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.
Since September 11, we Americans have been self-medicating our depression with foods that remind us of hearth and home, warmer, fuzzier times, and the good old days when you could get on a plane without getting felt up. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roast chicken and Oreos are being consumed in record numbers as we seek out restaurants that comfort the heart as well as the stomach. And you won't find a more comforting place in town than the lunch-only Tom's Home Cookin', which does a fine job with all of our homey favorites (okay, not Oreos, but Coca-Cola chocolate cake is a mighty good substitute). Owners Tom Unterwagner and Steve Jankousky know how to nurture through nature's most soothing comforts: pot roast and cheesy potato casserole, warm cornbread and peach cobbler. Maybe if bin Laden had tried the daily bargain, "meat and two" for $6.45, he'd have had a better outlook on life.
You're a grownup now, and it's time to put the neon orange mac 'n' cheese mix behind you, not inside you. In keeping with its name, Dazzle goes for something above and beyond, serving up a macaroni and cheese that's positively dizzying. Elbow macaroni and four cheeses -- parmesan, Fontina, mozzarella and gouda -- are mixed in just the right proportions so that the noodles are all melty and soft but not too wet or dry; a large bowl of this goodness is evenly covered with buttery breadcrumbs and tossed under the broiler until the top begins to sizzle, then finished off with a smattering of diced tomatoes and fresh basil. So very adult, so very dazzling.


Since chef Goose Sorenson -- formerly of Mel's Restaurant and Bar and Starfish -- took over the kitchen at this difficult address that last year was Ambrosia, things have been looking up. For Solera, the dining area has been reworked to seem more intimate and inviting, and the menu is filled with Sorenson's eclectic inventions, including foie gras on a ginger-snap crust. The standout offering, though, would have to be the mashed potatoes, done two different ways: The roasted-garlic spuds, sweet and toasty, come with the succulent braised lamb and nicely grilled salmon entrees; and the rich, oniony mascarpone mashers accompany the crunchy-skinned Chilean sea bass. Both versions feature such smooth, feathery textures and rich, buttery undertones that we're tempted to head into the kitchen with our spoons.


When the world's going to hell in a handbasket, you'll find us at Bang!, drowning our sorrows in the tangy, beef-rich homemade gravy that comes slathered over Bang!'s juicy meatloaf, a your-mama-never-made-it-like-this gourmet version with plenty of intense seasonings and none of the gristle often found in ground beef. The mashed potatoes (more gravy, please!) and sautéed spinach that come with the hefty slice add to the plate's comforting capabilities. For a warm-and-fuzzy finale, take on a large square of the heavenly gingerbread topped with whipped cream. Bang! -- this restaurant got us again.


Step into Lincoln's Road House, and it may seem as though you're back in the '70s-era wood-paneled basement at your friend's house where you used to sneak beers. But don't let the ultra-casual lounge atmosphere fool you: Behind the bar lurks a kitchen that knows what it's doing, especially when it comes to meatloaf. This loaf is meaty, all right, studded with big pieces of onion for flavor, and it comes sliced an inch thick and slapped on a thin but substantial bun that's been buttered on the inside and grilled. Lettuce, tomato and mayo give extra moisture to the already juicy sandwich; a side of well-seasoned, skin-on fries and a small bowl of homemade macaroni salad round out the meal. Down a few Buds and play something on the jukebox -- which offers King Missile's undeniable classic "Detachable Penis" -- and you'll really feel like you're back in the basement.


Most restaurants hide the grilled cheese sandwich on the kids' menu, but the beloved Rocky Mountain Diner proudly puts it right beside the rest of its down-home comfort-food fare designed with adults in mind. And that's where this sandwich belongs. Two thick pieces of Texas-style toast are liberally buttered and grilled, then filled with so many slices of yellow American cheese that after another grilling, the insides wind up spreading halfway across the plate. Your obvious choice of sides is a large pile of thick-cut French fries. Pass the ketchup -- and say cheese.


When you're dining, nothing is as soothing as a big pot of cheese -- hot, molten goo ready-made for melting away the cares of the day. The aptly named Swiss Haven is so warm and welcoming a restaurant that by the time you're seated, you feel like you're sitting in the middle of a big tub of custard, while charming servers prepare your personal, authentic Swiss fondue experience. Each pot of kirschwasser-kissed cheese (choose from four possible combinations, all based on Gruyère) comes with a basket of bread cubes, and the pot stays on the tabletop burner until the last little bit of la religieuse -- the crispy, browned crust that forms in the center of the fondue pan -- is scraped off and scarfed down. If you're not yet fond of fondue, Swiss Haven will melt away any objections.


The Buckhorn Exchange is in its 109th year, and unlike the hundreds of animals whose heads (and other parts) grace the walls, it's still alive and kickin'. And this restaurant really jumps at lunchtime, when the hungry hordes pile into its Old West-style dining room and dive into the pot-roast sandwich, the Buckhorn's best-selling comfort food. Good luck getting this monster into your mouth: The thick-cut black pumpernickel bread can barely hold in the fat chunks of falling-apart-tender beef brisket, which are soaked through with a dark, salty, beef pan gravy. That gravy eventually soaks through the bread, too, at which point you might as well surrender and eat the whole mess with a fork, alternating dips into the side of chunky mashed potatoes, also smothered in that good gravy.


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