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.
Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik
The green-chile cheeseburger was a fixture at Steuben's back when the restaurant was just a glimmer in the eye of partners Jen and Josh Wolkon and Matt Selby. They recognized that the green-chile cheeseburger is a unique example of Southwestern Americana — a dish with deep roots that inspires the kind of fanatical devotion generally only seen among religious fundamentalists and English soccer fans — so they knew they had to go directly to the source for inspiration: to the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico. And while it's taken some time to get it right, the green-chile cheeseburger at Steuben's is finally a commendable copy of the Owl original, from the soft bun to the shredded lettuce to the way the roughly chopped chiles melt into the cheese.
El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
There's a flighty kind of magic in the air at El Taco de Mexico on its best weekend mornings, something frail and almost inexplicable, moments when the swirling white church dresses and the tock of cleavers in the kitchen and the fast, hard-edged patter of Spanish at the counter all come together. The spell can easily be broken by a wrong word, a wrong order, just a momentary lull in the action. But even to someone coming down from a long drunk, the magic is discernable — particularly when that someone is returning to the living with each spoonful of menudo. This dish could be the world's greatest hangover cure. Hot and spicy, done soup-style with a thin, red broth full of soft tripe that turns electric with a spritz of fresh lime, this stuff can not only burn off the worst of last night's sins, but will get you back in shape to start sinning again.
Kiva Restaurant
With $2 happy-hour beers — including imports — and a happy hour that actually stretches for three hours, until 7 p.m., this Southwestern joint is already a winner. But the purchase of two happy-hour beers or two of Kiva's signature blue KivaRitas (also $2 each) also buys you free rein at the taco bar. The plates and shells are small, but there's plenty of meat, cheese, veggies, chips and salsa, so if you don't mind making a few trips, it's not hard to make an entire meal out of happy hour here. And there's always a surprise appetizer — like deep-fried tacos — thrown in for good measure.
Venice Ristorante & Wine Bar
As far as Italian food goes in Denver, it doesn't get any better than Venice. As a matter of fact, as far as Italian food goes just about anywhere outside of Italy (and possibly parts of New York and Philadelphia), it doesn't get any better than Venice, the restaurant that Alessandro Carollo opened in the massive space vacated by Adega. The menus here are like dreams of Italian menus for landlocked gourmands who've never had the good fortune to travel to Italy themselves, featuring beautiful, artful and, ultimately, simple Italian cooking. From fresh mozzarella dimpled by grains of salt to ravioli parmigiana stuffed with almost liquid mozzarella, puréed tomato and parmesan to the silkily decadent lobster ravioli and Roman gnocchi, every dish is superb and served with style.
When the Capital Grille came to Denver, people doubted that it would make a dent in a city already fat with high-end steakhouses. But those people were wrong. Capital Grille came to Denver with a deep understanding of what a steakhouse customer wants, and a sharp awareness of what it takes to thrive in an overcrowded market. The managers, chefs, cooks, servers, hostesses, busboys, even the contract valets all knew exactly how good they had to be, because Capital Grille told them how good they had to be, then trained them to be that good. The result? From the minute the door opened, no restaurant in Denver had food like the Capital Grille, served in the most impeccable yet friendly way imaginable.

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