Parallel Seventeen
At Parallel 17, there are many good things to eat. There are always pretty things to look at. And there are several fine things to drink. But the one that counts is the Vietnamese coffee martini. Of course, this is not a true martini (that can only be one thing -- gin, gin, gin and an olive), but it is still an amazing drink, as addictive as crack cocaine, made of chilled Vietnamese coffee, vanilla Stoli, Kahla and a single dot of sweetened condensed milk lurking in the hollow where stem meets glass. Never again will we so quickly dismiss as knee-jerk heresy those terrible, juvenile and self-indulgent cocktails that today are poured as proxy to James Bond's favorite recreational indulgence. No, from now on we'll try one first -- and then we'll make fun of it. Unless it rises to the level of Parallel 17's Vietnamese coffee martini, in which case we'll give it an award.
Since the day it opened in a brand-new building tucked into a very revitalized Larimer Square, the Capital Grille has been the idealized steakhouse in a town that is very, very serious about its steaks. Everything about this restaurant -- from the dark and clubby decor to the white tablecloths atop the padded tabletops, the excellent bar and the high-roller tables along the far wall -- is exemplary of what a great steakhouse should be: at once both exceptional and welcoming, elitist but approachable. And the food? Nearly perfect every time we've visited, whether during the dragging last hour of lunch or in the middle of a crushing Friday-night dinner rush. Steaks are obviously the main event here, and diners would be wise to go with the flow, order the biggest one they can swallow, and know that meat-and-potatoes dining just doesn't get any better than this.
Denver Wheel Club 404
Even though this Broadway landmark now sports a renovated dining room, it hasn't lost an inch of history or an ounce of soul. Club 404 is the kind of joint that attracts everyone from local construction workers to the guys from Antique Row, Broadway street creatures, daytime drinkers, broke neighborhood hipsters, finger-licking carnivores and families looking for a cheap night out involving a fat steak, an iceberg salad and a couple of cold beers that won't put them into bankruptcy arbitration. Wait long enough and you'll see half the city pass through this bar. And no one ever leaves Club 404 hungry.
The steaks are big, the sides are big, the tables are big -- everything about the Northwoods Inn is big except the prices, which are reasonable if you consider that the meals are all-inclusive and portions can be measured by the pound. This is a family spot, owned by the same family for generations (and through two locations) and catering to big clans interested only in the simplicity of a bygone age, when Ronald Reagan was still a TV star. It's also an indisputably Western restaurant, with its penchant for square-state chuckwagon chic (soup is served communally in a cast-iron pot) and a decor comprising framed, folksy witticisms and the heads of dead animals hanging on the walls. Move 'em out!
Buckhorn Exchange
Buckhorn Exchange
If you have friends coming in from out of state, a passel of carnivorous German tourists to impress, family in town expecting a "real Western experience" or just a pressing need to find a menu with balls (literally) late on a Thursday night, head on over to the Buckhorn. The staff is one of the friendliest and most accommodating in the city. The menu (which is translated into a half-dozen languages) consists almost entirely of meat -- primarily beef steaks of various crippling sizes, but also some unusual game dishes always handled with surprising restraint -- and the atmosphere is dark, cluttered, historic (there's actually a museum upstairs past the bar full of guns, whiskey bottles and other civilizing artifacts of the good ol' days) and full of vicious creatures that have been shot, stuffed, mounted and forced into an eternity of watching you eat parts of their brethren. Serves them right for being so delicious.
Cabin Creek Smokehouse BBQ
Courtesy Cabin Creek Smokehouse Facebook
The standard barbecue offerings at Cabin Creek are excellent: the ribs stiff and smoked all the way to the bone with a surface like shellacked hardwood; the pork juicy, fatty, tender and woody-sweet, turned electric with the addition of a great Carolina mustard-and-vinegar sauce. But what elevates this spot above all other barbecue joints is the rest of the menu. The kitchen does open-faced barbecue sandwiches and barbecue po' boys. It does green chile shot with barbecued pork, cowboy chili made molasses-sweet, and red-chile-spiked baked beans hit with a handful of pulled pork or shredded brisket. The crew also rolls a terrific barbecue burrito, wrapping spicy beans and pork in a tortilla and smothering it with green chile, cheese and sour cream. And then there's the ultimate in barbecue-junkie midnight hangover food: the BBQ masher, a bowl of mashed red-skin potatoes topped with pulled pork or brisket, topped again with cheese and again with sour cream. There hasn't been anything done better with barbecue since the first pork sandwich with pickles was invented.
Sam Taylor's Bar-B-Que
The worst thing about barbecue is waiting for it. And the worst thing about wet barbecue is that it can't be eaten while driving. Well, not without seriously compromising the resale value of your ride. Thus, the very worst thing about Sam Taylor's barbecue -- which comes slathered in a thick, sticky, gloss-black sauce, a Tennessee-meets-K.C. riff that packs both heat and sweet -- is that it's done wet, which means the only thing to do when you're buying a whole lot of barbecue to go is to top off your order with a "poke sammich" -- a pork sandwich done on a grilled roll with enough structural integrity that you can eat it one-handed in traffic.
Yazoo Barbeque Company
Cassandra Kotnik
When Yazoo owner Don Hines says he's doing Deep South barbecue, he's not kidding. He's from Mississippi, and it shows when he smokes. His meat cooks low and slow -- twelve hours -- over a combination of hickory and pecan wood, with only a strong dry rub to keep it company. As his website advises, "All Yazoo meat items can fend for themselves in taste, but we will let you add different barbecue sauces." That always kills us -- "let you," as if the pit man needs to grant permission before anyone can fuck up his own supper. But Don's right: Straight from the smoker, Yazoo's meat -- and in particular, the pork shoulder, powerfully flavored by sweet pecan and hickory smoke -- is so good that absolutely nothing else is required.
Pacific Ocean International Market
Barbecue isn't an exclusively American passion. Far beyond the traditions of this country's pit masters, there's a world full of ropa vieja, churrasco and smoky roasted pig head that drives us just as wild as that perfect shredded pork butt redolent of hickory and slapped with a brush of sweet-hot K.C. mop. To us, barbecue is a global sensation, a borderless pleasure that has the same meaning in Guangdong Province as it does in Greenville. And when we're in need of a fix of international barbecue, we head straight for the counter at Pacific Ocean. Here, Chinese barbecued pork -- along with trotters, pig's heads and all the other carnivorous Asian ephemera -- is laid out in huge slabs and orders measured either in pounds or the space between two fingers, then taken home and sliced or shredded for shameless midnight consumption.
Jim 'n Nick's Bar-B-Q
Hunter Stevens
What's better than barbecue? That's right: fast barbecue. While Jim 'n Nick's has all the trappings of a traditional barbecue restaurant -- tables, menus, waiters and such -- what makes it special is the drive-thru. Not only can you order off the entire menu here, but service is lightning-quick, and the real wood smokers fill every car with the smell of good old-fashioned brick-pit barbecue.

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