Bastien's Restaurant 3501 East Colfax Avenue., 303-322-0363. Bastien's isn't retro; the rest of the world is. Looking for the cocktail culture of the ´50s? Bastien's has it. Early-´70s swinger swank? It has that, too. Bastien's doesn't change with the times; the times change around it. Like they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and while the batteries on Bastien's Timex ran down a long time ago, this is still a great place to go for good steaks, strong drinks and a taste of Denver's culinary past.
Casa Bonita 6715 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, 303-232-5115. You cannot call yourself a real Denverite -- or even a real Coloradan -- until you can say that you've been through Black Bart's Cave. You can't say you've truly experienced all that the Mile High City has to offer until you've seen the cliff divers, eaten the sopapillas (which are actually pretty good), gotten drunk on a bucket of Coronas and taken a swing at the big stuffed monkey or one of the strolling mariachis. And while, yes, you have to agree to buy dinner before you're even allowed through the doors of Casa Bonita, there's no rule that says you have to eat it once it arrives. Because inside this lysergic-acid wonderland of creepy, Disneyfied Mexicana, we can guarantee that the food will be the least interesting thing you encounter.
Chicago 6680 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, 303-233-0500. Luanne and Joe Margotte opened this joint wellover a decade ago with the idea of transplanting a few hundred square feet of Chicago in the fertile soil of metro Denver. The game on the radio is the Cubs or the Bears; at the counter is a stash of Fannie May candies, boxes of Salerno butter cookies, signs for Gonnella bread (as vital to Chicago eaters as Amoroso rolls are to Philadelphians). The place is less a restaurant than a cramped, cluttered, plastic-wrapped museum of Chicago paraphernalia.
Encore Restaurant 2550 East Colfax Avenue, 303-355-1112. Housed in a corner of the one-time Lowenstein Theatre, Encore Restaurant features a beautiful long bar stretching out below crystal chandeliers; a crowd composed of families, yuppies and culture vultures who've wandered over from Tattered Cover and Twist & Shout; and a talented kitchen turning out a solid, New American menu of both jump-started comfort food and ethnic translations. The cedar-plank salmon is a welcome resurrection of California cuisine, and the french fries are the best in town.
Davies Chuck Wagon Diner 9495 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, 303-237-5252. Davies Chuck Wagon was built in 1957, maybe one of the best years for diners, definitely one of the last. When it's busy, the building seems to breathe -- taking in drafts of cool air from outside, exhaling customers -- and nothing is ever still as tables turn fast and coffee pots make the rounds. And all day, every day, Davies serves some of the best East-Coast-meets-Wild West diner food around, including incredible chicken-fried steak.
Mezcal 3230 East Colfax Avenue, 303-322-5219. There's magic in Mezcal's off-hours, when it's just a quiet little neighborhood spot for simple, traditional Tijuana street food in a comfy-funky atmosphere. Friday night? That's different. That's when the kids come -- backflow from the Bluebird Theater and shock troops of the local hipsterati in their weekend best -- and crowd the bar. Mezcal's kitchen keeps going until 1 a.m., and after 10 p.m. it bangs out tacos at a dollar a pop in a kind of reverse happy hour that keeps the area jumping ´til long after most decent folk have gone to bed.
Solera 5410 East Colfax Avenue, 303-388-8429. Solera's kitchen has truly come into its own with a menu of solid, old-world dishes reinterpreted through chef Goose Sorensen's worldly neo-classicism. Look for excellent modern translations of traditional French, Italian and Mediterranean dishes served in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere by one of the most knowledgeable groups of servers in town.
Tacos y Salsas 9103 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-367-1046. Tacos y Salsas is a tough place to miss - all the outposts of this growing local chain are as shiny and carnival-colored as their surroundings are gray and grim. The food at this taquería-style spot shines just as bright, with excellent meats sliced and seared right in front of you. You can doctor your dishes - tortas, burritos, palm-sized gorditas -- from the salsa bar filled with sauces and other condiments, including fresh and pickled veggies. And, if you've chosen the right location (our favorite is on Federal), you'll be able to wash down your unmatchable meal with a beer.
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>Tom's Diner 601 East Colfax Avenue, 303-861-7493. Among Denver's legendary dives, Tom's stands out: It's the absolute best spot for watching Denver's insomniac-freak community while eating decent diner grub. Sure, there are holes in the windows that may or may not be from bullets, and locks on the bathroom doors. But Tom's also features great servers and a real opportunity to get up close and personal with Denver nightlife.