El Taco De Mexico
Molly Martin
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.
Tacos DF
Mark Antonation
Tacos D.F. began its life as a taco truck — a great taco truck that worked the fertile territory along South Parker Road. Although it now has a roof, walls and a real address, it isn't anything more than a great taco truck with a roof, walls and a real address. In keeping with a neighborhood lonchera, all orders are taken through a literal hole in the wall — a window crudely hacked through the back wall that divides the dining floor from the small kitchen. Through this hole, you ask for your tacos, you pay your money and you pick up your order.
Old Fashioned Italian Deli
Stephen Cummings
The guys at the Old Fashioned know from good hot dogs. Why? Because they're from Buffalo, a town that long ago went to the dogs. Here, they're Sahlen's brand, boiled to a beautiful ruddy pink and served on a simple bun, with a little twist of casing that makes a tail at both ends. The standard at the Old Fashioned is "flying with everything," which means topped with everything from Buffalo's own Weber's horseradish mustard and dog sauce to jalapeños. But we prefer two simpler versions: either naked with just a shot of Weber's (the Apollonian ideal of hot-dog topping, as far as we're concerned), or dirty with hot sauce and slivered onions. The setting is as authentic as the dogs: slightly grungy, with walls covered with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, mismatched tablecloths and tables, and shelves loaded down with Italian dry goods. In fact, the deli is so reminiscent of a million Back East joints that sitting here for an hour is almost as good as a trip home for those born and bred at sea level.
Biker Jim Pittenger is still our top dog. No other vendor shows the kind of careful dedication that he brings to Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, his cart parked in Skyline Park. He's got a cool portable grill, offerings ranging from Alaskan reindeer sausage laced with sriracha to white veal brats to serious grilled dogs with mustard-and-nothin', and crowds lined up three deep at lunch every day.
India's Restaurant
Courtesy India's Restaurant Facebook
India's shows its love for the culture and cuisine of India on the walls. Every flat surface, every spare inch of space, is covered with statuettes and serving bowls, with tapestries and flags, with seemingly every tchotchke, keepsake and souvenir ever produced by busy hands on the Indian subcontinent. In India, this place would probably be made fun of like an Outback Steakhouse in Sydney, but here the cluttered shelf space only adds to the feeling of other-ness that has always been one of India's big draws — along with the consistently fine food served off a fairly standard menu.
Royal Peacock
For more years than we can remember, Royal Peacock has been serving not just the best Indian food in the area, but some of the best Indian food anywhere — the kind you can eat once and dream about for years after, or eat every day and still crave at midnight. There's no gimmickry here, no flash, no bizarre international fusions or misguided attempts at modernization. Instead, the menu is full of brilliant and full-flavored versions of somasa, murgh chaat, boti kebab, Goan masala and more, a humble offering of honest, delicious dishes passed down through generations of a restaurant family who have long been the best at what they do.
East Side Kosher Deli
Courtesy East Side Kosher Deli Facebook
For almost twenty years, Michael and Marcy Schreiber have overseen this large kosher oasis that stocks everything from candies and snacks to Hanukkah candles and kosher ramen. There's a bakery, a very busy deli counter (complete with an old-fashioned plastic-number dispenser to keep an orderly flow), a fish department (specializing in lox, natch) and, all the way in the back, a small, add-on restaurant that serves up deli sandwiches, blintzes, knishes from the bakery, herring salad and chopped liver, as well as short ribs (beef, of course), fish tacos, fish and chips, Louisiana gumbo, North African lamb stew and such "Oriental specialties" as sweet-and-sour chicken and beef stir-fry. True, most people seem to stick to the basics: scrambled eggs with salami, matzo ball soup and bagels with lox. But nowhere else in Denver will you find taquitos, tongue sandwiches and blackened ahi with wasabi sharing space on the same menu.

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