The food here may not be haute, but it's high-quality. And it isn't dished up by culinary celebrities, but rather by a hardworking group of real service-industry sluggers training for the day when they might be the ones wearing the clean white jackets and the big chef's hats. For the past eight years, Work Options for Woman has staffed the cafeteria at the Denver Department of Human Services with crews of low-income women struggling to come off welfare and find a place for themselves in the workforce. And under the direction of executive chef Jane Berryman and chef-instructor Wendy Vlach, the program has done just that, placing about thirty women per year in good-paying jobs in kitchens across the city. In terms of training, these women couldn't be better prepared. Unlike students in those schoolboy Culinary Arts programs, these cooks serve 300 meals a day to city employees, bang out 800 additional meals a couple of times a week for the Food Bank of the Rockies, and in the process receive comprehensive instruction on kitchen safety, sanitation, menu planning, catering and station cooking. If only all rookie cooks were trained so well.

The All-Star Game may have been a bust for restaurants, but they scored -- and scored big -- ten days later, when Denver's first Restaurant Week kicked off. This joint venture of the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and, most important, a group of hardworking food-industry types had restaurants across town packed during what's often the slowest week of the year. The 83 eateries that signed on for the experiment offered special $52.80 (for two) meal deals, giving locals a reason to try new places and a reminder to revisit the old. Please, sir, may we have some more?


The All-Star Game may have been a bust for restaurants, but they scored -- and scored big -- ten days later, when Denver's first Restaurant Week kicked off. This joint venture of the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and, most important, a group of hardworking food-industry types had restaurants across town packed during what's often the slowest week of the year. The 83 eateries that signed on for the experiment offered special $52.80 (for two) meal deals, giving locals a reason to try new places and a reminder to revisit the old. Please, sir, may we have some more?

When the Colorado Legislature lowered the official blood-alcohol-content level to .08 during its 2004 session, restaurateurs feared a financial fallout, worrying that DUI-wary diners would opt to go wineless. So the Colorado Restaurant Association successfully lobbied for a new law that allows diners to take their undrunk wine home with them, recorked and wrapped up, doggie-bag style (and then stashed in your trunk). Colorado is now one of only a handful of states in the nation that allow patrons to stick a cork in it; it's a progressive variation on the whole leftovers thing we love so much. Now if only the lawmakers would let us take our own bottles into liquor-free eateries...


When the Colorado Legislature lowered the official blood-alcohol-content level to .08 during its 2004 session, restaurateurs feared a financial fallout, worrying that DUI-wary diners would opt to go wineless. So the Colorado Restaurant Association successfully lobbied for a new law that allows diners to take their undrunk wine home with them, recorked and wrapped up, doggie-bag style (and then stashed in your trunk). Colorado is now one of only a handful of states in the nation that allow patrons to stick a cork in it; it's a progressive variation on the whole leftovers thing we love so much. Now if only the lawmakers would let us take our own bottles into liquor-free eateries...

Twenty years is a long time to wait for a neighborhood to catch up with you. Since the day they opened their little storefront burrito joint in February 1984, the Aguirre family has worked to make the Highland neighborhood the very best it can be. They've fed the less fortunate at Thanksgiving and Christmas, sponsored charity events, spread the gospel of great green chile at fairs around town -- and always kept the home fires burning in the back of their restaurant, which has grown along with the Aguirre kids. Today it's oldest son Oscar who's often behind the stove, cooking Mama Rosa Linda's original recipes -- and adding his own improvements. Happy birthday, Rosa Linda's. Here's to the best neighborhood restaurant -- in a neighborhood you've helped make so much better.


Twenty years is a long time to wait for a neighborhood to catch up with you. Since the day they opened their little storefront burrito joint in February 1984, the Aguirre family has worked to make the Highland neighborhood the very best it can be. They've fed the less fortunate at Thanksgiving and Christmas, sponsored charity events, spread the gospel of great green chile at fairs around town -- and always kept the home fires burning in the back of their restaurant, which has grown along with the Aguirre kids. Today it's oldest son Oscar who's often behind the stove, cooking Mama Rosa Linda's original recipes -- and adding his own improvements. Happy birthday, Rosa Linda's. Here's to the best neighborhood restaurant -- in a neighborhood you've helped make so much better.

How great is it that Denver's best new neighborhood restaurant is also Denver's oldest restaurant neighborhood? Once the center of the city's commercial district, by the '60s all those great Victorian buildings in the 1400 block of Larimer Street had slid down to skid-row status, and only the intervention of Dana Crawford saved them from destruction. Still, for many years, Larimer Square served primarily as a tourist attraction that locals visited only for seasonal events, with restaurants like the Magic Pan feeding the masses. But no more. Today Larimer Square remains a must-stop for visitors to the city -- but it really belongs to those of us who live here, as the heart of Denver's eating and entertainment life. It holds some of the city's best restaurants -- Rioja, Bistro Vendome, Capital Grille -- as well as great bars, happening clubs, cool shops and unbeatable patios, not to mention Ted Turner's buffaloes. In addition to Crawford, we should also thank Jeff Hermanson and Larimer Square Management Corporation for figuring out how to make the city's oldest block its best.


Larimer Square
How great is it that Denver's best new neighborhood restaurant is also Denver's oldest restaurant neighborhood? Once the center of the city's commercial district, by the '60s all those great Victorian buildings in the 1400 block of Larimer Street had slid down to skid-row status, and only the intervention of Dana Crawford saved them from destruction. Still, for many years, Larimer Square served primarily as a tourist attraction that locals visited only for seasonal events, with restaurants like the Magic Pan feeding the masses. But no more. Today Larimer Square remains a must-stop for visitors to the city -- but it really belongs to those of us who live here, as the heart of Denver's eating and entertainment life. It holds some of the city's best restaurants -- Rioja, Bistro Vendome, Capital Grille -- as well as great bars, happening clubs, cool shops and unbeatable patios, not to mention Ted Turner's buffaloes. In addition to Crawford, we should also thank Jeff Hermanson and Larimer Square Management Corporation for figuring out how to make the city's oldest block its best.

Best New Restaurant (Since March 2004)

Frasca

It seems almost cheap to pass judgment on Frasca, since praising it is like looking over a Monet watercolor, tasting a bottle of 1955 Petrus or listening to Charlie Parker play and saying, "Hey, that's pretty good." Of course Frasca is good. It's so good as to be almost beyond words, having raised the bar to such a height that comparisons with other restaurants are pointless. Frasca exists in a place far removed from the usual definitions of success and failure, even those so nebulous they're generally applied to love and art. The owners, chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, both come from the French Laundry -- Mecca to modern foodies -- and they've imprinted the genius of its chef, Thomas Keller, on everything they do here. The staff is flawless, the service more comforting, more personal and more subtly enveloping than any we've experienced before. The cooks in the kitchen operate at a level of perfection we would have previously thought unapproachable, serving up the cuisine of Friuli, a region in northern Italy. If there's anything at all to complain about, it's that the wait for a prime table at Frasca is now measured in months, not hours. But we're fine eating at the bar, where seating is first come, first served. We'd eat standing up on the sidewalk if we had to. So, yes, Frasca is good. Frasca is without peer. It's not just the best new restaurant of the year, but quite possibly where you'll have the best meal of your life.

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