Best California-Mediterranean Restaurant

Mizuna

Mizuna
Joni Schrantz
The name, which refers to a Japanese green, is your first clue that Mizuna is all over the map, pulling from international flavors and ingredients to make dishes so stunning, they're over the top. Still, most of the items at this charismatic bistro are inspired by the New American sensibilities of California cuisine, with a heavy reliance on Mediterranean components to pull everything together. The hallmark of chef/part owner Frank Bonanno's cooking is fresh ingredients, with plenty of butter and cream to carry the flavors; dishes such as crème-fraîche-bolstered mashed potatoes and lobster-enriched macaroni and cheese are perfect examples of this philosophy. Bonanno's partner, host-with-the-most Doug Fleisch-mann, manages to keep the needy audience pampered and entertained while diners wait for the next delectable dish to come out of the kitchen.
Panzano
Linnea Covington
Italian food is more than spaghetti and meatballs. A lot more. And Panzano, which is named for a small wine town in Chianti, proves it with inspired, well-executed dishes that evoke what you might find at the finest inns of Tuscany. Panzano is lucky to have chef Jennifer Jasinski do the translating: She relies on bold flavors, rich sauces and just the right touch with herbs to create such elaborate dishes as mezzaluna pasta stuffed with roasted Kabocha squash, mascarpone, three-nut brown butter, Amaretti di Saronno cookies, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fried sage. If that doesn't grab you, how about chicken breast rolotini with currants, pine nuts, pancetta and Parmigiano, accompanied by a salad of grilled figs, pecorino and arugula? Match the culinary masterpieces with one of Panzano's well-chosen Italian wines, and you have a meal that isn't just Italian -- it's delicious.
Chef Duy Van Pham may be Vietnamese, but his food couldn't be more French if he were cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. Pham has settled in at Tante Louise very nicely, helping the old aunt preserve her thirty-year-old reputation for serving the best French food in town. From the charcuterie plate to the fruit tarts, a meal at the AAA four-diamond and Mobil four-star Tante Louise includes everything from haute to not, with a bit of American and Asian whimsy thrown in for good measure. Try the délices françaises of garlic confit white-bean soup, lobster mashed potatoes and foie-gras-stuffed tenderloin, and don't be afraid to ask sommelier Emma Healion for a wine recommendation from her 600-bottle roster. Enjoy your meal in the romantic, elegant atmosphere of a French country inn just minutes from downtown.
Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar
Get your mojo working at Cuba Cuba, Denver's first totally Cuban restaurant. Owners Kristy Socarras Bigelow, her husband, Brian Bigelow, and her brother, Enrique Socarras, have turned two side-by-side, pre-1880 dwellings in the Golden Triangle into party central, with one house looking like a casual, convivial replica of the Casablanca set, complete with palm-frond fans and a bright, open-air feel, and the other transformed into a bongo-lined bar. The drink of choice is a mojito, made from rum, fresh mint leaves, a splash of lime and plenty of sugar, and the recipes -- from Enrique (the siblings are Cuban) -- focus on the breezier, fruit-focused foods of Cuba. Have fun with the plantain chips and shrimp appetizers, but save room for the sugary tres leches at dessert.
As Latin-food lovers race to the new South American spots cropping up across town like plantains in a tropical heat wave, savvy south-of-the-border aficionados continue to savor the culinary carnaval that is Café Brazil. The only thing zestier than the colorful decor in this tiny, fascinating space is the food, from the fab fejoida (Brazil's national dish) to the particularly luscious flan. Entrees are substantial and always surrounded by rice, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit; if that's not enough food, moist banana bread and savory cheese buns come with the meal, and the spicy black-bean soup and killer calamari appetizers make nice add-ons. The close quarters make the dining room as intimate or as raucous as you'd like, but be sure to make reservations -- Denver loves this Latin a lot.
When it comes to authentic New Mexican food, Julia Blackbird's flies right. The vibrantly colored, busy cafe is the ideal setting for chef/owner Julia Siegfried-Garrison's flamboyant flavors and bold ingredient combinations. The Chimayo chiles stuffed with goat cheese and dusted with blue-corn meal make for chiles rellenos that are out of this world. Closer to home, go straight to Taos with the flash-fried, blue-corn tacos, filled with chicken or beef and a sharp pico, or swing through Navajo country with a bowl of hearty stew chock-full of posole, beans, corn and potatoes, with goat cheese for added zing. Since there's no liquor license here, the strawberry lemonade is the drink of choice.
Potager
Lindsey Bartlett
You say New American, I say contemporary American, he says fusion. Whatever. In recent years, Potager has come into its own as a consistently exciting restaurant that almost defies definition, using ingredients from all over the world to create interesting, enticing dishes. From appetizers of Berkshire blue-cheese ravioli over arugula and updated crab Louie to oven-roasted saddle of rabbit with caramelized fennel and pan-roasted monkfish with braised oxtail, chef/owner Teri Basoli creates meals with flair. The wine list pulls from all over, too, and the bustling atmosphere makes diners feel they're somewhere special. Oh, say, can you see what a wonderful restaurant this is?
Mein Gott, we thought Sacre Bleu was a goner. But then owner Julie Payne wisely gave it up, and her ex-husband, Michael Payne, stepped in to try to sort things out. Lo and behold, he succeeded in doing just that, bringing in a savvy staff -- including chef Hamilton Cowie -- and toning down the attitude a bit, so that diners can count on professional service, reasonable prices and stunningly flavored food. Bar-hoppers still nestle in the groovy bar area, but a fun bar menu means that they're more likely to graze than score. More serious foodies can settle down in the plush dining room and gorge themselves on foie gras, sunchoke tarts, stuffed duck breast with a dried-cherry bread pudding, and a molten chocolate cake that's to die for. Thank God.
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
Okay, we know a teahouse may not be the first location that pops into your mind when you're in a romantic mood. But Dushanbe isn't your typical teahouse. A gift of the mayor of Dushanbe, Boulder's sister city in Tajikistan, the elaborately decorated building is breathtaking, a work of art featuring hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling tiles, tables, stools and columns, all of which combine to create an exotic getaway the second you walk through the intricately decorated doors. The menu offers exotic mysteries to match, a collection of sumptuous, sensuous foods from faraway lands: African plantain fritters, Puerto Rican chicken adobo, wild-mushroom risotto. To ensure that sparks fly, ask for a tucked-away floor table, where you and your date can sit on plush pillows, sip steamy jasmine-scented tea, listen to a nearby fountain dribbling water and discuss international affairs...if you know what we mean. See? We told you so.

Best New Restaurant (since March 2001)

Deli Tech

Start spreading the news: Thanks to Deli Tech, Denverites can finally take a real bite of the Big Apple. Finally, pastrami on rye we can really sink our teeth into. Finally, latkes that are light and crunchy. Finally, borscht that can't be beet. Brought to us by two former New Yorkers (and longtime Coloradans), Fred Anzman and Barbara Simon-Anzman, Deli Tech is a black-and-white delight reminiscent of the glorious delis of the East Coast, where egg creams rule and stuffed cabbage is a gourmet treat. Finally, we're chopped liver -- and we're loving it.

Best Of Denver®

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