Our friend the pig has many worthy parts, from the feet that give kick to menudo to those juicy fat hams to that tasty underbelly. At Zona's Tamales, even the pig's ears go to a good cause -- cooked until tender (except for that crunchy cartilage) and slathered with mustard and onions, they fill a novel sandwich. Are you listening?


It can be costly enough feeding yourself, much less fueling up a whole family, which is why Tokyo Joe's was such a welcome addition to the Denver dining scene. This homegrown chain cooks up Japanese fare that's a clean, healthy alternative to grease-laden fast food. The tasty bowls, many of which are in the $4 range, feature marinated, grilled chicken and sirloin or steamed vegetables, draped in your choice of curry, Joe's sweet teriyaki, the trademarked hot Spicy-aki, or oyako sauce, a faintly oniony concoction. For another 60 cents, you can switch out the rice for noodles, Asian veggies or tofu. And the kids' meals will bowl you over: A serving of chicken teriyaki, noodles and cheese, or noodle teriyaki, complete with a cookie, costs just $2.70. Have it your way, the healthy way.


All signs point to the Zodiac Lounge. During the week, this Mediterranean club serves dinner until 10 p.m. But on Fridays and Saturdays, the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m., and the late-night hours prove the perfect time to experience this sensory-overload "entertainment experience." Munch on delectable fried calamari, duck quesadillas, grilled tenderloin kabob and buttery shrimp scampi in the "Water Room," with its holograph-lined copper bar and twelve-foot waterfall, while sneaking a peek at the partyers dancing the night away in the nearby Club Cosmo.


After a night of boozing, a slice of New York-style pizza dripping with cheese is just the one-two punch you need to make it home. The conveniently located Two-Fisted Mario's is open until 2 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, which gives you plenty of time to regroup after the bars close by putting a sugary soda and a slice into your system. Better yet, order a large pie and take the rest home with you: There's nothing like cold pizza for a hangover.


Finally, a place that knows how to do tapas right. These little Spanish-style starters aren't supposed to be full-fledged plates, nor are they supposed to be priced like them. Nicois recognizes this and offers more than a dozen ways to sample delightful combinations of full-flavored Mediterranean ingredients, including squid stuffed with roasted shrimp, seared foie gras, serrano ham with manchego cheese, and crispy-fried salt-cod fritters. The price is particularly appealing: Each taste treat is $3.50, which means you can snack on one or two as a starter, or put together a half-dozen and make a meal out them. Spring for a cava, Spain's answer to Champagne, while you're at it. Nice.


So many restaurants are hell-bent on putting all those newfangled, exciting ingredients on their appetizer lists that they forget all about the old-school classics, such as escargots bourguignonne and jumbo shrimp cocktail. Vasil's Euro-Grille, however, remembers to pay homage to the past even as it celebrates the new. The shrimp, for example, comes with that traditional cocktail sauce -- here a tangy homemade version -- as well as a salsa of pickled asparagus, endives and apples that's a savvy, zesty counterpoint to the sweet shrimp meat. And while the standby of oysters Rockefeller gets the usual treatment of creamy spinach and a splash of Pernod, the dish also features tomato-pumped hollandaise and shaved Asiago for a nutty twist. But wait, there's more: honey-baked goat cheese with roasted tomatoes, kalamatas and balsamic; seared foie gras on a slice of "crème brûlée" French toast with a raspberry reduction; and wild-mushroom risotto finished with white-truffle oil. If Vasil's wants to start something, we're ready.


We're sweet on Micole's pastry chef, Steven Fling, who continues to makes some of the most interesting, appealing desserts around. His eight-item roster includes such wonders as smoked golden pineapple in a coconut mousse with Myers's rum ice cream; a white-chocolate timbale surrounded by a basil-strewn apricot salad and apricot soup; and a "study" of three pears (pear tart, port-poached pear and pear sorbet). But the real icing on the cake is the creamy-textured apple-and-cheddar "crème brûlée" in a calvados syrup that's like nothing you've tasted before. Thanks to Fling, Micole finishes in first place.
Okay, so Paris on the Platte is not for everyone. If you don't like loud music or cigarette smoke, or you feel uncomfortable in the presence of artists, goths, ravers, punks, indie rockers, computer-game players, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, writers and unabashed readers, you might want to stick to Starbucks. But for those who prefer their caffeine with a little character, this charmingly imperfect cafe is a temporary refuge from the world of corporate aggression. With an ever-changing assortment of works by local artists hanging from the brick walls and an equally colorful cast of regulars, Paris is an unassuming piece of pseudo-bohemian heaven. Check the adjoining bookstore for good deals on used titles and exotic smokes, or try one of the kitchen's tasty specialty sandwiches; thanks to liberal hours, you can eat as late as 2 a.m. on the weekend. We can only hope we'll always have Paris.
If you're the sort who prefers -- no, aches -- to linger over your cozy cuppa, log on to Longmont-based Tea Train's comprehensive Web site immediately: You'll find yourself immersed in heady choices. The offerings include fine versions of all the classic black darjeelings, assams and keemuns, some with such intriguing designations as "Midnight Kiss" (a subtly perfumy Chinese brew) and "Dark and Stormy Night" (smoky and strong), as well as sprightly greens, whites and oolongs and some unusual and healthy herbal mixes featuring rooibos and yerba maté from South America. But don't miss the chance to visit the tea merchant's retail store: While purchasing your leaves for home brewing -- with assistance from a very able staff -- you'll also be treated to a delightful seasonal menu of brews served in tummy-tingling steamed, iced or traditionally steeped combinations. Our favorites? There are too many to list, but don't miss the Chocolate River and Vanilla Bean chai mixes. Chai cha cha!


Hailed as a national treasure in Slovenia, potica is a European sweetbread that's time-honored -- and very time-consuming to make. Fine bread dough is rolled extremely flat and then sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar, raisins, walnuts and many other ambrosial additions; it's then "primed" in a special, temperature-controlled box and baked. Robert and Frank Mauro started making potica in their kitchen when they needed a little extra money for the holidays; when the demand became overwhelming, Nancy Fognani joined the team, and their home-based potica business became Orbit Corporation, Inc. Your grandma Mirjana would have toiled for hours over this holiday treat, but you can order the tasty pastry with a simple click of your mouse.


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