In a time of such unprecedented struggle in the hospitality sector, naming any “best restaurants” can be tricky, if not altogether beside the point.
But The New York Times on Tuesday made its attempt at a national “Restaurant List” for 2021 — during a year when many dining establishments have shuttered from the immediate effects of the pandemic, and many others have faced crippling staffing shortages that underscore a larger reckoning with the whole labor system.
The Times’ 50-restaurant list is meant to guide diners as they explore restaurants again after 19 months of closures and restrictions in place, it says. The list includes American classics and newcomers alike, and represents the “rich mosaic” of dining across the country now, showcasing the places that editors and dispatchers are most excited about.
Two Colorado restaurants, very different in their styles and approach, made the cut.
In Boulder, Frasca Food and Wine has been perfecting its culinary game for 17 years and counting, which is an eternity in the restaurant world. That’s especially true considering the accolades Frasca has received along the way.
Over the past 19 months of the pandemic, Frasca’s ownership switched gears to become a leader in the national independent restaurant community, fighting for government legislation and aid for small businesses. But beyond this recent work, the owners, sommeliers and chefs here have also stayed true to their original mission of translating a tiny Italian regional cuisine from Fruili-Venezia Giulia to an even tinier town in Colorado.
According to The Times, “On a recent summer tasting menu, a crudi misti with cucumber and buttermilk (pictured) elegantly balanced tang and freshness, while a meticulously constructed cjalson pasta was filled with a silky mixture of beet and smoked ricotta. The Rockies are a long way from Trieste, but the flavors here make the journey beautifully.” frascafoodandwine.com
And in Denver, Comal Heritage Food Incubator is just about to celebrate its fifth year in business (with a party on Friday evening) as it receives this New York Times nod. The restaurant serves a higher purpose than just providing international food in Five Points. It is a training ground for immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs from Denver’s Globeville and Elyria-Swansea community, helping workers learn the skills to start their own food businesses eventually.
During the pandemic, the team also galvanized and prepared soups for families and customers from its neighborhood and delivered meals for the larger Denver Metro Emergency Food Network.
Meanwhile, during its day-to-day, Comal still prepares an exceptional array of international dishes that represent its diverse team at any given time, and serves lunch plates throughout the week in a sunny dining room with community seating.
“Syrian, Ethiopian, Salvadoran and Mexican food have all made appearances,” The Times writes of the incubator’s daily rotating lunch menus. “But the hope is always that you will get the food at another restaurant, eventually. So far, at least seven women have gone on to start their own businesses.” comaldenver.com
You can check out the full, interactive list of 50 exciting restaurants across the country on nytimes.com.
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