Since Tony and Marla Zarlenga opened Café Brazil a decade ago, a few other South American eateries have appeared in the Denver area. But none have come close to duplicating the intense flavors that Marla cooks up in the kitchen or the warm hospitality that emanates from your host, Tony. Step into this tiny, colorful storefront and prepare to have your tastebuds danced on by some of the most vivacious cooking in town: chile-fired, coconut-sweetened fish dishes, smoked meats in citrusy stews, perfectly fried, greaseless calamari rings with a zippy marinara, even a zesty mango dressing on the salads. The entrees all come ringed with herb-infused rice and steamed and sautéed vegetables; sweet tortes made from mangoes and the lulo, a hairy Colombian fruit similar to a kiwi, make for exotic finishes. Don't miss the concentrated black-bean soup or the moist banana bread, either. In fact, the important thing is not to miss out on Café Brazil at all.

Fans of the vibrant cuisine of the Caribbean finally have reason to jump up and dance. Rhumba is a fun, noisy restaurant, popular not just for its rum-soaked drinks -- the wicked mojito, a blend of rum, mint, lime, powdered sugar and soda, will put a spring in your step -- but also for its colorful, flavorful dishes. Owner Dave Query and partner/chef Joe Schneider have assembled a roster that reads like a history of the islands: Spanish-influenced stews, African-spiced chutneys and Indian-style curries all vie for a diner's attention like beach vendors purveying the colorful blankets of the West Indies. Athough it's all good, the fish is particularly special. And don't go so wild on the lively appetizers -- coconut-basil sauce on dumplings, yam-filled tamales -- that you can't make it to dessert, which sometimes includes the to-die-for passion fruit meringue pie. ¡Arriba!
Fans of the vibrant cuisine of the Caribbean finally have reason to jump up and dance. Rhumba is a fun, noisy restaurant, popular not just for its rum-soaked drinks -- the wicked mojito, a blend of rum, mint, lime, powdered sugar and soda, will put a spring in your step -- but also for its colorful, flavorful dishes. Owner Dave Query and partner/chef Joe Schneider have assembled a roster that reads like a history of the islands: Spanish-influenced stews, African-spiced chutneys and Indian-style curries all vie for a diner's attention like beach vendors purveying the colorful blankets of the West Indies. Athough it's all good, the fish is particularly special. And don't go so wild on the lively appetizers -- coconut-basil sauce on dumplings, yam-filled tamales -- that you can't make it to dessert, which sometimes includes the to-die-for passion fruit meringue pie. ¡Arriba!
Be here. Aloha. When Denver netted a link in a first-rate restaurant chain out of Hawaii, we knew the fish was bound to be good. But this good? Roy's Cherry Creek, the sixth in chef Roy Yamaguchi's group, made a big splash when it opened this year inside the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, and it continues to make waves by offering service and food so good that few other restaurants in town can match either. And then there's the food Roy's offers, including such unusual catches as wahoo (also known as ono, it's a saltwater mackerel that's used in sushi) and monchong (also called a pomfret, it's a Pacific Ocean fish with a mellow flavor and oily texture). The kitchen even takes special care with more standard seafood, doing it in ways no one else does. The sea scallops, for example, are soy-charred, which leaves the centers soft and squishy and the flavor heightened. Tiger shrimp are sesame-encrusted and placed atop a ginger-infused plum-lime vinaigrette; swordfish are virtually steamed inside a package of nori until just cooked; and blue nose snapper gets a very light steaming and a delicate Thai-style mushroom broth. There's plenty fishy about the appetizers, too: parmesan-crispy calamari, rare ahi gently blackened around the edges, ceviche made with the freshest of white fish and scallops and enhanced with freshly diced tomatillos. Roy's is a keeper.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Be here. Aloha. When Denver netted a link in a first-rate restaurant chain out of Hawaii, we knew the fish was bound to be good. But this good? Roy's Cherry Creek, the sixth in chef Roy Yamaguchi's group, made a big splash when it opened this year inside the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, and it continues to make waves by offering service and food so good that few other restaurants in town can match either. And then there's the food Roy's offers, including such unusual catches as wahoo (also known as ono, it's a saltwater mackerel that's used in sushi) and monchong (also called a pomfret, it's a Pacific Ocean fish with a mellow flavor and oily texture). The kitchen even takes special care with more standard seafood, doing it in ways no one else does. The sea scallops, for example, are soy-charred, which leaves the centers soft and squishy and the flavor heightened. Tiger shrimp are sesame-encrusted and placed atop a ginger-infused plum-lime vinaigrette; swordfish are virtually steamed inside a package of nori until just cooked; and blue nose snapper gets a very light steaming and a delicate Thai-style mushroom broth. There's plenty fishy about the appetizers, too: parmesan-crispy calamari, rare ahi gently blackened around the edges, ceviche made with the freshest of white fish and scallops and enhanced with freshly diced tomatillos. Roy's is a keeper.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Sushi Den
Sushi Den
Now you have a friend in the diving business. Make that several friends. As Sushi Den shows, it's not enough to have fresh, exotic fish -- although this longtime winner has that in abundance -- you also need a staff that knows what to do with it. This jazzy, cool, see-and-be-seen scene has the best sushi staff in town. As a result, nowhere else is the sashimi better cut, the rice better flavored and molded, the tray more beautifully assembled. Sushi Den knows its raw materials inside and out, and those materials get more exotic every day, now that the restaurant is also a fish distributor, importing directly from Japan and even serving as middleman for restaurants on the West Coast. Although you can enjoy your sushi in the dining room, it's much more fun to sit at the bar and be part of the cutting-edge action.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

