FOOD & DRINK

part 2 of 4

Best Outdoor Shmoozing
The Market
Larimer Square

In a town where pedestrians are the exception rather than the rule, it follows that there aren't many places offering casual sidewalk seating. The break in tradition continues to be the Market, in Larimer Square, which offers the urbane opportunity to see and be seen in an egalitarian setting. The Market's funky denizens vary from nose-ringed students to camera-toting tourists to chicly dressed store help--all there together on the pavement, watching shoppers, sightseers and the rest of the world pass by. Pull up a chair--you'll be entertained for hours.

Best Place to Watch Teen Vampires
Muddy's Java Cafe
2200 Champa St.

Teen angst is served alongside the coffee at Jack Kerouac's former hangout. It's a hoppin' spot for those who are old enough for caffeine but too young for bourbon. Slummers should wear black clothes, pale makeup and bring a heavy case of the Peter Pan syndrome.

Best Place to Play Chess With Teenagers
Cafe Euphrates
1618 E. 17th Ave.

Cafe Euphrates is too bright to be a nightclub, but it's smoky enough to qualify as a true coffeehouse. Each weekend the under-21 crowd gathers here (early, in order to secure a decent table) to play chess, write existential prose, sip cappuccino, discuss fashion and occasionally check out a live band or two. The food and service are always above par, the mingling is often inspirational, and sometimes the music is even good. At least we don't have to worry about where the young ones are at ten o'clock.

Best Place to Watch Teen Runaways at 2 a.m.
Sun Cafe
601 E. Colfax Ave.

The only thing more disturbing than watching an ad hoc family of scruffy preteens trying to make a go of it on Colfax is imagining the kind of family life that would drive kids to run away and spend their time at the Sun Cafe. Nevertheless, aspiring novelists with strong stomachs are guaranteed seedy material for the price of a cup of coffee.

Best Clearinghouse for Budding Artists
Dot's Diner
799 Pearl St., Boulder

Dot's is renowned as a legendary Boulder breakfast spot, serving heaping plates of tofu rancheros and fluffy German pancakes to hungry Boulderites, but its real draw--literally--is the help. Almost everyone who works here does something else in real life. They make films, paint, act, write poetry or strum the guitar. Tip big (they deserve it, anyway) and consider yourself a patron of the arts.

Best Performance
Art by Fast-Food Cooks
Wok to You Chinese Kitchen
284 S. Logan St.
4101 E. Evans Ave.

Caution: Man wokking! Place your order at either of these serviceable quickie joints, then watch as your food is prepared. Wok to You's cooks are the hardest-working menu-handlers in show business. They'll twirl that wok and make it sing. It doesn't matter that "panache" isn't listed on the menu. It's right in front of your eyes.

Best Metaphysical Readings in a Pizza Place
Wazee Supper Club
1600 15th St.

If Herb Widom doesn't know all, he'll sure give it a shot. Every Friday night he sets up shop at the Wazee Supper Club, LoDo's popular--and original--watering hole. Using your palm, special computer programs and his own psychic abilities (readings run from $5 to $20), Herb will look deep into your past, present and future. Just one last question, Herb: How long until our pizza is ready?

Best Freebie From a Waitress
Gennaro's
2598 S. Broadway

Marion Schroedl has waitressed at Gennaro's, a neighborhood bar and pizza joint, since 1988--which is when she started buying candy, with her own money, for her customers. And not penny candy, mind you, but candy bars and licorice and packages of Gummi bears. Schroedl brings a whole selection out in a big bowl at the end of your meal, and she won't slap your hand if you take two.

Best Children's Menu
Paul's Place
Three metro locations

Sixteen choices, from hot dogs to PB&J to pizza, as well as a vegetarian Sloppy Joe, chicken wings, fish sticks and macaroni and cheese--the little buggers can't say there's nothing to eat when you take them to Paul's Place. Except for the two-ounce lobster tail, which goes for seven bucks, none of the children's entrees runs more than $4, and each comes with a choice of five side dishes, a small drink, an ice cream cone and a particularly welcome appetizer: Any kid who walks in the door gets to pick something--for keeps--from Paul's basket of toys.

Readers' choice: McDonald's

Best Place to Play With Your Food
Caldonia's Roadside BBQ
2252 S. Parker Rd., Aurora

With more bare thighs than a chicken-packing plant, Caldonia's is the place for food, folks and fun. At any given time, juiced-up weekend warriors are playing volleyball, softball and snare-the-opposite-sex on the restaurant's man-made beach. The massive deck provides spectator space for those on the disabled list (or pretending to be), and a casual, barefoot atmosphere prevails.

Best Place to Bone Up
Shorty's Pit Restaurant
1133 Florida, Longmont

Each plateful of Shorty's delightfully sloppy ribs, barbecued pork or other down-home vittles is served atop a healthy serving of Colorado trivia. The place mats all feature fun facts about our fair state borrowed from Colorado Place Names, a book packed with entertaining minutiae about Colorado history.

Best Drive-in Atmosphere
J-B's Drive's
2501 8th Ave., Greeley

Sure, J-B's is sixty miles north of Denver, but what's a drive-in without a drive? A glorious dining experience awaits the road-weary traveler. There's ample parking with extra-wide (think farm truck!) slots under a shady awning. Each space is equipped with a lighted menu and a phone to the kitchen; within minutes a friendly, corn-fed cutie will clip a tray of fresh, hot food to your window. Fill 'er up...and before you get back in gear, check out the circa-Sixties dining room, decked out with dark paneling and plastic orange flowers.

Best Drive-in Food
Crown Burger
2192 S. Colorado Blvd.

