Why didn’t anyone tell me about Hillstone? Apparently, it’s “America’s favorite restaurant”

A look inside the favorite chain of food critics, chefs, restaurateurs and mothers.

Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

I’ve walked by the restaurant at 303 Josephine St. at least 10 times and never given it a single thought until recently.

This was a mistake.

I don’t spend much time in Cherry Creek and I generally assume that dining there is out of my price range, so I was surprised when fellow Denverite reporter Megan Arellano pitched the place to me.

The gist: She’d heard it’s an actually good chain restaurant — TGI Friday’s but way better because they nail the tables to the floor and whatnot.

Up for an investigation but still not totally sold, I dug up the Bon Appetit piece that piqued her interest and, man, I don’t think I’ve ever read such a glowing review of a restaurant. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the headline and teaser:

Welcome to Hillstone, America’s Favorite Restaurant

It’s never going to win a James Beard Award. Or try to wow you with its foam experiments or ingredients you’ve never heard of. But it is the best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America. And, oh yeah, Danny Meyer, David Chang, and Shaq all agree. Welcome to Hillstone.

My first question was, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told me about this place?” (You’re all fired.)  There are three locations in my former home, New York, and there are two in Denver. The other one here is called Cherry Creek Grill, and for some reason it’s only eight blocks from Hillstone.

There are 47 Hillstone restaurants in 12 states. They go by other names — most commonly Houston’s, but sometimes Bandera, R+D Kitchen, Honor Bar or something with a location tag, like Palm Beach Grill. And the reason they’re all so beloved is stupidly simple — it’s high-quality consistency.

Visit any of those 47 restaurants and you’re going to get the same experience. That’s also true of Burger King, but what’s not true of Burger King is that the food is going to be really good (don’t @ me).

I can confirm this because, obviously, I went to Denver’s Hillstone to see what the unbelievable fuss is about.

Inside Denver's Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Inside Denver's Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

It’s very dark inside Hillstone. That would bother me if it weren’t for the tiny little spotlight hanging above each table so you can see your food and each other just fine. It’s part of Hillstone’s well-calculated efforts to offer you a little seclusion in a big, crowded restaurant. The other piece of that: Almost every table is a booth.

The famous spinach and artichoke dip at Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

That’s the famous spinach and artichoke dip, which, according to Bon Appetit, we have Chicago to thank for. Regulars at the Chi-town Houston’s started ordering it with chips, and sour cream and salsa were eventually added, too. I didn’t think I needed those things together, and I was wrong.

The thai steak and noodle salad at Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

This is a deceptive pile of food. It is in fact a lot of food. Maybe I could have finished it if I hadn’t eaten spinach and artichoke dip first, but not eating the spinach and artichoke dip was never an option, so I took about half of this sweet-and-sour food pile home.

The ribs at Hillstone, 303 Josephine St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

These ribs were consumed in less than 10 minutes. I won’t name names. They were very good.

I can also confirm that, as I suspected before knowing anything about it, Hillstone is pricy. The spinach and artichoke dip is $13, the thai steak and noodle salad is $21 and the campfire barbecue ribs are $29. The cheapest entrée is $13 (if you count salads, which you could here) and the priciest is the $48 New York ribeye.

But the next time I’m up for that kind of dinner, I’d definitely consider going back. Or, more likely, when I need to find a place to eat in an unfamiliar city and have the time or energy to get recommendations, I’ll go to whatever version of Hillstone they might have there. I’m sold.