BEST DINNER DESTINATION
FOR IMPRESSING THE FOLKS

The Fort

The Fort Restaurant
Mark Antonation
Dad wants steak. Mom wants chicken. Your little sister is on some kind of freaky, fish-only, zero-tolerance diet. And you just want enough whiskey to get you through a meal without strangling anyone or being forced to have another talk about your impending court date. So head to the hills -- specifically, The Fort. Housed in a replica of the original Bent's Fort and offering an unparalleled view of the mountains and the sky, Sam Arnold's cowboys-and-Indians paean to the culinary life of frontiersmen is guaranteed to satisfy everyone's needs. For Dad, there's more meat than at a butcher's counter, including flesh from a variety of unusual animals (or unusual parts of fairly common animals). For Mom, there's a Kit Carson-authentic bowl of chicken soup. For you, there's the house's home-brew whiskey (made with real gunpowder!), and plenty of conversational topics that have nothing to do with Mexico, the police, or exactly what number of prescription back pills constitutes possession with intent. As for your sister? Tell her that Rocky Mountain oysters are actually a kind of shellfish, then try not to laugh when she takes her first bite of balls.

BEST DINNER DESTINATION
FOR IMPRESSING A DATE

Deluxe

Deluxe
Sex and food are powerful motivators, and no restaurant combines these two things better than Deluxe. There are high-backed banquettes in front, cozy two-tops in the back, leopard-print carpets, dim lights and cool jazz drooling from hidden speakers, all of which combine to showcase chef Dylan Moore's beautiful and overwhelmingly sensuous take on the California Cuisine revolution of the mid-'80s. Presented with a modernist's flair, the menu is arranged by small plates and entrees, with everything meant for sharing, including masa-fried oysters set in individual pho spoons, dabbed with tomato-lime salsa and napped with jalapeno aioli, and spareribs coated in a Chinese five-spice hoisin sauce that will have you licking your fingers -- as well as your date's. And while Deluxe can get crowded, it does take reservations -- which means you and your date can skip the waiting-line chitchat and get down to the serious business of eating. And whatever else comes next.

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.

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