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Best Of 2014

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Chef's Counter
Rioja Critics' Pick
Rioja
Rioja

Chef Jennifer Jasinski has had a stellar year, with a starring role on Top Chef Masters and winning a James Beard Award. But long before seats at the chef's counter of the now nearly ten-year-old Rioja became the most coveted spots in town, Jasinski and her staff were ready for prime time, showing their confidence and culinary mastery in front of inquisitive diners eager to witness flames shooting up from burners, steam rising from pasta pots, and the cook-speak banter that enlivens a kitchen. And while Jasinski doesn't spend as much time in her open galley as she used to, space at the counter is still booked days in advance by foodniks eager for an entertaining, and far more intimate, alternative to a traditional table — and a front-row seat at the best show in town.

1431 Larimer St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-820-2282
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1317 14th St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-595-4255
Best 24/7 Restaurant
Breakfast King

It's good to be king. It's even better to be at Breakfast King when everyone else is asleep and you're looking for a home away from home, a home where the friendly, wisecracking servers know not just your name, but your regular order. That's likely to be chicken-fried steak smothered in country gravy — the best chicken-fried steak in the city at any time of the day — sided with endless cups of coffee. But the kitchen is cooking up that huge menu at all hours, so you can also get eggs any way imaginable, comfort-food dinners, or just a big slice of pie to soak up some of the coffee. No matter what you order, it will be a feast fit for a king.

300 W. Mississippi Ave., Denver, 80223
MAP
303-733-0795
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1962 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206
MAP
303-321-3139
Best Alternative Chicken and Waffles
Session Kitchen

People love chicken. People love waffles. Why, then, is chicken and waffles so polarizing, one of those dishes you either love or hate? At Session Kitchen, chef Scott Parker has created a version so good, and yet so different, we can all agree to like it. Called "chicken-liver mousse," his alternative is every bit as rich as the original, yet it comes off much lighter and more contemporary, a perfect fit for the dynamic street art and murals inside the stunning two-level space. Rather than fried chicken, Parker offers a jar of chicken-liver mousse accented with a dollop of seasonal, housemade jam. Sharing the plate are airy, crisp Belgian waffles, scented with orange and made from almond flour. The combination of smooth, earthy mousse, sweet jam and waffle is not a traditional chicken and waffles, but no one's quibbling when it tastes this good.

1518 S. Pearl St., Denver, 80210
MAP
720-763-3387
Best Bar Snacks
Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar Critics' Pick
Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar

At a time when nearly anything can be eaten at the bar, it's hard to say just what counts as bar snacks. Is it a small plate of rillette on toast? Wings? Housemade trail mix? Yes to all. But when you want a classic snack, something with crunch and salt to nibble while unwinding from the day over a drink, nothing beats the mariquitas Cubana at Cuba Cuba. With a hint of sweetness and none of the oily residue of freshly fried potato chips, these long, thin strips of fried green plantains are just what you want with your coconut mojito. Although also available at the Sandwicherias in Boulder and Glendale, they're at their best at the flagship, full-service restaurant, where they're paired not just with garlicky mojo, but with mango-habanero mojo and guacamole. The platter is large enough for everyone to have some, but not so big that it will ruin the very good dinner to come.

1173 Delaware St., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-605-2822
Best Barbecue Restaurant
Boney's Smokehouse BBQ Critics' Pick
Boney's Smokehouse BBQ
Ariel Fried

The best just got better last year, when Boney's Smokehouse — Lamont and Trina Lynch's downtown, down-home restaurant — moved into a bigger space just a few doors away. Tucked in the basement, the new Boney's can be hard to find, but it's definitely worth the search...and some advance planning, since the hours are limited. But there's no limit to the load of barbecue you'll want to order — brisket, chopped chicken, pulled pork, hot links and ribs that have so much flavor from their dry rub and long tenure over low heat that they don't need sauce. Still, you won't want to miss the three versions at Boney's: a tangy basic sauce also offered hot, a sweet jalapeño and an excellent, mustardy gold. And give Boney's extra points for sides ranging from great collard greens and barbecue beans to lip-smacking mac and cheese. Lamont, a native of Florida, has spent years giving a Southern tweak to a repertoire of family recipes imported from the Bahamas; as a result, this barbecue defies categorization. Just call it the best.

1543 Champa St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-825-9900
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530 Broadway, Denver, 80203
MAP
303-630-1980
Best Bartender
Marcel Templet

"I think I love you," swooned the woman at the bar, her proclamation intended for the bartender who'd just slid a textbook-perfect Manhattan under her nose. Marcel Templet, the veteran who's been behind the booze at Capital Grille for ten years, is an everyman's bartender, an effortlessly affable guy who's mastered the art of greeting every stain of lipstick and every tint of tie by name while simultaneously commiserating with a just-dumped barfly, announcing game scores, juggling four liquor bottles and reciting the backstory of every spirit he pours. And he does all of it with genuine authenticity and an easy smile. You can teach almost anyone how to make a good cocktail, but it's the personality of the bartender that defines the personality of the bar, and Templet, whose showmanship hits all the right notes, leaves a lovely lasting impression.

