How to Get the Best Mile-High Fare According to a Denver Chef
Paul Reilly shares his favorite spotsLeah Koenig
June 14, 2019
Chef Paul Reilly has made a name for himself with his delicious and sustainable (yet delightfully laid-back) cooking at his three Denver-based restaurants—the seasonal American eatery Beast + Bottle, the Italian-inspired Coperta, and its pie-slinging sister, Pizzeria Coperta. As a diner, the Chefs Boot Camp alum looks for the same qualities in the restaurants he visits: great food with a minimum of pretense. Fortunately, from Parisian-style sandwich shops to throwdown-worthy sushi, Denver delivers on both fronts. This summer Beast + Bottle will co-host three al fresco dinners at local farms, featuring the growers’ produce and cheeses on the menu. “They are basically going to be family-style harvest parties in the field,” Reilly said. “They are a highlight of our summer.” Reilly took some time out of the al fresco planning and prep to gush about his own favorite places to dine in Denver.
I live in Lakewood, about 25 minutes from Denver. We are slightly starved in the suburbs, but I do love this family-owned Italian place called Cafe Jordano. It’s got garlic bread, red sauce, large portions—it is just lots of fun. I grew up in the tri-state area [New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey], and this place hits a chord of comforting Italian food. I usually order the penne alla zingara which has olives, mushrooms, peppers, and a spicy tomato sauce.
Another great place that is halfway between my house and Denver is the Vietnamese bakery, Vinh Xuong. They make absolutely delicious, affordable banh mi with bread that is that perfect combination of chewy-meets-crusty. If I stop there on the way to work, I’ll pick up a sandwich for myself and another for the staff.
One of my favorites in the city is Marczyk Fine Foods, which is directly across the street from Beast + Bottle. In the summers they have a neighborhood burger night right outside of the store, and I swear it’s the best burger in the city. They have a legit butcher shop inside and they use the trim from the shop in their burgers. The whole neighborhood shows up—it is a real sign of summertime in Denver.
For pizza, there is this place in the Colorado foothills called Crosscut that has really delicious Neapolitan-style pizza and an amazing craft beer list. My brother-in-law has been telling me to check it out for forever. We finally went and now I can’t it out of my head! I got a wonderful fontina and local mushroom pizza. I own a pizza restaurant so I eat my share of pizza, and I’m still craving it!
I also love Vert Kitchen, which is set up like a Parisian sandwich shop and has the casual but elegant vibe that reminds me of being in Europe. I love their house-roasted turkey with fig jam sandwich and the tortilla Española. But my favorite is actually the vegan option, which has a rich white bean spread and roasted seasonal vegetables.
Jax Fish House is a Denver institution. They go out of their way to get the best, responsibly sourced seafood and do a great job of hitting on Denver’s casual vibe while still being completely professional with their cooking. I like to get the peel-and-eat shrimp, which is served with a Creole mustard sauce. I was in there a couple of weeks ago and just thought, “I don’t come here enough.”
When out-of-towners visit, I take them to Mercantile Dining and Provision in Union Station. It is a gem of a restaurant. They change the menu a lot, but the housemade pastas are always great, as is the beef tartare. I also love their provisions board of cured meats and local cheeses. They especially nail the pickles, which they make in-house. You can really show off the best of Denver there.
And for grandiose, throwdown sushi in Denver, there is Sushi Den, which is owned by two brothers from Japan. The textures and quality of their fish blow me away every time I go. Truth be told, I had never been there until last year. People were like, “What is wrong with you?” I finally went and felt like I had never eaten sushi before. It is that good.
Paul Reilly’s Denver Dining Guide
Beast + Bottle (Seasonal American)
719 E 17th Ave; 303-623-3223
Cafe Jordano (Italian)
11068 W Jewell Ave Ste C9, Lakewood; 303-988-6863
400 E 20th Ave; 720-749-4666
Crosscut Pizzeria and Taphouse (Woodfired Pizza, Craft Beer)
4 E 1st St, Nederland; 303-258-3519
Jax Fish House (Seafood)
1539 17th St; 303-292-5767
Marczyk Fine Foods (Deli, Gourmet Grocery)
770 E. 17th Ave; 303-894-9499
Mercantile Dining and Provision (Seasonal American, Gourmet Grocery)
1701 Wynkoop St #155; 720-460-3733
Pizzeria Coperta (Roman-style Pizza)
Sushi Den (Sushi)
1487 S Pearl St; 303-777-0826
Vert Kitchen (French, Sandwiches)
704 S Pearl St; 303-997-5941
Vinh Xuong Bakery (Vietnamese)
375 S Federal Blvd; 303-922-4968
Leah Koenig is a food writer, author of several cookbooks including Modern Jewish Cooking (Chronicle Books), and cooking instructor living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram at @leah.koenig.