I’m not going to argue semantics with the writer who deemed 25 restaurants in Denver and Boulder worthy of a slot on the list that will likely become the holy grail for a large population of Front Range diners who ask themselves where they’d like to go to dinner sometime in the next year. Every restaurant on that list is great, to be sure, and perusing the summaries while reflecting on my own experiences in those hallowed halls incites no small degree of excitement within my heart that this dining scene, long hurting, is finally rife with establishments making inventive and delicious food.
What I will say, though, is that this list left me, strangely, wanting. My very first thought upon eagerly skimming the entire article was, “Where’s Amu?” Amu, a Japanese country-food joint oft overlooked by sushi-hungry diners headed to the connected and co-owned Zanmai, is arguably the most underrated restaurant in the Boulder Valley. While Frasca may have turned Boulder on to beef tongue, Amu proved that the citizens of the Peoples’ Republic will, at least on occasion, eat fermented soybeans, but, being the unassuming little place that it is, Amu doesn’t like to brag about it.
Other things felt lacking, too. I would have ditched a trend-follower or two in that list for a place like Tom’s Home Cooking in Five Points, serving up damn good Southern comfort food Monday-Friday, 11 am until the food’s gone. Or I’d have given a nod to Heaven Star, a Chinese joint in Broomfield that houses the only good dim sum I’ve tasted in this part of the country. And Los Carboncitos, a brightly colored Mexican restaurant on 38th, also gets my patronage and vote over about 1/5 of the 5280 round up.
As I mentally scratched off the lesser restaurants and added my own eclectic recommendations, I finally put my finger on my real issue: the whole concept of the Top 25 list is restricting and useless when it comes to choosing a restaurant for dinner, unless that restaurant is being selected for a very specific type of dining. The restaurants called out here are similar in price-range, level of service, atmosphere, and even, by and large, kind of cuisine. That makes the list pretty one-dimensional and, for a lot of diners, useful about 4 times a year: birthdays, anniversaries, and a couple of special nights out.
It’s not that 5280 is particularly bad at making this list. Standards for a “good” restaurant, whether proliferated by a hometown food critic or the perfection-seeking people at Michelin, generally speak to a particular level of gastronomy and service. Even Frank Bruni, who in his tenure at the New York Times tried to rate restaurants for exactly what they were, never gave 4 stars to the arepa shacks and pho spots that serve up tasty food.
I sincerely hope that this Top 25 list doesn’t supplant the old dining issue, which called out “Best of” in a myriad of categories. That list still leaves me feeling untapped into all of the great restaurants below the popular surface, but at least it also gives me direction to a burger or a pizza when I’m not feeling the linen table cloth.