Best Central/South American Restaurant

Los Cabos II

Los Cabos II
Eric Gruneisen
Peruvian food is some of the strangest, most delicious stuff in the world: a mishmash of centuries of cultural influences thrown together onto one plate. Spanish conquistadors, Arabs and Moors, explorers bringing spices from India, Italian cartographers, historic Creoles, African slaves and Asian immigrants — they've all added to the rich history of Peruvian cookery. And at Los Cabos, you can taste all of that (or most of it, anyway) every time you walk through the door. The house does a little of everything, from Spanish paellas and urban/peasant bistec a la pobre to the delicious papas a la huancaina, ceviche and parihuela, a very nearly French bouillabaisse with all kinds of seafood in a smooth, fragrant broth. Added bonus: Los Cabos also has a stuffed llama in the bar, giving it a lock on the award for Best Bar in Denver to Get Thrown Out of for Trying to Ride the Llama.
Rosie's Diner
Hunter Stevens
There are plenty of spots around town where a man of little means can get himself a hot breakfast. But there's no better spot for the archetypal cheap American breakfast than Rosie's. This custom-built '50s-style diner full of gleaming chrome and sock-hop decor seemingly stalled its pricing strategy a couple of decades back and offers massive plates of everything that's great about the first meal of the day for the kind of money you might find in your couch cushions. Seriously, two eggs, hash browns, a plate of pancakes and a mound of corned beef hash, all for around five bucks? It doesn't get any better than that. And if you're feeling flush, you can get a fine steak with three eggs, cakes and sides, plus a cup of coffee or a chocolate milkshake, for close to a ten-spot.
Patzcuaro's
Summer Powell
Nothing on Taquería Patzcuaro's menu costs more than eleven bucks, and almost everything is worth twice what you'll pay for it. Carnitas Michoacán or carne adovada for nine bucks? Four tacos albañil for $7.50? Those are bargain prices, particularly since these are some of the top carnitas, carne adovada and tacos albañil in the city. And the ambience in this three-decade-old restaurant is priceless. You can come in, settle down in a booth, watch Mexican talk shows or even the occasional bullfight on TV, knock back a couple of cold beers and eat a bunch of tacos under the frozen gazes of the Mexican revolutionaries and cowboys pictured on the walls, then get out for less than fifteen bucks. In these trying economic times, Patzcuaro is looking more vital than ever.
Ba Le Sandwich
Mark Antonation
Ba Le is a hole-in-the-wall in a neighborhood full of a million other holes in a million other walls. But Ba Le is also a real hole in one: a spot frequented not just by members of Denver's Vietnamese community, but by hordes of Denver diners on the lookout for something new, something delicious and something definitely cheap. Ba Le is basically a sandwich shop, but it makes only the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich — a beautiful mix of unusual meats (various pâtés and pork and chicken and pork) and mounds of vegetables (cilantro, shredded carrot, cucumber and more) all smushed together between two halves of a French/Vietnamese baguette. The bread itself is worth the trip, the smeared-on pâtés like a bonus French kick. And the clincher? Each sandwich comes in at less than three bucks.
Frank Bonanno envisioned Mizuna a neighborhood fine-dining restaurant before that trend became de rigueur in every neighborhood in town. Then came Luca d'Italia, a great little Italian restaurant that hit before this city got overrun with great little Italian restaurants, back in the day (not so long ago) when the city really was a red-sauce wasteland. There were a couple of missteps along the way (Milagro, Harry's), but Bonanno came back strong with Osteria Marco in Larimer Square, a beautiful, honest and low-to-the-ground osteria offering (more or less) pig, pig, pig and wine. And now he has Bones — the noodle bar that's not really a noodle bar, the Asian restaurant that ain't Asian. There are a lot of people on the restaurant scene who don't love Bonanno, who are annoyed by his pride, his ego and the fact that he doesn't keep his mouth shut when he sees something being done wrong. Thing is, those are exactly the reasons that we like the guy. Because he reminds us of a chef — a loud-mouthed, occasionally crazy, always commanding sonofabitch who can back up every quirk and tirade because not only does he already operate three of the best restaurants in the city, but now, officially, the Best New Restaurant in Denver for 2009.
The Corner Office
Cassandra Kotnik
The chicken and waffles at the Corner Office may well be the city's only chicken and waffles — but even if there were dozens of competitors, this plate would still be the best. It's dinner and dessert in one — a beautiful mix of crisp and salty fried chicken mounted atop a lovely waffle, dusted with powdered sugar and served with a little syrup on the side, all sweet and savory and greasy and delicious. While Denver might not yet be a chicken-and-waffles kind of town, as long as the Corner Office keeps serving this dish, it will be our kind of town.
Spice China
Mark Manger
Spice China is about 8,000 miles from Beijing, the home of the Peking duck, and yet it is in this Louisville dining room that you can have set before you the best Peking duck in the Denver area. The kitchen takes two days to cook its ducks, then serves them the right way: a full breast, expertly deboned and sliced with a flashy double-cut that makes for about a hundred bite-sized (or pancake-sized) pieces, topped with shingled strips of crisp, sweet, smoky duck skin the color of caramel candy. And in a sop to duck junkies, it tops the breast with a flap of fatty skin that's perfect for chewing after it's been dipped in the cup of super-sweet and nutty, savory, smoky hoisin sauce.
Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik
The spartan Super Star Asian is primarily known for its dim sum, but that's really just the start of what it does. The restaurant has another menu for those days that aren't Saturday or Sunday, those hours that aren't between early morning and just-past-noon. It is this menu that offers the quote/unquote French-style cubed beef in black sauce, the shark's fin soup, the jellyfish salad and the completely non-threatening sesame chicken. As a dim sum restaurant, Super Star is among the best in the city. But as a straight, nose-to-tail Chinese restaurant? There's simply no place better.
Los Carboncitos
Courtesy Los Carboncitos Highlands Facebook
There have been two big developments at Los Carboncitos this year: They've added a third location, on East Sixth Avenue, that serves alcohol — and all three restaurants now serve chips (although you may have to ask for them). And Los Carboncitos still has the best salsa in the city. As a matter of fact, it has three or four of the best salsas in the city — all brought to every table in little salsa caddies so that customers can add spice and heat and flavor to their heart's content. But this doesn't mean that the food needs any enhancement. Because while Los Carboncitos might have the best salsa in Denver, it also has any number of great dishes that are just fine on their own. The tacos and burritos (particularly the desayuno) are excellent, and the huaraches are unbelievably good — giant slabs of masa on which all the best things in the world (like pork and steak and avocado and pork and bacon and shrimp and pork and bacon) come stacked. A dish this good deserves to be adorned with only the best salsa — and at Los Carboncitos, that's exactly what you're going to get.
The Cruise Room
Ken Hamblin
The Cruise Room is the very definition of a classic. This cocktail lounge in the historic Oxford Hotel opened the day after Prohibition ended — and it's been this town's most liquid asset ever since. Modeled after a bar on the Queen Mary, the narrow, neon-lit room boasts original art-deco decor, bas relief depicting toasts from around the world (Hitler was erased in World War II), uneven marble floors, a great jukebox and rarely an open seat at either the bar or one of the cozy booths. But you won't mind standing, because that just gives you a better view of the bartenders as they mix up classic cocktails, everything from martinis served with their own shakers to greyhounds made from fresh-squeezed grapefruit. All aboard!

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