How much do we love this cheese plate? Let us count the wheys: At Vesta Dipping Grill, a hip, stylish restaurant in LoDo, Matt Selby, the kitchen's big cheese, is so serious about promoting the virtues of this dairy product that his well-selected, beautifully presented cheese plate is offered as both an appetizer and a dessert. The selection changes weekly, as Selby chooses the best of the best from internationally procured curds and pairs them with such cheese-friendly tidbits as dried figs, sliced pears, candied walnuts, arugula and, of course, crackers. True connoisseurs will milk this course for all it's worth.

The Village Cork is just adorable, a wee bit of a place with a bar and five tables tucked into it. Once an ice-cream shop and then a deli, now it's the most charming of hangouts, a place for folks to stop by for a glass of wine -- choose from two dozen or so reds and whites, all available by the bottle or the glass at reasonable prices -- and a cheese plate. The Cork gets its cheese from the esteemed Truffle cheese shop; the selection changes regularly, but you can always count on three or four cow's-milk offerings, a couple of goat's-milk cheeses, and several made from sheep's milk. They come on a pretty china platter alongside cute little cheese knives, some fresh fruit and nuts. The Cork offers other grazing items, too, including duck-liver-and-truffle pâté, soup, salad and desserts. Sometimes it takes a Village Cork to raise the level of neighborhood visiting; here you can count on finding conversation as convivial as the gustatorial fare.

Forty seconds into this engaging little shop, owners Kate and Dave Kaufmann will have you tasting a few cheeses you've never heard of before. Two minutes later, you'll have tasted ten. The generous taste tests are only part of what makes the Truffle the best cheese shop in town, though. Unlike the pre-wrapped wedges you find at grocery stores, the cheese here is cut to order from the Kaufmanns' extensive selection, which includes everything from local goat cheese to rare raw-milk wheels from remote farms in France. The Truffle also offers a dizzying array of packaged gourmet foods -- thyme-scented honey, porcini cream, duck prosciutto, dried chanterelles, orange-flower water, blackberry syrup -- along with fresh caviar, foie gras and the namesake truffles, of course. But the Kauffmans' true passion is cheese, and they know more about it than anyone we've come across. That knowledge elevates their store to a cut above the rest.

With these two stores nestled against each other in the Highland neighborhood, you've got the makings of a perfect picnic. First, stop by St. Kilian's, where Hugh O'Neill and Ionah de Freitas (former owners of Hugh's American Bistro) stock cheeses from all over the globe, including ones made right in our own Colorado back yard. They also have fresh-baked bread, smoked salmon, imported chocolate and dozens of other ready-to-eat items that help make for an instant picnic. Then take your goodies next door, where Mondo Vino owner Duey Kratzer can take one look at your provisions and pronounce the ideal wine to go with them. Stick everything in a big basket and you're off.

Tamayo won the location lottery when it took over the space that had been occupied by Cadillac Ranch and turned the second-floor terrace into a Mexican retreat. Every night that the weather cooperates, you can watch the sun set over the mountains and smell the fresh air, blessedly free of car exhaust, even though the traffic whizzing below on 14th Street and Speer Boulevard is enough to make you feel like you're part of a thriving, if not world-class, city. And when the weather is bad, your consolation prize is Tamayo's groovy interior, complete with a stunning mosaic mural behind the bar.

Over the past five years, Yia Yia's Eurocafe has become a Denver Tech Center mainstay, in part because of its efficient, gracious service and well-executed Mediterranean food (including fabulous crab risotto cakes), and in part because it has one of the best outdoor patios in town. Overlooking a man-made pond, complete with fountain, and facing southwest to catch the last rays of the day, Yia Yia's spacious patio is surrounded by shrubbery. Sit at one of the sturdy tables -- yellow umbrellas fend off the heat of the afternoon sun -- and you'll forget that you're in the middle of an enormous business park in the middle of the suburbs.
As the area's best option for meat-free dining, Sunflower continues to blossom. Even though this tidy, sun-filled spot offers free-range chicken, seafood and hormone-free game meats, the bulk of its menu is vegetarian. The dishes are made from ingredients that contain no preser-vatives, chemical additives or artificial elements -- and they're even prepared in aluminum-free cookware, using non-irradiated herbs and spices. So what's left? Pure flavor. While veg-heads can go for the tofu nori roll, the pesto-stuffed portobello, the pineapple sweet-and-sour tofu and the tempeh scalopini, even the most ardent carnivore should be satisfied by the chicken stuffed with corn and sage. At lunch, the salad bar is one of the tops in town.

Best known for its see-and-be-seen scene where the in-the-know go to snuggle up against the bar and chat with owner Adde Bjorklund, Bistro Adde Brewster is also the town's premier stop for savvy salads. Featuring absolutely fresh ingredients tossed in unique combinations, the salads come in two styles: small plates, such as warm-braised Belgian endive leaves mixed with bacon, or aged chèvre and toasted walnuts in a heart-healthy veggie broth; and entrees that place sesame-seared ahi in a sesame-ginger vinaigrette, or lamb chops coated in citrus-sparked gremolata over mixed greens in a dressing flavored with cumin and oranges. With over a dozen choices available, Adde's customers can live, and relive, their salad days.

At the Hilltop Cafe, a charming, bright-yellow New American-style spot in a house on a hill in Golden, chef Ian Kleinman has made soups a specialty. His repertoire includes nearly a hundred concoctions, most of his own design, that he rotates regularly, and there isn't a loser among them. Kleinman does right by the classics -- a cool, creamy vichyssoise with a hint of chive; silky-smooth, basil-flecked tomato; dark, rich French onion topped with a broiled lid of bread and cheese -- but also stirs up some surprising combinations, such as roasted apple and tarragon and curried pumpkin. At Hilltop, the soup's not only on -- it's right on.
Fungi freaks can stop digging: Aix, a wonderful eatery with the air of Provence, makes the most of mushrooms with its wild-mushroom soup. Part chunky, part purée, this magical elixir tastes of nothing but 'shrooms -- from the pungent, heady broth to the butter-soft bits and a crowning touch of white-truffle oil. For true mycophagists -- you know who you are -- Aix marks the spot.

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