Buenos Aires Pizzeria
Not surprisingly, Buenos Aires Pizzeria is best known for its South American pizzas and, to a lesser extent, its fantastic spread of empanadas. But this spot also offers the best Cuban sandwich we've found outside of the Cuban neighborhoods of Miami. Thick-sliced ham, good Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on grilled bread -- that's all that constitutes a Cuban. But put together right, the sandwich is so much more, and Buenos Aires does it very right. The bread is larded, pressed and grilled until crisp, melting all the ingredients inside together, and the sandwich is then plated with a side of salty fries that could only be improved if they were served in a twist of wax paper. In Havana.
Big Bill's New York Pizza
Mark Manger
Big Bill's has great pizzas, calzones and chicken parm sandwiches, as well as the requisite New York mementos hung all over the walls to let everyone know that this is the real deal. But what truly gives Bill's an honest feel of New York's blue-collar latitudes are the Drake's Cakes stocked proudly behind the counter. Just as Tastykakes are key to a Philly cheesesteak joint, the Drake's coffee cakes and Yodels give Big Bill's that extra bump of authenticity, making it an indispensable outpost for any ex-pat New Yorkers doing time in the Mile High.
Although New York is renowned for celebrity hot spots and chef-driven ego-bistros, the delis there offer the truest taste of Manhattan. And here in Denver, that taste is best represented by Deli Tech -- an authentically styled New York deli (right down to the etched skyline and brisk service) that offers everything a proper deli should. There are huge stacked sandwiches filled with pastrami and Swiss, excellent corned beef, bagels and lox, borscht, pickles, latkes and rye bread like you can't get anywhere else in town. Much of the meat is imported from the Carnegie Deli, and the chicken soup alone is enough to transport you right back to the Big Apple.
We have the fine state of New Jersey to thank for producing Sean Kelly, for giving him his first kitchen jobs, and for sending him to Denver, where -- after doing apprentice work at some of the city's best houses, then opening and closing a few joints of his own -- he now walks the floor and oversees the kitchen at Somethin' Else. Here, Kelly takes the small-plates concept international, fusing Mediterranean, French, Italian and American influences into a menu of unparalleled excellence. On Tuesdays he cooks whole suckling pigs, on Thursdays the city's best lobster bouillabaisse. In between, there's the regular menu of fried baby artichoke hearts and patatas bravas, mussels in saffron broth, veal albondigas and an amazing golden beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts. The Garden State's loss is definitely our gain.
Little Anita's New Mexican Foods
Scott Lentz
Any Denverite who's ever spent time in the Land of Enchantment will tell you that while the New Mexican outposts of Little Anita's are nothing to write home about, our two locations are an indispensable hedge against homesickness for the regional flavors that make Albuquerque and its environs such a foodie hot spot. The blue-corn enchiladas slathered in green chile and topped with a fried egg are right off the menu at the Range in Bernalillo, the red chile a staple of New Mexican cuisine that's rare here, and the sopapillas among the only ones in town done right. And Little Anita's even recognizes the true meaning of Christmas: a plate done with half red, half green chile, in real New Mexico style.
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant and Bar
Courtesy Sherpa's Adventure Restaurant & Bar Facebook
Owner Pemba Sherpa -- a native of Nepal who grew up in the shadow of Everest and made his living as a mountain guide before settling in Colorado -- wanted to create a "traveler's lounge," a place where climbers and adventurers could gather and plan, reminisce and share stories over cold beers and warm butter tea. And he did just that with Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant -- but he went further, creating a menu that's an adventure in itself. The roster includes momo dumplings and lashi laced with rosewater, thick Nepalese stews and Indian pakoras and samosa and saag -- all less exotic than you might think, and full of recognizable flavors and ethnic preparations that would comfort any traveler. Even if he never leaves a Sherpa's armchair.
When Hector and Maritza Gil took over a former omelet house, they kept breakfast filled with eggs, bacon, potatoes and dollar cups of coffee but added a lunch and dinner menu that reads like a greatest-hits collection of every food standard south of Brownsville and Laredo: bistec encebollado, platanos fritos con crema, fried yucca, carne asada, tortas, Salvadoran-style chicken tamales, fried tilapia. But most folks dropping by this small spot are after pupusas, El Salvador's most recognizable contribution to world culinary culture. Made with flat-grilled cornmeal-flour patties stuffed with anything from pepper-spiked queso to chicharrones and beans, the pupusas come with marinated cabbage, carrot and chile salad (called curtido), as well as a liquid salsa made from stewed tomatoes and chiles. Toss in a cold can of Jumex mango juice from the cooler or perhaps a cold beer, and you've got a quick trip south of the border.
Los Cabos II
Eric Gruneisen
The true measure of a good ethnic restaurant is its ability to not only serve something that no non-native in his right mind would dream of eating, but to make that thing so good that it immediately becomes part of the reluctant gastronaut's gustatory lexicon. And Los Cabos does just that with its chupe de camarones, an unquestionably bizarre soup/stew that combines whole, head-on shrimp, all legs and feelers and sweet, delicate meat like baby lobsters, as well as rice, diced potatoes, streamers of egg white, slivered onion, dense garlic, smoky Hungarian paprika and some other stuff that we wouldn't be able to identify even with a field guide to Peruvian fauna. The soup is full of strange flavors you find yourself chasing toward the bottom of the bowl, and so filling that we've never actually seen the bottom of the bowl.
Potager
Lindsey Bartlett
In the late '70s, American cuisine was in such a sad state that the notion of taking local, seasonal produce and fresh vegetables and grilling them up for dinner was considered absolutely revolutionary. This simple act of rebellion against the staggering heaviness of classicism and the old European canon gave rise to the American food revolution, and Potager continues to carry that flag forward. Chef/owner Teri Rippeto cooks a rigorously seasonal and ever-changing menu of beautiful and perfectly realized dishes. Her command of cuisine is impressive, and her crew is committed to her vision of showcasing the best ingredients in the best possible ways. Although Denver today is packed with bright young chefs doing freaky things with your food, dinner at Potager remains nothing short of revolutionary.
There's no place like home, and there's no taste more reminiscent of home than mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, the creation of these spuds is often sloughed off by cooks who see them as nothing more than a cheap way to fill a plate and a belly. But Rialto Cafe takes this dish seriously and takes great care in making its wonderful, fluffy, smooth and buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, served heavy on the cream and with a few clinging tatters of skin. As a result, this hotel restaurant serves Denver's best taste of home to travelers and locals alike.

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