By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
By Thursday, the calls and e-mails had already begun -- the complaints, the disputes, the polite thank-yous from winners and strange, ominous silences from those shut out of the Best of Denver 2007. In the interest of democracy and spirited debate, this year we've made it even easier for you to sound off -- just click the little "comment" button on the web page and let fly. Think you know of a better African restaurant than Arada? A better sandwich place (not fucking likely) than the one I chose? I'd love to hear about it. And if you just want to get online and tell me what a dick I am for passing over your favorite hot dog, taco or cheese plate, I'm cool with that, too. The First Amendment rules. Make it your bitch.
That said, I can't believe that I've already done five of these issues (and lived to tell about it). Every year the list seems to grow longer, the winner's circle larger, the research more crippling. No lie: I ate my last official Best of Denver meal less than 24 hours before the food section went to press, and was still making revisions right up until the end. My first post-Best of Denver dinner was last Wednesday night at about eleven o'clock -- just a few hours after the paper had hit the street -- and where did I go? To Viva Burrito Company on Leetsdale, winner of Best Breakfast Burrito at 2 a.m., where I discovered that its award could already use a slight alteration. Because while I've always been a fan of Viva's breakfast burritos, I've usually eaten them when I'm sober (and hence capable of maneuvering my car through the drive-thru, finding my wallet, etc.). But now that I've been there completely in the bag, I'm even more of a fan. I was four double whiskeys to the wind with a designated driver hauling my ass around, and in that condition, a Viva breakfast burrito (which the joint wasn't technically serving at that hour, but I asked nice) was not just good, but brilliant. Viva Burrito should have gotten the Best Breakfast Burrito When You're Shitfaced award, particularly for the bacon version that doesn't actually contain bacon, but huge pieces of cured, fried pork.
Speaking of "slight alterations," I have one major correction on the Best Free Chips and Salsa. I gave the award to Los Carboncitos, which definitely has the Best Free Salsa. Just one problem: Los Carboncitos doesn't serve chips. Not for love or money. Never has, not at either location. Still, Los Carboncitos does serve incredible salsas -- four varieties, brought free to every table. They're meant to be used as condiments, slathered across everything on the menu -- except chips, of course, of which there are none. The fact that I would sit there pulling apart tortillas or tearing the ends off my huaraches in order to sop up every drop of salsa does not change that.
750 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO 80204
Region: Central Denver
So, okay. I fucked up. Los Carboncitos' award should be for Best Free Salsa. As for the Best Free Chips and Salsa? Well, there are lots of good chips in town -- certainly more than there are great salsas -- but the best combo would be at Chama(see Second Helping). Still, we don't need to worry too much about that great restaurant in Belmar feeling left out; it already picked up two awards in this year's issue.
As a matter of fact, many winners were deserving of multiple honors. In the sandwich area alone, Tacos D.F., which won two awards, could have gotten a third for Best Torta -- a beautiful mess of pork and avocados and lettuce and killer hot sauce and cheese all squished together between two halves of a great, lardy sandwich roll. Toast somehow manages to make sandwiches as good as its pancakes, which are the best in the city; Parallel 17,which won two awards, deserved another for serving the city's only deconstructed banh mi. Then there's Tonti's for stromboli, Steuben's for its lobster roll, Chopsticks for Chinese pocket sandwiches, California Bakery for piroshki...
I didn't give a Best Cheesesteak award this year, because I did not have a single cheesesteak all year that was as good as last year's cheesesteaks. If I'd been forced to make a choice, I would have given it to Taste of Philly -- but that joint has become so inconsistent that it doesn't deserve to be called the best of anything. Still, I have high hopes for its next location, which is soon to open in the former home of Java Moon, at 1116 Broadway. That's just a block away from the Westwordoffice, so I'll be keeping a close eye on the place.
Via, which I reviewed for this issue, was in serious contention for a couple of awards beyond Best French Fries and Best Taste of Naples. The Roy Rogers(Coke and cherry vodka topped with a handful of maraschino cherries) came close for best cocktail, and the overall restaurant was neck-and-neck with Solerafor Best Comeback -- losing out only because Solera's fall was so much more precipitous, since Goose Sorensen's place had risen to much more elevated heights. And while that conchiglie pasta with smoked chicken and those Maine lobster ravioli were amazingly good, if I were to have picked a Best Pasta, they would've been up against Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson's agnolotti at Frasca, Frank Bonanno's crab gnocchi at Luca d'Italia, everything on Jennifer Jasinski's pasta board at Rioja, Kevin Taylor's soft-egg ravioli at Prima. How do you pick between those? I didn't even try. But picking a Best Italian Restaurant was a cinch: Venicein a walk. Its tasting menus alone are among the best in the entire city.