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Top of the Town in Cherry Creek

A history of shopping, dining, and adventure in one of Denver's historic neighborhoods

A view of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival

A view of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival

Though we currently know Cherry Creek as a business, shopping, and dining hub, it wasn’t always this way. Early in the 20th century, the area was its own municipality, dotted with small farms and greenhouses. Spurred by the newfound accessibility afforded by the automobile, Denver architect Temple Buell bought a large parcel of land in Cherry Creek in the 1920s and began developing the area’s first shopping center. By 1950, the growing neighborhood saw a Sears Roebuck, alongside several smaller stores.

By this time, the retail attractions of Cherry Creek had begun bringing in folks who wanted to live nearby. Some 60 years after Cherry Creek’s “shopping district” persona blossomed, Denverites are witnessing ever more development and innovation in the area. Heralding a new chapter for the neighborhood, the 250 Columbine condos will soon be opening to the public, while we watch iconic mainstays—like Sears—depart to make room for 2016 marvels. Amid all of this development, we enjoy watching new restaurants emerge and old ones continue to offer world-class fare. If you’re new to Cherry Creek or if you know it like the back of your hand, peruse these culinary offerings and rediscover the age-old destination of Denver shopping and dining.

Elway's Tartare

Elway’s Tartare

Elway’s Cherry Creek {2500 East First Avenue #101, Denver; 303.399.5353}
Though there are numerous dining options—always in flux—scattered throughout Cherry Creek, Elway’s has served as an anchor here for more than a decade. As the story goes, famed Broncos quarterback John Elway teamed up with longtime friend Tim Schmidt in 2004 to build a restaurant where guests could “celebrate life’s victories.” With rich woods, new leather, and rough-hewn stone shaping a fine-dining atmosphere at their first location, guests have enjoyed world-class food and drink in a setting that manages to be both comfortable and upscale. Still, this isn’t a spot that has ever been exclusive or prohibitively expensive.

As is fitting for Colorado and our environmentally conscious mentality, the menu is seasonally driven, responsibly sourced, and rooted in what many have called “Colorado cuisine”—encompassing aged USDA Prime beef, classic steakhouse features like Shrimp Cocktail, and global flavors showcased in the likes of Mediterranean Salad, Prime Beef Enchiladas, and Veal Schnitzel. The bounty of the sea is front and center on the menu, too, showing guests that our landlocked state is no longer limited to turf cooking. The wine list and cocktail offerings give connoisseurs and novices alike plenty to enjoy from around the globe, guided by a staff that is both educated on the finer points of mixology and enology, and passionate about its execution.

All of this is subtly—but masterfully—accented by live music, courtesy of the restaurant’s baby grand piano, and the warming buzz of conversation. This is a place that has, for more than 10 years, been where Denverites congregate and unwind, where memories are made and flavors discovered. With such success, we’ve seen other locations emerge—in downtown Denver, Vail, and DIA. Each has a unique personality, but carries forward the Elway’s mantra: “To always be adventurous, fun, and alive.” With such pure passion, we’re expecting several more decades of the iconic restaurant to come. elways.com

Cucina Colore {3041 East Third Avenue, Denver; 303.393.6917}
Another longstanding Cherry Creek destination is Cucina Colore—a modern and chic Italian restaurant with a bold sense of creativity. Two decades of development in the area have not displaced the popular Italian spot, though Owner Venanzio Momo did opt for a renovation in mid-2015. These days, the restaurant sports a lively island bar, a sought-after wrap-around patio, and an additional 1,100 square feet of seating for devotees who have docked to the restaurant for years to enjoy wood- red pizzas, pasta, and an affordable mix of seafood and meat entrées.

Naturally, the culinary inspiration comes from Italy, but there is a modern interpretation to the cuisine that allows for some whimsy—like in the Fusilli Arrabbiata, which is unusually accented with jalapeños. But Momo makes a point to ground the menu in classic flavors and traditional preparations, so guests will always and pizzas like the Margherita (plum tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil) and main dishes like Veal Scaloppine (with portobello mushrooms, polenta, arugula, roasted garlic, and balsamic reduction) docking the menu.

