Best Of :: Food & Drink
After opening last November amid a flurry of industry- and hipster-driven buzz, this tiny jewel of a restaurant has settled into a pattern of turning out ridiculously good food to a packed dining room night after night. We were delighted to discover that the Populist's wine program was just as unassuming — and satisfying — as its menu: by-the-glass pours (five white, five red, two bubbly) somehow cost only $4 each, yet showcase marvels like La Spinetta's juicy Il Nero di Casanova sangiovese and the bracingly mineral-driven Laurenz V. grüner veltliner. Bottled selections should thrill both wine geek and novice alike; familiar zinfandel cozies up to esoteric godello without fanfare or frills. The best thing about this small but mighty list? It never seems to take itself too seriously — always remembering that at the end of the day (or meal, as it were), wine is all about having fun.
There are numerous reasons to be out and about in Denver, even at 3 a.m., and Tom's Urban 24 will make sure that you never go to bed with a growling belly — although if you're two sheets to the wind, you might have a few problems maneuvering your way through the menu, which is as long as the work day is short. A new addition to Denver's very small round-the-clock lineup, Tom's is a massive, hip joint on the edge of Larimer Square. Spry young servers deliver food that's anything but diner-standard, with options including deviled eggs, truffled lobster and shrimp pot pie, thin-crusted pizzas topped with figs, and even pho. There are plenty of other insomnia-assisters, too: burgers, Mexican staples, eggs done every which way, salads and sandwiches, all of which promise to fortify you for that late-night prowl. There's also a full bar pouring beers, craft cocktails and wine until 2 a.m. and starting again five hours later — which gives all-nighters an excuse to return bright and early for a daily dose of hangover-helping liquid courage.
These seedy San Diego-style taco huts, both of which are 24/7 operations with the luxury of drive-thru windows (a huge perk at 2 a.m., when garish lights do justice to no one), dole out the diviest drunk food south of the border: tacos, tortas, quesadillas, taquitos, nachos and huge mounds of carne asada fries blanketed with cheese and green chile. Salsas, red and green, give everything a fever jolt. The interiors aren't much to look at, and the tables are typically strewn with someone else's late-night Styrofoam, but the prices are geared toward paupers, and while you'll have to get your liquid courage elsewhere — there's no alcohol — a Mexican Coke at midnight loads you up with just enough caffeine to keep your eyeballs open.
Central Bistro & Bar is hot. You don't need to look further than the "Hot" sign over the open kitchen — a vestige of the Regency Hotel once owned by the family of Central founder Isiah Salazar — to recognize that. But this new spot on the edge of LoHi also serves up one of the coolest cocktails in town: a barrel-aged Manhattan made with St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon. Sip it while looking over the skyline of downtown Denver, and you've got an experience for the ages.
Being a great bartender is about far more than mixing magic — although that element is certainly important. But a bartender's role behind the stick is also about spending time with those bellied up to the bar, whether they're high rollers or gravediggers. And Courtney Wilson, now a bartender at the very new Old Major after her most recent stint at Williams & Graham, deserves heroine worship for the way she straddles the line between professional and perky. She's engaging and exuberant and nearly religious when waxing poetic about the city's cocktail landscape, and she's clearly moved by spirits, as evidenced by her ingenuity when crafting cocktails — whether they're on the syllabus or one of her clever one-offs. Wilson comes off as genuine and knowledgeable but never snooty, and she doesn't overthink what she pours in your drink. Like the pro that she is, she just gets it.
Waffling about the perfect cocktail is hardly sexy, but indecision is often the result when you're confronted with a menu full of clever names and obscure ingredients. You know what you want, but nothing looks quite right. Not to worry: The bartenders at Colt & Gray have you covered. Not only is their bar stocked with every spirit known, but they also have an array of house-made bitters and other mixers at their disposal — and they know the exact flavor profile of every liquid behind that bar. So don't bother trying to remember the name of that perfect drink you once had on vacation in Italy. Just describe some flavors that turn you on, or tell them about a cocktail you dreamed about, or maybe just name your favorite band and movie. A moment's pause and they get to work. A shake or a stir later, and you'll be sitting there with a great drink in your hand, so you can get back to being sexy.