Best Of :: Food & Drink
The Royal Peacock would win this award on smell alone. As you walk up to the restaurant, it feels like you could be lifted off the ground by the mingled aromas coming from the kitchen, like a cartoon hobo smelling pie. But once you get past the smell of tandoori and cumin, curry, saffron and a hundred other barely identifiable odors — once you get through the door, make your way to a table, thumb through the well-worn menu and order a royal feast — it's the flavors those smells ride on that make such a lasting impression. The Royal Peacock's setting is a nondescript strip mall. But its food is so good as to be almost beyond words.
Breakfast King has always been there for us, through early-morning breakfasts and late-night breakfasts; breakfasts when the sun is just peeking up over the horizon and we haven't yet been to bed; and breakfasts at four in the afternoon when we've just woken up from whatever the night before had brought us. And no question, when Denver's night owls are in need of a feed, Breakfast King is the place to go. There are nights when this venerable 24-hour diner looks like something out of Quentin Tarantino's wet dreams — a weird conglomeration of club kids and criminals, night-shift blue collars and just plain folk who've found themselves a little bit lost on the wrong side of midnight. The King is there for all of us, helping us get up or come down, chill out or straighten up. In fact, the King has never once locked its doors in all the years it's been operating. And honestly, we're not sure what this city would do if it ever did.
Chef Ian Kleinman is a magician. Not just because he manages to make thoroughly impossible food (carbonated grapefruit, grape caviar, floating bacon and the like) that people come from all over the country to eat, but because he somehow figured out a way to do this at a hotel restaurant in Westminster, Colorado. Magic, indeed. In addition to watching over the regular menu at O's Steak & Seafood, Kleinman personally oversees a brilliant molecular-gastronomy menu that changes completely every week — and he has yet to blow the place up, burn it down or accidentally freeze himself in liquid nitrogen. A single taste of his instant peanut butter sorbet, watermelon powder, Miracle Fruit pills or guacamole space foam and you will never, ever look at food the same way again.
It seems like such an obvious idea: a restaurant dedicated entirely to the glory of the pig, serving pork and pork products. And yet Denver had no all-pig restaurant until Andy Ganick came along. His brainchild is the Berkshire, a restaurant whose menu is like something out of the sickest, most indulgent food fantasies: all pig, all the time. Pig for lunch, pig for brunch (a plate of bacon and a can of Pabst as the house "hangover special"), pig for dinner (bacon flights!) and a little pig in between. Almost every plate has pork worked into it somehow; if Ganick could get away with it, he'd even garnish the bar's cocktails with pig. But there is bacon-infused vodka for those who like to take their pig in liquid form. We go hog wild for the Berkshire.
While American Indian food may be the original American cuisine, not many of us have experienced much past fry bread. But Tocabe, a new fast-casual spot that got its start in Denver, does a perfect job of fusing the old with the new. In a Chipotle-esque setting, and at Chipotle-esque prices, you can get Medicine Wheel Nachos and delicious green chile, as well as pillowy fry bread. Made to order, these delicious edible plates are ideal for holding a variety of meats (including buffalo) and other toppings, as well as a slightly spicy ancho-chile sauce. Conclude your meal with more fry bread topped with honey, and you're guaranteed to become one with nature.
Shrimp and grits. Buffalo chicken wings and Rhode Island calamari. Memphis ribs, Louisiana etouffee, Maine lobster rolls and Chicago-style hot dogs. Steuben's isn't just an American restaurant, it's an All-American restaurant — a restaurant dedicated to the preservation and glorification of our mutt, immigrant canon; our staples and standards; our occasional flashes of brief genius. And while opinions may differ as to whether Steuben's is making the best version of some regional favorite, opinions always differ on every regional favorite. The fights over the Steuben's recipe for trout amandine, its green-chile cheeseburger or the truck-stop chocolate cake started even before the place opened, and they haven't stopped yet. The probably never will. And they all make for delicious conversation over a meal in this popular, comfortable hangout.