Although Falling Rock can -- and does -- stock beers from around the world, it devotes a good part of its on-tap real estate to Colorado microbrews, showcasing an industry that could be this state's most liquid asset. The lineup changes often and usually includes such noteworthy brews as Avery IPA, Cheshire Cat Arrogant Brit and Left Hand Black Jack Porter. Think globally, drink locally.
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Wynkoop Brewing
What's a brewpub made of? Well, brew and a pub. And Wynkoop wins on both counts. It makes -- and sells on site -- more beer than any other Denver-area brewpub. And there's no question that it's pubbier than the rest. Warm, woody, comfortable and friendly, with a menu full of good food (get the vegetarian chili and have the kitchen add chicken). Plus, it does a lot of things with and for beer. For example, it was one of the few brewpubs in the region that duplicated the kind of beer made in Ben Franklin's time, in honor of his 300th birthday earlier this year; it also has interesting brewers' dinners that match beer with various kinds of food. The Wynkoop was Colorado's first brewpub -- and it remains its best.
We raise our glass to Chama -- technically, Chama Cocina Mexicana y Tequileria -- which takes the last word in its lengthy name seriously. Chama stocks more than 200 varieties of tequila -- some of which we'd never seen north of the Mexican border before -- and its bartenders are happy to instruct you in all the nuances of this agave-based alcohol. Pour it on, Chama.
For three years, Ryan Halbert served up some of the town's best margaritas at Lola, and he was always a font of agave education. He'd take diners on liquid tours of Mexico at Lola's many tequila-tasting dinners, guiding them through the differences between silver, blanco, reposado and anejo styles of 100 percent agave tequila, and making sure that they were still standing at the end of the trip. Lola shut its doors on South Pearl at the end of February and will reopen in Highland in April -- with Ryan once again behind the bar. Mr. Ambassador, we can't wait.
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
For a few years, Adega -- with its wine wall and booze bible -- always won the battle of the bottles. This year the title goes to Frasca. First, of course, there's the wine list: the canonical roster of bottles and producers and vintages lorded over by sommelier Bobby Stuckey. But a wine list is about more than labels; it's about being able to get the right booze onto the right tables at the right time, and this is where Frasca truly shines. With not one, but two certified master sommeliers on staff (both Stuckey and Nate Ready have gotten their credentials, making Frasca one of only two restaurants in the country with two CMSs in the house), Frasca is a wine-lover's paradise. Don't know what a white Burgundy is? They do. Don't know what grape to pair with a profumato or a plate of frico? They're ready to help. And finally, a winning list is about accessibility, and with Frasca's policy of pouring tajuts (half-glasses) from dozens of wonderful bottles, anyone can access the list again and again without having to take out a second mortgage.
Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe
Z Cuisine has two wine lists. The first is a standard roster sketched in looping, handwritten script full of appellations and Chateau de blah-blahs that will defeat anyone without an extensive knowledge of wine and region, not to mention the ability to read French. The second is a chalkboard hung beside the list of the night's fare, showing by-the-glass wine specials and allowing customers (like us) who are embarrassed by our clumsy, ugly butchery of the French language to simply point, grunt and say, "I'll take that one." Using this method, we've had some wonderful Beaujolais nouveaus, as well as some unpronounceable reds and whites from regions we've only ever seen on the Travel Channel. Chef Patrick Dupays never has to worry about pairing wines with his menu, because Z Cuisine is so obsessively Francophilic and bistro-chic that everything matches with everything.
One of the things that makes Brix so charming to certain people -- and perhaps disconcerting to those expecting less nonchalance -- is that the place is so laid-back that it can be hard to tell who's an employee, who's a partner, who's a delivery guy and who's a customer. Brix has a lot of friends-of-the-house, and people just sort of wander in and out from behind the bar, between the tables. And yet if you need anything, there's always someone there. Even a non-snooty server who can explain the inexpensive wine list. No bottle costs more than thirty bucks, but they are all very good bottles -- every label carefully chosen, every glass lovingly poured. Brix styles itself as Cherry Creek's "anti-bistro," a kind of punk-rock middle finger to all that is upper-crust, white-collared and pretentious about the Creek. And we'll drink to that -- while we wait to see if maturity blunts a little of Brix's edge.
1515 Restaurant
Gene Tang loves wine, and if you get a restaurateur who loves wine, odds are you're going to get a restaurant shaped -- and sometimes defined -- by its wine list. But Tang has managed to check some of his more extreme vinous impulses, and over the past few years he's been studying the sommelier's handbook, slowly integrating his wine offerings into the overall gestalt of his restaurant. In the process, 1515 has evolved into an excellent restaurant that just happens to have an award-winning wine list, with many of the best, oldest and most classic bottles kept on the premises, in the new wine room that Tang built upstairs.
For five years, the trailer sitting in the parking lot was the home of Hog Heaven. Owner and pit man Rod Ashby -- a former truck-drivin' man who got his taste for 'cue on the road -- has had the standing location in Bailey for another six. So that's eleven years of cooking barbecue, and in that time, Ashby has learned a thing or two. His barbecue is done in a mutt, Kansas-gone-Southern style with a coastal twist. The ribs are big, deeply smoked, almost black at the edges and pink at the bone; the beef brisket is sliced and served wet; and the chopped pork shoulder is excellent. But the real stars at this shack are the fresh-cut sweet-potato fries, which are crispy, salty and incredibly delicious. One bite and you'll know you're in Hog Heaven.
240 Union Restaurant
Courtesy of 240 Union
The kitchen at 240 Union depends heavily on the smarts of its cooks and its mesquite grills -- grills that were a symbol of the California Cuisine "revolution" of the mid-'80s -- and that's appropriate, because a lot of 240 Union's menu reflects both a fierce, sometimes funny intelligence and the slow, natural tempering of the Californian ideals of seasonality, center-plate proteins and locals-only bravado. So on the one hand, you have Colorado lamb chops glazed in apricot mustard, an excellent cioppino, farfalle with bacon and sundried tomatoes, and, occasionally, the world's greatest corndog made out of lobster chunks. And on the other hand, you'll find the most amazing piece of French toast ever, which serves as the base for 240's seared duck breast in peppercorn sauce and sour-cherry jus. It's a simple thing, just a long spear of battered and grilled bread stuffed with goat cheese so that the sweetness and the sourness combine with the sauces to make a flavor so much greater than the sum of their parts. But it's fabulous. French toast: It's not just for breakfast anymore.

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