BEST DINNER DESTINATION
FOR IMPRESSING A BLIND DATE

Buenos Aires Pizzeria

Buenos Aires Pizzeria
Argentine food is sexy. The tastes and smells, the combinations of flavors -- spicy and sweet, salty and savory -- and the esoteric mix of culinary styles that come from centuries of immigration and invasion all work together to weave a tapestry of pure sensualism. Buenos Aires Pizzeria does right by Argentine cuisine, offering dozens of unusual pizzas, empanadas, pastas and sandwiches that create a world of culinary experience. There's just one thing this storefront eatery doesn't have: a good-looking dining room. Even when the space is crowded, it seems somehow austere -- but one taste of the food and you'll know exactly why you made the trip to Buenos Aires.
Mizuna
Joni Schrantz
Mizuna is a restaurant you can love for a lifetime. Ever-changing, impeccably serviced by a thoroughly professional floor staff and as comforting as dinner in your favorite uncle's kitchen, it's a neighborhood place that draws in crowds (and these days, cooks) from across the country, all of them coming to taste the first, best expression of Frank Bonanno's hard work, ingredient obsessiveness and singular talent. Bonanno's crew are less cooks than disciples, banging out brilliant plates with mimeograph precision. From apple beignets like tiny Dolly Madison fruit pies after a semester at charm school, to foie gras, sweetbreads, perfect lamb chops and ungodly rich, buttery and beautiful lobster mac-and-cheese, a meal at Mizuna is always worth the price -- regardless of the final tab.
Sushi Den
Sushi Den
Maybe you've never tried sea-urchin roe -- a delicacy among the Japanese, a pricey indulgence for hard-core fish-heads here in Denver. Maybe you've never tried toro, the fatty belly of massive tuna that can fetch a higher price than its weight in cocaine on the blood-slick floors of Japanese fish markets. Needlefish? Raw shrimp? Tempura crab in blueberry ponzu sauce? All of that and more is available at Sushi Den -- some of it is available nowhere but Sushi Den -- so this is precisely the place to eat on someone else's platinum card. Why? Because you might not like sea-urchin roe or tuna belly or needlefish, and then you'll want to try something else. Lots of something elses. At Sushi Den, you can order big, order wild and satisfy your curiosity -- and, ultimately, your hunger.
Duo Restaurant
Scott Lentz
No matter where you find yourself sitting -- at the bar, in the brick-faced dining room, pressed up against the pass rail or lurking in one of the corners -- a solo dinner at Duo is a truly transporting experience. This neighborhood bistro boasts two of Denver's best chefs (John Broening in the kitchen and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom on pastries), but the vibe is informal and convivial, with community tables filled with people actually from the community (the newly hot edge-of-Highland neighborhood) and even a table for one never feeling the least bit lonely. The staff is committed to giving each and every guest an exemplary dining experience, and the delicate mingling of flavors on the artful plates -- from a simple duck leg or slice of venison to a slab of sticky toffee pudding set on a glossy slick of butter-rum sauce -- swells, expanding until it demands, and deserves, all of your concentration. With food this good, service this attentive and a glass of wine off of Duo's approachable list, you'll never feel lonely again.
When you want the best green chile, go to a green-chile expert. And when you're looking for a green-chile expert, Jack-n-Grill's Jack Martinez is your man. Before starting this solidly New Mexican restaurant, Martinez was a chile importer -- a guy who lived and breathed chiles and who has opinions on all of them. For example: "Colorado-style" green chile, with its pasty consistency and chunks of pork, is a poseur. At his restaurant, Martinez serves real New Mexican green chile, a pure distillation of the chile's heat and sweetness, and he serves the stuff with everything -- burritos, enchiladas, tacos, whatever. Hell, bring in a bowl of Wheaties, and Jack (or some member of his extended family) will happily pour some great green chile right over the top -- though you'd probably be better off going with a green-chile breakfast burrito and calling it a day.
Citygrille
Courtesy CityGrille Facebook
Green chile has cult status in this state, and there's no better place to worship the peculiar concoction that is Colorado-style green chile than at CityGrille. Colorado verde is thicker and gooier than New Mexico green, and the fat chunks of pork give it more muscle and depth. While this hometown version might be considered blasphemy in Hatch country, at least CityGrille's kitchen is blaspheming with gusto, turning out a green chile that's roundly flavored, hot, sweet, almost creamy and totally porkerific. Poured over an order of fries, this verde reaches addictive levels that border on narcotic. It just goes to show that nothing in the culinary world was ever harmed by the addition of pork.

BEST USE OF CHILES IN A
NON-MEXICAN RESTAURANT

Gaetano's

Gaetano's Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik
Only in Denver will you find an Italian restaurant doing something interesting with New Mexican chiles, and only at Gaetano's will you find "Tasty Treats." This bizarrely Southwestern take on Italian stuffed peppers puts green chiles and ground sausage inside a pastry shell, and gross as that may sound, it's actually quite a tasty treat indeed. When the Wynkoop family of restaurants bought this venerable restaurant from the Smaldone family, the new owners were wise to keep the Tasty Treats, as well as most of the rest of the menu -- and the bulletproof front doors, just in case.
Nick's Garden Center
Smell, they say, is the most powerful of all the senses. A smell can trigger memory, inflame passions, evoke emotion and transport us more quickly than any other sense in our biological arsenal. And if there's any smell more indicative of life in the American Southwest than the odor of green chiles roasting in an outdoor drum, we don't know what it is. At Nick's, chile season is greeted each fall with the after-burner roar and the hissing, popping sizzle of bushels of pods going round and round in the big drums, by the creaking of the metal and the deep, rich, spicy, earthy smell of chiles being roasted off fresh in the sunlight. While the roasting here may not be quite the event that it is at some of the stands on Federal, the mingling of that chile smell with the overwhelming odor of all the growing things inside the garden center make Nick's a very easy place to be green.
El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
It's named El Taco de Mexico for a reason: Tacos are what this little Mexican lunch counter does best. All of the tacos on the menu -- from the most pedestrian shredded-beef variety to the gastronaut special packed with ropy calves' brains -- are as authentically Mexican as you're going to get this side of Tijuana. So is the eatery itself, a popular institution in Denver for over twenty years. The counter is long and usually packed with demography-confounding customers who know the real thing when they taste it, and the open kitchen is filled with busy women abusing various hunks of meat with giant cleavers, then stuffing corn tortillas with all manner of beef, pork and chicken parts and topping them with shredded cabbage. The only add-on is chunks of lime (on request), but that's all the help a true taco ever really needs.
Once a slew of relatives worked the Mexican joints up and down Larimer Street, turning out the same great, greasy tacos with cookie-cutter efficiency. But family members split off, others moved on, and finally the last, best repository of the secret taco formula is El Toro, a modest joint tucked into an industrial area off of Colorado Boulevard. But there's nothing modest about these tacos. Small corn tortillas are topped with chopped, grilled steak (or chicken or ground beef) and yellow cheese, then fried until everything melds together into one delicious mess. The kitchen adds big slices of avocado, then brings the tacos to the table -- where you just need to add a squirt of homemade hot sauce. So greasy, and so good.

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