Ba Le Sandwich
Mark Antonation
Ba Le Sandwich, a small, brightly lit sandwich shop smack in the middle of Denver's best Vietnamese-restaurant neighborhood, is a destination both for Vietnamese immigrants looking for an honest taste of home and adventurous gastronauts looking for a taste of foreign climes on the cheap. Both appreciate the banh mi, the classical collision of French and Vietnamese culinary tradition that resulted in a wonderful spread of sandwiches — most of them some variety of pork — on short baguettes. At Ba Le, you'll find sliced pork and spicy pork, pork pâté and pork cutlets, with topping options of sliced cucumbers, sprouts — whatever you like. No matter what you choose, you'll get out the door for under five bucks, with a lunch that beats any fast-food offering.
Yes, Oceanaire is a seafood restaurant — but our very favorite offering here is a plate of nothing but bacon steaks. No garnish, no vegetable, no starch, no health warning from the surgeon general about the dangers of eating a giant plate of pig at a single sitting. To create this miracle, chef Matt Mine, a former fish butcher who now runs the kitchen at Denver's Oceanaire, simply takes a rasher of bacon, cuts off slabs about an inch thick, fries them up in the pan, then serves them as though a couple of pieces of bacon the size of petit filet mignons were the most reasonable dish in the world. It's the ultimate delicious indulgence.
My Brother's Bar
Molly Martin
Although Bud's Bar still makes the area's best burger, the burger at My Brother's Bar comes very close — and it's flavored by decades of tradition, since this address has been a bar longer than any other location in Denver, back to at least 1880. But unlike a Bud's burger, which we can take outside and eat while sitting on the hood of a car with no noticeable diminution in its essential excellence, a burger at My Brother's should be eaten at the bar, where you have handy access to both the plastic condiment carrier (packed with onions, pepperoncini, relish and pickles) and a long, laudable history.
Han Kang seems to give away more food than it charges for — what with all the garnishes, sides, sauces and snacks that come free with every meal at this traditional Korean joint. While English is definitely a second language here, you can easily get yourself fed by just pointing, nodding and doing a little pantomime. And be sure you point to the line on the menu that offers barbecued bacon — as a side dish! You'll get a platter of sliced slabs of pink and fatty pork belly, which you cook on the sizzling hot-top and then dredge through a bowl of salty and potent garlic oil. There are so many elements at play here that you can do yourself serious damage — from arteries clogged with bacon fat to severe genital scarring if you accidentally tip the grill the wrong way in your excitement and spill hot bacon grease in your lap — but really, what's life without a little risk? And what better way to go than from an overdose of bacon?
Big Hoss Bar-B-Q
It has been said, often and loudly, that Denver has no great barbecue restaurants. And while this is true to a point, it's a point beyond which all arguments fall apart. Denver may not have the kind of historic barbecue joints that most folks think of when they think of great barbecue. But what we do have are many places that do one or two things very well, along with one place that does nearly everything better than anyone else — and that place is Big Hoss. At this new joint in northwest Denver, barbecue has been deconstructed to its socio-political roots and rebuilt, like Steve Austin, to be better than it was before. The pork shoulder is excellent, especially when dosed with a little of the vinegar sauce from the barbecued shrimp; the barbecued chicken smells like an Alabama house fire; and the ribs have just the right texture. And while most barbecue joints offer a half-dozen sauces, Big Hoss has only one, a fusion of the best elements of all the other sauces that — true to owner Hoss Orwat's claim — goes perfectly with just about everything on the menu.
Elway's Cherry Creek
Elway's is a beautiful restaurant. The service rides the perfect edge between businesslike decorum and occasionally goofy informality — and so does the menu, which offers both innovative dishes (a handmade spread of s'mores) and more standard steakhouse fare. But there's nothing standard about Elway's massive, 22-ounce, USDA Prime bone-in rib-eye, cut so as to preserve the most fat, the best marble and the bone, which lends both moisture during the cooking process and a sense of seriousness on the plate. This is a gorgeous steak, indescribably tender, juicy and delicious, yet humble — merely sitting in its place on the board among all the other steaks, waiting for those of large appetite and discriminating palate to discover for themselves the best item on Elway's menu.
The Colorado Rockies may have bombed in the World Series last fall, but a block away from Coors Field, Falling Rock Tap House continues to boast a world-class beer list that's simply unbeatable. This casual, comfortable bar has more than sixty beers on tap and many, many more kinds in bottles, from cities across the country and countries around the globe. Take a swing, and you're sure to hit something great.
Centro Mexican Kitchen
Mark Antonation
Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace may have a funny name, but it takes its booze very, very seriously. From day one, the staff has been exhorted to think of the bar as an extension of the kitchen — a place where only the best ingredients and most rigorous prep will be accepted. The results are some seriously powerful and seriously delicious classic cocktails which, once you've knocked back a few, require something equally good and very filling from the kitchen. Which is where the bellies come in — pork bellies, in this case, used to make the incomparable cheesy pork-belly masa cake. On its own, this dish would be reason to drive to Boulder, but it's just one entry on a menu chock-full of the varied flavors of Central and South America.
West End Tavern
Courtesy West End Tavern Facebook
When owner Dave Query set out to remake the West End, a longtime Boulder institution, a few years ago, he made a decision to lay in the area's biggest stock of bourbons. Today, the bar offers everything from the once-bum-juice/now-cool Bulleit Bourbon and old friends like Wild Turkey and George Dickel to Sazerac rye and the $45-a-shot Jim Beam Distiller's Masterpiece. So fans of this classic American should head directly to the West End. With their wallets, because one drink won't be enough.
Man could live by bread alone, if it were made at Bluepoint Bakery. This is a huge production bakery with an enormous book for everything from breads to desserts to pastries, but the breads are the real star: at least a dozen kinds of French bread, twice the number of dinner and sandwich rolls, eight pan breads and a half-dozen deli loaves — including the best marbled rye this side of Manhattan's Lower East Side. And while a mere mortal can't just drop by for a nice loaf (unless, of course, said mortal wants to buy a whole lot of loaves), Bluepoint's product isn't hard to find: The bakery supplies breads, pastries and desserts for clients from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, doing the baking grunt work for hotels, coffee shops, airport concessionaires and, most important, owner Mary Clark's new restaurant, Fisher Clark Urban Delicatessen.

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