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.
Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington
At Sushi Sasa, a meal isn't just about the food, it's about the whole experience of dining. With its white-on-white decor, attentive servers, jewel-box space (with an overflow bar and lounge downstairs) and a menu that stretches the idea of nouvelle Japanese beyond just the over-played tricks of torch-seared salmon skin and sushi-with-sauce, dinner here is a true adventure. And with a chef as skilled as Wayne Conwell running the show, it's an adventure that will always leave you wanting more.
Finding a McDonald's in downtown Tokyo is easy; finding a real ramen noodle house in the United States is much more challenging. So how lucky are we to have Oshima Ramen, a link in a chain of ramen noodle shops that is to Japan what Mickey D's is to this country? Very lucky. As a matter of fact, we're the luckiest people in the whole USA, because the Oshima Ramen in Tiffany Plaza is the only Oshima Ramen in America. Still, one is enough for us. If you're looking for a true taste of Tokyo -- pork bone, chicken and bonito stock, fresh noodles rolled daily, blonde soy shoyu and a coffee-dark and cloudy miso broth used to create everything from a simple Original Ramen to a veggie, to a tofu and bamboo-shoot ramen, to a seafood ramen, to a double-up super original Oshima Ramen with chaisu, boiled egg and corn -- then you're really in luck here.
Domo
Not only is Domo Denver's best Japanese restaurant, it's one of the best and most interesting restaurants that Denver has ever produced. Part restaurant, part Zen garden, part Aikido dojo, part Japanese cultural center, Domo is all Japanese -- fiercely original, fiercely regional and fiercely independent. Everything here -- from the tree-stump seats and northern Japanese peasant cuisine to the premium sake list and funny hats given to those seated outside in the garden on sunny days -- is transporting. And though Domo might be one of the very few restaurants where you can actually say that the cuisine has been elevated beyond the level of craft and into the realm of true art, it is also the last place where anyone on staff would say that anything done in this kitchen was anything but craft -- anything but dinner, well-made in imitation of a style that's been around for as long as the stones and which will outlive every one of us.
Kim Ba Vietnamese Cuisine
Kim Ba
Denver is heaven for fans of Vietnamese food. We've got the good stuff and the bad stuff, the authentic and the fake. We've got more pho restaurants than you can shake a stick at, and dozens of good noodle-bowl joints. But when we're really craving all that Vietnamese cooking can be, we head for Kim Ba. Not only is this one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in the area, but it's the best at anything off the grill (which is one-third of all Vietnamese cuisine) or over noodles (which is the second third, the last being pho -- which can be found at plenty of other spots). For the appetizer combo alone -- a massive collection of grilled meats and noodles and greens and little fried things that we can't even pronounce -- Kim Ba would take the prize, but this menu goes on for several pages after that, and every dish is a winner.
Can Tho Pho
If you're from Vietnam, this is comfort food. If you're not, it's a fantastic education in the less common flavors of Southeast Asia. Gelatinized duck's blood, fishscale mint, sawgrass and other, even less recognizable ingredients are pretty much par for the course at Ha Noi Pho, but you'll be amazed at how quickly a brave heart, a strong stomach and an adventurous palate can be made to feel right at home. Although service can be a bit standoffish, once you get the owners, cooks or servers talking, the place becomes as friendly as any other neighborhood joint -- whether in Denver or Hanoi.

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