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THE 2024 JAMES BEARD AWARDS SEMIFINALISTS

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Semifinalists for a 'James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Mountain' are Erasmo Casiano and Diego Coconati, Lucina Eatery & Bar, Denver, CO.

Lucina chef and owner opening Uptown eatery inspired by Mexico City cuisine

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At chef Erasmo Casiano's newest restaurant, guests will be able to peer through a window and watch corn tortillas and tamales made fresh to order. “I want to help people appreciate why the tortilla and tamale are so important in Mexican cuisine,” Casiano said about the restaurant's Mexico City-inspired menu. Xiquita will serve Yucatan dishes, like Tikin Xic with kanpachi fish grilled over charcoal in a banana leaf and a side of corn tortillas. Xiquita's kitchen will use indigenous ingredients, like Hoja Santa (Mexican pepperleaf), epazote herbs and “every variation of masa you can think of,” Casiano said.

The Best Restaurants In Denver

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Lucina is a place where you can close your eyes, point to anything on the menu, and be wowed by whatever comes your way. Truly everything is delicious, and the fun energy in the dining room and menu of small plates make this spot perfect for a date or a catch-up with a friend.

Where Our Food Editors Are Eating Right Now, September 2022

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After four years of teaching Denverites how to make the creamiest risottos and perfectly sear steaks at Create Cooking School, co-owners Erasmo Casiano and Diego Coconati wanted to give diners a taste of their own culinary traditions. This past April, the duo expanded its offerings to include Lucina Eatery & Bar in Park Hill, where the menu is influenced by the flavors of Latin and South America, the Spanish coast, and the Caribbean islands. (Casiano's parents are from Mexico and Bolivia, and Coconati's are from Argentina and Puerto Rico.)

The 100 restaurants we can't live without in 2023

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In March 2022, Create Kitchen & Bar co-owners Erasmo 'Ras' Casiano and Diego Coconati opened this Latin eatery that specializes in the food the two were raised on — which includes dishes inspired by Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Miami. Named for Casiano's mother, the restaurant is a labor of love, with a bright and airy decor and a menu that includes an ever-changing paella available on Fridays and Saturdays.

Hot Spots: The Ten Best New Restaurants of 2022

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While the original plans called for Lucina opening in late December 2021, delays pushed its debut back to March — but it was well worth the wait. The vibrant Latin eatery pays homage to the food its owners grew up eating, with influences ranging from Mexico, Argentina and Peru to Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Miami. Don't miss the ever-changing paella, available on Fridays and Saturdays.

The 38 Essential Restaurants in Denver

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It's a nightly fiesta in here, thanks not least to a pan-Latin menu that's tailor-made for sharing with friends, with dishes like ropa vieja-stuffed empanadas and yuca frita with aji verde aioli to the mojo pork chop and weekend paella. But the vibe also points to the colorful, come-as-you-are culture cultivated by partners Erasmo Casiano, Diego Coconati, and Michelle Nguyen. Of course, the bar plays its part in the party too as it whips up kicky cocktails like the frozen, coconut- and passion fruit-infused Verano Vicios.

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How Lucina Eatery & Bar is Making Dining Out Fun Again

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Everything about the restaurant, from the bench seating and floral-wallpaper-adorned bar to the dishes that blend surprising combinations of flavors and textures, is a soulful celebration of these bold cultures. Dive into the unknown with the tlacoyo cochinita, a masa “boat” that holds kicky habanero-garlic crema and pork that's been slow-roasted overnight. Give the dish a squeeze of the quartered lime, rip off a chunk, and eat it with your hands. The presentation is intentional—this is the kind of restaurant where you're encouraged to play with your food. It's a messy bite, yes, but it's also tender and warm with spices such as Mexican cinnamon and achiote.

The 25 Best Restaurants in Denver 2023

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Erasmo Casiano and Diego Coconati originally planned to serve pastas and Burrata at Lucina Eatery & Bar. “We were hesitant to open a Latin American restaurant,” Casiano says. “The first edition of Lucina was going to be more Italian, as it's more approachable.” But encouragement from friends pushed the business partners to cook eats influenced by their own backgrounds instead.

- Ethan Pan and Patricia Kaowthumrong

Lucina Eatery & Bar

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Croquetas. Tlacoyos. Pupusas. Alcapurrias. Mofongo. It's almost as much fun to roll the words on the menu around your mouth as it is to actually eat the things they refer to. But not quite. Take that mofongo: a velvety mound of herbed mashed plantains accompanied by slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly edged with a golden-brown crust and dollops of zingy habanero crema. /.../ A staff who make you feel right at home from the moment you walk in the door. The hosts are genuinely welcoming, the servers as quick with easy banter as they are with explanations and recommendations—and the chefs themselves make the rounds regularly to check on their tables. You could almost forget you're a paying customer rather than a houseguest (but don't).