13 Colorado Chefs and Restaurants Named James Beard Semifinalists
The James Beard Awards shines a spotlight on Colorado’s top-notch restaurant scene with 13 chefs and restaurants making the cut.
Featured image: Robata / lamb neck, sweet soy, pickle from The Wolf’s Tailor. Image courtesy The Wolf’s Tailor.
The James Beard Awards, often referred to as the Oscars of the food world, have once again placed the spotlight on Colorado’s top-notch restaurant scene. The foundation recently announced its 2023 semifinalists, and 13 Colorado chefs and restaurants made the cut. It’s a testament to the high caliber of our culinary landscape—and it gives us even more reason to celebrate it.
Not that we’ve been lacking reasons. The chefs and restaurateurs on the list can’t stop, won’t stop—they keep doing what they do best and adding even more to their plates. Here in Denver, DiningOut Tastemaker Cindhura Reddy of Spuntino is up for Best Chef: Mountain, as is Jose Avila of La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal; BRUTØ’s Michael Diaz de Leon; and Penelope Wong of Yuan Wonton. Bobby Stuckey‘s Sunday Vinyl is up for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program—and we love that place. We love all these places, they all deserve the attention and accolades, we love dining out because of them and the chefs and restauranteurs like them. But what’s blowing our mind right now is that of the 13 Colorado chefs that advanced to the semifinalist round, three of them have been in the news in the last two weeks for brand-new concepts—as if they didn’t already have enough on their plates.
Bo Porytko, who’s up for Emerging Chef, was nominated for his Misfit Snack Bar concept, a closet-sized walk-up kitchen inside the Middleman cocktail bar that serves outlandish takes on bar food fare. Think: fried chicken with bacon cornbread and calabrian chili honey, reuben-style corn dogs, pastrami tacos with chicken-liver mousse. Portyko changes the menu on a whim and does so often, but there is one juicy mainstay. The chef calls it My Fucking Burger, and the menu description reads ”there are many like it but this one’s mine”). Everyone who tries it calls it f*ckin’ delicious.
On Jan. 18, Porytko welcomed the first diners to his latest concept, Molotov Kitschen + Cocktails, an eastern European eatery in the former home of To the Wind at 3333 East Colfax Avenue. Portytko earned a Denver foodie following at Rebel Restaurant, where inventive dishes that flowed from his kitchen over the restaurant’s three-year run out of a former biker bar at the eastern edge of RiNo. At Molotov, the menu is an ode to the chef’s Ukranian heritage, and the family-style dishes center on traditional cuisine from Ukraine, Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and Georgia. If you go, expect menu items like patychky, a Ukrainian meat on a stick, and spelt pelmeni, which are small dumplings filled with smoked pork pate and topped with tarragon bearnaise and candied shallots.
The day after Molotov’s first dinner seating, another James Beard semifinalist in Denver opened his new spot. Outstanding Restaurateur contender Kelly Whitaker, whose Id Est Hospitality is behind The Wolf’s Tailor, Basta, and BRUTØ, debuted Hey Kiddo in the boutique Asher Hotel on Tennyson on Jan. 19—and it’s already the buzziest new restaurant in town. Whitaker partnered with San Francisco chef Deuki Hong on the cocktail-forward concept, and Hong’s influence is felt in standout dishes like Korean fried chicken and shaken chef rice, the shaking of which is done tableside. Hey Kiddo’s 16-seat cocktail lounge, hidden in the back of the dining room, is its own concept, and it’s called Ok Yeah. That’s the phrase you’ll hear from talented bartenders after you tell them what kind of drink you’re in the mood for rather than what you want to order off the menu. Ok Yeah doesn’t have one.
Two days ago, the outstanding chef who’s up for Outstanding Chef, Dana Rodriguez (Super Mega Bien, Work & Class, Cantina Loca, plus a tequila and mezcal brand Doña Loca) was in the news for her high-profile role as the executive chef and culinary director of Casa Bonita. The iconic location is set to celebrate its grand reopening in May under new ownership, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And they’re gonna need a lot of people to help run the place. More than a lot—550 people, in fact, according to an announcement made on Thursday. Casa Bonita is now hiring, and, yes, cliff divers need do apply. Servers, bartenders, cashiers, security guards, managers, entertainers, cooks, assistants, and dishwashers, too.
Rodriguez told the Denver Post she needs 150 people to operate her kitchen in the Casa. While details about what that kitchen’s gonna be cooking up are still under wraps, Rodriguez has confirmed that the menu will have a lot of similar and familiar items from the original Casa Bonita, where the food was notoriously bad but the sopapillas were sometimes really good. And with Rodriguez leading the culinary brigade at the reincarnated pink palace, the food at Casa Bonita 2.0 is going to be so very damn good, it’ll keep us coming back for more.
Finalists for the 2023 James Beard Awards will be revealed on Wednesday, March 29. Winners will be announced at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on Monday, June 5, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Here’s the complete list of semifinalists from Colorado:
Kelly Whitaker, Id Est Hospitality Group (Basta, The Wolf’s Tailor and BRUTØ), Boulder, CO
Josh Niernberg, Bin 707 Foodbar, Grand Junction, CO
Dana Rodriguez, Super Mega Bien, Denver, CO
Bo Porytko, Misfit SnackBar, Denver, CO
Best New Restaurant
The Friar’s Fork, Alamosa, CO
Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker
Ismael de Sousa, Reunion Bread Co, Denver, CO
Pêche., Palisade, CO
Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program
Sunday Vinyl, Denver, CO
Best Chef: Mountain
Jose Avila, La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, Denver, CO
Michael Diaz de Leon, BRUTØ, Denver, CO
C. Barclay Dodge, Bosq, Aspen, CO
Cindhura Reddy, Spuntino, Denver, CO
Penelope Wong, Yuan Wonton, Denver, CO
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