Best Hot Dog Cart 2007 | Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
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.
Mark Payler
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.
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.
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.
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.
Julia Vandenoever
Monday nights at Frasca are community night -- a time for owners Lachlan Mac-kinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey, as well as their front- and back-of-the-house crews, to give a little something back to the community that's been so good to them. And how better for this chef and master sommelier to express their gratitude than with food? Every week, they put together a special prix fixe menu, open the doors and wait to see what happens. Although not every lineup is brilliant -- sometimes the Monday-night dinners seem like a test run for dishes that could appear later on the regular menu -- with a little risk comes great reward. Some of Frasca's best tricks have been tried at these informal evenings, and the prices are unbeatable.
Joni Schrantz
Frank Bonanno, owner of Mizuna and Luca d'Italia, has had a pretty wild run recently. There was the complicated publication of his first cookbook and the flurry of promotion that followed. There was the dissolution of his partnership at the floundering Milagro Taco Bar and Harry's up on 17th Avenue. There was the loss of two of his Mizuna vets and the promotion of two new guys to take over those top spots. And through all of it, Mizuna -- Bonanno's first and best restaurant -- has remained strong, full and, most important, vital. It's a perfect showcase for the talents (and menus) of Bonanno, one of Denver's best chefs and also a hell of a businessman. At Mizuna, it doesn't matter what night of the week you show up (unless you show up on Sunday or Monday, when the place is closed); dinner is bound to be amazing, with terrific fried anything appetizers and great fish and foie entrees.
Like mod haircuts and hot pants, the cheese course seems to wax and wane in popularity year by year. There are seasons when it seems that every restaurateur in town is dumping bucketloads of money into the acquisition of increasingly strange and powerful cheeses from around the globe, others when it's tough to find a wedge of cheddar anywhere. But Fruition has found an elegant constant with its French Bleu D'Laquille: a simple plate that offers a single, good-sized slab of Bleu D'Laquille attended by nothing more than toasted brioche, a smear of fig paste and a bit of raw honeycomb sitting in a puddle of its own delicious honey.
Scott Lentz
Pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom is just one of the many reasons that Duo has taken off. But she's a big reason. Her desserts -- rustic apple-cranberry tarts, completely addictive sticky toffee puddings and frozen pistachio nougat, to name just a few -- are the stuff dreams are made of (you know: sugar, chocolate, more sugar, buttercream). Any one of them makes for a perfect extravagance at the end of what's certain to have been a very good meal.

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