Now you have a friend in the diving business. Make that several friends. As Sushi Den shows, it's not enough to have fresh, exotic fish -- although this longtime winner has that in abundance -- you also need a staff that knows what to do with it. This jazzy, cool, see-and-be-seen scene has the best sushi staff in town. As a result, nowhere else is the sashimi better cut, the rice better flavored and molded, the tray more beautifully assembled. Sushi Den knows its raw materials inside and out, and those materials get more exotic every day, now that the restaurant is also a fish distributor, importing directly from Japan and even serving as middleman for restaurants on the West Coast. Although you can enjoy your sushi in the dining room, it's much more fun to sit at the bar and be part of the cutting-edge action.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

Got three milks? Then you have the makings of pastel con tres leches, a three-milk cake popular in Mexico that's a cross between a rustic custard and a sopping wet bread pudding, only so much sweeter and better. Fortunately, Seorita's Cantina, an up-and-coming Tex-Mex cafe in LoDo, has imported this worthy dish across the border. Although it's traditionally made with goat's milk, many chefs these days are going with whole milk or heavy cream instead; the other two leches are usually evaporated and sweetened condensed. We don't know what combination Seorita's uses, but the result is undeniable: a super-sweet, creamy, curdy delight that will make a convert out of the most staunch dessert naysayer. Seorita's should milk this one for all it's worth.

Got three milks? Then you have the makings of pastel con tres leches, a three-milk cake popular in Mexico that's a cross between a rustic custard and a sopping wet bread pudding, only so much sweeter and better. Fortunately, Señorita's Cantina, an up-and-coming Tex-Mex cafe in LoDo, has imported this worthy dish across the border. Although it's traditionally made with goat's milk, many chefs these days are going with whole milk or heavy cream instead; the other two leches are usually evaporated and sweetened condensed. We don't know what combination Señorita's uses, but the result is undeniable: a super-sweet, creamy, curdy delight that will make a convert out of the most staunch dessert naysayer. Señorita's should milk this one for all it's worth.

Banzai Sushi
Courtesy Banzai Sushi Facebook
Banzai offers many types of sushi, all of good quality, all expertly prepared, but it really gets on a roll when it contemplates sushi-roll possibilities. The restaurant offers more than a hundred types, divided into nine categories: no fish on the outside; seaweed outside (traditional roll style); crunchy tempura batter on the outside; fish on the outside; eel on the outside; NITRO (those would be the spicy ones); avocado on the outside; whole roll deep-fried; and, when available, harder-to-get sea urchin and bonito. Pick a combination of ingredients -- say, shrimp, asparagus, avocado, gourd and mayo -- and a style (do you want that deep-fried, the shrimp wrapped around it all, or the avocado on the outside?), then let the good times, and the good tastes, roll.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of