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The Bite

Reviewing the Best of Denver

Not a Krispy Kreme doughnut in sight.

Our March 29 Best of Denver 2001 issue never mentioned Krispy Kreme, and that alone made it special. Only an announcement that Jesus was this doughnut outlet's franchise operator would justify the hullabaloo about the place, and even then, only for its Second Coming news value. I mean, it's just a doughnut. A delicious doughnut, but a doughnut nonetheless, and already the thing's had more press than flat-out boring FlatIrons Crossing and Park-a-Lot Meadows combined. The only thing I'd wait two hours to eat is free foie gras, and even then, it would have to be well prepared.

Like the fab foie at Triana (see review above), for example. This year's Best New Restaurant winner serves a fig-sweetened duck liver paired with applesauce cake, a dish that helped it edge out Amuse (1430 Pearl Street, Boulder), Micole (1469 South Pearl Street), Emma's (603 East Eighth Avenue) and Bloom (1 West Flatiron Circle, Broomfield) for the award. In the end, our final answer was based on the total package, and Triana has it all: amazing food, alluring decor, a great wine list and excellent service.

Closed location

Like Triana and all of the other winners, the Night Shift Saloon (3095 South Peoria Street, Aurora) was entirely unaware that it was about to win a Best of Denver award, in this case for Best Hamburger. And since they weren't warned about what was coming, they ran out of ground beef the day the issue came out. "You know, it was definitely not the usual kind of fancy burger you guys have been picking in the past couple of years, but it was wonderful," enthused one caller, who said he got in just before the kitchen exhausted its meat supply. The Night Shift recovered pretty quickly, but should it happen again, bartender Marilyn Rearick says the burgers aren't the only thing diners ought to check out. "We have great Mexican food, too," she informed me. But when I've been in the place, I've never gotten beyond the burger -- a big, fat, juicy monster, the kind of burger that's exactly what you want when a craving hits. And since it's just $3.75 for a plain burger and $4 for one topped by cheese, you can easily go another buck for some good, thick-cut fries.

The cluttered, divey Night Shift is just the kind of place we like to celebrate in the Best of Denver. The joint was owned by Mary Kay Stammer -- she's credited with inventing the great burger that's served today -- for fourteen years before she turned it over to longtime bartenders J.R. and Colleen Ripe in 1998. But before we settled on the Night Shift, we also ate many other worthy contenders: Devotees should also check out the burgers at Bang! (3472 West 32nd Avenue), winner of this year's Best Resurrection of a Restaurant and last year's Best Burger winner; CityGrille (321 East Colfax Avenue), winner of Best Power Lunch this year; 3rd Ave. Eclectic Burgers and Cuisine (3000 East Third Avenue), winner of the Best Over-the-Top Burger this year; Mel's Bar and Grill (235 Fillmore Street), the Best New American eatery; and Trinity Grille (1801 Broadway), which has won the burger award in the past.

Another hotly contested category this year was chicken wings. After Rocky Mountain News critic John Lehndorff rated his faves this winter, several well-known purveyors of the bird appendages cried fowl, and I heard from several who asked to be checked out. Of the dozen on the list, two stood head and wings above the rest: winner Piper Inn (2251 South Parker Road), and bw-3's Buffalo Wild Wings (8350 West 80th Avenue in Arvada). Both places offer excellent versions of true Buffalo wings (lots of buttery hot sauce and crispy skin), but over two visits to bw-3's it became clear that they have some service issues. The fact that this joint seemed cranky and uncooperative compared to a biker bar -- the Piper Inn -- should tell you something.

The worst wings I tried came from Hot Wings to Go (45 West First Avenue), which were delivered well beyond the promised 45 minutes and had become all soggy from the steam in the styrofoam boxes. These wings were so teeny and scrawny they must have come from robins, although they were covered with a good, Buffalo-style sauce.

The sauces were what compelled me to choose Little Ollie's Chinese (2364 East Third Avenue) for Best Chinese this year, but one e-mailer apparently didn't agree with my selection. "It may be helpful to distinguish between Chinese restaurants and American-Chinese restaurants," the reader wrote. "How many native Chinese do you see at Little Ollie's?" Well, sometimes that's a good indication -- and you don't see many at this popular Cherry Creek restaurant. On the other hand, while a clientele that's almost entirely Asian may indicate that a Chinese restaurant is authentic, it doesn't necessarily mean it's good: It's not like Chinese natives have a lot of palatable, authentic options in this town. And if the cornstarch-thickened glop that tastes like the coating on a candy apple is what distinguishes Chinese from American-Chinese, I'll take the latter any day. And at least all of the cooks at Little Ollie's are Asian. What did our readers pick for Best Chinese Restaurant? The very, very American, slightly Chinese P.F. Chang.

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