Review: Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery Is a Quick Hit

Danielle Lirette
Forget the foil: At Chop Shop, entrees like this Indian-style chicken are plated on bamboo boards.
Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
4990 East Colfax Avenue

Meats are sizzling, tofu's frying, pots are clanging: It's game time, and the reality of a roomful of diners has hit Chop Shop hard. The chef has a word with someone on the line; she moves stations and the tempo picks up -- which is good, because a runner has been hovering nearby, waiting for the last few plates to appear so he can whisk them to their table. The kitchen action is everything you'd expect on a busy Thursday night; you just wouldn't expect it at a fast-casual place.

But Chop Shop, which opened this summer on a revitalizing stretch of East Colfax Avenue, is not your normal fast-casual -- at least not if your definition begins and ends with Chipotle.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Chop Shop

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Review: The District Makes a Course Correction

Danielle Lirette
The deep-fried peanut butter sandwich is the sweetest part of a meal at the District.
The District
1320 East 17th Avenue

I don't live in the district that is home to The District, the historic area in Uptown that inspired the restaurant's name. But I drive by often, so it's been easy to keep tabs on the place.

At the start of summer, I watched a short-but-sweet burst of construction next to Serioz Pizza (now the BSide), in a space that had long been vacant. Within six weeks -- an unheard-of time frame in an industry known for delays -- the District opened there, and people quickly began finding their way to the restaurant's patio on East 17th Avenue. As the weather grew warmer (and the Rockies grew colder), the patio seemed full more often than not, and even now, with heaters required to ward off the chill, it's not unusual to see people sitting outside.

I grew curious. What was it that drew people to this restaurant, this patio, in a neighborhood with no shortage of good places to eat?

See also: Behind the Scenes at The District

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Review: Stoic & Genuine Is a Keeper

Danielle Lirette
Crab-mango salad, adapted from Jennifer Jasinski's The Perfect Bite, at Stoic & Genuine.
Stoic & Genuine
1701 Wynkoop Street

Aside from the name, everything about Stoic & Genuine shouts seafood. In the raw bar, oysters and crab legs glisten on ice. Emerald-glass floats, salvaged from fishing nets, fill a case by the hostess stand. Light bounces off mirrored panels like moonlight on silvery water. Sand fencing wraps around the ceiling, and oversized shutters hang over the windows in front, the ones that would let in sea breezes and the squawking of gulls if we were near the ocean. But what, exactly, are those earth-toned shapes painted on upper sections of the walls?

As we sat at a banquette popping fried surf clams, sipping wine and watching the action in the open kitchen, we debated. Were they meant to be sand at low tide? Abstract coral? A rocky beach? Re-entering the small, narrow dining room after a trip to the loo, I finally understood: They were part of an octopus, with tentacled arms interrupted by twelve-foot windows. Sometimes you have to take a step back to see what's really going on -- and that's as true for this restaurant as it is for the wall art.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Stoic & Genuine

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Review: Gone Swishin' at Kobe An Shabu Shabu

Danielle Lirette
What's cooking? Shabu shabu at Kobe An Shabu Shabu.
Kobe An Shabu Shabu
3400 Osage Street

Somewhere along the line, cooking became a chore. For reasons best left to food historians and sociologists, the art of feeding ourselves has tumbled in popularity and now hovers just above taking out the trash on the list of most despised household tasks. But if the activity at Kobe An Shabu Shabu, a niche Japanese restaurant that opened in Highland this summer, is any indication, people will not only cook, but they'll pay good money to do so -- provided they're in a swanky space drinking plum wine with friends.

Owners Marco and Michelle Trujillo, who took over Kobe An in Lakewood from Michelle's mother a decade ago (that restaurant just closed in anticipation of a move to Cherry Creek), have been dreaming of opening a shabu shabu restaurant ever since. Since sushi and ramen have caught on in this town, they reasoned, why wouldn't shabu shabu work, too?

See also: Behind the Scenes at Kobe An Shabu Shabu

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Review: Far From Forgotten, Argyll Whisky Beer Is Better Than Ever in Uptown

Danielle Lirette
Argyll's Spot of Tea hits the spot. Check out more of what's on Argyll's menu.
Argyll Whisky Beer
1035 East 17th Avenue

Whiskey isn't my drink of choice, but it was the night I walked into Argyll Whisky Beer. Sure, it had been that kind of day. But I was also in that kind of place, with lights resembling gas lanterns, plaid carpeting and gray walls that took on a bluish tinge as night fell.

