Parisi Italian Market & Deli
There's so much to love about Parisi, beginning with the restaurant and ending with the deli, which is what dedicated foodies hope heaven will look like when they die -- from the frozen Muscovy ducks to all the homemade stocks for the home cook. But the best thing at the deli, and one of the reasons the food in the restaurant section is so good, is the big basket of baseball-sized rounds of handmade, fresh-milk mozzarella. Depending on when you arrive and how the kitchen is operating, you can have a taste of cheese made just moments before you walked in the door, and you're never going to get cheese more than a few hours old, because this stuff sells fast. Smooth, silky, milky and mild, Parisi's mozz is a cheese whiz.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
It's such a simple thing, the burrito. Take some rice and beans, some meat, a little salsa, spread it on a soft tortilla, fold and go. It's the ultimate convenience food, was in the vanguard of the Mexican-cuisine invasion that changed the way our entire country eats, and still stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the dumpling, the cheeseburger, foie gras and cassoulet in the pantheon of mankind's great food innovations. Although the burrito is now served in wondrous variety at hundreds of restaurants across the city, Chipotle takes the prize for its constant improvement of what started life as the best burrito in town and now has become the best burrito on the planet. From free-range Niman Ranch meats to organic beans, fluffy rice that's perfect no matter what hour you arrive, chewy tortillas heated to order, three distinct salsas and great guac made fresh all day, this Denver creation born out of the newfangled ideas and dedication of hometown boy and former line cook Steve Ells does everything right. True, Chipotle is now a McDonald's brand. And yes, what began as a simple University of Denver-area taquería has been transformed into one of the fastest-growing, most pervasive chains in the country. But you know what? Sometimes success comes to those who actually deserve it.
There are three things we love about the little, often-overlooked Jalapeño Mexican Grill that squats on Leetsdale amid all the paint stores and mechanics. We love the patio, which is the ugliest patio in the city, with the worst view in the state. We love the fish tacos, which are basic, pedestrian and the closest thing to the real Juarez article you'll find off Federal Boulevard. And we love the La Jolla fish burrito -- as thick as a grown man's forearm and stuffed full, a California take on coastal-Mexican cuisine but much more complex than the simple fillet-salsa-tortilla wraps served on those Mexican beaches devoid of tourists. The La Jolla features the same fish as Jalapeño's tacos -- a firm-fleshed, mild whitefish sealed inside its chewy armor, rich enough to leak grease over everything -- along with rice, beans and a sweet pico de gallo that's much better than Jalapeño's weak salsa. Go with black beans over pinto; they're slightly firm, never gooey, and have a clean, almost meaty taste that lends extra bulk and flavor.
Pete's Kitchen
Danielle Lirette
A truly great breakfast burrito must be three things: It must be big, it must be messy, and it must be capable of curing anything from a simple hangover to Patagonian skull fever in just one serving. At Pete's, the kitchen makes a breakfast burrito that accomplishes all three admirably. First, this burrito is huge -- a big tortilla, liberally stuffed with potatoes and a simple omelet of meat (bacon, sausage or ham) and two eggs, large enough to fill an entire platter end to end. Second, it's plenty messy, because the cook takes this big-ass burrito, hits it with a fistful of traffic-cone-orange shredded cheese, then glops up the whole thing with pork-spiked and spicy Colorado verde. And third, you can forget your grandmother's chicken soup; there's no malady known to man that can stand up to one of Pete's massive burritos. So no matter what ails you, if you have the strength to stagger up to the counter to order one of these monsters, we guarantee you'll be feeling better by the time you leave.
Down in Texas, right on the border between El Paso and Juarez, there's a stand -- really nothing more than a shack --that sells the best tamales in the known universe. They're made by the hundreds every day, wrapped, then left in bowls inside this tin-roof tamale stand where they have all day to get good and funky. If they don't kill you, they are the best tamales you'll ever eat. And they're only slightly better than the much safer, significantly more hygienic, green-chile tamales sold every day at La Popular. These fat rolls of masa, chicken and whole chunks of fiery chile come freshly steamed and still wrapped in their husks for easy eating on the run.
