The Cherry Cricket
Courtesy of the Cherry Cricket
There are great burgers, and then there are great burger bars. And the best of these is the Cherry Cricket. The kitchen not only turns out a mean green-chile cheeseburger, but also offers a plethora of variations for those poor, deluded souls who like to top their patty of grilled cow with something other than a strong hit of green chiles. And the bar itself not only provides appropriate beverages for those devouring the kitchen's best product — appropriate in this case being a bottle of Rochester's Pride or Genesee Cream Ale and a shot of Bushmills Irish whiskey — but also pours just about anything else you could need from a good neighborhood. True, the Cricket experience has changed since the institution of the smoking ban (because the only thing better than a burger, a beer and a shot is a burger, a beer, a shot and a cigarette), but this bar remains Denver's best burger-centric watering hole, and a true treasure in rapidly changing Cherry Creek.
8 Rivers Cafe
Cassandra Kotnik
Chef Scott Durrah opened this small cafe in the Highland neighborhood just so he could share the Jamaican and Caribbean flavors he loves with Denver. But in the process, he showed us just how refined and just how casual these tastes can be — offering a rough and rustic menu of Caribbean comfort food done with a careful and restrained hand. The place is small, with room for only a few tables and a small patio, but the flavors are big. The smell of his jerk seasoning alone can stretch a block in all directions, luring the curious and the hungry from far and wide.

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Los Cabos II

Los Cabos II
Eric Gruneisen
Over the past couple of years, Central and South American food has become a hot style as young chefs looked even farther south of the border for inspiration. But Denver has had its own inspirational Peruvian restaurant for years. Behind an unassuming downtown storefront is Los Cabos II, a combination restaurant/cultural center that's decorated with native art (and a giant stuffed llama) and serves authentic Peruvian peasant food to all comers. These days the crowd is just as likely to consist of adventurous office workers looking for a hit of bistek a la pobre, papas a la huancaina and a pisco sour as it is of displaced Peruvians hungry for a taste of home. Fortunately, the sudden attention placed on Peruvian cuisine has only made Los Cabos better, with a recent overhaul of both the space and the menu.
Corridor 44
Corridor 44 does fans of sparkling wine a service by cracking some truly fine bottles of the bubbly and pouring it by the glass. Perrier Jouët Grand Brut, Moët & Chandon White Star, even Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label — the best champagne you're going to get before you start paying as much for your booze as your entree. And now, with a menu restructuring courtesy of consulting chef Troy Guard, you can pair your champagne, prosecco or plain brut with tastes of American caviar (at $100 an ounce), cucumber and wasabi oyster shooters, tempura lobster salad or even chocolate fondue.
When you're celebrating in style and price is (almost) no object, French 250 is the place to pop the cork. All of the major labels are well represented on this constantly changing champagne list, and there are some lesser-known rarities that give it character. And while you'll pay top dollar by the glass (and three times top dollar for a bottle), sometimes that's what required for a truly transcendent experience — which is the only way to describe putting down a bottle of the Moët & Chandon Imperial Nectar offered on the dessert board.
Rosie's Diner
Hunter Stevens
The dollars-to-grub ratio at Rosie's is always skewed hugely in favor of the archetypal Big Hungry Boy, but it's during breakfast that this diner really shines. Bacon and eggs for five bucks? That may not sound like a bargain, but consider that this meal consists of two eggs, four strips of bacon, a mountain of hashbrowns and a full stack of pancakes, and it starts looking like a real deal. And you can add to this a side of corned beef hash or a chicken-fried steak, a bottomless cuppa joe and a couple of tunes on the tableside jukebox and still walk out the door for less than ten bucks. Also, the food here is far from what you'd find at a run-of-the-mill greasy spoon, and quality plus value equals a winner in our book any day.
Denver Wheel Club 404
Is Club 404 a dive? Absolutely. But we mean that in only the sweetest, most endearing way. If you're looking for wasabi mashed potatoes and tenderloins with mango chutney, this is not the place for you. But if your idea of atmosphere is cheap beers at 10 a.m., 365-days-a-year Christmas lights and a seasoned waitress who could tell you firsthand what Methuselah was like in the sack, Club 404 is where it's at. There isn't a single item on the wide-ranging, greasy spoon/steakhouse menu that'll run you north of fifteen bucks, and if you plan your meals around the specials, you can easily enjoy a big dinner for less than a ten-spot. No charge for the ambience.
Johnny's Diner
A $2.89 blue-plate special at lunch? You can't beat that — not even if you go through a McDonald's drive-thru for a Happy Meal. And while a Mickey D's lunch will do nothing but make you feel bad for eating such junk, at Johnny's you're not only getting real lunch from an honest-to-Jesus local business, but you're getting a little kick of history with your meal. Both the style and concept of this place — a counter-service, plastic-tray car-cult joint with a freaky kick of Golden Age Americana oozing from every inch — pre-date our country's obsession with fast food, making Johnny's a window back onto a simpler time. A time when the phrase "Nothin' could be finer than dinner [or lunch] at the diner" really meant something. At Johnny's, it means good food for a very good price.
This has been Frank Bonanno's year. While cutting his losses on a couple of ventures, he continued to ensure that the French/Mediterranean-inspired Mizuna and the solidly Italian Luca remained two of the city's most consistently excellent restaurants. And then last December, he opened Osteria Marco in Larimer Square, a neighborhood already full to bursting with great restaurants — and it immediately rose to the top of the heap, putting all of Denver's charcuterie freaks in seventh heaven, while also serving wood-fired pizzas, panini sandwiches and a weekly pig roast. Never mind his great recipes, superb technique, solid work ethic and Today show appearances: Bonanno's comeback-kid routine alone secures his place as this year's best chef manning three of the town's best restaurants.
The Corner Office
There are essentially two kinds of restaurants in the world: those run for the benefit of customers and those run as playgrounds for chefs. The Corner Office is unabashedly one of the former, and that "unabashedly" is why it's so successful. With no shame, no tongue-in-cheek, smirking irony, the bar will pour you a double whiskey while the kitchen lovingly plates up your requested bowl of Cap'n Crunch (with Crunch Berries). Lemon edamame and fish tacos? No problem. And then there's the Southern-style fried chicken and waffles, a dream plate with three pieces of perfectly golden and crisp-skinned fried chicken done to order, crowded on top of an excellent Belgian waffle (like a sugary buttermilk cloud, crunchy at the edges, soft in the middle), the whole thing dusted with a drift of powdered sugar and served with a warm jug of syrup on the side.

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