More than 50 new Denver restaurants to celebrate in 2020

In a year unlike any other for the hospitality industry, we’ve counted no fewer than 50 new food businesses that managed to open and survive around Denver. They’ve taken forms previously unheard of by most — ghost kitchens, mobile food courts, Instagram-only businesses — and included all manner of creative outdoor dining room setups.

They appeared in trends, for sure. See: all things carb-heavy; insane amounts of ice cream; every form a chicken can take; and alcohol, so much alcohol, delivered right to your doorstep. Overall, in Denver food this year, there was a sense of foregoing the unnecessary and the superfluous for the honest and most heartfelt of projects. That, or saying, “To hell with it; we’re serving lobster and doughnuts.”

By no means exhaustive, here are the new “restaurant” endeavors that brought some much-needed joy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweet tooth

Call it the “year of eating your feelings in pints of delivered ice cream.” Or, in my case, “days of back-and-forth messaging turned late-Sunday drive to a private residence to receive ice cream pints labeled suspiciously in permanent marker.” However you prefer, it was the most memorable ice cream experience of my life with Right Cream (which has now streamlined the ordering and pickup processes). And just as impressive as those full-bite chunks were the flavor combinations from Pint’s Peak, another welcome new delivery-based ice cream startup.

See also: Sherry’s Soda Shoppe, My Kings

Stress baking

You’ll have to contend with hour-long lines some weekends to get a taste of the new Bakery Four as well as Good Bread Bake Shop, but their wait times underscore a dedication to the craft in Denver that’s risen considerably during this pandemic. Their croissants, doughnuts, loaves and more have garnered (deserved) cult followings.

See also: Berkeley Donuts, Aura’s, Black & Delicate, Colorado Cherry Co., The Pie Queen, Third Culture

Neighborhood staple

The cozy restaurant around the corner is my favorite setting to dine anywhere. And this year, a few such destinations stood out in their respective neighborhoods, with warm environs and seriously good cooking. Fox Run Cafe is still somewhat unsung on East Colfax, even with its perfect breakfast sandwiches and devilish baked goods. Restaurant Olivia packs a one-two punch of handmade pasta and expert cocktails in a way few others can, while Brasserie Brixton had to be the loveliest little French spot before it closed temporarily to in-person dining (though now it’s cleverly offering brick-oven pizzas to-go).

See also: The Fifth String, Roots, Sullivan Scrap Kitchen, The Lake House Kitchen & Tavern, Mason’s Dumpling Shop

Pop-up

One of the more memorable (to me) food moments of 2020 was when the small, natural wine bar Noble Riot changed course to become a fried chicken restaurant at the start of the pandemic. But Noble Fry-It managed to outlast shutdown after shutdown by selling this soothing combination of chicken and bubbly wine. Just as unexpected: Linji Market appeared seemingly out of nowhere as a Thai street food business, selling hand-pulled noodles, namprik pao (chile paste) and other pantry and ready-to-eat items under one beautiful DIY brand.

See also: Samosa Shop, Oh Golly Dumplings

Second act

Denver was lucky to see some reincarnations of restaurants this year, including The Ginger Pig, which found its permanent home on the north side of town after starting as a Chinese food truck and upgrading to a Boulder food stall. Then, this fall, after multiple reinventions of itself, Bruto became grounded in soulful Mexican cooking, serving cochinita pibil tacos and tortas, heirloom vegetable tostadas and more from chef Michael Diaz de Leon.

See also: Pho & Bar, Los Parceros

Ghost kitchen

Even though every other restaurant opened a ghost kitchen in 2020, the concept could still be unfamiliar to most diners. That’s because ghost kitchens are set out of sight and behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens or commissary spaces, only operating for delivery or pickup. At Spuntino, a family-run Italian spot in Highland, chef-owner Cindhura Reddy prepares South Indian samosas, gobi, lamb shank curry and more through her ghost kitchen Namkeen. Across town, partners Kamiya Willoughby and Tess Hurlburt expanded their SoulNia catering company to serve vegetarian soul food through lunch delivery to both essential workers and the broader public.

