Pho Fusion
One day Tom Bird realized that no one in Denver had combined the booming fast-casual restaurant model with the fresh, healthy benefits of Vietnamese cuisine. And so he started Pho Fusion, which serves not just pho, but spring rolls and lettuce wraps, a decent cup of Vietnamese coffee and a spread of popular mutt-Asian entrees. But the four pho offerings are what Pho Fusion does best, and they are what may make Bird's idea take flight. Sitting down for a meal at his creation is like going back in time to the original Chipotle, or even the first McDonald's. Except the food tastes better -- and is better for you.
Grandpa's Burger Haven
Hunter Stevens
Grandpa's Burger Haven is a hole-in-the-wall in the truest sense, a spot where you shout your order through an actual hole in the wall. Originally, this was all there was to Grandpa's -- just a little white-and-chrome box with a kitchen inside and a window to shout your order through. Today there's a kind of enclosed solarium where customers can stand out of the wind and rain while they wait -- but there are still no tables, no waiters or waitresses, no plates. Orders are written on the white bags that eventually hold your old-school burgers. There was a time when all hamburger stands were like this; now, almost no hamburger stands are. That's why Grandpa's is such a treasure.
West End Tavern
Courtesy West End Tavern Facebook
How to put this delicately... There's this one seat on the patio at West End Tavern that some might consider the best seat in the house. At first glance, however, it looks like the worst seat in the house -- closest to the door between the patio and the stairs, closest to the waitress station, on a corner that everyone has to pass on their way anywhere -- but it has a killer view of the waitress trying to serve the table just above. And because the uniforms worn by the West End's coterie of lovely (and smart, strong and empowered, no doubt) servers consist of black tank tops or T-shirts and short khaki skirts, well...you get the picture, right? There aren't many views more impressive than the Flatirons as seen from a Boulder rooftop, but this one comes close.
Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center
On a clear day, you can see forever -- or at least to the Continental Divide, stretching out sixty, seventy, a hundred miles away to the north and southwest. From Peaks Lounge, tucked into the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency Denver, the views are as stunning as the setup of the hotel itself. Grab a table by the window -- if you can get a table at all -- and settle in to watch the traffic fleeing town, the lights coming on in the foothills (and also showing just how far sprawl has gone) and the sunset turning downtown to gold and the mountains to pink. The drinks aren't cheap, but the scenery's worth it.
Mickey's Top Sirloin
Last year, Mickey's moved from its decades-old home to a brand-spanking-new spot across the parking lot. And while the joint lost a little bit of historic funk in the process, it didn't lose any of the sirloin that makes it a top cheap-dining destination -- not the cows pictured on the walls, and not those served on the plate. Although the lunch menu offers some solid Italian and Mexican fare, dinner is pretty much all about beef, offered as sirloin smothered in onions and mushrooms, chops, flanks, or a New York strip that clocks in at around $10.95 for choice grade. And that includes a baked potato on the side mounded up with sour cream and a ball of butter, plus an iceberg salad. While the food here isn't the fanciest, no one comes to Mickey's looking for fancy: They come to eat dinner, not to dine.
Opus
Chef Michael Long is a genius. Not the stuffy, pocket-protector kind, but more the mad scientist sort. And his laboratory is Opus, where every night he brings his smart, bent vision of New American cuisine to bear on the ever-changing menu. There are lobster chops and gingered chicken, pumpkin flan from the attached patisserie, innovative appetizers, beautiful desserts. And it's amazing what this man can do with peanut butter. This stuff isn't cheap -- but not everything is about low prices and double coupons. And at Opus, you get what you pay for. If you want excellent food, beautifully executed in an environment that puts great cuisine up on the stage where it belongs, make a reservation at Opus and taste the kind of masterpieces that are possible when a kitchen is under the direction of a genius like Long.

BEST MOTHERF*&$ING EXPENSIVE WAY TO END A DINNER

Frasca 1738 Pearl St.

Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
By the time they've made their way through the rest of Frasca's rich menu, diners probably don't notice the hefty price tag attached to the chocolate platter, a "selection of housemade chocolates" tucked among the tarts and cheeses. An excessive and decadent bank-breaking offering of a dozen or so handcrafted candies featuring Valrhona chocolate and every trick in the chocolatier's canon, the chocolate platter costs three times as much as the other desserts. But this one arrives bearing an elegant selection of perfect truffles and filled chocolates, simple molds, and foil-wrapped confections that would look more at home in a jewel box than on a plate. Sitting here in this understated dining room, licking your fingers and eating something as opulent as artisan chocolates, it's easy to forget that you're on Pearl Street, in the heart of the People's Republic of Boulder. But sometimes it's no sin to be bourgeois, and this is one of those times. Is an order worth the price? In a word, yes -- but then, the best of anything almost always is.
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
Seem weird that a restaurant would offer both the best expensive dessert in the area and the best dinner deal? Well, maybe it would be weird if the restaurant were anyplace but Frasca. This spot is all about juxtaposition, and nowhere is that more clear than on the community nights that Frasca celebrates every Monday, offering a multi-course, prix fixe dinner to everyone who manages to cram inside. The dinners fill up quick, but that's no surprise when just $35 buys you a meal at one of the best restaurants in the country, featuring such largesse as the house's stellar pork belly and glazed carrots, Yukon potato agnolotti with maitake mushrooms, and vanilla ice cream with poached tart cherries. Sign up fast -- and count yourself fortunate that partners Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson are rare top-tier food celebrities who've never forgotten that their primary duty is to feed the people, not their own egos or bank accounts.
Spam is a funny thing. So maligned, so wrongly identified with trailer parks and camping trips gone horribly wrong, this pink and quivering loaf of tinned meat has taken some serious hits over the years. And yet like sweetened condensed milk and processed rice pudding, it's also become inextricably linked with certain cuisines where its existence sometimes made the difference between life and death for those living in places geographically cut off from traditional supply lines. In Hawaii today, Spam is a perfectly integrated element of the food culture -- an indispensable, easily stored source of protein that reaches its peak in musubi: a slab of pan-fried Spam laid over a fist-sized ball of sticky sushi rice and tied in place with an artful ribbon of black nori. And thanks to the recent sprouting of the Palm Tree Grill in Aurora, you, too, can now cram some Spam on this section of the mainland.
Parisi Italian Market & Deli
At Parisi, the trick isn't finding something satisfying for dinner that will cost less than a ten-spot. That's easy: The extensive menu includes several dishes so cheap and so good that we'd gladly pay double if there were, say, only one order of the gnocchi Sorrentina left in the kitchen and someone in line ahead of us. No, eating cheap here is easy; it's sticking to your budget that's tough. So if you're into eating on the cheap, put away that credit card, skip the second pizza and avoid the attached market -- not to mention the prosciutto bar that owners Simone and Christine Parisi have installed in their basement.

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