Here's how good Denver Woodlands is: You could eat every meal here every day for a week and never realize it's a vegetarian restaurant. That's not a knock against the herbivores in the crowd, merely a measure of how superior cuisine can transcend all boundaries and prejudices, and remind even the most dedicated snob that when you're eating great food, eating is just about eating and doesn't have to have an agenda. The house specializes in dosa -- giant lentil-flour crepes wrapped around a variety of savory ingredients -- but the menu certainly doesn't end there. Instead, it spreads out into a colorful, delectable culinary tour of modern Indian cuisine that draws from across the region, from Bengal to Madras to New Delhi to Bangalore. In addition to being highly authentic, totally vegetarian, very reasonably priced and absolutely delicious, the fare at Denver Woodlands is also certified kosher, making dinner here an honest-to-God sanctified religious experience.

Little India's particular take on Indian food is an odd mix of regional specialties, all cooked in the tradition of northern Indian cuisine by a Punjabi chef hired by the restaurant's Punjabi owners, the Malhotra and Baidwan families. The regular menu is long and dignified, showcasing the curries and masalas that even casual eaters of Indian food would recognize, as well as seven kinds of saag; specialties of Madras, Danshak, Bombay and Punjab; and even colonial dishes like the vindaloos from Goa -- their brutal heat and strange balance of spices a record of Portuguese occupation, British colonialism and unbroken Indian culinary tradition. For anyone looking for a whirlwind tour of everything available under the variegated blanket of Indian cuisine, Little India's lunch buffet -- with its multiple offerings and ever-changing lineup of spot-on Indian translations -- can't be beat. Here, everything from the most complicated vindaloo to the simplest chutney has the potential to transport a diner to utter bliss.


Little India
Westword
Little India's particular take on Indian food is an odd mix of regional specialties, all cooked in the tradition of northern Indian cuisine by a Punjabi chef hired by the restaurant's Punjabi owners, the Malhotra and Baidwan families. The regular menu is long and dignified, showcasing the curries and masalas that even casual eaters of Indian food would recognize, as well as seven kinds of saag; specialties of Madras, Danshak, Bombay and Punjab; and even colonial dishes like the vindaloos from Goa -- their brutal heat and strange balance of spices a record of Portuguese occupation, British colonialism and unbroken Indian culinary tradition. For anyone looking for a whirlwind tour of everything available under the variegated blanket of Indian cuisine, Little India's lunch buffet -- with its multiple offerings and ever-changing lineup of spot-on Indian translations -- can't be beat. Here, everything from the most complicated vindaloo to the simplest chutney has the potential to transport a diner to utter bliss.
Now safely past the one-year mark, Kabul Kabob still serves the best, cheapest, most amazing Afghan cuisine imaginable. Everything about this slightly ramshackle little neighborhood eatery is wonderful. A party of four can easily get a table any night of the week. The servers are brutally honest about what's good and what's not so good in the kitchen. And most of it is very good indeed: The kitchen turns an expert hand to dishes like bulanee kachalu and mantua dumplings filled with ground beef and onions. And your party of four can sample nearly everything on the menu and still get out for less than fifty bucks.


Jerusalem Restaurant
Danielle Lirette
Now safely past the one-year mark, Kabul Kabob still serves the best, cheapest, most amazing Afghan cuisine imaginable. Everything about this slightly ramshackle little neighborhood eatery is wonderful. A party of four can easily get a table any night of the week. The servers are brutally honest about what's good and what's not so good in the kitchen. And most of it is very good indeed: The kitchen turns an expert hand to dishes like bulanee kachalu and mantua dumplings filled with ground beef and onions. And your party of four can sample nearly everything on the menu and still get out for less than fifty bucks.

Okay, the Bugling Bull is not so much a restaurant as a gas station and general store offering canned goods, cold Cokes, fly kits, bug spray, ammunition, hunters' cammies, radiator fluid and other esoteric sundries of a classic back-road pull-through. And, no, it doesn't have all those conveniences that most restaurants do -- things like tables, a cash register and menus. But every once in a while, when the weather is right and the fellas are feeling frisky, they pull out the box smoker and the big, backyard barbecue grills and spend the day turning out the best ribs, baby backs, burgers and brats any man could ever hope to find while driving around completely lost in the middle of nowhere.

