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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best House Margarita
Adelitas Cocina y Cantina
Westword file photo

We've long lauded the Adelitas house margarita, proof positive that owner Brian Rossi is tequila- and mezcal-obsessed. But last year Rossi changed his house margarita formula dramatically, extending his high standards for tequila production to all the ingredients behind his bar. As a result, Adelitas ditched the processed sugar and agave syrup, which meant that the house marg and all of the other margaritas and cocktails served at Adelitas and sibling mezcal bar Palenque were fundamentally reimagined. The current iteration of the house marg at Adelitas blends Arette tequila blanco, a house simple syrup made from beet sugar and oranges, and an organic orange liqueur from Fruitlab into a beautiful drink, with the ideal sweet-tart balance to highlight the delicate Arette.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

1294 S. Broadway St., Denver, 80210
MAP
303-778-1294
Best Restaurant on Broadway
Cho77 Critics' Pick
Cho77

Chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma picked the right person to oversee Cho77 when he opened this mailbox-sized Asian eatery on South Broadway three years ago. Right-hand man Ryan Gorby keeps turning out winners, whether they're dead-on renditions of such classic street food as chicken coconut curry styled after northern Thai khow soi (served in a metal lunchbox), tempting fusion snacks like bacon-cheeseburger shu mai, or one of his house inventions, such as wok-seared duck leg with fragrant jasmine rice. A seat at the bar gives you a view of the kitchen, where the flames roar beneath hot woks, dumplings steam in bamboo baskets, and knives gleam and flash in the dim light. You may be on trendy Broadway surrounded by bars, bistros and bands, but this is as close to a Southeast Asian night market as you'll get without leaving Denver.

Readers' Choice: Gozo

42 S. Broadway, Denver, 80209
MAP
720-638-8179
Best Restaurant on West 32nd Avenue
Spuntino Critics' Pick
Spuntino

With so many wonderful restaurants lining West 32nd Avenue, it could be hard to pick a favorite. But we're particularly high on Spuntino, a charming Italian restaurant in Highland. When they purchased Spuntino from the original owners, employees Elliot Strathmann and Cindhura Reddy gave the place new life, something to be celebrated...and Spuntino's fans do. Tables and seats at the bar fill up quickly with diners enjoying chef Reddy's superb porchetta, expertly made pastas, a seasonal burrata spread or the arancini with Hatch chiles and smoked white cheddar. The wine and cocktail lists sing with elegant and enjoyable options, creating the perfect pairings for a lovely evening. Strathmann also makes his own amaro, which you should definitely sample at the end of a meal here. Whether you're looking for a special night out or just strolling along 32nd, Spuntino is a must-stop.

Readers' Choice: El Camino

2639 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, 80211
MAP
303-433-0949
Best Restaurant on Larimer Street
Il Posto Critics' Pick
Il Posto

Change suits Il Posto: In the year since it relocated from Uptown to RiNo, it's become a neighborhood anchor, and owner Andrea Frizzi has embraced his role as Larimer Street's unofficial mayor. This new address has a decidedly upscale vibe, with upstairs tables that overlook the skyline and a fine-dining-worthy menu that prioritizes precision and authenticity, with a wine list to match. Frizzi is an exuberant Italian, and his loud enthusiasm infuses Il Posto with a boisterous charm that encourages indulgence; you could bring a mid-day business meeting here (the lunch deal is great, by the way) and accidentally end up day-drunk and rosy-cheeked, with Frizzi settling into your booth for a chat. The hospitality is a key component in Il Posto's recipe for success, and it's also what makes this spot one of the best in the city for a date.

Readers' Choice: Rioja

2601 Larimer St., Denver, 80205
MAP
303-394-0100
Best Restaurant on the Pearl Street Mall
Emmerson

While Emmerson is technically a block east of the official pedestrian mall, the smells coming out of its kitchen waft over to Pearl Street...and that's close enough for us. This sleek bistro morphs throughout the day: The fare is a little more standard during daytime hours, when sandwiches and pastries center the offerings, supplemented by such brunch innovations as the yeasted waffle and the avocado toast with Japanese furikake seasoning. Come night, though, the kitchen unleashes novel flavor combinations and impressive presentations: chicken-liver mousse with maple and cocoa nib, pork loin and hazelnut brittle, a whole roasted gourd filled with vegetable noodles and hay cream. Spring for the house-baked bread and house-cultured butter, don't skip the pasta section, and definitely do not leave without having dessert. And at any time of day, order one of Emmerson's equally innovative cocktails.

