Colorado’s first-ever Michelin star restaurants are here

Denver’s Beckon, Brutø and The Wolf’s Tailor were each awarded a star.
7 min. read
Brutø, in LoDo. Sept. 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Five Colorado restaurants, three of which are in Denver, have reached one of the culinary world's greatest achievements.

Colorado's inaugural Michelin Guide was released Tuesday. The guide identifies top restaurants, bars and hotels in a specific region. It's the first time the French guide has been published in Colorado.

Each guide includes dozens of restaurants, but only a select few receive Michelin Stars -- a coveted stamp of approval. Restaurants can receive one, two, or three stars, depending on how Michelin inspectors judge the quality of cooking.

This year, five Colorado restaurants were each awarded one Michelin star. No two or three-star designations were awarded.

Here's a list of the winners, and a short comment from a Michelin inspector on each one.

  • Beckon (Denver, contemporary cuisine): "The multicourse contemporary tasting menu rotates quarterly (think harvest-themed in the fall). This kitchen offers far from typical dishes. Seared quail breast with a confit leg is spot on, especially when sided by creamed kale made with sunflower seeds and a quail reduction."
  • Bosq (Aspen, contemporary cuisine): "The menu format allows diners to customize their own tasting of four or more courses. From hand-picked spruce tips to butter from locally sourced cooperative dairy cows, this is a concept that pays attention to details."
  • Brutø (Denver, Mexican/contemporary cuisine): "The menu, which is Mexican at its core, has a clear narrative, and is perhaps best displayed in lamb prepared two ways -- as a street-style taco and ground lamb leg kushiyaki with a quenelle of mole chichilo."
  • Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder, Italian cuisine): "You'll find pasta and seafood on the prix fixe and tasting menus, but Slavic and Alpine elements also appear. Focused and distinct, the menu might showcase a lesser-known part of Italy, but the ingredients are clearly Coloradan."
  • The Wolf's Tailor (Denver, contemporary cuisine): "Although the menu shifts throughout the year to explore different themes, diners will find a common thread in cooking that highlights ingredients while displaying technical precision and harmonious flavors, with fermentation a frequent motif."

Chefs and their teams were recognized at a ceremony launching the guide Tuesday night attended by hundreds of restaurateurs and chefs, as well as tourist officials and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston. The famous Michelin mascot -- a white, puffy human-like being donning a blue sash was also in attendance.

When Michael Diaz de Leon, the head chef of Brutø, heard his restaurant's name announced on stage, he was elated. He threw his hands into the air and hugged anyone in sight. For him, it was a long journey to get the Michelin Star.

"I started as a dishwasher and seven years ago I was flipping burgers and making wings and now we're on the biggest stage in the world," he said after the ceremony. "And as a person of color, as a Latino, as a Mexican American, this is a dream come true, man."

Beckon, in the RiNo Art District in Five Points. Sept. 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

What else is in Colorado's inaugural Michelin Guide?

In addition to the five Michelin star awardees, the guide will also highlight four restaurants that are pioneers for sustainable practices. Since 2021, the guide has awarded Michelin green stars to these kinds of restaurants. A variety of work has been highlighted, ranging from reducing non-recyclable materials to working directly with local, non-corporate farms.

This year, four Colorado restaurants were highlighted.

  • Blackbelly Market (Boulder, American cuisine)
  • Bramble & Hare (Boulder, American cuisine)
  • Brutø (Denver, Mexican/Contemporary cuisine)
  • The Wolf's Tailor (Denver, Contemporary cuisine)
Members of Colorado's restaurant industry gather at Mission Ballroom to celebrate the launch of the state's first Michelin Guide. September 12, 2023.
Paolo Zialcita/CPR News

If luxury meals aren't your jam, the guide has also recognized nine restaurants with a "Bib Gourmand" designation. The title means they offer quality meals at relatively low prices. So, instead of paying hundreds of dollars for the eight-course meal you'd get at a starred restaurant, these restaurants can typically fill you up for under $50.

  • AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q (Denver, Barbecue)
  • Ash'Kara (Denver, Israeli cuisine)
  • Basta (Boulder, contemporary cuisine)
  • The Ginger Pig (Denver, Chinese cuisine)
  • Glo Noodle House (Denver, Ramen)
  • Hop Alley (Denver, Chinese cuisine)
  • La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal (Denver, Mexican cuisine)
  • Mister Oso (Denver, Latin American cuisine)
  • Tavernetta (Denver, Italian)

For Natascha Hess, chef and owner of The Ginger Pig, being named a Bib Gourmand restaurant was a shock. She and her team went from food truck to brick and mortar to now, named in the Michelin Guide.

"People think it's not a star but for us it's equivalent to that," Hess said. "For our price range we're in and the kind of restaurant we're in, we really take it like getting a star because its what we were eligible for," Hess said.

The guide also has a selection of hotels and restaurants that haven't won any particular award -- they're just being recognized for being unique and exciting to stay or dine in.

The Wolf's Tailor, in Sunnyside. Sept. 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

How are Michelin Stars awarded?

Each year, Michelin inspectors are sent across the region that a Michelin Guide is reviewing. Inspectors are famously anonymous -- but Michelin says all are former restaurant and hospitality workers who now travel the world sampling various cuisines.

Inspectors judge potential Michelin Star awardees by eating at potential winners multiple times throughout a year. Restaurants are not informed of their presence, to ensure fairness in Michelin's judging process.

While judging, the only thing that matters to the inspectors is the food on the plate.

"The style of a restaurant and its degree of formality or informality have no bearing whatsoever on the award," Michelin says on its website.

Inspectors base their judgments on five categories: "quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in the cuisine, harmony of flavors, and consistency between visits."

One star is awarded for top quality ingredients; two for a chef's talent and personality; three stars, the highest honor Michelin awards, are awarded for "superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession."

And while, yes, many Michelin Star restaurants are pricey (just look at Colorado's winners), there is no set expectation on how "fancy" a restaurant has to be to win a star. Previous Michelin Star winners include a street food stand in Singapore that sells chicken, rice and noodles for less than $2.50.

Colorado's Michelin Guide does have limitations that cut out some popular local spots, however. Michelin only looked for restaurants in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Boulder, Denver, Vail and Beaver Creek Resort. That limitation meant restaurants like the award-winning Annette in Aurora would not be considered eligible. Other major communities, like Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs, were also snubbed as a result of Michelin's selection scope.

The tourism boards of all the cities assessed by Michelin inspectors, and Colorado's statewide tourism board, contributed between $70,000 to $100,000 to incentivize Michelin to tour the state. Other local governments, including Aurora and Colorado Springs, declined to join that effort, according to the New York Times. Those payments are used by Michelin to help offset expenses, the company said.

For the five Colorado restaurants that earned Michelin Stars, the work to defend their award starts now. Michelin has taken stars away from restaurants if they feel "cooking at a restaurant is no longer at the same level that it was." That could happen at practically any time, and the chefs will need to stay true to form from here on out in order to retain their status.

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