These classic Denver restaurants never get old, even after decades in business
Institutions, staples, classics, go-tos: We asked ourselves which restaurants we go back to when the next new spots become so damn trendy or too much to handle, and these were the answers.
Encompassing a wide age range of 10 to 35 years old, these 15 maturing spots have proven themselves on Denver’s dining scene, and then some.
They have lasted through an explosion of local cuisine options and dining styles. They’ve evolved or stayed the same, at just the right amount. They haven’t been around quite long enough to be considered iconic and historic yet. (But we have another list for that.)
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And a decade or more later, they are still deserving of our dining support. When we think of where to eat from breakfast to late-night, these are the ones that keep popping up. Spanning fast-casual to sit-down and Greek to dim sum, here are 15 restaurants that have reached mid-life in Denver but are still looking — and tasting — fabulous.
A piece of salmon alongside other pieces of sushi, including creamy tuna and yellowtail, in 2014. (AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)Sushi Den (1984)
Nearly 35 years after its Christmas Eve opening, Sushi Den still stands as Denver’s most venerable Japanese restaurant. Brothers Toshi and Yasu Kizaki opened this first of their three concepts at a time when raw fish wasn’t yet a Denver delicacy.
Now they’re credited with starting the movement. Overflowing today into its newer Izakaya neighbor, the Den is packed on any given night, with fans who will travel for fresh fish delivered from Japan daily. And as a thank you to the adoring community, once a year the Kizaki brothers also throw an entirely unique food festival. They invite chef-friends in from Japan, and they serve ramen, okonomiyaki, sake and more on a rooftop that overlooks their lasting restaurant empire.
1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826, sushiden.net
Outside El Taco de Mexico on Santa Fe Drive. The counter-service restaurant is known for its green chile-smothered burritos and tacos served since 1985. (Rebecca McAlpin, Special to The Denver Post)El Taco de Mexico (1985)
At the heart of the Art District, El Taco De Mexico (and don’t forget its neighbor, El Noa Noa, which has been around for 30 some years itself) has become the go-to for chile-smothered burritos and tacos in the city. Over 34 years, this restaurant has kept its model simple: a counter register for ordering and paying, one wall of booths inside, some patio tables and a stretch of bar seats facing the well-oiled kitchen.
The whole operation is run daily by a group of women making chile-smothered burritos and tacos filled with al pastor pork, tripe, cheek meat and more. Sure, there are many other taco shops around Denver, but none as iconic as this sunshine-yellow safe haven on Santa Fe Drive.
714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926, eltacodemexicodenver.com
Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver PostLongtime New Saigon owners Thai Nguyen and Ha Pham pose at the West Denver restaurant on Wednesday, January 29, 2013. The couple sold New Saigon in 2017, but two of their daughters still run the bakery and deli next door.New Saigon (1987)
For a moment in 2017, when longtime New Saigon diners Bao and Mai Vu bought the Federal Boulevard restaurant from its owners of 30-plus years, Denver was in danger of losing an institution. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. “I’ve been going here since I was a little kid,” Bao told The Denver Post that year. “All the recipes will stay the same. I feel that if a restaurant lasts more than 30 years, it no longer belongs to an owner. It belongs to the community, and I gotta keep it running.”
Lucky for Denver, that means the Vietnamese traditions of deep-fried softshell crabs, pho, fire pot and more will continue indefinitely. Luckier still: New Saigon’s former leading family continues to run the bakery next door, where customers can go for banh mi sandwiches.
630 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-4954, newsaigon.com
Related Articles Colorado’s 13 most iconic, historic restaurants and what to order when you’re there The Colorado Plate: Inside our local food culture The Colorado Plate; a note about the project from its creator Episode 2: The Cheesemaker Episode 4: The Chef Helen H. Richardson, The Denver PostThe neon sign of local favorite Pete’s Kitchen at 1962 East Colfax Ave., in 2014. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)Pete’s Kitchen (1988)
The late Pete Contos (1934-2019) left his mark on Denver with this Colfax corner diner, the Satire Lounge next door to it and four more lasting local restaurants. While Satire was Contos’ first business after immigrating from Greece in 1956 and working his way up from a busboy and dishwasher, the 24-hour diner next door later became a hub for his growing family business.
Today, Pete’s Kitchen still serves up cowboy burgers, gyros, souvlaki and breakfast burritos within a larger mix of Greek and greasy-spoon dishes. And while Denver has a number of long-standing diners — each with its own character — Pete’s is the biggest-hearted of them all, a testament to its 30-year owner.
