Best Of :: Food & Drink
SAME Cafe owners Brad and Libby Birky have done the impossible. Not only did they open a restaurant with no prices on the menu and no cash register on the premises (just a box into which customers are asked to put a "donation," paying whatever they can or whatever they choose to), but they've managed to keep it open for more than a year. That's an amazing feat, but what's even more amazing about SAME (which stands for So All May Eat) is the food served here: an ever-changing lineup of hot, fresh and mostly organic dishes good enough to grace any downtown cafe, including apple-and-brie pizza, red beans and rice, chickpea salads, fresh fruit tarts and potato-and-bacon soup. Given the philosophy of the place, your karma can decide whether SAME Cafe offers the best free lunch in Denver, or simply the best bang for however many bucks you choose to give.
Yes, we understand that few people are going to run out and drop twenty bucks on a sandwich. But the lobster-salad sandwich at the Ship Tavern is well worth the price. Essentially a lobster roll, it loads what must be half a Maine lobster, perfectly cooked, onto a homemade brioche roll, and binds everything together with a thin mayonnaise that tastes handmade. Take your time savoring your sandwich in one of the corner booths at the Ship Tavern, a venerable, if somewhat unseaworthy of late, institution in the Brown Palace. You've paid for the privilege.
The Arada Gebeya, one of the great spice markets of Africa, is located in central Addis Ababa. And now its namesake restaurant, Arada, has brought the true flavors of Ethiopian cuisine to the center of Denver, introducing a flock of customers to its deliciously authentic fare. Although this city has a surprisingly large number of Ethiopian restaurants, Arada is the best of the bunch. In its relatively new digs on Santa Fe, the dining room is small but lovely. But once the food arrives, all of your attention will be on the large platters of white tibs and sambusa, incredible raw-beef kitffo and doro wat in a fiery red-chile sauce. Everything comes family style, complete with injera and exotic sides.
For thirty years, Szechuan Chinese Restaurant has been doing business in one of the worst imaginable locations in all of restaurantdom — but somehow it's managed to build, and keep, a dedicated crowd of regulars. They flock here for the friendly, accommodating service, the huge menu with well over a hundred options, and the low prices and large portions. But really, Szechuan would need to offer just one thing, and we'd keep coming back. This kitchen makes the best dumplings we've found in Colorado. And that alone is reason to hope that Szechuan manages to stick around for another thirty years.
Salt-brined and grilled pork chops in cider-blue cheese sauce with mashed potatoes, a steak topped with bacon, roasted quail with a pecan grit cake and cranberries. Such dishes translate into one thing: a quintessentially American restaurant. At Duo, chef John Broening and his crew have been quietly redefining the standards of American cuisine, incorporating local and regional elements into classic presentations, touching always on those things that American cooks do better than anyone else: simple meats, comforting sides, rough but artistic plating. And in the process, Broening is blazing a trail for other American chefs, showing how American food can be at its absolute best.
Ba Le Sandwich, a small, brightly lit sandwich shop smack in the middle of Denver's best Vietnamese-restaurant neighborhood, is a destination both for Vietnamese immigrants looking for an honest taste of home and adventurous gastronauts looking for a taste of foreign climes on the cheap. Both appreciate the banh mi, the classical collision of French and Vietnamese culinary tradition that resulted in a wonderful spread of sandwiches — most of them some variety of pork — on short baguettes. At Ba Le, you'll find sliced pork and spicy pork, pork pâté and pork cutlets, with topping options of sliced cucumbers, sprouts — whatever you like. No matter what you choose, you'll get out the door for under five bucks, with a lunch that beats any fast-food offering.