Okay, the Bugling Bull is not so much a restaurant as a gas station and general store offering canned goods, cold Cokes, fly kits, bug spray, ammunition, hunters' cammies, radiator fluid and other esoteric sundries of a classic back-road pull-through. And, no, it doesn't have all those conveniences that most restaurants do -- things like tables, a cash register and menus. But every once in a while, when the weather is right and the fellas are feeling frisky, they pull out the box smoker and the big, backyard barbecue grills and spend the day turning out the best ribs, baby backs, burgers and brats any man could ever hope to find while driving around completely lost in the middle of nowhere.

Best Way to Piss Off the Dishwasher

Elway's

For a serious steakhouse, Elway's has a goofy streak a mile wide running through it. Milk and cookies for dessert, shrimp cocktail mounted over smoking dry ice and, for a real hit of comfort-food nostalgia, do-it-yourself s'mores. This plate is served as a warmed bowl of homemade, melted chocolate ganache, a half-dozen marshmallows, some graham crackers, a long fork and one of those Sterno-fired mini-grills that we've only seen used before as the centerpiece of Chinese-restaurant pu-pu platters. With just a few ingredients and implements, this dessert can make a mess unparalleled in the Denver white-tablecloth scene. We're talking melted marshmallows stuck to the plates, welded onto the tines of the fondue forks and smeared all over the grill, as well as chocolate on the tablecloth and (more than likely) all over the customers. So, please, keep the poor dishwashers in mind when ordering this dessert -- maybe kick 'em a couple bucks on the tip.


Best Way to Piss Off the Dishwasher

Elway's

Elway's Cherry Creek
For a serious steakhouse, Elway's has a goofy streak a mile wide running through it. Milk and cookies for dessert, shrimp cocktail mounted over smoking dry ice and, for a real hit of comfort-food nostalgia, do-it-yourself s'mores. This plate is served as a warmed bowl of homemade, melted chocolate ganache, a half-dozen marshmallows, some graham crackers, a long fork and one of those Sterno-fired mini-grills that we've only seen used before as the centerpiece of Chinese-restaurant pu-pu platters. With just a few ingredients and implements, this dessert can make a mess unparalleled in the Denver white-tablecloth scene. We're talking melted marshmallows stuck to the plates, welded onto the tines of the fondue forks and smeared all over the grill, as well as chocolate on the tablecloth and (more than likely) all over the customers. So, please, keep the poor dishwashers in mind when ordering this dessert -- maybe kick 'em a couple bucks on the tip.
Mizuna and Luca d'Italia, Frank Bonanno's two (and counting) houses, exist today almost beyond the bounds of classification. They're neither casual eateries nor necessarily fine dining. They're each dedicated to their own style of cuisine -- Italian for Luca, French-Mediterranean for Mizuna -- but neither work from any kind of standardized canon, depending instead on improvisation and reworking classics into modern interpretations. The crews in both restaurants are fiercely talented and incredibly well trained, and they consistently knock out some of the best plates in the city, night after night, week after week. And at the center of all this is Bonanno, who -- after years of working his ass off and paying his dues -- is now coming into his own not just as Denver's best chef, but as an artist, craftsman and businessperson who's known and respected throughout the industry. For years, Bonanno spent every one of his rare vacations cooking stages (short apprenticeships) at some of the best houses in the country; now line dogs and galley kids from some of the best houses in the country are coming to him, asking for a week, two weeks, a month in his kitchen so that they might learn the tricks and techniques that make his restaurants so good. What's more, a lot of these cooks are choosing to stay after their stints are complete, joining Bonanno's crew permanently or asking him to help them find work at Denver's other top addresses. So for all of this -- for his personal talent behind the burners, his dedication to Denver's ever-struggling scene and his vicious competitive streak, as well as for the way his restaurants have thrived, his reputation traveled, and his crews gone from merely great to a rarefied sort of brilliant smoothness over the past couple of years -- Bonanno takes the prize.

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