 

Food hall

This format seemed all but destined to become a remnant of pre-pandemic Denver, but somehow new multi-vendor operations continued to open over the past year. Avanti Boulder was the most ambitious of them, taking up two floors of space along the Pearl Street Mall with an impressive vendor lineup and plenty of rooftop fresh air. But Junction Food and Drink also brought some much-needed lunch variety to the south side of Denver, even with a multiplex and highway as its backdrop.

RELATED: What to eat and drink at Avanti’s brand new Boulder food hall

“Hotel restaurant”

I put those words in quotes because these two newcomers are places I would want to visit even when not staying upstairs on vacation. Local Jones is the latest endeavor at Cherry Creek’s Halcyon, and chef Josh Sutcliff is a serious talent to have in Denver as a result. And Wildflower is a pretty lobby-lounge restaurant tucked away on Navajo Street at the new (to Denver) Life House hotel.

See also: Toro Latin Kitchen & Lounge at Cherry Creek’s JW Marriott.

Take it outside

Some restaurants that opened this year seemed perfectly suited for outdoor-only dining. Happy Camper is a LoHi pizza spot with fire pits, a single-party dining trailer and tons of other outside seating nooks scattered on the front lawn. And Number 38 is an indoor-outdoor concert venue, restaurant and beer hall with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables and, soon, volleyball courts included outside.

See also: My Neighbor Felix, The Radiator Cafe & Bar

Food truck

Like outdoor dining, food halls and other settings that have been flipped on their heads, food trucks, too, entered new territory in 2020. Two perfect examples: Bodega, specializing in Cuban sandwiches; and Combi Taco, selling street tacos in trios or party-sized packs. The first is part of an online “mobile food court,” where customers can order from the menus of multiple concepts. The second is a delivery-only taco shop stemmed from owner Alejandro Flores-Muñoz’ first Denver food business, a poke food truck.

Reimagined

Some food halls certainly fared better than others this year. But two notable changes came to The Source, both with the tall order of replacing beloved businesses before them. Bellota and Temaki Den have made this early Denver marketplace a destination once again, with reimagined Mexican dishes from rising chef Manny Barella at the first and the freshest sushi handrolls from chef Kenta Kamo at the latter.

See also: The Farmers Market LSQ, inside the former Market space on Larimer Square.

Worth the trip

Two 2020 restaurant openings reminded us that celebration over a special meal was still possible. Pêche in Palisade is the latest endeavor from one of Colorado’s best (if yet unknown) chefs, Matthew Chasseur. It will take you around four hours to get there, but it’s worth it. A little closer to home, The Guest is an experimental home-based dinner party. It comes from recently married and up-and-coming chefs Syd Younggreen and Brian De Souza.

See also: Rootstalk, a brand new Breckenridge restaurant by Matt Vawter, the former chef of Denver’s Mercantile.

RELATED: The incredible Colorado restaurant you’ve probably never heard of

For drinks

While bars that don’t serve food fared worse than most throughout 2020, a few new drinking destinations managed to open this year and make their mark on wine and spirits, respectively. Attimo brought real DOC Italian wine to its Denver winery where the bottles are aged and blended, while Atost brought four flavors of bottled aperitivo to its Golden cocktail lounge and direct to customers’ home bar carts.

RELATED: Attimo brings an Italian winery to a former Denver pawn shop

To your health

Alongside alcoholic beverages, the sweet Honey Elixir Bar sells non-alcoholic drinking “potions,” cacao and jun (similar to kombucha), making it a destination for drinkers and those who abstain, together. And just debuted in Denver, Boulder-based Wonder Press is a daytime destination for alternative latte drinks, broth “tonics” and cold-pressed juices, which we’ll all be needing more of as we recover in the coming months.

Transported

Finally, there were two openings that made us forget the outside world — albeit briefly — in 2020. Nest at Nurture is a meditative and roomy cafe with healthy food and drinks served all day. It’s also the entryway, so to speak, to a new Denver wellness center that offers counseling services, body work and more for your mental, physical and spiritual health (how timely!). In a very different way, Room for Milly is a high-design escape of a bar that tells a traveling story through its furnishings and decor, as well as through the cocktails and food. A throwback to a bygone era of world travel, it was also ahead of its time when it opened in late February.

See also: Bao Brewhouse in the former Euclid Hall.

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