1450 Larimer St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-539-2500
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3160 Tejon St., Denver, 80211
MAP
303-997-8886
Best Bloody Mary Bar
Punch Bowl — Social Food & Drink

Punch Bowl specializes in punches — and activities and games galore — but you'll be bowled over by the Bloody Mary bar offered during the weekend brunches that start at the eye-opening hour of 8 a.m. And you'll need your eyes wide open to take in the incredible array of items that come with this bar: enough veggies and cheeses to make yourself a salad in a glass — topped with bacon, of course. Go ahead and make a pig of yourself; you can dance off your breakfast when the DJ arrives later in the morning.

65 Broadway, Denver, 80203
MAP
303-765-2695
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76 Broadway, Denver, 80203
MAP
303-777-7676
Best Break-Up Restaurant
Steuben's Critics' Pick
Steuben's

Your romance started with such promise — perhaps even right next door at Ace. But now all the games are over, and you're ready to break it off for good. There's no better place to deliver the bad news than Steuben's. For starters, the place is always packed and the tables are crowded close together, so your soon-to-be ex might think twice about making a scene. The menu is full of classic versions of comfort food from across the country, so there's sure to be a dish that will offer some solace for each of you. And should things go really badly, the bartenders are not only talented, but friendly; they'll lend both an ear and a hand while mixing a stiff drink to take away some of the sting.

523 E. 17th Ave., Denver, 80203
MAP
303-830-1001
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6715 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood, 80214
MAP
303-232-5115
Best Breakfast Burrito — Eat In
El Tejado

Day or night, El Tejado attracts the most eclectic crowd around: Denver cops and paramedics grabbing a quick meal, hipsters making their way through buckets of Coronas, Spanish-speaking work crews slurping oysters and big shrimp cocktails. But our go-to order at El Tejado is the breakfast burrito: a big, fat version stuffed full of scrambled eggs, cheese, and the town's best hash browns, all smothered in a great, pork-studded, gravy-like green chile. If you time your visit right, you may find yourself serenaded by a mariachi band.

2651 S. Broadway, Denver, 80210
MAP
303-722-3987
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571 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-534-5004
Best Breakfast Burrito — To Go
La Popular
Hunter Stevens

For more than six decades, La Popular has sold the town's best tamales from an old storefront on Lawrence Street. But when we really need to get our engine going in the morning, we'll stop by and bag a breakfast burrito to go. This is not the dainty little foil-wrapped parcel sold at so many other carry-out spots around town, designed to be eaten behind the wheel, but a hefty package that wraps a housemade tortilla around a mound of scrambled eggs, potatoes, green chiles, cheese and (very) spicy chorizo. If you really need a wake-up call, order your $2.75 burrito and get it smothered with green chile for another $1.50. No charge for the authentic atmosphere.

2033 Lawrence St., Denver, 80205
MAP
303-296-1687
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571 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-534-5004
Best Breakfast Tacos
Moontower Tacos

If you've ever been to South Texas, then you understand the unwavering fidelity of the region's residents to breakfast tacos. So when Austin transplant Brent Thrash opened Moontower Tacos last year with an all-day breakfast board of tacos, it quickly became a go-to joint not just for breakfast, but for dinner, too. Because once you wrap your jaws around a migas taco -- the flour or corn tortilla generously stuffed with soft-scrambled eggs, slices of fresh avocado, oil-crisped tortilla strips and glossy, jalapeño-spiked, three-cheese queso that's the hue of a flaming canary -- you're immediately hooked. The kitchen crowns the tacos with a blot of pico de gallo, and the result is a breakfast novelty -- at least in Denver -- that would be a star even deep in the heart of Texas.

609 Grant St., Denver, 80203
MAP
303-832-1107
Best Brewery Tap Room — Ambience
Station 26 Brewing

There's nothing like a firehouse to make someone feel safe and secure. But Station 26 — which opened late last year inside a former firehouse — has its own special glow. The space has been renovated with a beautiful wraparound bar, slick lighting fixtures and a large patio out front through a couple of huge garage doors; there's even a preserved fire pole. And since the brewing equipment is located in full view of the tables, customers can watch the process while drinking the beer that results. Located in a mostly residential area between Park Hill and Stapleton, the brewery has a neighborhood feel — but still smokes on busy nights.

7045 E. 38th Ave., Denver, 80207
MAP
303-333-1825
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1695 Platte St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-433-2739
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5600 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 80002
MAP
303-467-2337
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Best Chef's Counter: Rioja

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