Sometimes, "best" isn't about upscale and expensive. Casual and affordable restaurants can be the best at what they do and The Post Chicken & Beer on South Broadway is just such a place. For its fans, it's the go-to for deeply satisfying fried chicken in Denver. Guy Fieri clearly agreed when he showcased The Post on a Diners, Drive Ins & Dives segment on his popular show. While there's better craft beer in Denver, Post brews are worthy companions to the food, which includes options in addition to chicken. As for sides, standout accompaniments include cheddar biscuits, beets & sweets, collard greens and deviled eggs, though naturally mashed potatoes and mac & cheese have many fans, too. There is, however, something that must be noted: Inexplicably, grits are no longer on the menu. My great-aunt Mary from rural Alabama would be horrified. Come on, Post, give us back our grits!
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It's argued by many that Post Chicken & Beer has the best fried chicken in Denver. What more needs to be said?
Christine's expert tip: If you find yourself in Lafayette, Longmont, Boulder or Estes Park you can enjoy Post Chicken & Beer in those towns, too.
As its name suggests, Work & Class is down to earth and deliberately reflective of the owners' own working-class roots. The exceptional food, however, makes it in any class. The menu is a melding of American and Latin with an emphasis on dishes that are filling and comforting, and plates can be ordered in large or small versions. Don't skip the cornbread. There are a ton of craft beers, a nice selection of wines by the bottle or glass and an expansive list of whiskey, single malts, vodkas, tequilas and more, some from Colorado small-batch distillers including Laws, Leopold Brothers and Bear Creek. Show up when you're ready; no reservations are taken. One caveat: Work & Class is loud. Very loud. If you want dinner with easy conversation, this may not be the best choice.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: A "square meal, stiff drink and fair price" was the theme the restaurant was founded on, and who can argue with that?
Christine's expert tip: Happy hour runs 5-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Carmine's on McGregor Square offers the same dining concept and convivial ambience as the original Carmine's on Penn in the West Wash Park neighborhood, but with a chic, upscale aesthetic. Cozy corners and murals that transform Italian masterpieces into contemporary design elements provide just the right vibe–"intimate and hip without a trace of "old school" to be found. But tradition is front and center in the family-style presentation and the menu, which includes classics such as carbonara and chicken parmigiana, alongside less expected items. The community Caesar salad, for example, is served for two or four, and many other dishes are for the table rather than individuals. Not to worry, you can take leftovers home for a second feast. Carmine's has excellent cocktail and wine lists for before and during dinner, and liqueurs, including house-made limoncello, for after-dinner sipping. Leave room for the brown-butter cookie gelato sandwich.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Traditional, contemporary, hip and inviting, Carmine's on McGregor Square is a fine addition to the LoDo restaurant scene.
Christine's expert tip: If the Colorado Rockies are playing, take public transportation to Union Station to avoid the headache of navigating heavy traffic and crowded parking areas, and ask for a patio seat where you can see the game on McGregor Square's massive outdoor screen.
Chef Alex Seidel opened Fruition Restaurant in 2007 with a seasonally driven menu of upscale comfort food and a well-curated wine list. It was an instant success and remains so today. Dishes may include cheese and/or produce from Seidel and company's Fruition Farm in Larkspur, Colorado, south of Denver. The term "farm-to-table" is overused, but it's reality for Frution and Seidel's other restaurants, as well as for the many Denver restaurants and markets that also purchase local cheese and produce from the farm. Fruition's cocktail program is based on the classics and inspired by the season. As management notes, "Each cocktail on our list has a rich background and is rooted in history. The classics are pre-Prohibition cocktails, from a time when your bartender was also your pharmacist." Fruition's last seating is at 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Chef Alex Seidel changed Denver's dining scene with Fruition Restaurant and Fruition Farm, where he sources much of his food.
Christine's expert tip: Reservations regularly sell out but Fruition's patio seating is available for walk-ins.
Light-colored woods and stylish contemporary furnishings give Tavernetta, just outside Union Station, an appealing Northern European vibe. Unlike Frasca, its acclaimed sister restaurant in Boulder, Tavernetta draws inspiration not from one region of Italy but from areas across the country, with added inspiration from neighboring Austria and Slovenia, among others. House-made pastas are standouts, but whatever seasonal dishes are on the menu will likely be memorable. For couples seeking a romantic interlude and whose culinary desires align, the menu includes options for two to share, along with a nicely curated wine and "aperitivi" list. Tavernetta is a place to splurge, to savor, to indulge and to find utter satisfaction in a meal artfully conceived, flawlessly served and presented. If you just want drinks and appetizers or dessert, find seating for two by the lounge fireplace, Tavernetta's most romantic spot.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Tavernetta offers fine (but not fussy) dining in a contemporary atmosphere and a menu that takes upscale Italian to new heights.
