Best Locally Based Chain 2008 | Smashburger | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Yes, Smashburger is a small chain — but we don't expect that to be the case for long, not with such a genius concept and excellent execution. At Smashburger, the Denver-born idea of "fast-casual" dining is applied to the Denver-born idea of the cheeseburger, and the result is a culinary mash-up of a Chipotle-style business model, a sleek, modern diner and a burgers-at-the-bar vibe that makes Smashburger an ideal spot for a fast lunch, an easy dinner or even a moderately late-night snack. (All locations are open until 10 p.m.) As long as all its outlets keep turning out great burgers, this chain should be a smash hit.
Molly Martin
While Denver certainly boasts more than its fair share of upscale steakhouses, there's only one Bastien's — a place where people feeling more Humphrey Bogart than Gordon Gekko have been going for great steaks for decades. With its own kind of strange magic, Bastien's pulls everything — service and food, booze, decor and history — into one seamless, inimitable, only-in-Denver whole. The joint has been serving (in one form or another) since 1937, and it looks as though it hasn't been updated since Hugh Hefner banged his first bunny. From the streetside neon to the indoor twinkle lights, the paisley carpets to the battered martini shakers, Bastien's stands as not just a great steakhouse, but as one of the most honest, revered restaurants in town.
Mark Antonation
SAME Cafe owners Brad and Libby Birky have done the impossible. Not only did they open a restaurant with no prices on the menu and no cash register on the premises (just a box into which customers are asked to put a "donation," paying whatever they can or whatever they choose to), but they've managed to keep it open for more than a year. That's an amazing feat, but what's even more amazing about SAME (which stands for So All May Eat) is the food served here: an ever-changing lineup of hot, fresh and mostly organic dishes good enough to grace any downtown cafe, including apple-and-brie pizza, red beans and rice, chickpea salads, fresh fruit tarts and potato-and-bacon soup. Given the philosophy of the place, your karma can decide whether SAME Cafe offers the best free lunch in Denver, or simply the best bang for however many bucks you choose to give.
When Jesse Morreale and Sean Yontz decided to duplicate the success they'd had at Mezcal with Tambien, they actually outdid themselves on the margaritas. Although the house recipe is ostensibly the same here as at Mezcal, Tambien puts a little more care — and a slightly larger tequila pour — into these deceptively simple drinks. There's no sweet-and-sour to make your teeth squeak, no tidy-bowl blue coloring, just good 30-30 tequila, a splash of Triple Sec and, most important, real fresh juice, squeezed that day (if not that hour). Tambien, hit us again.
Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos
El Tejado doesn't just serve some of the town's best, and most varied, Mexican food — fried snapper that you might find in Puerto Vallarta, street-style tacos and a thick, gravy-like green chile that could only be made in Colorado. During Sunday brunch, it serves that food with a side of mariachi music. The good-humored musicians play all the standards and take requests. Fair warning: When the Broncos are playing in town, the band often takes a break.
There's a twist to the martini at Churchill: You can still enjoy it with a cigarette or cigar. But the fact that this bar in the Brown Palace fits through the anti-smoking law's cigar-sales loophole isn't the only reason a martini here is something to savor. There's the room itself, which is woody, clubby, and filled with leather furniture you can sink into. And then you can sink into the drink itself, mixed to your specifications and delivered in a silver bowl filled with ice, accompanied by a chilled glass. We guarantee a martini here will leave you shaken, if not stirred.
They could be the new breakfast burrito, or maybe the new office sandwich, or even the new family dinner. Kolaches have the potential to be all these things — and more. A novel food idea brought to us by those not-so-waistline-conscious Eastern Europeans, kolaches are slightly sweet, freshly baked meals that stuff a bun with everything from eggs and bacon to ham and cheese to barbecued beef. The Kolache Factory, a Houston company with more than thirty franchises in five states but only one in Colorado (so far), offers versions with biscuits and gravy, mushroom and pepperoni, and even turkey and stuffing (in November). It's time to make your first kolache run; we guarantee it won't be your last.
Cowbobas is a combination cowboy steakhouse and Vietnamese boba tea shop that serves coffee and corn dogs. You can get a cheeseburger and a crystal jelly fruit tea, a ten-dollar steak that tastes exactly like the steaks Dad charred on the backyard grill when you were a kid, a grilled cheese sandwich and a jackfruit smoothie so syrupy sweet you'll think you're having a heart attack. Cowbobas is a fiercely neighborhood spot in a neighborhood where it's easier to find a great taco or a cow's stomach than it is a fifty-dollar porterhouse or a fatted goose's liver, but this socio-culinary melting pot translates into delicious meals.
Carpaccio di bue dressed in lemon and oil, grilled salmon with roasted potatoes, garretto d'agnello — spring lamb braised in red wine, served with grilled eggplant and potato purée. Those are just a few of the dishes that chef/owner Craig D'Alessandro has in regular rotation on his menu at San Lorenzo. Amazingly, this restaurant isn't some highfalutin' downtown joint, but a simple and unassuming strip-mall suite — the kind of place you'd probably walk right by if someone didn't point it out to you. So we are, because D'Alessandro and his crew at San Lorenzo are worth a stop. They've got the moves of a fine-dining crew and the menu of a Michelin hot spot, but they're executing it in a space that could just as easily have been a hair salon or muffler shop.
Ya Hala isn't much to look at from the outside — just a squat cement bunker hunkered down on Colorado Boulevard. As a matter of fact, it isn't much to look at from the inside, either. The lobby/bakery is a bit run-down, the dining room looks roughly used. But the food coming out of this place more than makes up for the unsightly digs. The hummus alone is so good that we'd gladly eat it while sitting on an old crate in an alley, if that were our only option. And yet the hummus is just the beginning. Everything Ya Hala makes is superb, from the simple grilled kebabs and chicken to the shawarma, balilla and sambusk. And its baklava is not just the best in Denver, but possibly the best baklava ever made — an unbelievably addictive, honey-sweet and perfectly crispy dessert.

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