Denver has a number of decent Vietnamese restaurants, but New Saigon outshines them all. Although service remains a crapshoot and the tidy, simply adorned place isn't going to win any awards for innovative decor, the Vietnamese dishes that come out of the kitchen are unsurpassed. Choose from hundreds of entrees --many variations on a theme, with the kind of meat making the difference -- and then expect to get nothing but the best, from the egg and spring rolls to the garlic-kissed frogs' legs and marinated meats so sweet and tender they're almost like flesh candy. The noodle bowls are inexpensive but generous and packed with good ingredients; the garnishes are plentiful and fresh; and the dipping sauces could not be more authentic. New Saigon is an oldie that's still a goodie.

Readers' choice: New Saigon

What makes an Indian restaurant good isn't just the quality of the spices it uses or the touch of its tandoori -- although those things are very, very important indeed -- but also the way the proprietors welcome diners, treating them as if they were a significant part of the transaction. That attitude is very much in evidence at the simple but elegant Star of India, an amiable Indian eatery in an Aurora strip mall that not only serves beautifully prepared and luscious Indian food, but does so with a friendliness that makes dining there a pleasure. Owners Paul Gill and his parents, mom Kapoor and dad Gurmukh, worked with chef Balwant Singh on the menu, so the recipes are a collaboration that benefits from Singh's culinary background and the family's down-home Indian sensibilities. The resulting dishes pair meats so tender they seem almost unreal with pungent, deeply layered sauces that rely on tranditional Indian spicing methods. The lamb korma and shrimp vindaloo are knockouts, and Star of India's tandoori wings put Buffalo's versions to shame. The restaurant's naan sense is sound, too, because the flatbreads are the best in town, especially the sweet, raisin-studded kabli. All in all, this Star's future looks bright.

Readers' choice: Little India

What makes an Indian restaurant good isn't just the quality of the spices it uses or the touch of its tandoori -- although those things are very, very important indeed -- but also the way the proprietors welcome diners, treating them as if they were a significant part of the transaction. That attitude is very much in evidence at the simple but elegant Star of India, an amiable Indian eatery in an Aurora strip mall that not only serves beautifully prepared and luscious Indian food, but does so with a friendliness that makes dining there a pleasure. Owners Paul Gill and his parents, mom Kapoor and dad Gurmukh, worked with chef Balwant Singh on the menu, so the recipes are a collaboration that benefits from Singh's culinary background and the family's down-home Indian sensibilities. The resulting dishes pair meats so tender they seem almost unreal with pungent, deeply layered sauces that rely on tranditional Indian spicing methods. The lamb korma and shrimp vindaloo are knockouts, and Star of India's tandoori wings put Buffalo's versions to shame. The restaurant's naan sense is sound, too, because the flatbreads are the best in town, especially the sweet, raisin-studded kabli. All in all, this Star's future looks bright.

Readers' choice: Little India

Since taking over the Phoenicia Grill, a small but cheerful Middle Eastern eatery, earlier this year, owner Jim Kher has done nothing but improve upon what was already a distinctive spot. In the hip, streamlined space, Kher's chef, Mustafa Awada, displays his extensive culinary-school background and extensive experience at Middle Eastern restaurants with some finely prepared fare. For instance, both the hummus and the baba ghanouj are stellar examples; they each display a creamy texture and sharpness of flavor rarely found around here. The crunchy balls of soft-as-bread falafel are homemade, as are the nakanek, small finger sausages cooked with cilantro and red-wine vinegar and garnished with pine nuts. Other traditional dishes also shine: A thick, hearty moussaka comes covered with a tangy, chunky tomato sauce, and the shawarma features strips of meat that have been grilled until just done so the meat stays moist and tender. If you had to pick just one thing that proves Phoenicia's prowess, though, it would be anything involving kabobs -- lean, well-marinated meats cooked on skewers with mixed vegetables. But then you'd be missing some of Phoenicia's real surprises, such as the flu-shot chicken vegetable soup made with Lebanese spices, and the deep-fried kibbeh -- cracked wheat and beef finely chopped with pine nuts, walnuts and onions -- that few Middle Eastern restaurants take the time to prepare.

Readers' choice: Jerusalem

Since taking over the Phoenicia Grill, a small but cheerful Middle Eastern eatery, earlier this year, owner Jim Kher has done nothing but improve upon what was already a distinctive spot. In the hip, streamlined space, Kher's chef, Mustafa Awada, displays his extensive culinary-school background and extensive experience at Middle Eastern restaurants with some finely prepared fare. For instance, both the hummus and the baba ghanouj are stellar examples; they each display a creamy texture and sharpness of flavor rarely found around here. The crunchy balls of soft-as-bread falafel are homemade, as are the nakanek, small finger sausages cooked with cilantro and red-wine vinegar and garnished with pine nuts. Other traditional dishes also shine: A thick, hearty moussaka comes covered with a tangy, chunky tomato sauce, and the shawarma features strips of meat that have been grilled until just done so the meat stays moist and tender. If you had to pick just one thing that proves Phoenicia's prowess, though, it would be anything involving kabobs -- lean, well-marinated meats cooked on skewers with mixed vegetables. But then you'd be missing some of Phoenicia's real surprises, such as the flu-shot chicken vegetable soup made with Lebanese spices, and the deep-fried kibbeh -- cracked wheat and beef finely chopped with pine nuts, walnuts and onions -- that few Middle Eastern restaurants take the time to prepare.

