Avid gardeners will tell you that the average garden requires at least three years to take hold, and even more if the plan is elaborate. Well, it's been about five years since Pat and Chuck Perry planted a garden outside their lovely Highlands Garden Cafe, and in that time, their restaurant has not only taken hold as one of Denver's best places to eat, but also one of its most beautiful. In the garden around the side and back of the Victorian structure, rosebushes and ivy grow in abundance, filling the air with their sweet fragrance and fluttering song when the wind blows; it makes for some enchanting evening when you're dining on the cafe's extended decks. At night it's an ideal -- and romantic -- setting for Pat's amazing food, an ever-changing roster of New American dishes based on what's fresh at the market that day and what she has growing in her own backyard (including most of the herbs she uses in her kitchen). How does this garden grow? Deliciously.

Best food at Six Flags Elitch Gardens

Pizza Alley

If you left it up to your children, their entire college savings plan would fund a dozen outings to Elitch's. And once inside, they'd feel no remorse about begging -- no, demanding -- that you devote your retirement nest egg to purchasing an endless parade of toxic snacks. Don't despair: A thriftier but still fun alternative does exist. Pizza Alley, of Highland Square fame, delivers family-sized pies right up to the amusement park's gate. The picnic area adjoining the park along the South Platte River may not be as nice as the old grounds at the original Elitch's, but it's still a good spot to take a break on your whip-and-spin outing, down some decent pizza, watch the kids cavort and dream of ways to spend your retirement -- and that retirement money.

Best food at Six Flags Elitch Gardens

Pizza Alley

If you left it up to your children, their entire college savings plan would fund a dozen outings to Elitch's. And once inside, they'd feel no remorse about begging -- no, demanding -- that you devote your retirement nest egg to purchasing an endless parade of toxic snacks. Don't despair: A thriftier but still fun alternative does exist. Pizza Alley, of Highland Square fame, delivers family-sized pies right up to the amusement park's gate. The picnic area adjoining the park along the South Platte River may not be as nice as the old grounds at the original Elitch's, but it's still a good spot to take a break on your whip-and-spin outing, down some decent pizza, watch the kids cavort and dream of ways to spend your retirement -- and that retirement money.

Tom Unterwagner strives to make food that tastes just as good as Mom's used to -- and since these days Mom is as likely to be turning on the computer as she is the stove, that's a laudable goal. And Tom's Home Cookin' delivers (although not in the strict sense of the word, since you have to pick up the food yourself). This fare is as close to down-home as the gourmet takeout business gets, with well-executed dishes that the average family will enjoy. Unterwagner cooks up meatball stroganoff, roast turkey, meaty spaghetti and chicken pot pies, and he does so for a price so low that you can visit his establishment quite often. Every day, just $5.95 nets one entree and two sides, plus a piece of cheese bread or cornbread. The side dishes are as varied as the main courses -- candied yams, red beans and rice, creamed corn, Brussels sprouts in butter -- and just as delicious. For a few more bucks, you can throw in a couple of Tom's terrific desserts; we highly recommend the Coca-Cola cake and the sweet-potato pie. Just think: One day your kids will long for food like Tom used to make.

Tom Unterwagner strives to make food that tastes just as good as Mom's used to -- and since these days Mom is as likely to be turning on the computer as she is the stove, that's a laudable goal. And Tom's Home Cookin' delivers (although not in the strict sense of the word, since you have to pick up the food yourself). This fare is as close to down-home as the gourmet takeout business gets, with well-executed dishes that the average family will enjoy. Unterwagner cooks up meatball stroganoff, roast turkey, meaty spaghetti and chicken pot pies, and he does so for a price so low that you can visit his establishment quite often. Every day, just $5.95 nets one entree and two sides, plus a piece of cheese bread or cornbread. The side dishes are as varied as the main courses -- candied yams, red beans and rice, creamed corn, Brussels sprouts in butter -- and just as delicious. For a few more bucks, you can throw in a couple of Tom's terrific desserts; we highly recommend the Coca-Cola cake and the sweet-potato pie. Just think: One day your kids will long for food like Tom used to make.

Yes, with a name like California Pizza Kitchen, the pizza is one good reason to go to this popular new eatery in Cherry Creek. But there are so many more things to love than just the unique barbecued-chicken 'za. There's the fast service (which makes up for the long wait). And then there's the Oriental chicken salad: Fresh, ice-cold shredded lettuce is tossed with crispy angel hair, carrots, scallions, fresh basil and cilantro, and beautifully charred grilled chicken, and then everything's lightly coated in a sesame dressing that's sweet, sour and nutty all at once. The balance of both sweet and sour tastes and crunchy and soft textures is what makes this salad so special; a mix this competent and courageous is what makes salad-eating fun. You can get the Oriental chicken salad as an entree or a half-size, but since the flavors only get better with time, we recommend going for the big one and then stretching your salad days into tomorrow.

Yes, with a name like California Pizza Kitchen, the pizza is one good reason to go to this popular new eatery in Cherry Creek. But there are so many more things to love than just the unique barbecued-chicken 'za. There's the fast service (which makes up for the long wait). And then there's the Oriental chicken salad: Fresh, ice-cold shredded lettuce is tossed with crispy angel hair, carrots, scallions, fresh basil and cilantro, and beautifully charred grilled chicken, and then everything's lightly coated in a sesame dressing that's sweet, sour and nutty all at once. The balance of both sweet and sour tastes and crunchy and soft textures is what makes this salad so special; a mix this competent and courageous is what makes salad-eating fun. You can get the Oriental chicken salad as an entree or a half-size, but since the flavors only get better with time, we recommend going for the big one and then stretching your salad days into tomorrow.

This warm, upscale but casual eatery may be a link in a California-based chain, but it knows a thing or two about Italian food. The pastas come covered with well-executed sauces; the wine list focuses on vino from the boot and is well-priced, to boot. But it's the Caesar that we truly hail. This salad is precisely, perfectly made, with every ingredient working in delicious harmony. The romaine hearts are fresh and coldly crisp, the shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese plentiful, the croutons made from polenta cut into little cubes and fried buttery golden. But the dressing is the real topper: slightly salty, creamy, anchovy-kissed, garlic-hugged. Lettuce never had it so good -- and neither have we.

This warm, upscale but casual eatery may be a link in a California-based chain, but it knows a thing or two about Italian food. The pastas come covered with well-executed sauces; the wine list focuses on vino from the boot and is well-priced, to boot. But it's the Caesar that we truly hail. This salad is precisely, perfectly made, with every ingredient working in delicious harmony. The romaine hearts are fresh and coldly crisp, the shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese plentiful, the croutons made from polenta cut into little cubes and fried buttery golden. But the dressing is the real topper: slightly salty, creamy, anchovy-kissed, garlic-hugged. Lettuce never had it so good -- and neither have we.

Chef Michael Degenhart has clearly mastered the art of French cooking, as evidenced at his own restaurant, Rue Cler. While much of the menu consists of what Degenhart describes as "American with a world view," the sides have the spirit of French cuisine, in which every detail counts. And so Rue Cler offers Yukon gold mashed potatoes, feather-light and buttery; or soy-and-garlic-glazed shiitakes, rich and earthy; or grilled asparagus with a sweet-and-sour balsamic syrup enriched with sun-dried tomatoes; or a Gorgonzola risotto that's as thick and rich as the veal chop it sits beside. Even the classic haricot verts, sautéed with almonds and brown butter, are in a class of their own. When it comes to accompaniments, we'll side with Degenhart.

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