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
Courtesy Brown Palace Hotel
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.
Lucile's Creole Cafe
Molly Martin
The Cajun/Creole fad ebbs and flows faster than the tides. Up in Boulder, however, one place has not only held on, but it's flourished over three decades of service: Lucile's. This New Orleans-style breakfast joint has been serving huge plates of biscuits and gravy, sugar-dusted beignets, thick-cut bacon, fat sausages and the best egg plates this side of the French Quarter to generations of devotees. Though Lucile's has been so successful that it's expanded down into Denver and beyond, the original location -- squeezed into a rambling old house on 14th Street -- is the only one that gets everything just right. The dining rooms are always crowded, the service is brusque and the waits can be long, but one taste of the eggs Sardou and you'll know exactly why Lucile's has enjoyed such a remarkable run.
Tokyo Joe's
Chain restaurants are creatures of convenience: They're the places where you eat when you don't want to think about where you want to eat. The best of them insinuate themselves seamlessly into your world and your lifestyle -- and Tokyo Joe's is definitely one of the best, not just for Denver, but for the fast-food world at large. The Japanese noodle-house concept is both the perfect extension of the modern American fast-casual business model and a working fit for Colorado, with its long history of Japanese immigration. Beyond that, Tokyo Joe's is just good --with a DIY menu long enough to remain interesting over many repeat visits and a staff absolutely committed to making sure that everyone gets exactly what they want and need.
SAME Cafe
Mark Antonation
Owners Brad and Libby Birky started SAME Cafe (So All May Eat) with a simple philosophy: Everyone ought to be able to eat well and affordably in their neighborhood. With that in mind, they decided not to demand money from anyone who comes to eat at their small cafe -- which features an ever-changing menu of healthy pizzas, salads, soups and desserts -- but simply to put a box by the door for donations. The way it's supposed to work, a diner comes in, has lunch (or an early dinner on the weekends), then pays whatever he's able or whatever he thinks the meal is worth. Surprisingly, the system has actually worked, with the Birkys doing a good business even as they do good.
Famous Pizza
Mark Antonation
Famous Pizza was an institution in this town thirty years ago, and this outpost is still a must-stop for anyone in need of a quick lunch. For five bucks, you can get two slices of whatever's in the box -- which is bound to start with a classic New York thin crust, no matter what's on top -- and a Coke and be fed and out in about ten minutes, depending on how fast you can shovel in the food. For those with more time on their hands, well, you're on Broadway, baby. Use your imagination.
Ba Le Sandwich
Mark Antonation
Banh mi -- Vietnamese sandwiches with a distinctively French twist -- are the plats du jour here, every jour of the week. There are a dozen or so varieties available at the counter, from classic pork pt with pork and more pork to spicy pork and barbecued pork and even all-vegetable offerings, all mounted on dwarf baguettes that have the distinctive delicacy of masterful baking. No matter what's on your sandwich, it costs just $2.50, which should leave plenty of change for an iced Vietnamese coffee or lychee soda.
Pat's Philly Steaks and Subs
The best way to judge a sandwich joint is how you order there. At a decent sandwich joint, you'll order lunch. At a good one, you'll order lunch and maybe a little something extra for dinner. But at the best sandwich joint, you'll empty bank accounts and max out credit cards in order to buy enough food to feed you and ten of your closest friends for a week -- even if you don't have ten friends who need feeding or a fridge big enough to hold the leftovers. At Pat's, ordering everything on the board -- and then some -- is a very real danger. Salami sandwiches dressed in oil, salt and pepper; Italian grinders; hot meatball sandwiches that are the bane of every car's upholstery; the Gobbler (turkey, stuffing and cranberry mayo, served cold like perfect Thanksgiving leftovers every day of the year) -- we just can't stop. Which is how we know that this particular Pat's outlet is not just the best of the bunch, but the best sandwich joint in town -- truly deserving of its #1.
Jerry? The guy who owns this franchise-but-not-a-franchise of the South Philly Cheesesteak Company that's located in a Conoco? Yeah, he's nuts, and he'll talk your ear clean off if you let him. But he's also some kind of sandwich-making genius -- a savant, or just one of those guys with a direct line to God. Jerry's menu is long, and his little shop inside the Conoco is always busy. People come here from across the state. And Jerry never stops talking -- about sandwiches, about his customers, about conservative politics, about Philly and the East Coast, about (and occasionally to) his ingredients. But the sandwiches he makes from those ingredients! Forget the cheese-steak and go straight for the ham and provolone hoagie with razor-thin white onions and herbed oil, or the Italian with ham, capicola and real Genoa salami. Right on his menu, Jerry says that this is the best hoagie you can buy in Colorado, and he's not lying.

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