Best Of :: Food & Drink
Some people have a way of talking that makes you feel like you're the only one in the room. Mark Ferguson, chef/owner at Solitaire, cooks this way. Everything about his sprawling restaurant makes you feel special, from the garden-side setting that offers some of the most romantic tables in town to the menu that he so masterfully crafts. Plates come together confidently, gracefully, thoughtfully — with an eye to presentation that reflects Ferguson's twenty years with Wolfgang Puck. Ferguson is far from the only chef in town who's attuned to seasonality, but his dishes are refreshingly original, so full of cleverly united ingredients that you'll find yourself nodding in appreciation, even for foods you heretofore might not have liked. Octopus, for example, dotted with chorizo, roasted grapes and black garlic, or bread pudding with figs, maple syrup and foie gras. Never content to rest on his laurels, Ferguson is always trying new things, experimenting with a dash of hazelnut pistou here, a dab of Chinese black-bean sauce there — and as a result, Solitaire's menu changes like the wind. In some restaurants, you'd be annoyed to find that the dish you relished last time has been replaced. Here, however, you're pleased — no, delighted — to go in whatever culinary direction Ferguson takes you.Readers' choice: Troy Guard
When the lights came back on at the Denver Diner, it could very well have been a considered a city holiday. After a fire ravaged the iconic greasy spoon, the fate of the beloved diner seemed shaky — but nearly one year and $1.4 million in renovations later, it lives! Keeping with the same style of bright lights and squeaky booths but upgrading the kitchen and adding some modern aesthetics to the dining area, the born-again Denver Diner shines like a beacon. Day or night, it delivers consistently gooey and delicious biscuits and gravy, thick slices of pie, piles-of-meat sandwiches and some of the best people-watching on Colfax Avenue, just as it has for the past quarter of a century. Whether you're out for an early lunch with the boss on a Monday or a drunken, post-let-out meal with fellow clubbers on a Saturday night, Denver Diner is ready to serve, 24/7.Readers' choice: Pete's Kitchen
If you want a taste of authentic Den-Mex, get to Phil's Place — fast. Phil's has only held down this corner since 2002, when Phil Garcia bought the former home of Our Place (and a drugstore before that), but in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the dive bar looks like it's been here forever. And the recipes in the kitchen stretch back much further: Junie Garcia brought them over when she left the late, lamented Bamboo Hut for the establishment run by her son. If you need a morning eye-opener (the kitchen at Phil's opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday), you can't beat the hefty breakfast burrito, packed with potatoes, eggs and meaty possibilities, and smothered with Junie's spicy, pork-laden green chile, which is based on a family recipe created at the Brighton farm where the Garcias grew chiles that rivaled those in Hatch for power and pungency. This is one mean green.Readers' choice: Santiago's
The best breakfast burritos come from roadside shacks, street vendors and hole-in-the wall Mexican joints, right? Well, not this year. Instead, an Italian eatery with a hip Larimer Street address (one that once belonged to the Bamboo Hut, cited above!) is delivering the goods. Americatus chef/owner Iain Chisholm has branched out into burritos with a bang, offering takeout and delivery options in five flavors: bacon, Hatch chile-chicken sausage, chorizo, carnitas and vegetarian black bean, each fattened up with crispy potatoes, scrambled eggs, shredded cheese and vegetarian green chile. Chisholm knows a thing or two about pork, so all of the sausage is ground in-house. The quality of the fillings makes all the difference; these aren't your standard two-buck bombs. But if you dig your burrito a little more street, ask for yours deep-fried. Torpedoes away!2449 Larimer St.
Readers' choice: Santiago's
It's brunch every day at the Universal, a sleek and austerely decorated breakfast-and-lunch hot spot in Sunnyside. Although the weekend specials tend to be more elaborate, we're just fine with the standard menu of Southern-inspired dishes: thick, creamy grits (heirloom from Anson Mills) offered on the side and as an always-changing "grits of the day" item on their own; biscuits smothered in a medium-spicy pork-sausage gravy; a fried-egg sandwich with Tender Belly meats; and custard toast, one of the best things to happen to bread. The huge pancakes and several scrambles are also good choices; the sheer variety of flavorful ingredients in the latter, like wild-boar sausage or goat cheese and smoked tomatoes, make them stand out. But the cornbread rancheros are truly distinctive, the moist and crumbly cornbread layered with black beans and roasted-tomato salsa, all smothered with cheese. And the Bloody Mary, a bold brew augmented by a mini-salad of celery, cucumber, olive and pepperoncini, with spicy salt on the glass rim, makes getting up on the weekends worth your while.Readers' choice: Lucile's Creole Cafe
If you're looking for a new party trick, sabering at Sarto's just might be the coolest brunch-time activity ever. Sabering is the art of opening a bottle of champagne with a sword, and at Sarto's it starts with the purchase of a bottle of bubbly. Next you'll be treated to a private lesson from owner Taylor Swallows (or a member of his staff), who loves sharing his mad swashbuckling skills with the world. And while sabering is typically saved for ceremonial occasions, we think Sunday brunch is as good a reason as any to celebrate.