Christine's expert tip: Arrive early in happy hour to get a seat by the fireplace, perhaps the most romantic spot in the restaurant.
Unpretentious and just a little edgy as befits its RiNo location, Hop Alley offers a menu that's hardly typical of Chinese restaurants. In addition to lobster dumplings and La Zi Ji (battered and fried chunks of chicken thigh tossed with Sichuan chili), there are familiar favorites including fried wontons and fried rice, albeit elevated by creative presentation and something unexpected–"much like the audible play list that frequently pulses to a hip-hop beat. Fried rice, for example, gets a rich, flavorful boost from bone broth. Start with something from the compact but creative cocktail list and don't skip dessert, especially if house-made coconut-lime sorbet is offered. Chef Tommy Lee of Uncle fame, hits the mark with Hop Alley.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: There's no lack of Chinese restaurants in Denver but none that match Hop Alley's creative and delicious take on this much loved ethnic fare.
Christine's expert tip: No tables? Grab a seat at the convivial bar where great service and the full menu are available.
The compact, cozy wine bar and restaurant overlooking the tracks at Union Station deliberately evokes the sophistication and camaraderie of the best wine bars in Europe. With 20 to 25 wines by the glass and a menu featuring snacks to entrees, this is an anytime place for couples and others to gather. The space was designed with acoustics in mind, and what's noticeable immediately on entering is the rich quality of the sound. But whatever is playing, guests can still talk and hear each other. The thoughtfully curated collection of vinyl comes from every music genre and, like the wine list, from across the world. Somewhere in the mix you'll likely hear old favorites. For a well-priced wine and bite, go for happy hour, 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Sunday Vinyl has a limited but stellar menu and the music gives it an ambience like no other.
Christine's expert tip: Wednesday is Flight Night, your chance to discover a new wine from a region you may not know well.
For[a]ged opened in 2019 with a menu that ranges from an impressive raw bar to steaks, salmon and vegetarian entrees. The name is a play on the words foraged, related to the freshest of natural ingredients, and forged, a nod to the chef's collection of knives, including some he made himself, displayed on the walls and used in the kitchens. Chef Duy Pham and his son are culinary artists, each nigiri and hand roll as much artistic presentation as delectable bite. For an incomparable experience, book Omakase, translation, "I leave it to you," a photo-worthy, multi-course chef's table for up to eight offered at the raw bar where you can interact with the chefs. A romantic choice: the green velvet booths upstairs. Wherever you sit, ask what fresh ingredient isn't on the menu as fish from all over the world arrive fresh daily but aren't always listed.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Culinary artistry by For[a]ge chefs showcases authentic Japanese fare in downtown Denver. As in Japan, exquisite presentation is integral to the experience here.
Christine's expert tip: For[a]ged has a private dining space with two tables for 12.
Beckon is an experience, an evening conducted much like a symphony. The tempo rises and falls as eight or nine courses appear, but everything, including the synchronized plating of courses and placement of plates before guests, is deliberate. Beckon is available by prepaid ticketed reservation at $150 per person and can be sold out weeks in advance. Diners choose one of two sessions per evening, at 5 or 8 p.m., and should expect the experience to last approximately two-and-a-half hours. The meal consists of small plates prepared and presented in view of guests, each dish created to be savored and remembered. When you make your reservation, you're asked if there's anything you can't or won't eat, but dishes remain a mystery until the food appears before you. Beer, wine and cocktails are extra. Seating is available on Beckon's patio as well.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Pre-paid chef's tables have become popular in other cities and Beckon, Denver's first, sets the bar high for any to follow.
Christine's expert tip: In addition to inside seats at the chef's table, Beckon also has patio seating available.
From the same group that created Root Down, Ophelia's and Linger (located next door), El Five is also focused on planet-friendly food, much of it plant-based, all of it superb. To be sure there are meat entrees on the menu of small plates, but vegetarians and vegans have plenty of options. Embracing an industrial-glam aesthetic enhanced by bold pops of color in wall-spanning murals, El Five is bustling and welcoming with sweeping views over LoHi and downtown Denver thanks to its fifth-floor location (hence the name), expanse of windows and a sunset-bathed terrace. The entire Mediterranean region is showcased on the eclectic menu labeled Tapas de Gibralter, including Italy, Spain, Israel, Lebanon and Morocco. While the atmosphere is casual, service is attentive and knowledgeable, and a cocktail from the sophisticated bar list is the way to start the evening.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: The atmosphere, service, design and creative interpretation of Mediterranean fare raise El Five to superstar status on the Denver restaurant scene.
Christine's expert tip: The entrance is nearly hidden in a street-level garage. Look for the big 5 by the glass doors.