Castle Cafe
Courtesy Castle Cafe Facebook
This is great chicken, slow-cooked chicken, tender and greasy chicken sheathed in a crisp armor of salt-and-peppered batter, a one-off of the incomparable Kansas City style practiced by places like Stroud's and a hundred and one less well-known fry joints and chicken shacks. It's also chicken that can take more than forty minutes to arrive, because every bird that's ordered at Castle Cafe is split in half, hand-floured and cooked to order in a shallow pan by a guy whose only job is to watch those chickens and turn each piece at just the right moment to make sure each one is perfect. You know what? We love that guy. And the wait is totally worth it.
Fried chicken is not really meant to be eaten in a dining room. It's meant to be eaten around the family dinner table, or sitting on a splintery picnic bench in the sun, or standing on the front porch watching the sun go down. At Joseph's Southern Food, you have no real choice but to take your chicken on the run, since every mess of breasts, legs and thighs is fried in the pot to order and then bagged up to go. But that process takes twenty minutes or so, which leaves you time to order up some sides, peruse the old-fashioned candies and fountain sodas on display in the front room of the old house where Joseph's is located, then have yourself an entire picnic packed for the park.
A makeover, a change of staff, and suddenly this old watering hole has become a real restaurant, where you'll find the best chicken-fried steak in the city. Over the years, the kitchen crew at Reiver's has gone through some serious ups and downs, but the joint is definitely back on top now, with a renovated dining room and a passion for giving the regulars what they want. Lucky for us, the loyalists seem very fond of chicken-fried steak made Reiver's style, with a milk-soaked and pounded steak wrapped in prosciutto, breaded Southern style in crushed Saltine crackers, then fried and served over a mound of mashed potatoes and under a nap of thick chicken gravy.
For decades, the guys working the fryers at Wingman have been perfecting their craft. And it's a credit to the deep appreciation of regional and international cuisines possessed by so many Denverites (natives and transplants alike) that this local chain has been so successful, because Wingman's craft is the art of chicken wings -- one of the three things (the others are snow and a tragic missed field goal) that the city of Buffalo, New York, is famous for. As a matter of fact, Wingman has gotten so good at making chicken wings -- or, more accurately, wing sauce -- that it's taken its game to the home of the chicken wing and twice come home from Buffalo with a first prize from the Buffalo Wing Festival.
Luciano's Pizza and Wings
Luciano's does wings. Luciano's does pizza. And that's pretty much all Luciano's does. At any rate, that's all that matters to anyone who cares about the archetypal flavors of Buffalo, where pizza and wings are the alpha and omega. Here the wings are fried hard, sauced with Frank's RedHot and served to-go in a cardboard box (more important to the smell and flavor than you'd think). The Buffalo-style pizzas are square, touched with a sweet sauce, mounted on a crust that's thicker than you find in New York City, thinner than the pizzas of the Midwest. The result is a pizza that reminds a lot of people of Pizza Thursdays in their high school cafeteria. It's an acquired taste, sure, but nothing about Buffalo is easy.
Fruition
Mark Manger
Of all the things for a chef to be good at, Alex Seidel may be best at making fritters. While still on the line at Mizuna, he did apple fritters to go alongside the autumn presentations of foie gras. Now that he has his own place with Fruition, he starts off the menu with an amazing carpaccio of beets graced by the inclusion of fried goat-cheese fritters that arrive perfectly browned, round as cue balls and filled with wonderfully sour goat cheese turned almost liquid by the heat of the fryers.
Szechuan Chinese
Szechuan Chinese holds down one of the worst imaginable locations in all of restaurantdom, in a nearly inaccessible strip mall off Sixth Avenue. Still, for close to thirty years, the customers have kept coming. And most of them are coming for the dumplings: heavy and huge, as big across as a balled fist. The dough is just the right thickness; the filling is pork and ginger and herbs, assembled by hand and worked with the fingers like a great meatloaf. Served eight to an order, a single plate is a meal in itself -- satisfying on a level that, after half the dumplings are gone, no longer has anything to do with simple hunger, but everything to do with the pampering comfort of salt and grease and the work of skilled hands.
El Coyotito #3
El Coyotito #3, a little storefront on Leetsdale (we have no idea where #1 and #2 may be) gets a lot of things right. Service is fast and friendly. There's a great Spanish-only jukebox in the corner. And while the standard Mexican fare (tacos, burritos, etc.) is only good, the seafood is great. The presentations are simple, the flavors fresh and clean. And with that big beach mural painted along the back wall, there's no better place to kick back with an iced bottle of real Mexican Coca-Cola and a giant shrimp cocktail served in a hurricane glass.
One can of Pacfico and one poached shrimp with lots of salt and just a touch of spice: That's all it takes to make a chelada. Conveniently enough, that's also all it takes to win yourself an award for finding two great tastes that taste great together.
Over the years, patriarch Jack Martinez has tried a lot of things to build his business at Jack-n-Grill. He's expanded the menu, he's expanded the building, gotten a liquor license, franchised his concept and done everything short of handing out dollar bills to get people in the door. But in truth, he's never really had to do much of anything, because anyone who knows chile knows that Martinez (once a New Mexico chile importer himself) has the best, most consistent supply in Denver of the sweet-hot, smoky southern New Mexico green that defines both that culture and that cuisine. The best thing on Jack-n-Grill's menu is anything with green chile on it, and in season, the faithful line up for a block outside Jack-n-Grill so they can take home a sweating plastic bag of freshly roasted chiles.

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