1962 E. Colfax Ave., 303-321-3139, petesrestaurants.com
Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver PostOne of the most romantic spots for dining in Denver is the fireplace table at Barolo Grill, 3030 E. 6th Ave. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)Barolo Grill (1995)
Coming up on its 25th year in Cherry Creek, the Barolo Grill is still unwavering in its quest to bring a level of fine dining to the neighborhood and the rest of Denver. Longtime owner (and previous employee) Ryan Fletter runs the restaurant more like a family home, with customers that come in regularly to celebrate and a staff that takes annual trips together to get inspired.
As a result, Barolo’s food and wine are still award-winning. For a special occasion anytime, the chefs’ tasting menu offers a tour of the Italian countryside. Every November, it showcases seasonal white and black truffles across six decadent courses, too.
3030 E. 6th Ave., 303-393-1040, barologrilldenver.com
Started by chef Teri Rippeto and her father, Tom, in 1997, Potager has grown into a timeless Denver restaurant — if there ever was one — over its two-plus decades in business. Rippeto herself was the original farm-to-table chef in Denver. She frequented the Boulder Farmer’s Market for her menu ingredients, and forged relationships with local farmers, planting a seed that would (much later) grow into a wider movement.
Even after the Rippetos retired last year, Potager continues with its same spirit in the heart of Capitol Hill. Husband and wife team Paul and Eileen Warthen took over the restaurant after more than a year of running it alongside its founder. Dine there now for hyper-seasonal menus or have a glass of wine at the bar or in the secret backyard garden.
1109 N. Ogden St., 303-832-5788, potagerrestaurant.com
(Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)Fathim Dickerson, twin brother of general manager Fathima Dickerson, turns out oxtail stew and a fried chicken dinner during lunch service at the Welton Street Cafe in Five Points on June 7. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)Welton Street Cafe (1999)
This last surviving soul food restaurant in Five Points acts as a community kitchen and living room on Welton Street. Its casual atmosphere is welcoming to just about everyone, and the comfort food keeps them all returning. Welton Street Cafe is also the last of the Denver-based Dickerson family’s handful of local restaurants. Now run by two generations, Welton Street holds firmly onto its past while still feeling relevant — a feat in today’s crowded dining scene.
When you stop in next time for a fried chicken lunch or catfish dinner, say hello to Fathima and her brother Fathim, and their parents, Flynn and Amona Dickerson. And don’t leave at the end of your meal without a slice of real rum cake.
2736 Welton St., 303-296-6602, facebook.com/welton-street-cafe
(Josie Sexton, The Denver Post)Xiao long bao soup dumplings from Lao Wang Noodle House on South Federal Boulevard. (Josie Sexton, The Denver Post)Lao Wang Noodle House (2002)
At Chung-Ming and Tse-Ming Wang’s no-frills Federal Boulevard shop, steaming, soup-filled dumplings (xiao long bao) are the house specialty. They come 10 to a bamboo basket and are perfect for sharing on a cold Denver day. But the pan-seared pork potstickers are some of our favorites. Order them alongside dan-dan or cold noodles, both made with peanuts and pickled or fresh vegetables.
945 S. Federal Blvd., 303-975-2497, laowangnoodlehouse.com
Table 6 has been operating since 2004 at 609 Corona St. (Nathan W. Ames, Special to The Denver Post)Table 6 (2004)
Like a few others on the list, Table 6 was part of the early wave of New American restaurants that came to define Denver’s dining scene for the better part of a decade. Fifteen years on, it’s still a spot we think of fondly and one we’d like to get back to more often. Owner and wine guru Aaron Forman is the main reason for this success — he resembles a young Gene Wilder and has a hosting personality to match. But behind the scenes, the chefs turn out solid and still-playful dishes like croque monsieur sliders and chicken-fried duck confit.
609 Corona St., 303-831-8800, table6denver.com
(Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post )Crispy duck breast, with persimmon-herb bread pudding and spicy pepper jelly glaze, at Tables, in March 2015. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)Tables (2005)
You would be surprised by the number of chefs, from near and far, who have been connected to this Park Hill restaurant. Whether they’ve worked on the line or just always come back to eat, they speak highly about Tables in a way that’s too often reserved for brand new or closed businesses. Fourteen years in, Tables is still on Kearney Street, humming away during any normal weeknight dinner service.