There are three things we love about the little, often-overlooked Jalapeo Mexican Grill that squats on Leetsdale amid all the paint stores and mechanics. We love the patio, which is the ugliest patio in the city, with the worst view in the state. We love the fish tacos, which are basic, pedestrian and the closest thing to the real Juarez article you'll find off Federal Boulevard. And we love the La Jolla fish burrito -- as thick as a grown man's forearm and stuffed full, a California take on coastal-Mexican cuisine but much more complex than the simple fillet-salsa-tortilla wraps served on those Mexican beaches devoid of tourists. The La Jolla features the same fish as Jalapeo's tacos -- a firm-fleshed, mild whitefish sealed inside its chewy armor, rich enough to leak grease over everything -- along with rice, beans and a sweet pico de gallo that's much better than Jalapeo's weak salsa. Go with black beans over pinto; they're slightly firm, never gooey, and have a clean, almost meaty taste that lends extra bulk and flavor.
Things do not move fast at Jack-n-Grill. Actually, everything moves fast, but nothing happens quickly. Even with the expansion completed this winter, the wait for a table and the wait for your food can be extreme during peak hours. But should you find yourself in this situation, take a lesson from the regulars who sit with Zen-like indifference to the sweeping passage of the hands of the clock. Just wait, and you will be rewarded by something like the kitchen's vaquero tacos, which are so good that you might never want to eat anything else again. Four tortillas, fried in butter on the flat-top, come laid open on the plate like a taco autopsy, with all of their insides showing. Each one holds a dollop of tender, shredded beef soaked in an incredible smoky-sweet barbecue sauce so dark it's almost black; a sprinkling of diced tomatoes that pair up against the sweetness of the barbecue sauce better than peanut butter does with jelly; just enough melted cheese to weld everything together; and a dainty little curl of sour cream to top things off. It's taco perfection, and if you haven't tried one yet, you don't know Jack.
Long touted as mankind's only guaranteed cure for the common hangover, menudo is a hearty, spicy, slow-cooked stew made from hominy, chiles and tripe, feet, knuckles or any other unattractive cut requiring several hours of cooking to bring out its more subtle charms. On weekends at El Taco de México, these lowly ingredients are brought together into something far greater than the sum of their parts in one fine menudo. The kitchen is wise enough to use honeycomb tripe (the darker, more strongly flavored muscular lining from the cow's second stomach) along with the fattier first stomach, which gives the soup a strong, heavy flavor and reduces the greasiness you get from using only smooth tripe. The menudo is spicy enough that you'll work up a good sweat, but it comes with tortillas to cut the heat and little bowls bearing limes and a red-chile sauce in case you feel up to tinkering with the flavor.
La Popular
Danielle Lirette
Down in Texas, right on the border between El Paso and Juarez, there's a stand -- really nothing more than a shack --that sells the best tamales in the known universe. They're made by the hundreds every day, wrapped, then left in bowls inside this tin-roof tamale stand where they have all day to get good and funky. If they don't kill you, they are the best tamales you'll ever eat. And they're only slightly better than the much safer, significantly more hygienic, green-chile tamales sold every day at La Popular. These fat rolls of masa, chicken and whole chunks of fiery chile come freshly steamed and still wrapped in their husks for easy eating on the run.
It's papadum, not tortillas, and the salsa isn't a cruda or a fresca, but a spicy-sweet tomato chutney. And it's served in a Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant, not a storefront dive on Federal. Still, the chips and salsa at Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant are deserving of not only this prize, but many others. For starters, they're free; there's been a disturbing trend lately of some places charging for their chips and salsa, which, in our world, is tantamount to a dive bar charging for bowls of stale pretzels. Second, they're good. The papadum are crisp, light and nutty, and the broken-up pieces fill a generous-sized basket; the salsa is smoky-hot, complex in flavor, and layered with an underlying sweetness that makes it absolutely addictive. And third, the world is changing. So let Sherpa's award be the clarion call. Cuisines are no longer as distinct and insular as they once were, and those Mexican joints that used to be the sole purveyors of the chips, salsa and three-beer lunch are now in contention with comers from around the globe.

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