Gourmet gulch

In Governor's Park, enjoy some of Denver's best restaurants
Lori Midson

The epicenter of Denver's neighborhood restaurant scene has shifted once again. Stately, tree-lined Governor's Park ― located just minutes from downtown Denver ― is home to 5 of the top 10 restaurants in the city, and may soon be home to a half-dozen. The much-anticipated Table 6 (609 Corona St.; 303/831-8800) , an American bistro, was scheduled to open in April under chef Aaron Whitcomb, former sous chef at Adega Restaurant + Wine Bar.

Open only for dinner, these establishments ― Denver's crème de la crème ― have menus with enough variety to appease nearly every palate. Reservations are essential.

Clair de Lune. This stamp-size French-Mediterranean bistro with deep impressionist blue walls has only eight tables, but it's big enough for chef-proprietor Sean Kelly, whose earthy but vibrant menu changes according to what's fresh. Recent offerings have yielded pan-roasted grouper with French lentils and pan-seared duck breast served with green-olive tapenade. The plateau de fruits de mer showcases a bevy of sea jewels ― lobster, clams, shrimp, and oysters ― that taste as though they've just been plucked from the sea. Two seats at the bustling chef's counter offer a voyeur's view into Kelly's tiny kitchen. $$$$; closed Sun-Mon. 1313 E. Sixth Ave.; 303/831-1992 .

Emma's. Proving that it can keep up with its newer and trendier neighbors, this 4-year-old restaurant ― located in a charming Victorian house nostalgic with antiques ― continues to churn out some of Denver's best dishes, thanks to Brian Sack, a practiced chef whose hearty seasonal menu redefines comfort food. Recent offerings have included smoked wild-boar pâté, oven-roasted poussin (young chicken) with butternut squash puree, and Australian lamb chops plated with black-truffle mashed potatoes. $$$; closed Sun-Mon. 603 E. Sixth; 720/377-3662 .

Luca d'Italia. Open just a year, chef-owner Frank Bonanno's second restaurant in Governor's Park speaks pure Italian in its house-cured meats, fresh pasta dough, and blimps of smoked fresh mozzarella. Locals fancy the pappardelle pasta swathed in a wild-boar ragout or the rabbit done three ways: grilled, braised, and cooked confit-style. The interior, done up in bold reds and oranges, showcases striking artwork, while the jester-theme bar houses stools for solo dining. $$$; closed Sun-Mon. 711 Grant St.; 303/832-6600 .

Mizuna. Frank Bonanno lit Mizuna's burners three years ago, and patrons have kept coming back for the high-style flavor combinations: decadent mascarpone macaroni and cheese mingling with sweet lobster meat; chenille-soft foie gras; and desserts such as hazelnut pound cake and vanilla bean pot de crème. The quaint, mustard-hued dining rooms are supported by a small exhibition-style kitchen and superb service. $$$$; closed Sun-Mon. 225 E. Seventh Ave.; 303/832-4778 .

Vega. A subtle brick façade belies this restaurant's stylish interior ― a mix of flax linens, polished cutlery, dark wood, and a muted color palette. Chef-owner Sean Yontz turns out Latin-influenced fare such as pork tenderloin set off with house-made chorizo and roasted Anaheim pepper posole. Don't miss the veal albóndigas, open raviolis blanketed with meatballs and showered with manchego cheese and white truffle. For dessert, the tamarind-sauce crème brûlée will appeal to your inner child ― it's served with a side of fluffy cotton candy. $$$; closed Sun-Mon. 410 E. Seventh; 303/832-6614.