Where to Seduce Your Sweetheart on a Denver Dinner Date

Photo courtesy of Colt & Gray
By Christine Loomis, Denver Local Expert

A romantic restaurant is not defined only by dark corners and candlelit tables. An alluring aesthetic is created in many different ways. Maybe it's the menu that delivers dishes to share with the one you love. Maybe it's the wine or cocktail list that provides exactly the right moment for bringing out the ring or saying I love you for the first time. Maybe it's a fireplace where the two of you can cozy up and toast your years together. The restaurant should have stellar service that hits just the right note of attentiveness without being fussy, and the food should be exceptional whether you've chosen a charming neighborhood eatery or a city-center fine-dining establishment. The Denver restaurant scene delivers. If you're celebrating one of many anniversaries and you want to splurge, there's Tavernetta, Colt & Gray and Mizuna, all offering exquisite food and superb service. Bistro Vendome and Cafe Marmotte are the choices for fine French cuisine and a romantic ambiance, the first on Larimer Square and the second in the Wash Park neighborhood. For lovers of fiery Latin and Mexican cuisine, there's Señor Bear and El Chingon in the Highlands, and Ultreia offers Spanish and Portuguese dishes. Or maybe the ultimate in romantic dining isn't in a restaurant at all, but catered at one of Denver's most romantic B&Bs, Castle Marne. However you define romance, here are our top picks. 

10. El Chingon
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

This gem on Tennyson Street offers fresh, fine-dining Mexican fare served in an intimate and inviting atmosphere. It's proof that "romantic" doesn't have to mean an expensive or conventional menu. Gloria Nunez, a native of Mexico City, and her grandson, David Lopez, opened El Chingon in this charming old house in December 2013. There are traditional dishes including enchiladas and chiles rellenos, along with less expected options such as grilled ribeye and octopus. There's also fresh fish and an excellent selection of salads and soups. Cocktails are creative and meticulously crafted; you and your sweetheart will surely find one or two that get the evening off to the perfect start. There aren't many tables but choose one at the back for that extra bit of privacy away from the front door. Wherever you sit, you'll be greeted warmly. In summer, the outdoor patio is the place to be.

9. Corinne
Photo courtesy of Corinne

Adjacent to Le Méridien Denver Downtown's chic lobby, Corinne offers a casual but upscale ambience, expansive wine list, local craft brews and a menu that offers enough healthful items to (almost) offset the satisfying comfort food. Must-try items include caramelized pork shank, deviled eggs, and kale and apple salad. But the restaurant is just one reason to find your way here for a romantic evening or weekend. Book the hotel's Sparkling Romance Package and receive a $50 hotel credit (valid for valet parking or food & beverage), complimentary upgrade if available, complimentary sparkling amenity with decadent eclairs and a late checkout. If the 20th floor open-air rooftop bar, 54Thirty, is open, head up for a romantic sunset cocktail or late-night beverage and fabulous views. Named for its elevation above sea level, 54Thirty opens seasonally in the warm months and on special occasions in winter.

8. Colt & Gray
Photo courtesy of Colt & Gray

Comfortable yet elegant, Colt & Gray is an excellent date-night choice, whether you simply want to be together or you're celebrating a romantic milestone. This locally owned LoHi neighborhood restaurant has made a name for itself with its meats butchered and cured in-house. It has an outstanding charcuterie menu and smaller plates (the Colorado lamb tartare is exceptional) if you don't want to go for the larger main plates. But if you do, there's plenty to make the meal special, including "From the Butcher" selections of dry-aged steaks, duck breast and more. The restaurant has also made a name for itself as one of Denver's top cocktail destinations, so ask the bartender for his or her most romantic concoction.

7. Cafe Marmotte
Photo courtesy of Cafe Marmotte

Don't be fooled by the exterior or the location on Downing. This intimate neighborhood bistro is a perfect date-night destination, cozy and romantic with excellent French cuisine and a nicely curated wine list. While the service and food are of the highest quality, there's a relaxed charm here that makes it feel very welcoming from the moment you step in the door, as if you've stepped into your French aunt's country cottage for a home-cooked meal. Of course, we don't all have a French aunt, but we can all have Cafe Marmotte. The wine list favors France, making it easy to pair your inspired contemporary or classic French dish with just the right wine. Consider ordering the cafe's signature Coq au Vin, the French country dish that takes chicken to another level.

