Denver’s most innovative restaurants stand out for being vessels of education, champions of inclusivity, and truly technique-obsessed.
In Lone Tree, an inventive, India-born chef sidesteps tradition by using French techniques on his spice-laden sauces. Earlier this year, a revered area restaurant group made waves for hiring a full-time wellness director, dedicated to providing groundbreaking mental health services to each of its 400 employees. A glassed-in dry aging room, brimming with thoughtfully sourced chops and ribs, steals the scene at a New American hotspot downtown.
These cutting-edge Denver restaurants raise the bar for serving more than just tasty plates—they’re integral parts of the community. To sample their inventive offerings, book a table at one of these six restaurants now.
Citizen Rail (Downtown)
There’s meat, and then there’s the meat locker at Citizen Rail. Cuts of beef, cured to perfection by chef Christian Graves, hang inside the cavernous fridge at this stylish spot in the Kimpton Hotel Born. Once the meat is matured, Graves ensures each piece gets the live-fire treatment, where the coals can reach 900-degree temperatures, adding to the depth, flavor, and complexity of the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind steak program. The chef sources most of his meats and vegetables from the best farms and ranches surrounding the Mile High City. On the menu, find plates of 30-day dry-aged ribeye, a 48-ounce dry-aged tomahawk steak, and two-year dry-aged New York strip, all treated to Graves’s meticulous prep. Catch a glimpse of Citizen Rail’s glassed-in meat locker to witness part of the process that makes this wood-fired hotspot one of the most unique restaurants in town.
Luca (Capitol Hill)
At Luca, owner and chef Frank Bonanno—the force behind other notable Denver restaurants such as Mizuna and Osteria Marco—pays homage to Italian comfort food. While plates of meatballs in marinara, pappardelle bolognese, and chicken parmesan heal diners’ souls, Bonanno is a true gamechanger for implementing a mental health care program to take care of his staff. In January 2022, he created a full-time wellness director position at his hospitality company, Bonanno Concepts. Services such as weekly meetings and workshops, led by mental health clinician Qiana Torres Flores, are offered to all 400 employees at each of Bonanno’s 10 restaurants. As a leader in the movement against the burnout the restaurant industry is often associated with, Bonanno’s hospitality group is a local pioneer.
Urban Village Grill (Lone Tree)
Chef Charles Mani bucks Indian traditions at this suburban star in Park Meadows Mall. Using the French techniques he studied in culinary school, Mani creates healthier versions of decadent South Asian classics. Case in point: his inventive riff on butter chicken, which uses the French double-boiling method to result in a lower-calorie gravy that doesn’t skimp on spice. Despite growing up in Chennai, in southeastern India, Mani didn’t start cooking Indian food until coming to America in 2005; Mani first cooked in New York City restaurants such as Babu Ji and Badshah. Other cultural mashups on the menu include hits such as the urban cauliflower, which combines Indian and Chinese culinary styles to create a sweet and spicy sauce, and the basil lamb chops, marinated in an Italian-inspired pesto. Diners can also grill their own marinated meats and vegetables on the year-round, heated patio (a technique inspired by Mongolian and Japanese barbecue traditions)—yet another feature that makes this Lone Tree spot one of the most cutting-edge restaurants in the area.
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (Glendale)
Each of the six locations (five in Colorado and one in Kansas City, Missouri) of this seafood standout ensures its dishes are sourced sustainably. Servers provide diners with as much information about their origins as possible; the brand’s proprietary Emersum oyster was created in collaboration with Rappahannock River Oyster Co., a family-run operation in Virginia committed to improving the ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay. Jax has served fresh oysters, catfish, and lobster rolls since 1994, which explains some of the deep-rooted relationships it has with key producers. The trailblazing restaurant chain also partners with eco-conscious groups such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the James Beard House Smart Catch program to source its bounty responsibly. Locally, the Jax team works with the Seattle Fish company, another venture that shares its unflagging commitment to sustainability.
Palace Arms at the Brown Palace (Downtown)
When chef Kim Moyle took the helm at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa in 2020, she became the first female executive chef in the hotel’s 130-year-old history. Moyle oversees all the hotel’s restaurants, including Ships Tavern and Ellyngton’s. But she spends most of her time at the flagship New American spot, Palace Arms, where she’s not afraid to get behind the line to show why she’s the boss. The chef, whose 30-year resume includes stints at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in the Rocky Mountains and Sheraton Music City in Nashville, has a penchant for team building; Moyle regularly brings groups from the hotel’s bakery and restaurants to her home for convivial taco dinners where they can bond outside of work. In an industry that’s still heavily dominated by men—less than 7 percent of restaurants in the U.S. are led by women—Moyle represents a slow but sure sea change.
Coperta (Capitol Hill)
Since opening this refined Southern Italian trattoria in 2016, Coperta’s chef and owners have championed the idea of constant evolution. It’s why chef Paul C. Reilly, his sister Aileen Reilly (who works the front of the house), and her husband, JP Taylor, who steers the bar program, often venture to Italy for cultural crash courses on new ideas and techniques to level up. Senise peppers, which are often found on Coperta’s antipasti menu, are ingredients that chef Reilly first encountered while visiting Basilicata; the sweet vegetables were served in lieu of bread, sans olive oil or cheese. In Rome, the chef discovered distinct pasta shapes used for classic dishes including bucatini all’amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and carbonara, which he brought to his inspired Capitol Hill restaurant. Meals here stand out for being truly immersive experiences as a result of the leadership team’s diligent recce missions.
Freelance journalist Linnea Covington lives and eats in Denver, the best place for green chili and epic hikes with fantastic sandwiches.
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