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FOOD & DRINK

Best Pancakes
Hot Cakes
1400 E. 18th Ave.

Hot Cakes stacks the deck for anyone who loves sweets. Try a double order of these fluffy, moist cakes with real whipped cream and chocolate chips--the restaurant will even throw in a bowl of chunky peanut butter if you're so inclined. Or go for the apple delight, a breakfast variation on apple pie, with cooked apples, cinnamon and almonds. Either way, we guarantee you'll waddle away.

Best Breakfast Burrito
Pete's Kitchen
1962 E. Colfax Ave.

One bite of Pete's burrito and you'll swear off those soggy, foil-wrapped torpedoes forever. A huge tortilla stuffed with egg and potato (meat and veggies optional) arrives at your table swimming in perfect green chile. What a way to start the day.

Best a la Carte Brunch
Le Central
112 E. 8th Ave.

At last, a real reason to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Plenty of places do the waffle-and-omelette buffet routine for brunch; at Le Central, though, they're worth ordering a la carte. The waffles are topped with fresh fruit and creme fraiche; the omelettes come stuffed with imported cheeses or seafood--or try your eggs poached on sauteed spinach and artichoke bottoms with bearnaise. Diners looking more toward lunch can go with fresh and smoked salmon over spinach fettuccine or pork tenderloin with a double mustard rosemary glaze. There's added incentive beyond the inventive menu: The prices are as good as you'll find anywhere, and you don't pay extra for Le Central's soothing, casual setting.

Best Place to Take Your Mom for Sunday Brunch
The Merritt House
941 E. 17th Ave.

Most mothers can't resist charm--and the Merritt House, a thriving bed-and-breakfast located in an old Denver mansion, has charm to spare. The main-floor restaurant, open to the public for breakfast and lunch, is a delightful doglegged room with tables set along a light and airy indoor porch. Mom will enjoy the homey service, vegetable-laden omelettes and tender blueberry muffins.

Best Brunch Buffet
Marina Landing
8101 E. Belleview Ave.

Ahoy, matey! Every day could well be a holiday at the nautically themed Marina Landing, which floats out its brunch buffet every day of the week ($6.95 weekdays, $9.95 Saturday and Sunday). The brunch features all the standards, including an excellent omelette station, eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles and biscuits and gravy. A fine assortment of pastries, fruits and salads round out the selection--and your waistline.

Readers' choice: Fresh Fish Co.

Best Unknown Breakfast Buffet
The Burnsley Hotel
1000 Grant St.

Just because you plan to eat like a pig doesn't mean you have to wallow in sty-like surroundings. Seven days a week, the Burnsley spreads out a $6 breakfast of granola, six kinds of fresh, expertly carved fresh fruit, assorted Danishes and muffins, eggs, crunchy hash browns, two cooked meats, coffee, tea and just-squeezed juices--all you can eat in their elegant, empty dining room. Meet the gang before work, fuel up for that big meeting or just enjoy a newspaper in silence. Try not to fall back to sleep.

Best Southwestern Brunch
Silverheels Southwest Grill
1122 Washington Ave., Golden

Don't be a greenhorn at Silverheels' Old West Sunday brunch--lay off the pile of fresh fruit with sweet honey-yogurt dip and the homemade cinnamon rolls they set out to satisfy your appetite. You want to save room for the black-bean cakes topped with poached eggs, potent chile and a peppery Monterey Jack cheese sauce. Or the grilled sea scallops and shrimp on pastry puffs with eggs and lobster sauce. If that sounds too fancy, try the chuckwagon breakfast: eggs your way with a side of buffalo sausage. Top it off with Silverheels' spicy Bloody Mary. This must be how the West was won.

Best Breakfast Caesar
Cherokee Bar and Grill
1201 Cherokee St.

Chewable adult vitamins: The Cherokee takes its classic Caesar--anchovy dressing and all--and tops it with hard-boiled egg slices, tomatoes and bacon strips for a surprising morning taste treat. At the same time you slap your tastebuds into full attention, you escape that bloated ate-out-for-breakfast feeling. Which means you'll have no problem coming back for the Cherokee's cheese-smothered burrito at lunch. Hey, you already ate your veggies.

Best Caesar Salad
Philippe's
120 Madison St.

We have come to praise, not be buried in rhetoric about what should or should not be thrown into this sadly misunderstood salad. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not named after some Roman general. Instead, credit Caesar Cardini, the Italian restaurateur who created it--not in Italy, either, but in Tijuana, which could account for why so many restaurants lose something in their translation of the recipe. It just so happens the best version we've found in town is made in a French restaurant: Philippe's sits firmly on the side of anchovies, makes the mess right in front of you and has the good sense to add lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic and Dijon.

Readers' choice: Josephina's

Best Salad Bar
Healthy Habits
Three metro locations

This is grazing at its finest: a myriad of salad fixings as well as pre-assembled versions. Add Healthy Habits' soup bar, pasta bar, pizza bar and baked-goods bar, and serious eaters can have a field day for one low price. Every salad-related item--seventy in all--is slappingly fresh, and included in the deal is a stop at the dessert bar, where the calorie-conscious can feel good with a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt and (we swear!) no-fat hot fudge. Readers' choice: Healthy Habits

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