Tacos y Salsas
Denver is a taco-lover's paradise. Between all the taquerías and taco trucks, pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a taco within fifty feet. But finding a good one is something else entirely. And that's why when we're craving tacos, we head for Tacos y Salsas on South Federal (which, unlike the original outlet in Aurora, serves alcohol). Not only does this joint whip up a mean barbacoa taco or plate of carne asada, but it does so with style. The meat is fresh (in some cases, carved straight off the enormous meat stick towering over the hot line), the tortillas pressed by hand, the kitchen crew one of the fastest and best in town, and the final product endlessly customizable from the salsa bar at the front of the restaurant.
Naturally, when we're hungry for a great tamal, we head to a restaurant owned by a couple of Brits, with a kitchen commanded by an ex-Floridian just back from France, set in the middle of a privileged suburban enclave. We head for Agave Grill, which is run by the Master family, and where chef Chad Clevenger oversees the creation of a stunning tamal. Achiote-braised pork is wrapped inside a delicately steamed fold of creamy, light, sweet masa, then touched with a New Mexican-style green-chile sauce. Taken all together, it adds up to Denver's least likely best tamal.
Great Divide Brewing Co.
Eric Gruneisen
Great Divide's tap room was the last space finished in the brewery's remodel, but it was worth the wait. The old tap room — the starting and ending point of tours at Great Divide — had a chilly, concrete decor, and it's difficult to enjoy even free beer samples when you're shivering. Its reincarnation is much warmer and features two large windows into the production area that let you see where the beer you're enjoying was made. The tap room is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday; the brewery occasionally offers special Tap Room-only releases available nowhere else in the country. Bottoms up!
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
Three years ago, Frasca won Best New Restaurant honors — and since then, it's continued to rack up kudos on both a local and a national level. This year, it takes our prize for Best Taste of Colorado because Frasca, more than any other restaurant in the area, has become both the standard of excellence for local operations and the embodiment of what makes the Colorado restaurant scene — and Colorado in general — great. This is a state where people come to start over, to start fresh, to start something. Frasca's owners, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey — both ex of the French Laundry, one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world — did just that. They came to Colorado to do what they loved, and to do it on their terms. With Frasca, they not only created a restaurant that could easily rate among the best in any city, but confounded all expectations of what's meant by a "Colorado restaurant" — raising the bar for everyone in the process.
Courtesy L'Atelier Facebook
Chef Radek Cerny has never been an easy guy to pin down. In his earliest days in Colorado, he was just another French-trained classical chef who had a few weird tricks with potatoes and a string of gigs that pointed up those talents. But lately he's been venturing down some pretty strange culinary avenues and coming back with absolutely brilliant dishes, including lobster in potato foam and duck rillettes with potato Napoleon. He can do the classics (lobster meunière), the modern (smoked Scottish salmon with liquid horseradish), the bizarre (chicken and moonshine) and the simple (a sashimi board). But the best thing he does may be a killer Monday "staff meal" prix fixe, which offers some of the best tastes of the back of the house for just $25.
Ian Kleinman's molecular-gastronomy tasting menus at O's Steak & Seafood at the Westin Westminster are absolutely amazing. His dedication to pushing the boundaries of cuisine to strange and unusual places — mixing his years as a classically trained chef with an essential, up-from-nothing, hey-let's-see-what-this-tastes-like spirit — is admirable, as is his rigid, almost doctrinaire insistence that the results still be food (not art, not performance, not all sizzle with no steak). But what truly makes Kleinman's ever-changing, molecular-gastronomy tasting menu so special is that its end — usually a half-dozen dishes — is really just the beginning. Because scattered throughout the regular menu at O's are countless examples of molecular gastronomy at work, executing a stealth attack on the expectations of staid hotel diners and introducing them to an entirely new concept of food.
Danielle Lirette
There are as many good reasons to spend a night drinking tequila and mezcal as there are great places in Denver to do it. But if you're looking for the best, head directly to Mezcal. Since this Colfax cantina opened four years ago, it's been like a shrine to the best use of the humble agave cactus. Whether you're looking to get sloppy on the cheap stuff or high on some of the amazing elixirs poured here, Mezcal is sure to have something with your name on it. The bar stocks over a hundred varieties of tequila and mezcal and has an ever-changing lineup as a result of the owners' and staff's obsession with always finding the newest, oldest, best and most artisan south-of-the-border booze there is.

Best Thai Curry Soup, Korean Beef and Sushi


Uoki Restaurant
American restaurants are good at mashing a dozen ethnic or regional favorites onto a single menu and calling the resulting mess "comfort food," "American regional" or something even goofier. Ethnic restaurants do the same thing when they throw Americanized Chinese dishes, Vietnamese favorites and sushi together on a single board, under the inclusive banner of "Asian fusion." And both the American and Asian versions are usually abject failures, because in trying to be all things to all people, they wind up being nothing to nobody. A rare exception: Uoki, which does a great job with Asian comfort foods, including an absolutely wonderful bowl of green-curry-and-potato soup that makes for a universally satisfying lunch when you combine it with an order of tekka maki and a plate of Korean beef with rice.
US Thai Cafe
Mark Antonation
We've spent years wandering the streets of Denver, looking for good pad thai, masamun and papaya salad — and found a lot of versions that were mediocre, even bad. And then we discovered US Thai Cafe. At this tiny spot, all the classic dishes of Thai cuisine have a depth and breadth of flavor quite unlike anything we'd ever tasted before. And on top of that, they're offered in an ascending scale of heat, from total pussy to nuclear conflagration, that can be endlessly tinkered with and adjusted according to how much pain you want with your pleasure.
Tibet's Restaurant & Bar
How lucky are we to not only have a Tibetan restaurant, but a genuine competition for the best Tibetan restaurant? This time, Tibet's takes the prize. Started last year by former staffers from other local Tibetan restaurants — and a chef who once cooked for the Dalai Lama at a Tibetan monastery! — Tibet's celebrates both the culture and cuisine of that country, with prayer flags and photographs of mountains, with excellent dumplings, huge bowls of aromatic stew and glasses of chai tea that you can enjoy before a crackling fireplace. While most of us may never have the opportunity to actually visit Tibet, a meal at Tibet's is the next best thing.

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