6. Tavernetta
Photo courtesy of Mike Thurk/Tavernetta

Light-colored woods and stylish contemporary furnishings give Tavernetta an appealing Northern European vibe. Unlike Frasca, its highly acclaimed sister restaurant in Boulder, Tavernetta draws its inspiration not from one region of Italy but from areas across the country, with added inspiration from neighbors Austria and Slovenia, among others. Cloud-like gnocchi and a deeply flavorful rigatoni are standouts, but the chicory salad with its imported greens may be the shining star on the opening menu. For couples seeking a romantic interlude, there are options for two to share, along with an exquisitely curated wine and "aperitivi" list. Among the wines is a very limited selection of glasses priced under $15, but then Tavernetta is a place to splurge, to savor, to indulge and to find utter satisfaction in a meal artfully conceived and flawlessly served and presented.

5. Ultreia
Photo courtesy of James Florio/Ultreia

Tucked into a cozy corner in Union Station, Ultreia exudes warmth with its Old World murals and intimate interior. The menu celebrates foods of the Iberian Peninsula, a region that has given us chorizo, Caldo Verde, Jamon Iberico, delectable Spanish olive oil and Manchego. More truffles are produced in Spain than in France. Basque and Moorish flavors influence the cuisine and sherry and port are staples to pair with any dish, not to mention Spanish wine. In spite of British connections, nowhere in the world is the gin tonic (no "and" in the name in Spain) more elevated than in Spanish bars, and Ultreia honors that with a fine collection of gins and gin cocktails. After dinner, sip on Madeira, Portugal's divine fortified wine. Be prepared for intriguing food and drink combinations and expect stellar service in an ambiance with European charm. Date night? Sí!

4. Mizuna

Undeniably one of Denver's highly romantic restaurants, Mizuna is open for dinner only, giving the chefs plenty of time to create one extraordinary dining experience each day. Every aspect of the restaurant has been thoughtfully conceived. At Mizuna, you will not find the loud clamor that seems so popular in restaurants today. There is a warm yet minimalist aesthetic at work here. A handful of conservatively appointed tables dot the intimate dining room; soft lighting and professional, unobtrusive service complete the elegant scene. The menu creatively combines unusual tastes and textures resulting in such mouthwatering offerings as pheasant, boar and decadent lobster mac 'n cheese made with poached Maine lobster and mascarpone. The menu changes monthly though some favorites remain available. The wine list is extensive but a sommelier is on hand to make suggestions.

3. Señor Bear
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

There are no white tablecloths, no pretentious tuxedoed waiters, no pretentions at all. Yet this is fine dining, as in extraordinary food created with passion, prepared with meticulous attention to detail and served with genuine hospitality and efficiency. Every bit of the experience is elevated yet approachable. The Pan-Latin menu excels in part because the chefs have done what so few can: perfectly balance flavor and heat. There's spice to be sure, but the delicate flavor combinations are never lost in it. While there are no bad choices, the mole stands out as does the exquisite crispy pig tail. Save room for churros in brown butter and soft serve. Questions? Every waitperson is extremely knowledgeable about the menu and creative cocktail list, which features brandy, tequila and mezcal concoctions. Some boomers may find the restaurant a little loud for romance but true food lovers won't notice.

2. Bistro Vendome
Photo courtesy of Bistro Vendome

With its inviting patio tucked into a secluded courtyard off Larimer Square and an intimate interior with Old World touches, Bistro Vendome captures the essence of a Parisian bistro in its ambience and menu. Cozy, dark and warm, Bistro delivers romance at every turn. Expect French classics (some rotating) as well as fish, vegetable and pasta dishes. Consider the ever-changing, always divine grilled cheese for happy hour (apple and brie is a fave). The bar offers a stellar selection of French wines at varying price points, and the bartenders–and other staff–are knowledgeable and helpful but never overbearing. This is a place where a couple can linger over dinner, then move if they choose to the bar for a glass of port or other after-dinner sipper and linger some more. On warm summer evenings, the patio is the sweet spot for a leisurely romantic rendezvous.

1. Castle Marne
Photo courtesy of Castle Marne

One of Denver's most romantic meals is found not at a restaurant but rather at the historic and equally romantic inn and B&B, Castle Marne. This is the ultimate in intimacy, an exclusive meal for the two of you served in Castle Marne's evocative formal dining room where you are the only diners. The four-course candlelight dinner is prepared by one of Denver's top personal chefs, custom tailored to a couple's preferences, and includes soup, salad, entree and dessert. There is always a focus on local, fresh ingredients. Couples are welcome to bring their own wine or other beverages to pair with each course and there's no corkage fee. Staying overnight at the inn is not a requirement for booking the meal, but why wouldn't you want to stay and keep the romance going through to the next morning?