafood and steak to big cities. If you’ve ventured through downtown Denver to the charming Larimer Square — Ocean Prime sits on the corner of 14th and Larimer and can’t be missed. It’s pretty big and in your face — but for good reason. It has a multi-million dollar wine cellar and all the fish and crustacean delicacies you could ever dream of.
Where: 1889 16th St., Denver
The Lowdown: Italian restaurant Tavernetta next to Union Station looks grandiose on the outside — but is homier on the inside. And when it comes to Italian, the notion of grandma’s homemade pasta and marinara sauce is what it’s all about — feeling and eating like you’re at home is in its culture. Although don’t take “at home” as homely — it’s still modern and chic. The kitchen is an exhibition-style that breathes more life into the space and shows off the chefs at work.
Where: 1659 Wazee St., Denver
The Lowdown: Urban Farmer is not just in Denver, but Portland, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Each restaurant uses sustainably sourced meats from the state and as the name connotates — it has an urban farm in the back of the house. The downtown Denver location has an upstairs beehive which the chef Chris Starkus operates as well as at his home and at the Portland location for the honey used in the dressings, butter and more. Along with the apiary, Urban Farmer also keeps an in-house butcher. In other words — all ingredients on the menu can be traced to their origins. If you’re going to splurge — why not do it on responsibly sourced foods that are made with love?
Where: 1487 S. Pearl St., Denver
The Lowdown: Sushi is as elegant and fancy as you can get and this Denver institution does it best. Anchoring South Pearl Street for over 30 years, you can expect the freshest fish in the city. Sushi Den is operated by three brothers, with one living in Japan so he can personally select fish daily from Nagahama Fish Market in Kyushu Island, Japan. It’s truly top tier.
Frasca Food & Wine
Where: 1738 Pearl St., Boulder
The Lowdown: From the same chefs of Tavernetta is one of the most namely restaurants of the Boulder and Denver area. Frasca Food & Wine on Pearl Street is one of those destination restaurants for every foodie. The wine list has over 200 varieties and the food is of a particular region — Friuli-Venezia Giulia — a sub-alpine region in northeast Italy. Within this region, the neighborhood Frasca is an area known for gatherings of farmers and those within the community to share a meal and a bottle (or many) of wine together. And that’s the theme and namesake of the restaurant.
The Palace Arms
Where: 321 17th St., Denver
The Lowdown: The Brown Palace Hotel opened in 1892 in downtown Denver — and is still in the same spot. It still holds an old Victorian elegance and decor in several parts of the hotel. It is home to six restaurants and bars — and perhaps the most refined is the Palace Arms restaurant. You can go and pretend you’re dining with the royal family. Reservations are highly encouraged and parking is complimentary after 5 p.m. if validated by the restaurant or lobby associates.
Guard and Grace
Where: 1801 California St. #150, Denver
The Lowdown: Guard and Grace by the prominent Denver chef Troy Guard has a large menu that’s sure to please any palate. And you can enjoy its decadence during both lunch and dinner. The menu is sourced locally and is subject to change based on the season. And you can get all of the dinner offerings during lunch, which is pretty rare.