By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Best Salad Dressing
13160 E. Mississippi Ave., Aurora
An everyday Greek salad--mixed greens, feta and kalamatas--goes formal when dressed in this tuxedo of a vinaigrette. Chakib Marrakchi, owner/chef of Cafe Paprika, an eatery with a culinary emphasis on all things Mediterranean, created the spectacular raspberry-clogged balsamic vinegar condiment. Pour it on.
Best Vegetarian Menu
4720 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder
Like just about every other semivegetarian place around, Rudi's hasn't gone whole-hog into a meatless menu, but some of its best dishes will disappoint any carnivore. Pulling from an international cache of recipes, Rudi's serves up such delectables as yaki-soba, Japanese pan-fried noodles and vegetables in a soy-ginger sauce, and saag panir, an Indian curry with spinach and fried cheese in a coconut, onion, ginger and date mixture. Everything comes with Rudi's homemade breads and soup (hope you're there when the kitchen is making its killer gazpacho) as well as a tossed salad. Healthy doesn't have to hurt.
Readers' choice: Greens
Best Business Lunch
Sheraton Hotel, Denver Tech Center
For those who want to impress by going the healthy route, Compari's proffers salads--great, glorious meals of vegetables as crisp as new $1 bills and broiled, marinated meats. For those who want to impress by going the gourmet route, Compari's has complex carbohydrates that are offered in three-martini-lunch sizes as well as we're-just-touching-base half-sizes for half the price. And everything is served in the conservative, oh-so-tasteful dining room filled with discreet waitpersons and oozing enough class to keep the boss from really letting you have it.
Readers' choice: Zenith
Best Inexpensive Lunch That Feels Like a Splurge
560 S. Holly St.
Don't even look at the regular lunch menu. Each day, chef/owner Peter St. John gives you two ways to sample his eclectic kitchen talents for just $5.95, and that includes a nonalcoholic beverage. The soups are inspired, the elaborate entrees carry just the right touch of richness, and the atmosphere is casual/comfortable. And at that price, you can afford to splurge on St. John's light, creamy version of tiramisu or his dense chocolate cake.
Best Seafood Lunch
Cherry Crest Seafood Market and Restaurant
5909 S. University Blvd., Littleton
If you're truly out to lunch, you may as well go fishing. Figuratively, that is--and if it's fish you want, Cherry Crest is a reliable place to get it fresh without lifting a rod. No need to feel landlocked here--along with a selection of complete-meal specials, the busy Littleton restaurant also serves lighter midday fare--lobster rolls, seafood salads and smoked salmon on toast.
Best Dinner Under $5
2390 S. Colorado Blvd.
Filling and healthy to boot, Kokoro's big bowls contain only the best steamed vegetables, sliced, degreased U.S. Choice beef and charbroiled chicken. A particular standout: the beef curry bowl, with Kokoro's own blend of spices, along with onions, carrots, potatoes, apples and pineapples. The price is right, and the service quick.
Readers' choice: Taco Bell
Best Late-Night Meal
City Spirit Cafe
1434 Blake St.
It's funky, it's fun, it's for everyone. City Spirit serves food until 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. weekends to everyone from hippies to yuppies, young and old, true or wannabe. The one thing these disparate types have in common: a desire for reasonably priced, edible food with a bent toward the healthy. City Spirit's meatless pasta sauces and tofu-filled burritos are good anytime, but they're especially welcome at the end of a long, toxin-filled day.
Best Sure Bet in a Casino
Emily's Fine Dining Parlor
131 Main St., Central City
With its intimate, separate dining areas decorated in a Victorian-meets-the-Old West way, Emily's boasts something few tourist-trap eateries can: excellent food. Executive chef Scott Montgomery makes a mean batch of rich, we've-just-won-a-million sauces as well as healthy, nouvelle-style dishes for those who need cheering up after a hard day at the slots.
Best Place to Eat Bull's Testicles and Listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tommy's Corner Bar
5201 W. Mississippi Ave., Lakewood
When the Seventies started to come back real big, Tommy's was ready. After all, this restaurant never left them. A smoky, classic tracks-filled corner bar that serves, as the sign out front proclaims, "blue collar food," Tommy's is a shrine to cut-off Jordache jeans and skin-tight concert T-shirts. Most of the food is honest and dependable--hot turkey sandwiches with peppery gravy, great, greasy onion rings, spicy spaghetti with meatballs--but the real winners are the Rocky Mountain oysters. They arrive in a big pile, breaded and deep-fried, with cocktail sauce--we add the Bud. Now can someone push "Whipping Post" on the jukebox?
Best Unexpected Hot Dog Stand
Ray's Boathouse Stand-Up Restaurant
It figures that in Washington Park you'd be able to get upscale franks and Evian water to down under the trees during a pastoral sojourn. Ray's, run by the folks associated with Gaylord Street's yuppie stronghold, Reiver's, graciously serves park-goers in the shade of a restored boathouse. Pull up your bike and stop for a while.
Best Healthy Hot Dog
Six metro locations
Nitrates, shmitrates. A health nut's bark is always worse than a bite of Alfalfa's hot dog. The deli case offers three breeds of precooked dogs: Coleman's all-beef, Rocky's chicken dogs and Continental's Old-Fashioned pork and beef--no hormones, no antibiotics, no chemicals of any kind--and they're all delicious.