Across the sprawling restaurant, past the open kitchen and communal table with its sturdy, upholstered-back stools, a crowd filled the bar, drinking beer, watching games and celebrating the start of the weekend with the gusto of Thursday-night revelers.
Beyond them, in the wraparound atrium with views of 17th Avenue and Downing Street, people laughed and ate charcuterie against a blurry backdrop of red brake lights and white headlights. Those rooms, gutted and redone to remove any resemblance to Las Margaritas, which had previously occupied the space, felt lively and fun and very much like Denver. But in the back dining room, the quietest and most well-appointed of Argyll's spaces, I felt a world away -- which is where you sometimes want restaurants to take you.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Argyll Whisky Beer

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Review: At Fifty, Saucy Noodle Ristorante Feels Like an Old Friend

Danielle Lirette
Mamma's baked lasagna. See more of what's on Saucy Noodle's menu.
Saucy Noodle Ristorante
727 South University Boulevard

In August, just days after the owners of Lechuga's, one of Denver's oldtime Italian restaurants, sold their spot and retired, Saucy Noodle Ristorante celebrated a different kind of milestone: its fiftieth anniversary. Curious to see why the Noodle has survived when so many other red-sauce joints -- including Pagliacci's, Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli and Longo's Subway Tavern -- have gone dark, I went in search of some hot, hard facts to twirl around my fork.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Saucy Noodle Ristorante

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Review: LYFE Kitchen Has Good Intentions but Needs More

Danielle Lirette
Soup is good food: the corn chowder at LYFE Kitchen. Check out more of what's on LYFE's menu.
LYFE Kitchen
8505 Park Meadows Center Drive, Lone Tree

A meal at LYFE Kitchen isn't just supposed to fill you up; it's supposed to make you feel good. Founded three years ago in California by a pair of former McDonald's executives and an investment banker, this rapidly expanding chain, which entered the Denver market this summer with a location in the Park Meadows Shopping Center, takes wellness seriously. The restaurant shuns white flour, cream and butter, and doesn't have a fryer. It offers lengthy vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free menus, complimentary sparkling water, and recipes packed with superfoods, not sodium. Even the space is WELL-certified, signifying that requirements in a host of areas from air quality to lighting have been met.

See also: Behind the Scenes at LYFE Kitchen

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Review: Mayan Manjar Yucateco Is a Knockout

Danielle Lirette
The chicken panuchos hide a surprise layer of black beans. Check out more photos from Mayan Manjar Yucateco's menu.

Mayan Manjar Yucateco
5209 West Mississippi Avenue, Lakewood

The TV was on when I walked into Mayan Manjar Yucateco, a tiny restaurant that opened last spring in the former home of Maria Empanada. But all my attention was on the menu as I tried to decide if I wanted tamales, empanadas or the Yucatecan specialty called panuchos for lunch.

See also: A Closer Look at Mayan Manjar Yucateco

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Review: To the Wind Bistro Is a Breath of Fresh Air on East Colfax

Danielle Lirette
To the Wind Bistro coaxes escargots out of their shells.
To the Wind Bistro
3333 East Colfax Avenue

Professional kitchens are not nice places. Creative, explosive, energetic, yes. Nice? No. You know this if you've worked in one, or if you've read any of the rant-filled memoirs by people who have. In the latest offering in this genre, Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, Michael Gibney churns out this characterization of the common chef: "His temper is incendiary. Allowing something imperfect to reach his hands might set him off, and the shrapnel hits everybody when he blows."

But at To the Wind Bistro, a tiny spot that opened on East Colfax Avenue this spring, the only thing blowing is, literally, the wind, which has a way of sweeping through the place when diners duck in to avoid the stray evening storm. Here there's no shrapnel, no temper. Truth be told, there's not even a sous-chef. There are only two people in the kitchen, and if they talk to each other like they actually like each other, it's because they do.

See also: A Closer Look at To The Wind Bistro

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Review: Is The Kitchen Next Door Glendale the Next Big Thing?

Danielle Lirette
Sliders are some of the pub grub at The Kitchen Next Door Glendale.
The Kitchen Next Door Glendale
658 South Colorado Boulevard Boulevard

You know how forty is the new thirty, and green is the new black? In restaurant terms,
The Kitchen Next Door
is the new TGI Fridays.

If that sounds like a slur rather than a compliment, you're too young to remember the global chain in its early days, before endless $10 apps and outposts from Seoul to Sri Lanka. Describing what Fridays meant to the restaurant industry in 1973, a writer for Newsweek captured the phenomenon with this: "Police had to ring Friday's (as it quickly became known) with barricades to handle the nightly hordes of young singles. Hundreds of blatantly imitative emporiums soon opened their doors in scores of major cities -- and an industry was born."

See also: Behind the Scenes at The Kitchen Next Door Glendale

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