The caliber of dining in Colorado is higher than its people, but this year, these 10 restaurants show us what it truly means to live a full (literally) life.

Recently, the caliber of dining in Colorado has become higher than its people, but this year, these 10 restaurants showed us what it truly means to live a full (literally) life. 

In this latest round-up of must-devour local restaurants, we bring you a pan-continental food truck bazaar, ostrich burgers from a brothel and two god damn pizza restaurants because pizza is the lifeblood of humanity. All that and more in this 2016 guide to great Colorado dining.


42 S. Broadway Street – Denver, CO 80209
(720) 638-8179


What is it? Approachably exotic street food inspired by Southeast Asian food stalls, but reinterpreted for your discerning American palate. 

Before we get started, we just want to say we ate frog legs at CHO77. Yup, we weren’t about to die without digesting Kermit into usable macromolecules. CHO77’s are surprisingly delicious, and taste almost exactly like chicken wings, but less greasy. The meat is white, flaky, and encased in a crispy batter, and tastes amazing when dipped in the gingery Singaporean chili crab sauce it’s served with. (We ate the sauce on its own with a spoon.) Don’t miss the red chili pork dumplings either; these perfect bites of savory bliss are flavored with a juicy kick of lemongrass and saline shrimp paste, then accented by a bright sauce of Chinese vinegar and spicy red chili. And finally, if you like things that are so delicious they’ll make you sob, go with the Thai coconut chicken curry. Served in a bizarrely endearing Thai lunch-box contraption with pickled mustard greens and crispy noodles, it has all the zingy, lemongrass-ginger-garlic-coconut tropicality you need to melt your frigid heart.

Don’t die without eating: Thai coconut chicken curry.


24 S. Broadway Street – Denver, CO 80203
(720) 550-7267

What is it? Elevated traditional fare from Central and South America.

If you haven’t noticed, Denver’s not exactly starved for Latin food. However, Leña separates itself from the pack by highlighting dishes not from a singular country, but from a smattering of lesser-represented countries like Ecuador, Peru and Argentina, all which receive an extra boost of rustic flavor from their in-house oak grill. Peruvian-inspired octopus ceviche bursts in your mouth with a wash of bright bitchslap of citrusy flavor and heat, while their interpretation of Mexican Pargo Chumuscado with roasted snapper, a sweet potato tamale and chipotle-coconut broth represents Leña’s earthier, smokier side. But the seafood train doesn’t stop there; they do the ceviche one better with their Pulpo a la Brasa de Roble, aka grilled octopus with ancho-tamarind glaze. Each bite is a textural masterpiece, with the tender crustacean meeting its match within a silky sweet potato puree. Leña also gets points for presentation; those of you with an eye for aesthetics will appreciate their plating on wooden boards and deep blue hand made ceramics.

Don’t die without eating: Octopus ceviche with plantain chips.


2500 Larimer Street – Denver, CO 80205
(303) 292-3553

What is it? The best damn Neapolitan style pizza and sustainably sourced oysters you’ve ever had.

If you’re thinking seafood and pizza is a weird combination, you probably haven’t been to coastal Italy, where restaurant patrons flit from one restaurant to the next, shooting oysters here, getting wine-drunk there, then rounding it all out at the end of the night with pizza to validate the evening’s hedonism. This is anecdote central to Cart-Driver’s menu, which takes inspiration from the lifestyle by featuring incredibly creative pizza and a rotating menu of ultra-fresh oysters. An absolute necessity is the Daisy pizza, their deceptively simple Margherita option. The intensity of flavor their two-ingredient red sauce (Bianco-Dinapoli tomatoes and salt) brings is nothing short of miraculous. Fresh mozzarella, local basil and parmesan atop the airy, yet perfectly chewy thin crust make the flavors from the sauce pop with the gustatory electricity only perfected simplicity can bring. A more adventurous option is the Clams pizza. The saline hint of the clam is coaxed forth by roasted garlic, a sprinkle of fresh sage and thyme, and the round smokiness of pancetta. Bonus points awarded for insane happy hour deals like $5 for two oysters or a Daisy pizza.

Don’t die without eating: The Clams pizza.

