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.

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.

By now, Denver diners -- meat-eaters and veg-heads alike -- accept as a matter of course that WaterCourse Foods serves the town's best vegetarian meals (sadly, it's still only open for breakfast and lunch). Not content to stick with the dry, lifeless ingredients that have become such a hallmark of vegetarian cooking, chef/owner Dan Landes is always expanding his repertoire of innovative creations. And so now, in addition to meatless Reuben sandwiches, baconless breakfasts (you won't even miss the pig) and the best veggie burger going, WaterCourse also serves tempeh scallopini with mushrooms, a spicy Thai peanut stir-fry, a variety of super salads and a macro plate with packs in the flavor. Although there's always a slew of bikes parked outside this casual space to remind you that a truly healthy lifestyle extends beyond the meal, WaterCourse never fails to lead us into tempeh-tion.

Readers' choice: WaterCourse Foods

By now, Denver diners -- meat-eaters and veg-heads alike -- accept as a matter of course that WaterCourse Foods serves the town's best vegetarian meals (sadly, it's still only open for breakfast and lunch). Not content to stick with the dry, lifeless ingredients that have become such a hallmark of vegetarian cooking, chef/owner Dan Landes is always expanding his repertoire of innovative creations. And so now, in addition to meatless Reuben sandwiches, baconless breakfasts (you won't even miss the pig) and the best veggie burger going, WaterCourse also serves tempeh scallopini with mushrooms, a spicy Thai peanut stir-fry, a variety of super salads and a macro plate with packs in the flavor. Although there's always a slew of bikes parked outside this casual space to remind you that a truly healthy lifestyle extends beyond the meal, WaterCourse never fails to lead us into tempeh-tion.

Readers' choice: WaterCourse Foods

Best vegetarian dish in a non-vegetarian restaurant

Tante Louise

The ultra-polished, romantic and enchanting Tante Louise offers up a spectacular array of French-inspired dishes that are as artfully presented as they are drop-dead delicious. There's so much to choose from that most diners never make it to the end of the menu's roster, much less order the Degustation des Legumes -- which, not quite literally, translates to Option for People Foolishly Willing to Miss Out on the Stunning Animal-Based Dishes We Offer. Of course, owner and consummate host Corky Douglass is far too polite to put it that way, but he's also savvy enough to recognize that this town has plenty of vegetarians searching for fine-dining alternatives. And so every night, Tante Louise chef Duy Pham devises a different three-course meal centered on such tempting entrees as black-barley terrine with wild mushrooms and almonds on a corn purée; the other two courses are a choice of salad (warm goat cheese, maybe, or bleu on frisée) and dessert. That's more than enough to keep the vegetarian at the table happy while his carnivorous companion sucks down a big plate of innocent-sounding, hazelnut-crusted sweetbreads -- otherwise known as thymus glands.

Best vegetarian dish in a non-vegetarian restaurant

Tante Louise

The ultra-polished, romantic and enchanting Tante Louise offers up a spectacular array of French-inspired dishes that are as artfully presented as they are drop-dead delicious. There's so much to choose from that most diners never make it to the end of the menu's roster, much less order the Degustation des Legumes -- which, not quite literally, translates to Option for People Foolishly Willing to Miss Out on the Stunning Animal-Based Dishes We Offer. Of course, owner and consummate host Corky Douglass is far too polite to put it that way, but he's also savvy enough to recognize that this town has plenty of vegetarians searching for fine-dining alternatives. And so every night, Tante Louise chef Duy Pham devises a different three-course meal centered on such tempting entrees as black-barley terrine with wild mushrooms and almonds on a corn purée; the other two courses are a choice of salad (warm goat cheese, maybe, or bleu on frisée) and dessert. That's more than enough to keep the vegetarian at the table happy while his carnivorous companion sucks down a big plate of innocent-sounding, hazelnut-crusted sweetbreads -- otherwise known as thymus glands.

Man does not live by pizza alone, although he could give it a good try at Pasquini's. In fact, the fat, cheese-blanketed pies are so good that most Pasquini's diners don't make it to dessert. And that's a shame, because Pasquini's serves the best chocolate cake in town -- an enormous wedge that's simultaneously dense and fluffy, fervently chocolate and stunningly rich. A chocolate-pumped whipped cream holds the layers together, with a decadent chocolate buttercream frosting topping things off. Any way you slice it -- and whatever you slice up -- Pasquini's comes out a winner.

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