Readers' choice: Jerusalem

Although the sign out front promises "Aegean Dining in the Venus Room," there's nothing about this dark, divey eatery that indicates the dining inside is going to be anything but mediocre. But get ready to take the plunge, because South Central II serves the best gyros, the best avgolemono soup, the best souvlaki and the best moussaka in town. Before you get to eat those treats, though, you'll have to make your way through the smoky bar, with its blaring TV and Bud-downing regulars, to the Venus Room, a dimly lit, foliage-filled space that holds about a half-dozen tables and about as many little Greek statues and tattered-edged posters of the Mediterranean. But one bite of the gyros, with its greasy juice and moist meat, and those sides of fat French fries and a thicker-than-usual tsatsiki sauce, should convince you that you've gone authentically Greek. A few slurps of the avgolemono should seal the deal: This chicken-based, lemon and egg soup with rice is Venus in liquid form, a beautiful yellow elixir that will have you using a piece of pita to sop up the last drops. Every entree comes with that soup and a salad, a Greek assemblage that includes lettuce, tomatoes, olives and feta, all drizzled with a yogurt-based, black-pepper-laced dressing. Finish off your meal with a triangle of honey-drenched baklava, and thank the Greek gods for the Venus Room.

South Central II
Although the sign out front promises "Aegean Dining in the Venus Room," there's nothing about this dark, divey eatery that indicates the dining inside is going to be anything but mediocre. But get ready to take the plunge, because South Central II serves the best gyros, the best avgolemono soup, the best souvlaki and the best moussaka in town. Before you get to eat those treats, though, you'll have to make your way through the smoky bar, with its blaring TV and Bud-downing regulars, to the Venus Room, a dimly lit, foliage-filled space that holds about a half-dozen tables and about as many little Greek statues and tattered-edged posters of the Mediterranean. But one bite of the gyros, with its greasy juice and moist meat, and those sides of fat French fries and a thicker-than-usual tsatsiki sauce, should convince you that you've gone authentically Greek. A few slurps of the avgolemono should seal the deal: This chicken-based, lemon and egg soup with rice is Venus in liquid form, a beautiful yellow elixir that will have you using a piece of pita to sop up the last drops. Every entree comes with that soup and a salad, a Greek assemblage that includes lettuce, tomatoes, olives and feta, all drizzled with a yogurt-based, black-pepper-laced dressing. Finish off your meal with a triangle of honey-drenched baklava, and thank the Greek gods for the Venus Room.

Sean Kelly knows his way around the Mediterranean, and his Aubergine Cafe navigates a delicious course through the region's varied cuisines. Aubergine's menu not only hits on all of the major cooking styles found in that part of the world, but it does so using local ingredients -- a philosophy that captures the Mediterranean spirit just as much as the recipes do. Although most of the dishes are classics, Kelly updates them with style, and so the grilled Moroccan free-range chicken breast over saffron couscous is sided with a roasted-fennel-and-eggplant-tomato chutney, and pan-roasted halibut sits on a soft bed of crab "gumbo" with housemade, Old Bay-seasoned potato chips and a textbook rouille. All of these delights are served in a dining room that is at once romantic and casual, a bistro in every sense, with the colors of Provence and Tuscany mixing with the smells of the sea. And with a staff as accommodating as a Greek family at their daughter's wedding, this is one club Med we should all join.

Sean Kelly knows his way around the Mediterranean, and his Aubergine Cafe navigates a delicious course through the region's varied cuisines. Aubergine's menu not only hits on all of the major cooking styles found in that part of the world, but it does so using local ingredients -- a philosophy that captures the Mediterranean spirit just as much as the recipes do. Although most of the dishes are classics, Kelly updates them with style, and so the grilled Moroccan free-range chicken breast over saffron couscous is sided with a roasted-fennel-and-eggplant-tomato chutney, and pan-roasted halibut sits on a soft bed of crab "gumbo" with housemade, Old Bay-seasoned potato chips and a textbook rouille. All of these delights are served in a dining room that is at once romantic and casual, a bistro in every sense, with the colors of Provence and Tuscany mixing with the smells of the sea. And with a staff as accommodating as a Greek family at their daughter's wedding, this is one club Med we should all join.

Now that bread puddings have become as ubiquitous on dessert menus as crème brûlée and cheesecake, it's tough to find one that stands out -- but Radex's does. Not surprisingly, the pastry chef at this hip spot offers a hip variation on the standard, taking a sour cream-enriched cornbread and turning it into a cross between old-fashioned spoonbread and fruit-filled polenta, a bundle of warm goodness bearing the flavors of pears, blueberries and raisins. It's sort of sweet, a little tart, very rich and, topped with vanilla ice cream, downright sinful. Bread alert!

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