Finn's Manor

2729 Larimer Street – Denver, CO 80305

What is it? A round-the-world food truck bazaar, New Orleans-style cocktail bar and refreshingly unpretentious RiNo hangout.

The latest and greatest from Crema and The Populist’s Noah Price, Finn’s Manor is Shangri-La for those looking for a break from their normal dining routine. After grabbing a drink at the rum-forward, New Orleans-style bar, patrons can choose to stuff themselves at one (or all) of the spot’s four highly unique food truck options. The Owlbear BBQ truck smokes succulent, mega-tender BBQ brisket, pork loin, burnt ends and more on site, all which affront your tastebuds with the kind of idealized smoky tang you fantasize about when you think about BBQ. The Taste of the Philippines truck serves up authentic traditional fare like tangy adobo chicken and egg rolls over citrusy pancit (rice noodles with garlic, cabbage, carrots and green beans), while Island Peppapot’s Jamaican jerk chicken with cornbread, smoked turkey jambalaya and fried plantains satiate your need for spicy equatorial flavor. Last but not least, Night Shift makes handmade bao buns with incredibly unique flavor profiles like curried cauliflower or PBPBJ, which combines the Elvis-worthy ingredients of pork belly, peanut butter and jelly into one bite. Retox with a coquito, creamy, tropical Puerto Rican take on eggnog that combines three types of rum, fresh spices and coconut milk.

Don’t die without eating: Anything from Owlbear. The sister restaurant to Austin’s infamous Franklin BBQ, it’s a chance to test the hype, and the hype is real.

Choice City Butcher & Deli

104 W Olive Street – Fort Collins, CO 80524
(970) 490-2489

What is it? A local butcher and deli shop titillating the taste buds.   

Fort Collins isn’t considered a foodie town. Hell, more tattoo parlors open in a month than do restaurants in an entire year. But that’s fine. It’s a no frills, no bullshit type of environment and we dig it. That’s why we wouldn’t expect anything else from one of Colorado’s finest sandwich shops, Choice City Butcher & Deli. It doesn’t need complex adjectives to describe the dishes nor decorative titles for the staff. It doesn’t need exorbitant signage or an over-the-top interior. It’s a no frills, no bullshit establishment where quality and quantity come together without the high prices; where the carefully sourced meats and homemade ingredients pile high on bread from the corner bakery; where the world-recognized beer selection pays homage to the local and international brewing community. It’s simple. It’s easy. And in today’s world of flaunting food complexity, it’s exactly what we all need.

Don’t die without eating: The Reuben.

Frasca Food and Wine

1738 Pearl Street – Boulder CO 80302
(303) 442-6966

What is it? Fine dining, an ocean of wine options and cuisine dedicated to a part of Italy you’ve never heard of.

A lot of people have called this joint the best in the state, and it’s hard to argue. Based around Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the team here blends seasonal, creative dishes with a Bible-sized wine list, all delivered with a surprisingly relaxed hospitality and a certain understated confidence. After one of their classic plates of cured meats, try the cannelloni, which stuffs a tube of house-made pasta with buttery Maine lobster, roasted winter squash and tart blood orange segments. For an entree, the Anatra turns roasted duck breast, salsify and a crispy filo-wrapped persimmon pouch into a religious experience. On the sweet side of the menu, their Torta stacks hazelnut, rich dark chocolate and apricot coulis, all topped with broken chocolate and edible gold foil. They’ve even got a little cart loaded with fancy Italian booze that takes laps around the room after you’ve finished licking your dessert plate. If you die before eating here just once, you’ll feel like a big idiot.

Don’t die without eating: The roasted duck breast, their 32-ounce Wagyu ribeye or anything the pastry team dreams up.

Wild Standard

1043 Pearl Street – Boulder, CO 80302
(720) 638-4800

What is it? Chef Bradford Heap’s next big project, bringing fresh seafood and local ingredients with a dim sum / Brazilian barbeque style table service.

