Regarding Denver restaurants, I used to hear — and say — this refrain a lot: If it’s happening now on the coasts, then we’ll see it arrive here a decade or so later. But that is just not the case any longer in Colorado.
Looking back over the past year and beyond, Denver and surrounding areas have kept pace with the national restaurant scene — and with our own takes on new French food, wine bars and barbecue, to give a few examples.
We’ve seen some very niche new restaurants and some all-encompassing ones; “all-day” might be the buzzword of 2019 dining. We’ve had some home-grown restaurants, food hall stalls and food trucks spawn second locations or brick-and-mortar spots — a sign of success if there ever was one.
And new formats of dining rooms, from multi-purpose food halls to contained walk-up windows, are emerging to fill in gaps in the “restaurant” experience.
Read on for eight trends that dominated the year in local restaurant news.
What a year for French restaurants in Denver. Starting with the openings of Morin and LeRoux at the tail end of 2018, and continuing with Le French, Bistro Georgette at Cafe Marmotte and Le Bilboquet. These aren’t your typical French bistros and brasseries.
Morin has one of the best bars in town with fresh-shucked oysters and natural wines by the glass, while LeRoux is the prettiest dining room on the 16th Street Mall — and offers an after-dinner cheese cart to boot.
Le French made it onto our best new restaurants of 2019 for its unique combination of ingredients on the south side of town. And Bistro Georgette at Cafe Marmotte was the shortest-lived of them all, lasting only 12 weeks until the owning team reopens as a pasta spot in the new year.
Lest you forget, Le Bilboquet was that place from New York where you shouldn’t wear yoga pants, or talk about wearing yoga pants, because people have thoughts on yoga pants, it turns out.
From natural and biodynamic to local and Colorado-sourced, or just served with a side of records playing on the turntable, Denver stepped up its wine bar game in 2019 in more ways than one.
At Carboy Winery, Ivy and Logan Street, Colorado-based Carboy wines are served across two restaurants, a bar and a bottle shop and tasting room. It’s huge, quite literally.
On the much smaller side, Noble Riot is now Denver’s dedicated natural wine bar, hidden in the alley behind Denver Central Market. Sunday Vinyl is the newest and flashiest addition to this mix: it’s a proper wine bar and dinner restaurant with eclectic records playing over a state-of-the-art sound system.
Late last year, Blanchard Family Wines also debuted at Dairy Block. The winery is Sonoma-based but with a tasting room right here in downtown Denver.
All the barbecue!
I’m not one to complain about more barbecue spots, especially when they’re mastering (heck, even advancing) Texas-style smoked meats, or combining American and Latin traditions.
At Owlbear Barbecue, which made our best new restaurants of 2019, diners will want to try pitmaster Karl Fallenius’ brisket, mac and cheese and pork belly (when it’s available).
Post Oak also holds true to Texas traditions — try the sausage links. And at Mister Oso, the latest “barbecue” spin, you should order the smoked meat-stuffed tacos with house-made sauces and duck-fat-fried tortillas underneath.
Oh, so niche!
A few spots opened this year not with the intention of providing something for everybody, but with the idea of doing a couple things very well — almost oddly, specifically well.
At Somebody People (one of our favorite new restaurants of the year), diners can order hip vegan fare and natural wines in a dining room lined with potted plants and pastel hues.
Dang Soft Serve provides families and Instagrammers alike with a neon 1980s backdrop for its soft-serve ice cream and French fries.
Maine Shack makes lobster rolls in five varieties, and alongside the main attraction, sells whole belly clams and chowdah, pronounced like that.
And at Run for the Roses at Dairy Block, drinkers got the coolest upscale and underground — but not speakeasy — cocktail bar. Drinks are ordered off decks of playing cards and snacks consist of caviar and banana splits.
All-day spots for everyone!
All of a sudden this year, “all-day, everyday” became a restaurant battle cry. For as many new places that opened with super-specific menus and purposes, just as many opened with offerings and formats that adjust along with your mood and the time of day. Many of these locations start with coffee service or breakfast in the morning, lunch and dinner in the afternoon and go well into late-night.
Brass Tacks is one such place. It’s “open always,” according to the website, from 10 a.m.-1 a.m., starting with coffee, moving on to lunch, happy hour, dinner, late-night, you name it.
At Frank & Roze, a daytime coffee shop transitions to a wine and beer bar, and small plates stop by night. And Rosetta Hall in Boulder takes the all-day food hall model a step farther, transitioning to a nightclub complete with DJ sets and themed dance nights.
Seconds and spinoffs!
This was the really dominant trend of the year in Denver — because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Second locations of successful restaurants abound now in Denver. They include ChoLon, Cart-Driver, Uncle, Chook and African Grill.
Brick-and-mortar versions of previous food trucks and stalls also make this list, from Quiero Arepas to Ginger Pig, Bistro Georgette, American Grind, Bonfire Burritos and Owlbear Barbecue. Their owners all upgraded this year to real digs.
And from the owners of Citizen Thai Bistro in Golden came Daughter Thai in Denver, while the team behind Señor Bear in LoHi brought us Mister Oso in RiNo — Get it?
Food halls, still!
The food halls will not stop taking over. I repeat: The food halls have gone wild here.
This year, Broadway Market, Edgewater Public Market, Tributary Food Hall and Drinkery and Rosetta Hall added to the existing options. So we’re working toward one hall in every suburb and neighborhood and probably every home, which, okay, could work?
Aside from the typically trendy food halls, we also saw the introduction of a new food court, Mango House, in Aurora, which doesn’t fit the mold at all and was therefore one of our favorite new restaurants.
Restaurants within restaurants (or bars)!
Saving the most fun for last, this year, restaurants popped up inside other restaurants and at bars, causing all kinds of cool confusion for diners trying to figure out where to eat.
Last winter, Pirate Alley Po’ Boys was the first of them, described as a lunchtime sandwich shop within Julep restaurant. Those po’ boys sure were delicious, and while Julep stopped selling them for a season, the restaurant is about to offer them again, this time via food delivery services. Thank the roast beef debris gods.
More recently, Edwin Sandoval’s Xatrucho has popped up inside Fort Greene bar and at Queens Eleven bar, while Misfit Snackbar has taken up residence behind a walk-up window at Middleman.
The food truck Yuan Wonton probably also deserves its own trend category, after popping up at restaurants, bars, breweries — plus all over social media — and always selling out, it seems. But this dumpling pop-up is something I imagine we’ll be seeing plenty more of next year.
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