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The Way to Your Lover’s Heart Is Through Their Stomach

Here’s where to take your crush according to those really in the know—industry folks.

Though there’s one particular holiday in February that’s synonymous with date night, celebrating romance over a meal can happen any day. Whether it’s a traditional sit-down meal, an outdoor picnic, or an evening glass of wine, we asked a few couples in the restaurant industry for their recommendations for date night spots. And, of course, they apply to Valentine’s Day, too!

Elliot Strathmann and Cindura Reddy have been running Spuntino since 2014, curating a menu of specialty-crafted pastas and dishes with Southern Indian influences. They’ve gained local recognition though making a number of “Best Of” lists, and in 2021 Spuntino was one of ten national restaurants to cook for the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America event. 

Since much of Strathmann and Reddy’s energy is focused on Spuntino, they admit that it’s hard to find time to go out to dine at other restaurants — especially these last two years. But they offered some suggestions for special evenings out (or in).

CREDIT: Zach Parini, A piece of your heart or a piece of Pizzeria Lui’s pie? Tough choice.

Pizzeria Lui (Lakewood)

Though they’re still focused mostly on take out, we were delighted to hear they just started serving again on Tuesdays. This has long been our favorite low-key pizza date spot. The owner, Zach, is just the sort of understated perfectionist that we so appreciate—I’m not sure there’s even been a pizza cooked there that hasn’t been handled by him. Even if it makes for a back-at-home date beginning with a hot-from-the-oven slice or two as we get back in the car, everything they make is exceptional.”

St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop and Market (Denver)

Another less obvious choice, but when we’re looking for something different from our usual provisioning from Spuntino’s own pantry, we love building a picnic from all the lovely, delicious things that constantly rotate through St. Kilian’s cases. Especially if we can time it to take away the fresh baguettes they bring in from Babette’s a few times a week. Now if we could only convince our dogs to be better at sitting still long enough for a proper picnic…”

Misfit Snackbar (Denver)

While visits here may be less romantic-date and more catch-up time with one of our favorite Denver food-world buddies, Bo Porytko, his food is just ridiculously good and it always makes for a fantastic evening out.”

Restaurant Olivia (Denver)

While this was, we’re a bit sad to report, the only indoor dining experience we’ve had in the past two years in someone else’s restaurant, we had a lovely little dinner there this past summer. Something about enjoying several courses of lovingly made pasta coming from someone else’s kitchen seemed to set the perfect context for a proper night out for us. We can’t wait to go back.”

Amy and Dustin Barrett are another well-known chef couple in Denver. They started Tables in 2005 as a cozy, neighborhood sandwich spot and grew the restaurant into an upscale dinner concept while maintaining an ambiance of comfort and charm. This year, Tables is offering a four-course Valentine’s Day dinner for $95 per person. 

Amy says she and Dustin don’t leave their Park Hill bubble often. Their home, business, and daughter’s school are all in the neighborhood, as is their recommendation for an evening together. 

CREDIT: Claire Duncombe, Red wine makes the heart grow fonder at Neighbors Park Hill.

Neighbors Park Hill (Denver)

“I would say in the summer we really like to just shuffle down the street and grab a glass of wine at Neighbors Wine Bar patio.”

Thach Tran, executive chef at Ace Eat Serve and Dusty O’Connell, who bartends at Joy Hill, are engaged to be married. “It’s funny, both of the spots where we work are really great for dates,” O’Connell says. He highlights Ace Eat Serve’s casual atmosphere that alleviates the pressure of sitting across from someone and Joy Hill’s cozy, fireplace vibe that was designed in the style of ‘80s and ‘90s fern bars.

“For us personally, we always try to find something new and interesting whenever we have a date night,” O’Connell continues. “Finding a new spot that we like is our thing.”

CREDIT: Marla Keown, When you like to watch, Cattivella’s open kitchen is your spot.

Cattivella (Denver)

“When we go out as people in the industry, we like to be able to see what is happening behind the scenes. Cattivella has a huge chef’s counter and chef’s kitchen. You want to watch these people make their pasta and do their magic. We were very impressed by the service and the big dinner-party vibe.”

Snowl (Aurora)

“The Korean-style cafe has some really unique—I would say exotic—desserts. The highlight of the show is their snow bowl, which is almost like a snow cone but a little bit creamier. And the way it’s presented, it’s exactly the kind of thing you want to share on a hot summer night.”

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