Denver's ten best new restaurants of 2011

Categories: Best of Denver

Trilliuminterior.jpg
Lori Midson
The digs at Trillium, one of the best restaurants to open this year.
By our count, nearly 300 restaurants have opened in the metro area since January 1 -- a big increase over 2010, when just over 200 concepts (many of them food trucks) joined the scene. This past year, we saw many of those food-truck entrepreneurs also pick up leases to brick-and-mortar spaces, putting down roots after successfully test-driving their food.

There were plenty of other new ventures, too, and many of those were second (or third) spots from seasoned restaurateurs, featuring creative menus in smart spaces. Big-name restaurateurs from other cities also came to Denver, and a few local chefs finally got their own places, as well. We talked to many of the restaurateurs who opened restaurants in 2011 for this week's Year in Review in Westword.

Their efforts paid off with a bumper crop of great places; our list of the best new restaurants in the metro area in 2011 could have included dozens of names. But instead, we whittled it down to ten. Here they are, in no particular order:

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Lori Midson
Coohills
Tom Coohill was a celebrated chef in Atlanta, gaining accolades for the French fine-dining restaurants he established in that city in the '90s. When he decided to dive into the Denver scene, though, he scaled back, building a spot that's still French, but less focused on the white linen tablecloths and high check averages. The restaurant overlooks Cherry Creek and features a separate bar area that's decidedly more casual than the dining room.

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Lori Midson
Linger
From the moment it opened, crowds crammed through the doors of Linger, the kitschy morgue-themed restaurant that Justin Cucci put in the old Olinger mortuary. That's because with this restaurant, Cucci filled a niche that Denver didn't even know was empty. The sexy spot features a board of global street food, which is perfect for nibbling with offerings off the killer beverage list. And the bars -- indoor and rooftop -- feature sweeping views of the skyline.

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Lori Midson
Trillium
Ryan Leinonen worked the burners in several restaurants in Boulder and Denver, and when he decided to strike out on his own, he drew knowledge from his experience and inspiration from a trip to Scandinavia. His new, sleek Ballpark spot serves dishes that feature cloudberry preserves, aquavit smoked salmon and plenty of seafood and dill. Trillium is also one of the few places in Denver that keeps caviar service on the nightly menu.

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31 comments
Mikoe Wozz
Mikoe Wozz

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Tjmills
Tjmills

My votes go to ambria and Bittersweet (open only a few weeks should put a place up for the next year). Westword should be elevating the Denver dining scene by showcasing the real independents - not those with seemingly unlimited budgets. The interior of Coohills is so overly decorated it might as well be a chain. The renovation of ambria in 2 weeks is such an accomplishment I can't believe how good it feels in there. Bittersweet (if they had unlimited funds) could have expanded, instead they have an onsite garden!

epl
epl

Great list--and a very difficult one to make given the number of wonderful places that opened in Denver this year.  Since this is purely subjective, I'll toss in my 2 cents.  The new brick and mortar Pinche Tacos was probably the best new restaurant I ate at this year.  The pescado taco there was the best dish I had in Denver this year and was one of the best I had anywhere this year.

Barbara
Barbara

I had one of the best meals I've ever had in a restaurant in October at Ototo on Pearl St. It was perfect and many in our party shared my sentiment.

Bobby Pinz
Bobby Pinz

I get the Westword Cafe Bites newsletter and find it very strange that the best new restaurants in Denver that were mentioned in that story included Street Kitchen Asian Bistro (the Cafe Bites list is below), but in this story, Street Kitchen is nowhere to be seen! Laura included Thai Street Food instead. Gee, I wonder how Mary Nguyen, the owner of Street Kitchen, feels about that! Which one is it? Street Kitchen or Thai Street Food? I also don't get why a three week old restaurant such as Trilluim is on this list. So 300 restaurants opened in Denver this year and you pick a restaurant that JUST opened? I've eaten at Trillium and it's great, but a place that's this new shouldn't even be considered. No credible restaurant critic anywhere would include a restaurant that's this new. But then again your professionalism and reviews leave a lot to be desired. So does this list. 

