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Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Vegetarian Restaurant
WaterCourse Foods

Though we've never been crazy about restaurants that self-identify as vegetarian (believing that starting from such a limited culinary position can only serve to strangle any creativity or free thinking in the kitchen), WaterCourse Foods has been in the game long enough to overcome any such restrictions. The result is a restaurant that has the vegetarian and vegan ethos worked into its DNA, that creates meatless cuisine simply as a matter of course, not as a reaction against anything external. And while the tempeh bacon, scrambled tofu and seitan Buffalo wings still drive us bonkers, the kitchen does a good stack of pancakes, excellent (if bacon-free) breakfasts, and surprisingly flavorful tamales, fried-potato tacos and vegetable-centric pastas. And it's all served in a brand-spanking-new space with lots of room for the crowds WaterCourse draws.

837 E. 17th Ave., Denver, 80218
MAP
303-832-7313
Best $19 Sandwich
Ship Tavern

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.

321 17th St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-297-3111
Best African Restaurant
Arada Ethiopian Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik

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.

750 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-329-3344
Best American Chinese Restaurant
Szechuan Chinese Restaurant

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.

9090 W. 6th Ave., Lakewood, 80215
MAP
303-232-4558
Best American Restaurant
Duo
Cassandra Kotnik

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.

2413 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, 80211
MAP
303-477-4141
Best Asian Sandwich
Ba Le Sandwich

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.

1044 S. Federal Blvd., Denver, 80219
MAP
303-922-2129
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Best Vegetarian Restaurant: WaterCourse Foods

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