Santiago's Mexican Restaurant
Although burritos are the breakfast of champions in Denver, there are two camps on what constitutes a proper breakfast burrito. One side likes theirs on a plate, served huge and messy, slopped up with chile and requiring a fork. Then there are those who like them thin, manageable and ready to go. We fall solidly into this camp, but we also like surprises. And that's where Santiago's, a homegrown chain that seems to be taking over the world, comes in. Not only does Santiago's serve breakfast burritos every day, but it serves a different breakfast burrito every day: bacon one day, chorizo the next. No matter what's inside, the burritos are cheap, tidy and wrapped in foil, which means there's no reason not to order several and eat them on the run.
Viva Burrito Company
It's late, you're hungry and you've got a car full of dumb-ass buddies who are already too fucked up to drive and far too irresponsible to be trusted with choosing an appropriate spot for a late-night burrito fix. It's at moments like these that you should be thankful for Viva Burrito Company. The Leetsdale location has zero decor and zero ambience, but the food coming out of this little red box is just what's needed, whether you're looking to sober up, come down or just make it through another night. And after you're done with your breakfast burrito, come back through for some deep-fried tacos: This drive-thru's open 24/7.
Los Carboncitos
Courtesy Los Carboncitos Highlands Facebook
Free chips and salsa, a night-and-day crush of crowds that would send any demographer running home in tears, and huaraches -- the greatest food ever named after a shoe. These are just some of the attributes that make Los Carboncitos a true taste of the Distrito Federal. This is the Mexican equivalent of an American diner -- an all-comers oasis where a real Mexican Coke, a couple of tacos and a giant slab of grill-seared cornmeal dough topped with beans and cheese and shrimp and pork and steak and whatever else you can think of is better and more honest than the food you'll find at any dozen Nuevo Latino/Meximerican restaurants specializing in candlelight and white tablecloths.
Let's face it: Any burrito vendor is going to look pretty good when you're leaving a club at 2 a.m. -- or when you arrive at the office at 8 a.m. (after having left the club at 2 a.m.) with a hangover, jonesing for the fix that only green chile can provide. And as long as we're being honest, we must note that many of the burrito vendors peddling their wares around town might also be operating without benefit of all the necessary permits. Not only is Milagro Burrito on the up-and-up, but after one bite of its shredded beef, potato and chile burrito, you'll find that things are looking up for you, too. The home kitchen makes hundreds of burritos every day in more than a dozen combinations, then sends them out in coolers carried by vendors whose regular routes make them the most popular people in town.
This year, the longtime dim sum favorite Mee Yee Lin left West Alameda for Aurora -- but it might as well be Hong Kong, if you're ordering the Hong Kong shrimp dumpling soup. The powerful, salty clear broth is filled with whole-leaf greens and about a dozen wispy, shrimp-packed dumplings that drift like sea anemones around the bottom for a true taste of strange climes and foreign latitudes. Order it with some shumai, another Mee Yee Lin specialty, and you're immediately transported to the mysterious East.
Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik
When it opened early in 2006, Super Star Asian didn't just raise the bar on Chinese cuisine. It took the bar, broke it over its knee, threw the pieces away and then made an entirely new bar that's held so high you can't even see it from the kitchens of most of the Chinese joints in this town. The daily dim sum is amazing -- an ever-changing, never-ending panoply of delicious things to shove in your mouth, the best you're going to find anywhere outside of Chinatown in San Francisco or New York. And even the regular menu (served during the dinner shift, when dim sum is also available) holds its own among Denver's best.
Palace Chinese Restaurant
Dim sum can be daunting for those who haven't learned how to pick through the chicken feet and curried cuttlefish to find the exotic morsels more suited to American tastes. But at the Palace, blessed are the meek. Dim sum dining in this attractive restaurant is pleasant and unhurried, without the chaos and clatter of more authentic dim sum rooms. And while there are chicken feet on the menu (the Chinese call them "phoenix talons"), you can politely bypass them and instead opt for the delicious steamed pork buns, shrimp dumplings, sesame pockets, grilled short ribs or egg-custard tarts. Parents, take note: Kids love this place.
Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome
When the crew from Rioja took over Bistro Vendme last year, fans wondered what would happen to the classically French menu. Sure, the restaurant would continue to occupy one of the choicest bits of hidden real estate in the city -- with a stunning patio for warm-weather meals -- but Rioja's contemporary Mediterranean/Spanish/Italian food didn't seem to fit with Vendme's unabashed Frog worship. And then the transition went better than anyone expected -- anyone except, perhaps, then-chef Jennifer Jasinski and manager Beth Gruitch, the now doubly dynamic duo. The new white-jackets made a few subtle changes to the dinner menu, but it was their renewed focus on brunch -- that most abused of meals -- that really paid off, with a smart morning cocktail menu and delicious dishes ranging from cr?pes to delicate seafood presentations. As a result, Bistro Vendme is now the best place in town for a midday meal on Saturdays and Sundays. If you can find a seat, that is.
Brown Palace Hotel Tea Room
For decades, the Brown Palace has served its signature afternoon tea to legions of Denver's blue-haired bluebloods. But while perfectly brewed Darjeeling, tea cakes, finger sandwiches and scones with Devonshire cream may not be your cup of tea, so to speak, take a look around the Brown Palace's lobby atrium any afternoon between noon and four and you'll understand exactly why tea here has become such a tradition. At peak hours, the place is packed with well-dressed ladies and jacketed servers swanning through the press of pearls and chiffon. With things going the way they are in the restaurant world these days, we're frankly overjoyed to see anyone sticking by the old rituals -- even the ones that involve finger sandwiches.
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
Boulder's Dushanbe Teahouse is the ideal place to escape the daily grind. From the trellised gardens out front to the fountain inside, every inch of this building (broken down and shipped in pieces all the way from Tajikistan) is designed to comfort the spirit and transport the body. The dress code is Crocs, dreadlocks and pants made of hemp, and though the menu itself is hit-or-miss, the tea roster is huge. A cup of house chai, Ethiopian coffee or any one of dozens of other offerings pairs nicely with a sweet off the dessert menu to transport you from any day-to-day drudgery.

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