Best Of :: Food & Drink
Since taking over the Phoenicia Grill, a small but cheerful Middle Eastern eatery, earlier this year, owner Jim Kher has done nothing but improve upon what was already a distinctive spot. In the hip, streamlined space, Kher's chef, Mustafa Awada, displays his extensive culinary-school background and extensive experience at Middle Eastern restaurants with some finely prepared fare. For instance, both the hummus and the baba ghanouj are stellar examples; they each display a creamy texture and sharpness of flavor rarely found around here. The crunchy balls of soft-as-bread falafel are homemade, as are the nakanek, small finger sausages cooked with cilantro and red-wine vinegar and garnished with pine nuts. Other traditional dishes also shine: A thick, hearty moussaka comes covered with a tangy, chunky tomato sauce, and the shawarma features strips of meat that have been grilled until just done so the meat stays moist and tender. If you had to pick just one thing that proves Phoenicia's prowess, though, it would be anything involving kabobs -- lean, well-marinated meats cooked on skewers with mixed vegetables. But then you'd be missing some of Phoenicia's real surprises, such as the flu-shot chicken vegetable soup made with Lebanese spices, and the deep-fried kibbeh -- cracked wheat and beef finely chopped with pine nuts, walnuts and onions -- that few Middle Eastern restaurants take the time to prepare.
Readers' choice: Jerusalem
The Mercury Cafe is the ultimate Zone zone -- not just because it offers nutritious dishes that pull from all of the food groups in ways you can easily regroup to fit your ideal zone, but because after you eat, you'll likely be pulled into some swing dancing that will take you straight to your ideal heart-rate target area. For 25 years now, the Merc has been a hip-hoppy, snap-happy spot that serves great food for carnivores and vegetarians (vegans, lacto-ovo, macro-micro, you name it) alike, in a fun atmosphere filled with dancing, music theater, poetry and any kind of art you can think of (and then some). Ponder life's possibilities as you put away an order of Susan Jane's tofu chop with rice and veggies, or a Santa Fe breakfast of beans, rice, corn, cheese and green chile, or shrimp fettuccine tossed with hot peppers and olive oil. Naturally, everything's homemade from whole grains, natural sweeteners and cold-pressed oils; owner Marilyn Megenity even makes her own soda pop. Get with the program at Denver's zone away from home.
Tired of living off the fat of the land? Need more meat in your diet? Get yer sloppy carcass over to the Denver Buffalo Company, which has been hooking hungry cowpokes up with buffalo for eleven years now. The Western-themed eatery has seventeen ways to eat the ornery creature at high noon, and that many more through happy hour and dinner; a recently added bar menu features a few favorites, such as the buffalo stroganoff and the club steak, for cheap. The DBC even sells uncooked buffalo so you can satisfy the good doctor's meaty requirements in the privacy of your own home. Since buffalo's been around since before the concept of ketosis was even created, you can bet this ultra-lean meat will treat your body right. And if it just so happens you have a hankering to cheat on Dr. Atkins, there's no better way to get a carbo load than a side of hearty hand-mashed potatoes.
Sometimes a plain doughnut just won't do -- and that's when Henderson's Long Johns go a long way toward filling any craving. Instead of forcing sugar fiends to dig through two inches of dough before they get to the creamy center, Henderson's makes all of its Johns plain. After you order one -- chocolate-coated, sugar-powdered or glazed -- they'll take it to the back counter, slice it lengthwise, and then slather in your choice of fluffy whipped cream or Bavarian custard. With that sinful two-inch-thick mortar in place and the lid back on, these confections look more like hoagies than doughnuts, and the first bite can send a load of creamy filling shooting out the back. But, oh, what a glorious mess.