A few things that are good early in the morning: breakfast burritos, blow jobs, strong coffee, forgiveness for last night's sins, that first cigarette of the day — and the banana lumpia at Tropical Grill. These tropical pastries are wickedly addictive, and we've found ourselves driving to Aurora for another fix as soon as the last grease-and-sugar high wears off.
Big Hoss Bar-B-Q
Of all the things that man has invented over the course of history — the wheel, zombie movies, the interweb — fried cheese has to be in the top ten. And no one in Denver does fried cheese better than Hoss Orwat and his crew at Big Hoss Bar-B-Q. Their version is a decidedly Midwestern take — batter-dipped curds of cheddar, perfectly fried, dusted with parmesan cheese and salt and that dried green parsley dandruff, then served in a portion large enough to clog every artery in a grown man's body. It's a wonderful dish, completely over-the-top white-trash decadent. And for our money, there'd be no better way to go than a massive, four-barrel heart attack brought on by over-ingestion of Hoss's fried cheese.
The difference between good fried chicken and bad fried chicken is a narrow margin — a few degrees of heat on the pan, a few millimeters of breading or batter. But the difference between good fried chicken and great fried chicken is huge, often measured in things like generations, miles and state lines. And while the Rocky Mountain Diner is physically far from Kansas City, the hot, greasy center of the fried chicken universe, it's very close in spirit. The fried chicken here is as close to the skillet-fried KC original as you're going to find in Colorado. The chicken is cooked to order in old, heavy skillets, served hot and in huge portions. The batter is just crispy enough, the meat never dry, the sides (mashed potatoes, gravy, forgettable vegetables) comfortingly classic, and the Rocky Mountain Diner itself as cool a place to eat chicken as you're likely to find outside the Paris of the Plains.
The British Bulldog
Teal Nipp
The British Bulldog is an odd duck even for a city like Denver, which is full of odd ducks. Here you'll find the British tradition of mixing bangers-and-mash comfort food with Indo-Pakistani tiffin tin in full swing, so you can get an expertly pulled pint, a side of Scotch sausages and a plate of Peshawari chicken or chappli kebabs all in the same place. The Bulldog also does English breakfasts, shows a lot of soccer, hosts a wild crowd of locals and regulars, and exists in a space with such a long-lived bar-room history that there are scars on the long oak far older than most of the customers.
Red Tango
Cassandra Kotnik
Red Tango does a lot of things very, very well. The menu includes excellent arepas, rellenos, enchiladas with cocoa mole, potato cakes and potato soup and fried potatoes. But what this kitchen does best (and it's not an easy task) is plantains: fried, thick-cut and buttery, crisp at the edges and gooey in the middle.
Cebiche
Lomo saltado. Hot empanadas and a sweating bottle of Cristal or Quilmes beer. Chupes de this and chupes de that, a small plate of ceviche clásico or ceviche mixto and then, of course, the ubiquitous papas a la huancaina. At Cebiche, most of the menu might seem old hat to anyone who's already discovered the joys of Peruvian cuisine. But for those wise enough to save a little room for dessert, there's something rare and wonderful: picarones. This is kind of like doughnut soup: four deep-fried pumpkin fritters shot through with little pieces of sweet, earthy pumpkin flesh, served swimming in a bath of mile de chancaca, which is like maple syrup without the maple, just pure, raw, glorious sugar. For a normal person, half of one fritter would be plenty; a whole serving is enough to instigate an instant (and well-earned) diabetic coma.
Izakaya Den
Izakaya Den
Miso soup? Check. Homemade Satsuma-age and nikumaki with burdock root? Check. For about thirty seconds, Izakaya Den seems like nothing more than a late-night version of Sushi Den, its sibling across the street. But then you see the panzanella salad on the menu, the roasted red and yellow beets with green tea-smoked mozzarella, the curried Maine lobster with apricot-shallot veloute, and you begin to wonder just what kind of restaurant you've wandered into. At Izakaya Den, the seemingly impossible fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine (with a touch of Indian flavor, a hint of French technique) comes together beautifully and with such precision that, at the close of the meal, you're left wondering not why someone would attempt such a weird amalgam, but why nobody thought of it sooner.
Sazza
Courtesy Sazza Pizza + Salads Facebook
It's a well-established fact that the best pizza in the world is a New York-style thin crust, dripping with orange grease, topped with nothing but double cheese and pepperoni. But if you're one of those people who simply must have pineapple or Peruvian mountain potatoes on your pie, then you need to head directly to Sazza. Here a plain red-and-white pizza is merely a departure point for such culinary stops as Mexico (chicken enchilada pizza), France (French onion pizza), Hippieville (baked tofu and pineapple pizza) and points beyond. The board does include some quasi-normal offerings, but the kitchen is at its best when it's working far out on a limb, and not even within shouting distance of Brooklyn.
Yanni's Greek Restaurant
Yes, there are things besides BBQ on the menu of Yanni Stavropoulos's Greek restaurant: dolmades, mezedes, souvlaki, ouzo and all the other stuff you'd expect. But why would you want anything else when you can have barbecued lamb? When the wind is right and the outdoor rotisserie grill is fired up, the odor of roasting meat and garlic and wine will draw you from a mile away. And as you reach Yanni's, you'll see Stavropoulos standing over that grill like some kind of minor laughing spirit from an expurgated chapter of The Iliad: The Lamb God, bringer of great barbecue.
Until everyone gets it through their heads that real green chile means roasted, chopped green chiles, a little liquid and nothing else, Jack-n-Grill is going to keep winning this award, because it remains the only place in Denver where you can get authentic New Mexican-style green chile — along with killer vaquero tacos, giant breakfast burritos and cups full of roasted, cheesy corn. What's more, during chile season, owner Jack Martinez (who began his career as a green-chile importer) and members of his family are standing right out there in the parking lot, tending to the jet-fuel tumblers, roasting bushel after bushel of the good stuff for anyone wise enough to stop by and pick up a bag.

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