Decades before "Rocky Mountain High" became Colorado's second official state song, diners were singing the praises of the Wazee Supper Club. In fact, the Karagas brothers opened their restaurant bar in 1974, just two years after John Denver wrote that song, and today the Wazee is just as much an examplar of this state as is that cheesy number. And so is the pizza coming out of the Wazee kitchen -- which has more than its own share of cheese, as well as a uniquely sweet sauce that never changes. Other things have changed, though, including the Wazee's owners (today it's part of the Wynkoop group), hours (it still serves late and is now open Sundays, too) and menu. In addition to pizza and sandwiches, there are appetizers, salads, even condiments. And, as always, plenty of beers on tap to enjoy in this Colorado classic.

Best Place to Reminisce About Peter Frampton Before He Felt Like
We Do

Oblio's Pizzeria

Oblio's Pizzeria
Courtesy Oblio's Pizzeria Facebook
The pizza is tasty, but it's the ambience that really draws people to Oblio's -- that and the liquor license that so many Park Hill NIMBYs fought against. Today ex- naysayers tie their drooling golden retrievers to the fence and join the queue of folks waiting for a seat in the jammin' joint. Fortunately, neighborhood respectability has not ruined Oblio's; it still has the same sweet hippie-dippie vibe it did when it opened back in 1996, complete with hallucinogenic menus creatively constructed from '60s and '70s album covers. What a long, strange trip it's been.
Two things saved Via from slipping into that great, yawning pit of mediocrity above which so many restaurants hang. First, there was last fall's hiring of chef James Mazzio and his decision to stand his post right on the line. And second, there were the pizza ovens -- real wood-fired ovens of the very, very old-school variety that could turn out similarly old-school pizzas of the Neapolitan variety. As a matter of fact, these pizzas were so authentic that Via was actually certified by the United States branch of the Associazione della Vera Pizza Napoletana (essentially the Italian pizza police), which speaks to the authenticity of Via's product. But the true arbiter is always taste, and one bite of the three-cheese, prosciutto and arugula Parma pizza is enough to make anyone a believer.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria
Buenos Aires has long been a magnet for immigrants. Successive waves of wanderers from Italy, Africa, Asia and elsewhere have washed up in that cosmopolitan city, and each group has brought a little taste of their homeland with them. And now we have all those tastes here in Denver at Buenos Aires Pizzeria, where Buenos Aires native Francis Carrera serves all the variegated flavors of his home town in pizza form. Skip the more traditional pies in favor of something unusual, something you've never had before -- hearts of palm, maybe, or a pie speckled with bits of hard-boiled egg. Then make a note to return for gnocchi night or one of the kitchen's excellent Cuban sandwiches.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria features the full spectrum of Argentine immigration in pizza form, but Francis Carrera's Buenos Aires Grill goes much deeper, offering perfect renditions of many of the international plates that have fed generations of Buenos Aires residents and shaped the cuisine of that city. The focus at this lovely restaurant is definitely meat -- a churrasco board dominates -- but so many excellent plates can be found hovering around the edges of the menu that one meal here just leaves you wanting more. The blood sausage is the best we've ever had, the bacalao (salt cod) an upscaled version of a peasant classic, and almost anything coming off the grills tastes of a deep cultural understanding that's rare in even the most rigorously authentic ethnic restaurants.
Denver has always had plenty of Mexican restaurants -- old Mexican, new Mexican, regional Mexican, Mexican done both fancy and plain. But it wasn't until recently that we started tasting the true potential of internationally influenced Latin American cuisine. That potential is best realized at Sabor Latino, a charming spot that serves up ceviche, bandeja paisa with plantains and Colombian chicharrones, Chilean bride's soup in a huge bowl filled with fish and shrimp and baby clams (because that's just what a new bride wants on her wedding night: clam breath) and big, big drinks. The menu is like an arrow pointing the way for chefs looking for new inspiration in the coming years.

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Los Cabos II

Los Cabos II
Eric Gruneisen
Los Cabos II picks up extra points for authenticity. Well, authenticity -- and the giant stuffed llama. When the dining room is quiet, this restaurant can (and does) double as a sort of Peruvian cultural museum -- but it's best during the lunch and dinner rushes, when everyone's ordering and then digging into huge plates of multi-ethnic South American grub. From the simplest dishes of lomo saltado and strange Chinese/Spanish fusions to the seriously Spanish paella specials, mustardy potato salad and weekend buffets, everything is delicious and served in huge portions by a staff that's as friendly as the one at the corner diner.
Limon
Chef/owner Alex Gurevich had some sort of epiphany during a trip to Peru a couple of years back. He saw the blooming of an entirely new cuisine based on the borderless, international flavors of traditional South American cooking and came back to Denver with the desire to open one of the first Novoandino restaurants in the United States. That's exactly what he's done with Limn, combining the authentic, sometimes shocking native tastes and juxtapositions of Peruvian food with his own sense of French technique and plate design, for a menu that's unlike anything ever seen in Denver. Starches and sauces are the secret here, and because many of the dishes are so different (cold potatoes, mashed lentils, chile and gooseberry demi), they must be tasted to be believed.
Red Tango
Cassandra Kotnik
Fried plantains and ceviche aren't the only dishes that Red Tango does well, but they're the dishes that Red Tango does better than anyone else in town. Strange combination plates of enchiladas and tortas, ceviches, Italian ravioli stuffed with crushed black beans and topped with butterflied prawns soaked in ancho chile -- the menu has these, too, and we've tried them all. But what we keep coming back for are the bowls of bittersweet, astringent raw orange roughy and little fingerling shrimp dressed in lime, chile and onion, and the thick-cut, buttery, sweet fried plantains that are like God's gift to a Southern sweet tooth.
Sushi Den
Sushi Den
The worst fights we've ever seen at Sushi Den haven't been over the last piece of o-toro, but over the last seat at the sushi bar on a Friday night. And that's odd, because we'd punch a nun if she was standing between us and some of the brilliant, beautiful, achingly fresh fish brought in by the convoluted and murderously expensive delivery system that Toshi, Sushi Den's owner, has been laboring for twenty years to perfect. As a result of those Herculean efforts, you can be eating fish on South Pearl Street on Saturday night that was sold Saturday morning on the floor of the Nagahama market in Kukuoka, Japan, and was swimming in the ocean on Friday. There aren't many other restaurants where you can do that -- none in Denver, and few in the country. As a result, this is the only place in town where we'll lay out the greenbacks for real o-toro, where we'll wait an hour or more for surf clam and eel, where we'll fight off that nun for the bright-orange uni presented in a simple slip of black seaweed.

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