Step on it past all the fast-food chains that litter Colorado Boulevard. Don't stop until you find the entrance to Crown Burger, a modest little drive-in just off the strip. Now comes your first decision: Do you pull up to the window, where the service is speedy, or do you venture inside, where you can spread out and concentrate on your meal? Your second decision: What, exactly, are you going to order? The chicken-fried steak sandwich? The terrific red chile? A brace of breakfast sandwiches for just a couple of bucks? A five-egg omelette that won't cost you any more? The cooks will accommodate just about any peculiar request, to the point of cooking omelettes with just egg whites and even stocking one regular's favorite no-fat cheese. This place is truly love at first bite.

Best Untouched Decor in a Restaurant
Colacci's
816 Main St., Louisville

Colacci's has been a spaghetti institution practically since the beginning of time--as we know it, at least. Its classic Fifties bowling alley interior is a dank yet delightful trip into bobby-sox land--peek into the kitchen and you'll see kids horsing around while heaping plates of homemade noodles and monstrous meatballs are dished up out of big plastic dishpans. Eat up.

Best Place to Be Seen
Barolo Grill
3030 E. 6th Ave.

With food as good as Barolo's, it's hard to imagine that anyone could pay attention to anything other than what's on his plate. Still, Barolo has become the place for Denver's "glitterati"--such as it is. Sit near the windows for the first glimpse at who's coming in with whom.

Best Outdoor Deck
Cadillac Ranch
Larimer Square

This is definitely the best place to see--almost anything. From this second-floor rooftop patio, you've got a view of the mountains, the city, the Tivoli, the college students, the colleges, the revelers from the rest of Larimer Square, the sky. No matter where your gaze rests, you'll get an eyeful.

Readers' choice: Jimmy's Grille

Best Place to Avoid Turkeys
The Vegetarian Thanksgiving Potluck
There's a reason why Thanksgiving is called "Turkey Day"--a reason that leaves vegetarians on the outside looking in. But thanks to the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, meat-abhorrers have a safe, fleshless haven where they can give thanks with others of their ilk. At the Vegetarian Thanksgiving Potluck, lacto-ovo-vegetarians and strict vegans alike can break bread, tofu lasagna and quinoa pudding together. Everyone brings a dish for twelve and an ingredient card that informs diners of different veggie disciplines what they're about to dig into; the result is a big, friendly affair (kids welcome) where no one cries fowl.

Best Free Breakfast (With Politics)
The State Capitol
Meet your congressional representatives and fill your belly simultaneously. Every morning, five days a week, while the Colorado Legislature is in session, various civic groups sponsor a "legislative coffee" on the second floor of the State Capitol. The spread usually includes fruit, pastries, coffee, juice, tea--and healthy portions of shmooze you may have to stomach.

Best Free Dinner (With Religion)
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
1400 Cherry St.

The devotees meditate on Krishna as they prepare dinner, the theory being that everyone who eats the chow is imbued with "Krishna Consciousness." During the free Sunday-night feeds, they're certainly imbued with a large sense of well-being; fortunately, the recruitment is kept to a minimum. The incense is thick, the portions substantial, and the atmosphere beats that of any soup kitchen.

Best Breakfast Under $2
Louie's Cafeteria
1525 Sherman St.

While most of the clientele consists of public servants, you'll be serving yourself at Louie's--and happily so. Located on the first floor of the State Services building, the open-to-the-public eatery offers a different special every day, making it easy to eat here frequently and not break the budget. Egg-filled burritos, French toast and omelettes head the rotation, and owner Louie Betts and his ultrafriendly staff also offer one of the best Danish and juice selections around. Get your caffeine fix here, too: There's a coffee special of the day, featuring such eye-openers as raspberry-infused espresso with a shot of steamed milk.

Readers' choice: McDonald's

Best Buttermilk Biscuits
Nancy's Restaurant
825 Walnut St., Boulder

A spokeswoman for Nancy's lays the groundwork best: "It's a basket full of biscuits," she explains, when a fan presses for particulars. "And there are three biscuits in a basket. And they're buttermilk." That's okay, as far as it goes. But also consider: The buttermilk biscuits are big and buttery and (on the outside, anyway) bumpy. On the inside, they're hot and soft--even mushy--and melt away in your mouth like a thin chocolate shaving. Such sin so early in the day.

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

Best Salad Dressing
Cafe Paprika
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
Rudi's
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
Compari's
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
Tango
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
Kokoro
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
Harrah's Casino
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
Washington Park

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
Alfalfa's
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.

Best Hot Dog
Joseph Feleman's Stand
1357 Broadway

He doesn't play arias and his dogs cost more than 50 cents, but Joseph Feleman knows that the right atmosphere gives every snack an added boost of flavor. The friendly Feleman came from Russia seven years ago to find his fortune. Now he waits outside the library every day for hungry bookworms and serves them Sabrett ("It's expensive, but in this country, you get what you pay for," he says), the New York franks with natural casings. He's got variations on them, too: turkey dogs, beef and pork mixed, an all-beef Russian sausage, Polish sausage and chorizo. And he hands everything over with such loving respect that you've gotta take these puppies seriously. But if you try to tip him, he gives you a candy bar. Hot dog!

Readers' choice: Mustard's Last Stand

Best Brats
Benders' Brat Haus
15343 E. 6th Ave., Aurora

When best comes to wurst, Benders blows the casings off the competition. Beverly and Chuck Bender have been pumping out their own brats from scratch for eighteen years, as well as making the accompaniments: a rich and creamy German potato salad and briny sauerkraut. Although the brats are served here in sandwiches, the cost-conscious can buy them in bulk and cook them at home.

end of part 2

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