5280 Magazine’s long-awaited, annual “25 Best Restaurants” issue is out now. It sends restaurants scurrying to see where they ranked (up? down? off?!) and diners making notes of “must-go” restaurants. This issue marks the last under the helm of Food Editor, Amanda Faison. As long-time fans of Faison’s writing, and of 5280 as a source of inspiration, our editor, Courtney Drake-McDonough, was especially happy to be able to ask Amanda a few questions before she departs.
In Good Taste Denver: From the perspective of your 20 years with 5280, what do you think about the ways the restaurant scene has changed in Colorado?
Amanda Faison: When I first arrived in Denver and signed on with the magazine, the dining scene was vastly different—it was much smaller, relatively nondescript, and almost entirely dominated by chains. Over that last two decades, Denver has grown into itself. The city has seen an influx of local, independent restaurants with strong, clear voices that help give Denver a sense of place. I think the local restaurant scene has begun to champion itself and demand attention. And, finally, the national media has begun to realize that there’s more to good food than just New York or San Francisco. There’s a lot of innovation happening in what are often referred to as second-tier cities—Austin, Portland, of course, and yes, Denver and Nashville and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Denver is right there. Look at what Steven Redzikowski has done with Acorn, Tommy Lee with Uncle and Hop Alley, and spots like Ohana, the little Hawaiian walk-up window that’s turning into a brick and mortar, and Globe Hall, Rosenberg’s, Denver Central Market, Avelina. We’re growing and evolving very quickly.
IGTD: Is there such a thing as a city being saturated with restaurants? Or a certain level of restaurant like too many fast-casual or too many high-end?
AF: There will certainly be some kind of correction, whether that’s wholesale or simply a shaking out of what’s good and what’s not. Not every restaurant is going to make it in this climate, and the ones that are aiming for middle and trying to please most everyone will likely be the first ones to go. I think one of the most exciting developments locally is the filling in of the scene’s backbone. Years ago food writer Ruth Tobias took restaurateurs to task on this. A healthy scene needs innovative and exciting restaurants to drive the scene forward and create buzz, but you also need the depth that comes from the thought-out bistros and well run neighborhood restaurants. Look at other cities and you see those spots—Zuni Kitchen (San Francisco), Balthazar (New York), Blackbird (Chicago)—still thriving, still filling with diners night after night. In Denver, restaurants like Coperta, Bar Dough, The Plimoth, Bistro Barbès, Barolo Grill, Table 6, and Beast & Bottle are critical to a healthy scene.
IGTD: From your unique perspective, what would your advice be to Denver’s restaurant owners (the established ones and new ones)?
AF: 1. Always, always, always make sure your address, phone number, and hours of operation are on your home page. 2. Make sure your website is easily navigated on a Smartphone.
IGTD: What are some of your favorite inexpensive “mom and pop,” “hole in the wall” restaurants – the ones that don’t normally get notoriety but are hidden treasures?
AF: I adore Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant (and the market next door); Tacos La Morenita for lengua tacos…or really anything folded into a tortilla; Arabesque in Boulder for beautiful Middle Eastern food (not a hole in the wall but truly lovely food and people); Vinh Xuong Bakery for banh mi.
IGTD: What has been your favorite part of your job all these years?
AF: I truly love talking to people and learning their personal stories, the stories (the passion, the frustration, the creativity, the reality) behind the restaurants, the stories of the dishes. Hands-down, discovering the root of the inspiration is my favorite part of the job.
IGTD: What are some of the dishes you’re going to hanker the most when you move and can’t pop in as frequently?
AF: I’m intent on making my way to Denver at least once a week to make sure I satiate any cravings. In the meantime, I’ve been making a list of all my must-have dishes in preparation of doing a blog post before I wrap up at 5280. A quick primer: I will dearly miss the congee at Onefold, Mercantile’s marinated cobia Nicoise salad, Cho77’s khao soi, Little Owl’s cortado, Sweet Action’s Thai tea ice cream, Saigon Bowl’s #49 (grilled pork with egg roll noodle bowl)…
IGTD: What are you going to be doing now?
AF: After many years of kicking the dream around, my husband and I made the leap and moved our family to the Keystone/Breckenridge area. For me, it feels like home (I grew up in Aspen and we’ve found ourselves spending more and more time in the mountains). I will continue to work with 5280 as a contributing editor and I will freelance for other publications. I will absolutely keep up with the Denver scene and I hope to tackle the big, important food and non-food stories that I simply didn’t have the time to do as the magazine’s food editor. I love Denver, I love food, and I will continue to be a part of both.