Best of Denver®

Best Of 2003

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best High-End Mexican
Tamayo
Cassandra Kotnik

Mmm...botanas. If there's any better bar food than tapas, it's botanas -- the little bites and appetizers served with firewater all over Mexico proper. At Tamayo -- Richard Sandoval's upscale Larimer Square homage to the Mexican Riviera of his youth -- you can sample the flavors of Acapulco and beyond for free during the hora feliz (happy hour) that runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and then, emboldened by a couple of sharp nips at the fancy-pants margarita menu, dive deeper into this rich culinary territory with dinner. Tamayo is only expensive when compared with other Mexican restaurants in town, but with entrees running in the twenty-dollar range, some people tend to get spooked. Rather than pay two bucks for a squishy enchilada all glopped up with Cheez Whiz somewhere else, though, we'd rather save up our nickels and dimes for tacos de camarón, with shrimp sautéed in achiote paste and a black-bean puree, or the costilla de cordero -- rack of lamb, marinated in adobo and huitlacoche (a corn fungus that tastes much better than it sounds), then roasted and served with wild-mushroom risotto and sweet potatoes. Tamayo also does a wicked mahi-mahi ceviche, offers a three-course prix fixe lunch menu in under sixty minutes for $16.95, and puts out beautiful plates that would have done the late Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (after whom both the Denver and Palm Beach locations were named) proud.

1400 Larimer St., Denver, 80202
MAP
720-946-1433
Best "Always Get Lucky on the Third Date" Dinner Destination
Cuba Cuba

Cuba Cuba has the power to move you. No matter how gray the day or unpromising the night, the big Havana vibe at this little tropical oasis will transport you to more laid-back latitudes the minute you step through the door. The food is fun -- from Cuban picadillo and rum-painted snapper to plantain chips and cigar selections with dessert -- and the shoulder-to-shoulder weekend crowds of smart Denver diners out for a sophisticated mini-spring break give the whole place a humid, sexy edge that's sure to break anyone's ice. And hey, if the lively crowds, spicy Latin music and expertly casual floor staff orchestrated by Kristy Socarras Bigelow don't loosen things up, have the bar mix up a few of its killer mojitos. After a couple of these, luck will have nothing to do with getting lucky.

1173 Delaware St., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-605-2822
Best Capitol Education While Noshing Wolfe¹s Barbeque
Wolfe's Barbeque

Wolfe's Barbeque, a jewel-box-sized restaurant on Colfax, feels like a Southern lunch place. But head cook and bottle washer Louis Wolfe is a Kansan by birth and a Denverite by choice. So much so that his walls are lined with collectible postcards of area buildings that date back to the 1900s -- and he can tell the story of each one. The Section 8 housing at Colfax and Grant used to be the Grand Argonaut Hotel, for example, and Temple Emmanuel was stunning in its early glory. As Wolfe gives his colorful and entertaining history lesson -- served up with a slice of great pecan pie -- you can stick your head out the door and still see the remains of what he's describing.

333 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80203
MAP
303-831-1500
Best Freak-Show, Acid-Trip, "I Certainly Didn't Come Here for the Food" Mexican
Casa Bonita

Hunter Thompson once said of Circus Circus in Las Vegas, "This is what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war." Well, that was then -- and today, Casa Bonita is the place to see what would really become of the world if the radical fun police ever had their way. Sure, we all know the food is, er, questionable. But that can be said of a lot of places where there aren't strolling mariachi bands and teenage cliff divers, so everyone just give Casa Bonita a break, okay? Will anyone who's ever been there soon forget the smell of the swampy, chlorinated backsplash that could grace your gooey tacos if you're lucky enough to get a seat behind the waterfall? For sheer "I can't believe this place is real" thrills, nothing beats Casa Bonita -- the closest thing in Denver to a Terry Gilliam film come to life. And hey, any place where you can buy Coronas by the bucket can't be all bad.

6715 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood, 80214
MAP
303-232-5115
Best Joint

A true joint has a little funk, a little style hidden underneath whatever else it is. And while on most nights of the week the Skylark Lounge is simply a great bar -- and a neighborhood hangout for nearly sixty years -- on those evenings when they pull back the tables and wire up the mikes for some live rockabilly, the 'Lark really takes wing. Sure, its age is beginning to show in the scuffed bar top and the patched vinyl booths, but come the weekends, when the crowds are packed leather-on-leather tight, the Skylark proves that age really is nothing but a state of mind.

Best Joint
Skylark Lounge

A true joint has a little funk, a little style hidden underneath whatever else it is. And while on most nights of the week the Skylark Lounge is simply a great bar -- and a neighborhood hangout for nearly sixty years -- on those evenings when they pull back the tables and wire up the mikes for some live rockabilly, the 'Lark really takes wing. Sure, its age is beginning to show in the scuffed bar top and the patched vinyl booths, but come the weekends, when the crowds are packed leather-on-leather tight, the Skylark proves that age really is nothing but a state of mind.

140 S. Broadway, Denver, 80203
MAP
303-722-7844
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Best High-End Mexican: Tamayo

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