The wine list, not surprisingly, leans on both whites and reds from the Old World but balances sometimes-complicated Italian vintages with accessible California bottles. If you make it to dessert, there’s no question what to order: Peach Bread Pudding. It’s not a traditional Italian dessert by any stretch, but you’d be hard-put to find anything quite as delicious. The best part of Cucina Colore, though, is the conviviality and neighborhood vibe; this is the place where locals amble for a light lunch, a glass of wine at happy hour, or an impromptu dinner with the kids. It’s hard to imagine Cherry Creek without it. cucinacolore.com

Osaka Ramen

Osaka Ramen

Osaka Ramen {2817 East Third Avenue, Denver; 303.524.9229}
Jeff Osaka has rubbed elbows with true masters in the culinary world, including Chefs Bradley Ogden and Wolfgang Puck. These experiences early in his career gave him a taste for true market-to-table cooking, not to mention a passion for creative fusion. Denverites knew him first for his smashing restaurant, twelve (n0w closed), but the seasoned vet has most recently wowed us with Osaka Ramen. In Chef Osaka’s words, Osaka Ramen is “a traditional and non-traditional ramen shop,” that offers treats we all love like blistered Shishito Peppers. But that’s just the beginning, as inventive starters like the shoestring Okonomiyaki Fries with yaki sauce, bonito flakes, and furikake showcase Osaka’s creative side. And whether you’re a traditionalist or not, you must order a bowl of noodles brimming with chicken, vegetables, and soft-boiled eggs. Devotees know that the capstone of the meal comes at dessert with My Wife’s Mochi Doughnuts are served, while new initiates will wonder how they ever lived without them. osakaramendenver.com

Thirsty Lion {Second Avenue and Columbine in Cherry Creek}
Though not yet open, Portland-based chain Thirsty Lion will become a fixture of the Cherry Creek neighborhood by mid-2016. Already a popular stop at Union Station, the gastropub will pour local beers and serve up classic gourmet pub fare at the corner of Second Avenue and Columbine. Why Cherry Creek for its next Denver location? “With all of the commercial and residential development in Cherry Creek, I think it’s safe to say that Thirsty Lion is moving into this exciting neighborhood at just the right time,” says Thirsty Lion CEO John Plew. We already know we love the Colorado-heavy draft list at Union Station (that’s 52 beers on tap, by the way), and we’re excited to have more of those brick-oven pizzas and mouthwatering burgers in another Denver ‘hood. thirstyliongastropub.com

Blue Island Oyster Bar

Blue Island Oyster Bar

Blue Island Oyster Bar {2625 East Second Avenue, Denver; 303.333.2462}
A recent masterpiece from Concept Restaurants (the same group that brought us Rialto, Ignite, and Humboldt, among other restaurants), Blue Island Oyster Bar is inspired by childhood memories of growing up in small coastal towns back east. Big smiles, the culinary prowess of Chef DJ Nagle, and a partnership with Blue Island Shell Fish Farms in Long Island deliver the best of the sea without unnecessary embellishment. Settle in for steamed clams and lobster rolls, classic Clam Chowder, and buttery-tender Crab Cakes. Beer, wine, bubbly, and cocktails round out the food menu, of course, while waves of wooden oars sweep above the dining room and an ocean-themed mural docks along the back wall, setting the perfect scene. Thank you for bringing the East Coast to Denver, Blue Island. blueislandoysterbar.com

Del Frisco’s Grille {100 St. Paul Street, Denver; 303.320.8529}
Who doesn’t know the illustrious name of Del Frisco’s? For those who haven’t explored the meaty side of the Mile High, the legendary Steakhouse has been a staple of Greenwood Village for some time, but only recently did its sister Grille concept open to the public in Cherry Creek. This upscale and casual spot is a go-to for comfort foods with a twist—like Cheesesteak Egg Rolls and Lollipop Chicken Wings. There’s even a Wagyu Corn Dog on the menu, which takes us back to childhood bliss. There’s plenty for adults to enjoy in the warm wood-lined dining room, too, including 300 worldly wines and an an eclectic array of creative cocktails. Come summer, guests can lounge alfresco and soak in the buzz of Cherry Creek life. We’re really loving having a Del Frisco’s closer to downtown—a concept that beckons for every occasion and price point. delfriscosgrille.com

