Frasca Food and Wine
Julia Vandenoever
Frasca's red-pepper jelly, which serves as a condiment on its cheese plates, is amazing. It has a haunting flavor -- sweet, peppery, sharp, astringent and salty all at the same time, tasting vaguely like the egg roll sauce at a good Chinese restaurant, a little like expensive port-wine jelly, and solidly of red bell peppers. Once you start eating it, it's difficult to stop; you want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, forever. As a kid, chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson ate it on everything from cheese to turkey. He later got the recipe from his grandmother, Betty Mackinnon, and the jelly appeared on the menu the day that Bobby Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson opened Frasca last year. And now you can eat it anytime, too, because Frasca sells Grandma's jelly, for $9.95 a jar. That may sound a little steep for nine ounces, but it's not. We'd pay double for just one spoonful.
Mezcal
Danielle Lirette
If your situation is dire, skip the menu and go straight to the bar at Mezcal for a tall glass of the house sangrita mix (a spicy tomato juice, used for making its bloody Mary and other such health-food drinks) and two cans of Pacifico off the short, sweet Mexican beer list. After that, you may actually be recovered enough to appreciate the good pancakes and the huevos divorciados, a rare red-and-green "Christmas" mix of chiles sure to tickle the fancy of any ex-pat New Mexican. There's something magic in that speed-pourer full of sangrita that Mezcal keeps behind the bar, and without it, lazy Sunday mornings in Denver would seem awfully bleak for those of us who haven't seen our own beds since Friday.

BEST BREAKFAST AT TWO IN THE AFTERNOON

Lucile's

Lucile's Creole Cafe
Molly Martin
Thank God for Fletcher Richards, who, in his wisdom, decided that what the world really needed was another outlet of Lucile's, his insanely popular Boulder breakfast joint. And thank God twice that he decided to open it in Denver. The space he picked is perfect, with lots of floor space, an upstairs lounge, a next-door waiting area and a second-floor balcony that makes the place look like it was lifted right out of the Big Easy and dropped down on Logan Street. The food is all Louisiana-style brunch fare, with killer eggs Benny, chicory coffee, split sausages, thick-cut bacon and beignets dusted with heaps of powdered sugar. Though the new Lucile's has been up and running for just a few months (compared with the decades of history at the original location), you can expect a wait during peak hours. But a Bloody Mary or two will help pass the time until you get a table. And then, it's laissez les bon temps rouler -- until 2 p.m., when the kitchen shuts down for the day.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the Breakfast King is here for you. You, the night owl, the club kid, the insomniac or vampire; you who've never understood how anyone can sleep before the sun comes up. And over all those long nights, the Breakfast King has never forgotten that the first duty of any all-night diner is to sling the hash with no questions asked, keep the coffee coming, and serve the best lemon meringue pie in the city. There are nights here that look like a cattle call for the next Quentin Tarantino flick, others that look like something straight out of Bukowski or Wolfe. But no matter the night and no matter the crowd, the King's kitchen reigns supreme as Denver's late-night breakfast pusher.
Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome
Don't get us wrong: Chef Eric Roeder also does a great dinner at Bistro Vendome. He's got that whole hidden-French-bistro thing down, and when Larimer Square gets to looking like the run up to a well-dressed soccer riot on weekend nights, you'd be advised to duck down the little alley that leads to Vendome for a glass of wine and some quiet. But this restaurant is really at its best on the morning after -- any morning after, really --- because that's when Roeder and his crew serve up a truly French French toast called pain perdu, as well as killer breakfast pastries, duck confit and salmon, and big pots of black, French-press coffee. And if a little hair of the chien is required? Vendome is the perfect spot to sip a top-shelf mimosa while trying to remember exactly what you did the night before to deserve a brunch like this.
Everyone at Diana's knows that time is of the essence for the downtown lunch bunch, and they work like champs to deliver. One minute from order to plate -- that seems to be the average since Vic and Diana Katopodis took over the Economy Greek Market four years ago and made it entirely their own. Everything here is short-order, counter-served and available to eat in or take out. Whether you go for a cold sandwich, a double chili cheeseburger, a fantastic gyros sandwich with tzatziki, a chicken-fried steak, the best Greek breakfast burrito in the city (called a breakfast pita here, and served only until 11 a.m.) or just a terrific bowl of avgolemono, this tiny deli turns out a great quick lunch.
In Japan, ramen is a proper meal, eaten sitting down or standing up, on the street and in regular ramen restaurants decorated with big-eyed laughing cartoon children and Day-Glo pandas. More than soba, more than udon, the humble ramen noodle is Japan's most culturally identifiable food -- its Big Mac, its mac-and-cheese. And here in Denver, we're lucky to have the sole American outpost of Oshima Ramen, one of Japan's well-known ramen franchises. The two basic broths -- a blond soy shoyu and a coffee-dark and cloudy miso -- are made every day with fresh pork bone, chicken and bonito stock, the fresh noodles are rolled and cut every morning, and every bowl is made to order. Factor in ingredients imported from Japanese markets, and about twenty soups are available -- everything from a simple Original Ramen to a veggie, tofu and bamboo-shoot ramen, to a seafood ramen, to a double-up super original Oshima Ramen with chaisu, boiled egg and corn. And for an extra two bucks, a plate of "tasty chicken bits" will add a little muscle to any soup in the joint.
Lunch at the Capital Grille doesn't have to be that expensive, but since you're already here, why not whip out that platinum card and make something of your day? Forget the iced tea and have the bar pour you a couple of top-shelf martinis instead. Screw the value-shopper cheeseburger (it can be gotten better and cheaper elsewhere) and go for the serious dry-aged sirloin or sliced filet. Why? Because life is short. Because most days, you eat a sandwich at your desk. Because the Capital Grille makes it worth your while to blow the budget on the excellent lobster bisque with an artistic lace of aged sherry, the wedge salad and maybe even dessert. Invest in the Capital, and we guarantee you'll get in touch with your inner millionaire.
Le Central
Le Central has always been our escape hatch, our parachute, our emergency exit from the daily grind. And while the art of extended lunching has been largely forgotten in this era of eighty-hour work weeks and over-scheduled everything, it isn't completely lost. Yet. And while you can get in and out of Le Central in a hurry -- bolting down a croque monsieur and chugging a piping-hot bowl of soup a l'oignon, chasing it with a glass of cheap merlot and running for the door before the stains have even dried on your tie -- this bistro is better suited to a long, lingering meal, a romantic departure from the everyday, a lazy afternoon playing hooky while the boss thinks you're in a meeting. Bring a newspaper or some friends, order an extra glass of wine, and enjoy life in the slow lane, loitering over that rabbit served on the bone with coarse mustard, a perfect lardons salad and a bowl of moules au safran. Then prepare to waste the day away.
When the sun is out and the skies are clear, there's no better place to get a taste of the city than the patio outside Cafe Star. First, it's right on Colfax, and Colfax is the heart of Denver, at the center of the eternal battle between retail and residential. The streets are full of neighbors and street creatures, friends and freaks. Meanwhile, in the Star kitchen, chef Rebecca Weitzman is turning out the most beautiful comfort food in the city, a cuisine that both describes the current flavor of Denver and marks its territory in the wider world. From simple sandwiches and salads, to duck and fig pizzettas, to the most decadent chocolate pot de creme anywhere, Cafe Star has elevated the notion of the patio lunch to new heights in the Mile High City.

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