Wild Standard proves you can have world-class seafood despite being a few thousand miles from the nearest ocean. Their lunch and dinner menus rotate based on whatever the waters deliver, but expect fare like fresh lobster tail poached in butter, peel-and-eat shrimp with zesty house-made cocktail sauce, or their famous tuna poke, which is basically Hawaiian-style diced sashimi with ginger, soy sauce and scallions you can eat with a spoon. During dinner service, carts and trays loaded with chef’s latest creations circulate, offering a more freestyle dining experience. Locally grown cauliflower fried in fluffy tempura batter and raw cuts of wild-caught salmon float through the room to supplement your plates of local seared beef and grouper. As a bonus, they have the nicest women’s restroom you’ve ever seen. Seriously.

Don’t die without eating: Fresh (and only $1) happy-hour oysters until you need to exit via wheelbarrow.


1606 Conestoga Street – Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 247-1000

What is it? A full-service butcher shop with grab-and-go breakfast/lunch and sit-down dining during the evenings.

The meat artists at Blackbelly are all about the snout-to-tail experience, exclusively bringing in whole animals and butchering everything on their menu by hand. The result? They’ve got the juiciest, freshest, most mouth-watering cuts of your favorite proteins around, period. For example, take Chef Hosea Rosenberg’s favorite item on the menu: the Blackbelly beef burger. In perfect union of cow and pig, this hangover obliterator features thick-cut housemade bacon, gooey fontina cheese and a massive juicy patty, all balanced on a stack of fresh veggies grown right down the street. Throw in house-cut Kennebec fries and “The Real Dill” pickles from Denver if you still have room. For more refined flavors, their grassfed beef tartare is an exercise in decadence. Paper-thin beef is cut to order, then layered with capers, shallots, mustard, horseradish, and topped with quail egg yolk and served with locally made bread.

Don’t die without eating: Anything they smoke/cure themselves, or that big-ass burger. The classics never go out of style.

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

1215 20th Street – Denver, CO 80202
(303) 993-8023

What is it? A “gastro-brothel” that serves avant-garde gastro-pub cuisine in a building that was, once upon a time, a brothel and sex shop. Also a live music venue.

Justin Cucci of Linger and Root down is the mastermind behind Ophelia’s, which, with its “good food in an old whorehouse” concept is a definite contender for Denver’s strangest restaurant. Expect the unexpected from Cucci’s menu here; he’s infamous for combining multinational flavors into inventive, never-before-seen dishes with unique edges. The Asian-inspired ostrich burger is a standout; surprisingly light and lean for red meat, it turns straight-up indulgent when lathered with Korean BBQ sauce and topped with miso bacon and pickled vegetables for an ultra-satisfying blend of spice and sweetness. The Scandinavian duck meatball skillet mirrors the burger’s assertive flavors, as parsnip grits and Scandinavian lingonberry jam offer a similar balance of savory and sweet. Pickled cucumbers cut through with a lovely acidic bite. For the less carnivorous, the hummus board is all-time. Made from a blend of gigante beans, chickpea and blood orange, it’s served with a rainbow of vegetables, pickled or otherwise, and flatbread for a foray into Ophelia’s lighter options. When you’re done gorging, take a look at the sinful brothel-themed interior design or see a show; definitely a bucket-list experience for those who can appreciate some personality with their giant bird burger.

Don’t die without eating: Scandavian duck meatballs.

Pizzeria Locale

1730 Pearl Street – Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 442-3003

What is it? Killer pies and snacks in a chillaxed setting with an outstanding bar selection.

Unlike the culinary infant that is America, every single region in Italy is steeped in hundreds of years of food culture. And no one knows that better than Chef Rob Andreozzi, who constantly experiments with new menu items, following the centuries-old adage of “If it grows together, it goes together” when it comes to ingredient stacking. His latest is the Lombardia-based Cavolo salad: a wedge of hard-roasted cabbage with consistency ranging from crisp and cold to charred and crunchy, savory hazelnuts and a rich buffalo milk vinaigrette. Or the Mela pizza, which joins all-star Northern Italian ingredients like paper-thin smoked prosciutto, honeycrisp apples and radicchio all under a drizzle of aged balsamic vinaigrette. You can expect all the classic offerings too, but it’s always worth popping by to see what’s new.

Don’t die without eating: The Tartufo. It’s a rich, uncomplicated cheese pizza featuring the most baller ingredient in the universe: white truffles.