Bad Daddy's

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar {240 Milwaukee Street, Denver; 303.377.3032}
The humble hamburger is elevated to super-star status at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar. Made with all-natural Angus beef, housemade dips, dressings, and sauces, these burgers are chef-driven creations. Naturally, burgers top the menu here—headlined, in our opinion, by the Bad Ass Burger, which sports a 10-ounce patty, housemade cheese, buttermilk fried bacon, and top-quality fixin’s. With a focus on simple, high-quality ingredients executed at a high level, Bad Daddy’s offers more than a hamburger. Boyd Hoback, CEO of Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar explains, “To fit everyone’s tastes, we have burgers that range from tuna to chicken and turkey to black bean, as well as the ability to build your own custom burger with different proteins, toppings and condiments.” Other sandwiches and build-your-options abound, but nothing’s too crazy—and that’s what we like. Keeping things simple and satisfying, a local line-up of Colorado craft beers graces the taps while fresh-squeezed cocktails are mixed behind the bar. Gaining traction with their location in Cherry Creek, this Lakewood-owned company has recently expanded their reach to six locations throughout the Denver area. baddaddysburgerbar.com

Machete Tequila + Tacos {2817 East Third Avenue, Denver; 303.333.1567}
Since 2011, Cherry Creek (and, really, all of Denver) has been enjoying the rich Mexican tacos and tequila of Machete. The key word here is “adventure,” and they’ve spent a lot of energy encouraging diners to eat and drink outside the box. Nothing really beats a marg alongside shrimp and scallop Ceviche during happy hour, but if you really want to dig in, then order a flight of tacos. Mix and match, but be sure to try at least one meat taco (like our fave, the Al Pastor with roasted Duroc pork and pineapple), one veggie taco (with a delicious mixture of eggplant, poblanos, zucchini, corn, and the like), and one seafood taco (like the inventive Fried Lobster Tail with smoked avocado). If you’re with a crowd, you can order 12 tacos for a at $42, but be sure you pair all that goodness with at least one of more than a dozen varieties of margaritas. For tequila connoisseurs, there are more than 40 labels to choose from, as well as a dozen mezcals. Needless to say, Machete has been bringing south-of-the-border fare to Cherry for some time—and will for a long time to come. machetedenver.com

SOL Cocina {250 Columbine Street, Denver}
A neighbor of the already beloved Blue Island Oyster Bar, Chef Deborah Schneider’s SOL Cocina is a massive project, encompassing 6,000 square feet inside and 1,100 square feet outside. The menu, which takes its cues from Baja, will be a refreshing taste of the Golden State, featuring fresh seafood, Mexican classics, and plenty of seasonal produce. Tacos of varying flavors dominate the menu, but you can also find a happy selection of inventive salads (like the Beet and Watermelon Salad with salted pepita brittle) and entrées (we really enjoy the Chipotle-Garlic Rib-Eye). Margaritas, one-of-a-kind cocktails, cervezas, and of course, tequilas provide the finishing touches on whatever Baja meal suits your fancy. Welcome to the neighborhood, SOL. solcocina.com

Barolo Grill's Agnolotti

Barolo Grill’s Agnolotti

Barolo Grill {3030 East Sixth Avenue, Denver; 303.393.1040}
For Denverites in the know, Cherry Creek would be nothing without beloved Barolo Grill. As Manager Morgan Wolfe explains, the restaurant’s concept—“handcrafted, modern Piemontese cuisine served by passionate professionals”— has attracted guests for more than two decades. And it’s no exclusive restaurant, either; much like Italian restaurants in the Old World, families are welcomed with warm smiles and open arms, while Italophiles can revel in handmade pastas and breads, Wine Spectator-caliber wines, and the rustic fare envisioned by founder Blair Taylor and current owner Ryan Fletter. To make that experience ever more authentic, the staff treks to Italy yearly to taste, smell, and learn all things Italian—then brings these experiences back to the restaurant as inspiration for new dishes, wine, and service. Speaking of, look forward to an inventive prix- xe menu on Valentine’s Day this coming year. And lest we forget, here’s another reason we love Barolo: community involvement. Every year, the restaurant participates in Dining Out for Life, donating a portion of profits to Project Angel Heart. How’s that for the best of pasta and passion? barologrilldenver.com