BEST DINNER WHEN DINING ALONE 2006 | Duo | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
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.



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.
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.
Molly Martin
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.
Molly Martin
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.
The deep-fried taco is a rarity these days. But Viva Burrito offers them 24/7/365 -- and you don't even have to get out of your car. Order a taco plate at the window, and you get two wholly inauthentic tacos, the corn tortillas fried, wrapped like a fist around lumps of shredded beef that's tender and chewy at the center, crisp and burnt and delicious around the edges. Each taco is greasy, hot, crunchy and stringy all at the same time, cooled by the sides of rice, beans and lettuce that come with every plate.
If something as naturally good as a taco has to get all gussied up, then Troy Guard is the guy you want to do the job. He starts by tearing out the taco's guts, turning it into a wonton, opening it up and stuffing it with white rice and flash-seared ahi tuna and bright chunks of mango -- but he doesn't stop there. No, he warps his inspiration right back to Mexico and mounts four of these little bite-sized masterpieces on a long plate with bright gobs of tomatillo guacamole, then gives them the truly ridiculous name of "#1 ORIGINAL wonton tuna tacos." Sure, they're goofy. Sure, they're derivative and fusioned up the wazoo. But they might also be the best tacos you taste all year.
Big burritos have become big business, the stuff of nationwide chains and wild IPOs. Today you can get your burrito filled with pork from hand-fed pigs and guaranteed-gasless beans, topped with your choice of six exotic salsas and soy sour cream. When a simple burro becomes that complicated, though, it's time to get back to basics. And there's nothing more basic than La Casa de Manual, the second incarnation of a modest Mexican eatery that's been serving Denverites for three generations. Order your wet burrito with beans, order it with beef or order it with both; you'll get a toothsome tortilla folded around refried beans so good that you don't care if you get gas, or tender shredded cow, or both, smothered in a very thin green chile studded with pork. When we say this burrito is the best, we're not kidding: We love it so much that we're willing to forgive Manual's lack of a liquor license.

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