The Cherry Cricket
Courtesy of the Cherry Cricket
We love green-chile cheeseburgers. We've eaten a lot of them in this city, and although none has been the green-chile cheeseburger of our dreams -- that exists only at the Owl in New Mexico -- the Cherry Cricket's green chile cheeseburger is darn good. Part of that can be attributed to the atmosphere in which it's served: aggressively anti-Creek. More can be attributed to the fact that the burger comes properly charred, and covered with those hot, sweet chiles. And perhaps most of it can be attributed to the Cricket serving the ultimate liquid sidecar for a green-chile cheeseburger: two bottles of Genny Cream Ale and a Bushmills back.
Bud's Cafe & Bar
Lori Midson
Bud's Bar served the best bar burger last year, and ten years before that. Odds are pretty good that this small, insanely popular, biker-friendly roadhouse will serve the best bar burgers ten years from now, too. For decades, it has served nothing but burgers, and that single-minded focus has paid off with a two-fisted American classic that puts Bud's ahead of all the rest.
Griff's Hamburgers
The exact history of the Griff's Burger Bar chain is somewhat sketchy, but had the fast-food industry gone a little differently, we like to think that Griff's might have been a victor in the drive-thru burger war. We can imagine a time when Griff's -- not Burger King, not McDonald's -- would have come out on top and blanketed the world with its weird, A-frame, car-cult cheeseburgery goodness. Why? Because a Griff's burger kicks the shit out of anything served at Mickey D's. So does a Griff's shake. So do its fries. And its mascot -- some kind of bizarre little midget clown thing -- is definitely better than anything ever dreamed up by the suits on Madison Avenue. But even if Griff's never made the final cut in the real world, Denver still has two of its original outposts. And they're the best.
Old Fashioned Italian Deli
Stephen Cummings
In genetics, it's known that environmental stress breeds both diversity and specialization. Same thing goes for food. And since there's almost no environment in the lower 48 more harsh than that of Buffalo, New York, in the winter, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Buffalo boasts a wide range of regional cuisine (chicken wings, pizza, beef on weck, etc.) and a sense of specialization that makes its particular iterations on American classic foods the best. Witness the Sahlen's hot dogs and Weber mustard served at the Old Fashioned, one of Denver's very few exemplars of authentic Buffalo cuisine. Go ahead and order two dogs -- one with onions and hot sauce, the other with a generous shot of Weber's finest -- and think warm thoughts.
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Danielle Lirette
We love hot dog carts. Seriously, a couple of dirty-water dogs, something salty out of a foil bag and a cold Coke is often the only thing that carries us through the day. But sometimes even the traditional charms of a street-corner vendor are not enough, and that's when we make the trek to the 16th Street Mall for one of Biker Jim's white veal brats, reindeer sausages or spiced bison dogs. Jim is always happy to talk about his gourmet-game product (when he's not working through a long lunch-rush line, that is), as well as his recent foray into the custom-cheesecake business. Some of Denver's finer restaurants are now serving the cheesecakes; you can get a single slice from one of the coolers behind Jim's cart.
Chicago Style Beef & Dogs
Courtesy Chicago Style Beef and Dogs Facebook
Stepping into Chicago the restaurant is like stepping into Chicago the city, thanks to decor dominated by case after case of colorful memorabilia devoted to the Bears, White Sox, Black Hawks and, yes, even the Cubs. Indeed, placards on the tables list significant events that have taken place since 1908 -- when the Cubs last won the World Series -- including the invention of television, which has allowed the team's fans to watch their beloved Cubs lose from the comfort of their own homes. But it's worth venturing out to taste Chicago's tasty ballpark fare, which is more than a match for the ambience. Those who dare to order a hot dog not served Chicago style should expect a side of good-natured attitude at no additional charge. To paraphrase Sean Connery in The Untouchables, that's the Chicago way.
Dazzle
Although Dazzle is best known as a dazzling jazz bar, it offers a great riff on happy hour. First, we like its idea of a happy "hour" being a hundred and fifty minutes long on weekdays (it's an hour shorter on weekends). Second, we like how happiness comes at a flat rate: $5 a plate. Third, we love that happiness here does not necessarily translate to "deep-fried anything," "artichoke goo," "half-frozen sliders" or "jalapeo poppers." And finally, the twenty-item-deep happy-hour menu served daily guarantees that even after we tire of the goat-cheese crostini, crab-stuffed mushroom caps, killer shrimp cocktails, cinnamon-caramel apple sandwiches with sharp cheddar, brie sandwiches and simple fried green tomatoes, there will still be plenty of choices left to keep us happy until the start of dinner.
Elway's Cherry Creek
This isn't to say that we wouldn't eat at Elway's on our own dime. We would, and have, more times than our credit limit can bear. But what we are saying is, if you've got the chance to stick The Man with the bill, then go ring up a whopper at Elway's. Start with a couple of classic martinis at the bar, then retire to the dining room and take a tour through the top end of the menu: the 22-ounce prime bone-in ribeye with cremini mushrooms; one of those food-as-art shrimp cocktails served over a smoking bed of dry ice; a big, beautiful lobster tail; and then a double-shot sugar rush with s'mores and Ding Dongs to round out your meal. With any luck, you may even spot John Elway himself -- which will so impress your boss that he won't quibble over a couple hundred bucks.
Palace Arms
The Brown Palace
To begin, a few ounces of the Palace Arms' diminishing stock of real, pre-embargo caviar, which will run you anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Then order a shot -- but sip it! -- of very well-aged 1870s cognac ($575). After that the prices become somewhat more terrestrial for a beautiful bowl of perfect consomm, a classic loup de mer or the loin of bison Rossini topped with slips of seared foie gras and settled in a tarn of amazing Madeira reduction. For dessert, there's bananas Foster from the cart -- then a cigar and a glass of twenty-year-old port in the Churchill Bar next door. Tip big and stagger out of the Brown Palace knowing that you've just had the experience of a lifetime. Is it worth it? As with a designer suit or a luxury car, if you can afford it, you really don't need to ask.
Duo Restaurant
Scott Lentz
It's funny how Duo's dining room -- a simple space with pale wood, exposed brick, white tablecloths -- initially seems underwhelming. At first blush, it looks like any one of a hundred other neighborhood joints going for casual bistro elegance. But Duo begins to reveal itself as soon as the menus come out -- and once the plates start arriving? You'll never look at the place the same way again. With food like this, Duo is the ideal go-to spot for special occasions of any description. Chef John Broening's ever-changing seasonal menus always maintain a pitch-perfect balance between his obsessive love of ingredients and his smarter-than-the-average-bear take on that oft-abused cuisine called New American; the service continually walks the line between educated professionalism and informal joie de travail; and the pacing of meals is excellent -- never rushed, never poky. Whether you're celebrating an anniversary or a successful parole hearing, Duo is the best spot to mark one of life's little victories. After all, that pretty much describes this restaurant, too.

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