But first, we're unveiling our list of the best new restaurants that opened in 2011. Here they are, in no particular order:CoohillsLingerTrilliumTAG|RAW BARPizzeria LocaleRow 14 Cafe|BarCrimson CanaryLe Grand Bistro and Oyster BarStreet Kitchen Asian Bistro

calhounp
calhounp

blame me for this mix-up, not laura shunk. Thai Street Food is the correct name on the ten best list. As for the inclusion of Trillium, in compiling this list, Laura used the rule we always use for Best of Denver: To be considered in the Best New Restaurant category in the issue that will come out at the end of March, the restaurant must have opened by the end of December. So while this Best New Restaurants list is a snapshot of the action this year, we know that some of these restaurants will improve over the next three months...and some will not.

Laura will be visiting all of those restaurants again in the next few months, as well as others that opened in 2011, while doing her Best of dining duty. If you have other nominees for best new restaurant, please post it in the comments section.

Doughboy
Doughboy

How about Charcoal?  I've been to Coohills, District Meats, Crimson Canary and CafeBar and it far surpasses them all.   Not including them in the best openings is a travesty.

MJR
MJR

Great list- definitely on board and would venture to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Linger- and am truly addicted to the steamed duck buns. Also enjoyed Pizzeria Locale, and was saddened to see that commenter below disagreed.

Sugarsugarshack
Sugarsugarshack

How about the new District Meats and Wazee Pizza place next door ?Food and space are awesome.

Jenny
Jenny

I'd have to agree with most of the list...but totally disagree when it comes to pizzeria locale. As a foodie, with lots of choices for pizza in boulder, I won't be going back to locale. The service is slow, the wait staff is surly and the pizza is horrible. Burnt and soggy at the same time? And triple the price of better places? No thanks. I gave it a few tries and that's enough!

katrina black
katrina black

you obviously don't understand what napoletana style pizza is....

Billy
Billy

Close by in Nederland Co. The Savory Cafe.  with Chef Josh Taillon..Worth the ride

Christopher Cina
Christopher Cina

Maybe I'm biased, but leaving out Bittersweet is a huge oversight.

And not that it isn't going to be a good place, I'm looking forward to eating there, but how does a three week old Trillium make this list? Just curious...

calhounp
calhounp

Bittersweet opened -- just barely -- in 2010, so was not eligible for this list.

Diamond Dave
Diamond Dave

no Twelve????

Wreckingball
Wreckingball

twelve restaurant has been open for three years. It may not be "best new," but it's certainly among the "best."

MJR
MJR

I think Twelve has been on the scene for a bit longer... but agreed. A great spot- simple yet powerful cuisine. Just not technically 'new'.

l.s.
l.s.

i'm sorry, but the crimson canary is not even "good" let alone "best" 

Tristan Toney
Tristan Toney

Umm... I've been to the canary a number of times, and have had nothing but awesome experiences. The food is great and the service is impeccable. Don't know what l.s. is talking about.

Diane Zimmer
Diane Zimmer

You're an idiot who has to hide behind anonymous posts. Crimson Canary totally rocks - you're just mad that you're not cool enough to hang there.  

Joey B
Joey B

Agree on Ambria, that definitely was one of my faves.

EBaron
EBaron

Thai Street Food is awesome except for the fact that they are only open on Saturday's and that the only Killoran works in the kitchen which means that she is always, always in the weeds. My hope for 2012 is that she can hire a few hands to work in her kitchen and maybe she can stay open at least 2 days a week. 

me eat food downtown  yum
me eat food downtown yum

No Ambria? Enjoyed that more then Coohills. Hit both in the first couple weeks open though. Ambria gets better Yelp ratings

Barrfly2
Barrfly2

fuck Yelp! They are scammers.

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