1600 Pearl St., Boulder, 80302
MAP
303-953-9852
Best Restaurant on the 16th Street Mall
Zoe Ma Ma

Proprietor Edwin Zoe can thank his mother for Zoe Ma Ma's success: Zoe persuaded her to run the kitchen at his original Boulder restaurant, where she built a menu with recipes from her native Taiwan and Zoe's father's native Shandong. The resulting items include a heady Taiwanese beef noodle soup, one of that country's most famous and revered dishes; zha jiang mian, or chewy noodles topped with stewed pork and a generous tuft of julienned carrots and cucumbers; and the CPR, a five-spice-laced stew of chicken and potatoes served over rice. The dishes were such a hit in Boulder that Zoe opened a second Zoe Ma Ma by Union Station, which quickly became a hit among office warriors looking for a unique, quick lunch. Keep an eye out for the special lion's-head meatballs, served only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Readers' Choice: Citizen Rail

1625 Wynkoop St., Denver, 80202
MAP
303-545-6262
Best Restaurant on Havana Street
Angry Chicken
Maureen Witten

Move over, Colonel: There's a new KFC in town. Angry Chicken brought Korean fried chicken to Havana Street at the end of 2017, making the spicy, crackly bird more accessible than ever in metro Denver. And definitely more delicious. With a swank dining room, well-stocked bar (fried chicken is bar food, after all) and roster of sauces from buttery to incendiary, Angry Chicken is the reason so many poultry lovers are crossing the road. And if sticky sauces and juicy chicken aren't enough of a draw, the rice-flour batter that makes the coating so crispy is also gluten-free, so the whole family can indulge without worry. Don't get angry; get chicken.

Readers' Choice: Katsu Ramen

1930 S. Havana St., Aurora, 80014
MAP
303-353-2680
Best Restaurant on Colfax Avenue
To the Wind Bistro Critics' Pick
To the Wind Bistro

To the Wind may be one of Denver's tiniest eateries, but Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson continue to impress with creative dishes and achingly good desserts. After four years, the diminutive dining room — which feels more like someone's home kitchen than a restaurant — is still full of folks looking for seasonal treats and flavorful combinations augmented by labor-intensive technique, whether it's a past dish like bison-tongue pastrami or tender octopus with a hint of char or slow-cooked pork shoulder (or maybe even a crispy treatment of the same animal's ears). Fruit-filled tarts, rich cakes and creamy custards are a must, so throw caution to the wind and spring for dessert.

Readers' Choice: Sassafras American Eatery

3333 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206
MAP
303-316-3333
Best Restaurant With No Prices on Colfax Avenue
SAME Cafe

Soup, pizzas, cookies and the occasional chalkboard special: These things are the marks of a good cafe. You'll find all of those and more at SAME, which stands for "So All May Eat." This spot isn't just a good cafe; it's a good deed in action. The food here doesn't come with a price tag, unless you want it to. Pay a fair price, pay what you can afford, or exchange your meal for some manual labor in the kitchen; the crew just wants to make sure you get a square meal. SAME opened in 2006 as Denver's first nonprofit restaurant, and it continues to be a model around the country for places that want to serve people in need of healthy, locally grown food with a side of dignity.

2023 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206
MAP
720-530-6853
Best Restaurant on Federal Boulevard
Viet's Restaurant

Viet's has long been a staple in the Far East Center, but since moving one door down from its original home to spacious and well-appointed new digs, the Vietnamese restaurant has been elevated from a neighborhood joint to destination dining. Simple dishes such as pho and chao (rice porridge with a choice of toppings) still stand out, but the real draws are the group entrees, including hot pots loaded with fresh greens and savory meats, appetizer platters with make-your-own spring rolls, and the impressive bo bay mon (seven-course beef), mounded platters of meaty greatest hits. For a quick smoothie or banh mi, hit V Express, which sprang up in the space next door after Viet's moved.

Readers' Choice: New Saigon

333 S. Federal Blvd., Denver, 80219
MAP
303-922-5774
Best Outdoor Restaurant on Federal Boulevard
Tacos Marlene
Mark Antonation

Watch for a gathering crowd and smoke rising at at the corner of South Federal Boulevard and West Exposition Avenue: That's the site of Tacos Marlene, a spot that cooks up some of the best street food in town. Take your place in line and peruse the display of bootleg DVDs for sale before placing your order; carne asada, lengua or pastor are good bets, but the adventurous shouldn't miss the tacos de tripa — not spongy tripe, but beef small intestine diced into manageable, delicate pieces cooked to order. You'll be asked if you want them crispy or soft; we recommend crispy for beginners and soft for a wonderful (but more difficult) texture that's almost like broad egg noodles. Eat up as you enjoy the lowriders cruising the boulevard on a weekend night.

679 S. Federal Blvd., Denver, 80219
MAP
Best Dish Named After Your Mother-in-Law
Villagran Restaurante
Mark Antonation

Villagran opened last spring as the brick-and-mortar version of popular west-side food truck Villa Real, serving a more upscale version of its original street-food menu. Thankfully, some of the food-truck favorites made the leap to dining-room status; one of those was the suegra, which takes its name from the Spanish word for mother-in-law. There are many explanations for how the quesadilla-like construction got its name; most involve descriptions that sound mean when applied to your spouse's mom, but delicious when applied to food. At Villagran, two housemade corn tortillas are glued together with molten white cheese loaded with onion, cilantro and a choice of shredded beef, carne asada or carne al pastor. The lightly crisped handmade tortillas are what elevate the suegras above run-of-the-mill Mexican fare — and make you wonder why mothers-in-law have gotten such a bad rap for so long.

1215 W. Alameda Ave., Denver, 80223
MAP
303-379-9927
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Best House Margarita: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

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