When you walk in, the chefs and owners, the husband-and-wife team of Amy Vitale and Dustin Barrett, will smile at you from their kitchen. The servers will be sweet, the menu still unabashedly New American. And whatever you order will likely be so confident and unassuming that it’s no surprise some Denverites still swear by this spot while others still should discover it.
2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299, tablesonkearney.com
Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver PostSteuben’s on E. 17th Avenue near downtown Denver. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)Steuben’s (2006)
This modern version of a midcentury diner wasn’t the first of restaurateur Josh Wolkon’s Denver restaurants. Vesta opened nearly a decade before it in 1997. But Steuben’s is the group’s farthest reaching endeavor in terms of locations and audience. The first Steuben’s opened along 17th Avenue, later followed by an outpost near Olde Town Arvada. At either, regulars never tire of the meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, lobster rolls, homemade ice cream and more classic comforts. The bar is also a destination on its own, where many of the city’s top bartenders got started.
523 E. 17th Ave. and 7355 Ralston Road, 303-830-1001 and 303-830-0096, steubens.com
Restaurateur and James Beard-awarded chef Alex Seidel will tell you that he hates the term “fine dining.” After training at restaurants in California and at Denver’s Mizuna, Seidel opened this first solo project in a quaint 6th Avenue setting. And perhaps his aversion to exclusivity, perceived or otherwise, is one of the reasons for Fruition lasting.
The restaurant feels just as fresh as it did more than a decade ago, now with a new head chef, Jon Lavelle, who started his career in Denver’s first wave of farm-to-table restaurants. Seidel trained Fruition’s previous chefs (who have gone on to lead their own kitchens), but with Lavelle, he says he’s stepping back now and learning. Which usually means it’s a great time to stop in for dinner if you haven’t in awhile.
1313 E. 6th Ave., 303-831-1962, fruitionrestaurant.com
(Provided by Marco's Coal Fired Pizza)Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza is certified by the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napolitani. (Provided by Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza)Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizza (2008)
Look no further for real, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana-certified pies in Colorado. That means these pizzas are as close as it gets locally to Neapolitan style, according to the governing body that determines such things. The ovens and ingredients are all imported from Italy. Pies are straight-forward: Abruzzo with Bufala mozzarella and four more cheeses, plus extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil; or Cacio e Pepe with porchetta, bechamel, three cheeses and pepper.
2129 Larimer St. and 10111 Inverness Main St., Englewood, 303-296-7000 and 303-790-9000, marcoscfp.com
(Josie Sexton, The Denver Post)A dim sum brunch at Star Kitchen. (Josie Sexton, The Denver Post)Star Kitchen (2008)
To witness one of the most beautiful dining room scenes in Denver, head to this dim sum palace for weekend lunch on Mississippi Avenue. Families of all backgrounds and ages sit together around a labyrinth of tables, sharing generous helpings of dumplings and noodles, various buns and wontons before them.
Diners from one side of the restaurant get up and walk to another to greet friends or acquaintances. Hands are shaken, embraces exchanged. Arriving to the bathroom during this din of Sunday dim sum brunch is, well, a journey. And at the back of the banquet-like room, live lobsters in tanks preside over the whole ceremony. You’ll have to return again to have them for dinner.
2917 W. Mississippi Ave., 303-936-0089, starkitchenseafooddimsum.com
Hyoung Chang, The Denver PostRoot Down — modeled out of an old gas station/garage — brought something fresh to Denver’s dining scene when it opened in 2009. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)Root Down (2009)
Did you know there’s an acronym to remember restaurateur Justin Cucci’s five only-in-Denver restaurants? Whether he planned it this way or not, L.O.V.E.R. now stands for Linger (located in an old mortuary), Ophelia’s (modern cabaret vibes), Vital Root (fast-casual vegan), El Five (swanky rooftop tapas) and Root Down (the original of the quirky bunch). This first one opened in 2009 in a converted gas station in Lower Highland.
Since its inception, the neighborhood and the surrounding restaurant scene have exploded, but Root Down remains a constant. Hard to believe that a vegetarian-friendly menu, a wildly popular weekend brunch and a concept that took off again at Denver’s airport could now be considered a Denver classic. But at 11 years old, it’s our youngest addition — and a sign of what’s to come with the next class of graduates.
1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200, rootdowndenver.com
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