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!
Table 6
Cassandra Kotnik
Here's how you decide which restaurant in a city has the best comfort food: You spend a couple of months doing nothing but eating and obsessing over food, going out at all hours of the day and night for tacos and tamales and foie gras and fried chicken. Then you spend weeks assembling a list of the best of the best of them, revising the list, dreaming about the list and, finally, writing up awards for the very best places and dishes in town. And then, when all that eating and listing and writing and obsessing is done, you ask yourself: Where do you really want to eat? The answer will be Table 6, which achieved star status early but continues to shine, putting out the town's best comfort food in one of the town's most comfortable, cozy settings.
Root Down
Root Down's bar may be located in an old service station, but Justin Cucci's new restaurant is completely contemporary, from its "field-to-fork" mentality reflected in a menu full of locally sourced ingredients to its streamlined dining room (with amazing views of downtown). But we keep returning to the bar, where Root Down's adventurous spirit is reflected in original cocktails featuring those same fresh ingredients, from the Thyme Gin Rickey (fresh muddled thyme, lemon and lime juices and gin) to the Pepper Blossom (St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Prairie organic vodka, muddled fresh basil, lemon, jalapeño and agave nectar). Happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, but this bar is hopping at all hours. And if you don't spot something you like on the specialty cocktail list, the resident mixologists are always happy to create something for you. We can't wait to see what they come up with after the first harvest of Root Down's two gardens.
Mona's
Cassandra Kotnik
Everyone, even the most hard-core, everything-from-scratch purist, will admit that the best corned beef hash in the world is the stuff that comes straight out of the can — mushy, smelling like cat food and with that slick white cap of fat on top that would keep the hash fresh even if the can remained unopened for 10,000 years. But the second-best hash (at least in this city) is at Mona's, where an order brings sliced corned beef brisket, cut the size of bathroom tiles and given a fast sear in the pan, along with deep-fried potatoes, crisp on the surface and soft within like perfect pommes frites, and big chunks of green bell pepper and sautéed onions. True, it's dangerous to screw with the vital corned beef/potato/fat ratio. And for a moment, this plate will horrify anyone who grew up with the canned stuff and, even today, loves it all out of proportion. But be brave. For scratch hash, Mona's beats every other breakfast bar in the city.

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