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.
Daniel's of Paris
Plain croissant, almond croissant and chocolate croissant: Daniel's of Paris makes the best croissants in the city, in three varieties, each a little bit better than the other. The plain croissants are fluffy and buttery and light, the almond stiff and filled with a delicious almond paste as addictive as heroin. And the chocolate? Eaten hot and fresh, they are dizzyingly good, messy, beautiful and smelling like heaven — a near-perfect expression of the French patissier's art created in a little strip-mall shop in Aurora.
Osteria Marco
Scott Lentz
So, the first date went well. The second went even better. The third paid dividends, and now you're dating. You're in a relationship, with all of a relationship's pitfalls. To smooth out the rough spots, keep Osteria Marco in mind. This restaurant is the perfect place for a couple to relax once again into each other's company. The service is competent and unobtrusive, the floor intimate without being stifling, and the food? It's some of the best scratch Italian in the city, much of it just made for sharing.
D Bar Desserts
D Bar Desserts is a dessert bar, but it's also an excellent snack bar, with a cool little menu simply called "Things We Like to Eat" offering such delicious diversions as dressed avocado and dates and bacon. After working your way through this menu (and maybe a glass of wine or two), you'll definitely want something sweet to finish off the night. Something from behind the bakery counter might be nice, or a freshly made cookie, or perhaps one of chef/owner Keegan Gerhard's more whimsical digressions on a standard dessert. Gerhard may be a bona fide food-world celebrity, but he spends every night working at D Bar — and that hits our sweet spot.
Star Kitchen
Lauren Monitz
Chinese brunch may be the best brunch of all — and newcomer Star Kitchen, started by the former chef at Super Star Asian, serves the best dim sum in town. The carts keep coming out of the kitchen, full of baskets and bowls, all steamy and smelly and packed with surprises. And then there are the plastic cafeteria trays, loaded with two or three dishes sent out special by the kitchen, little bites that the galley crew throws together — things they're testing out. We like seeing the overwhelming enthusiasm for one's craft that can make a kitchen already bogged down by a Sunday morning rush of a hundred covers or better break from the menu and start cooking new, delicious, occasionally inspired stuff just for fun. And dim sum at Star Kitchen is decidedly fun, made even better by the addition of a liquor license.
Locanda Del Borgo
Mark Manger
Okay, you're done dating. You've navigated the end game, gotten married, made a family. But you're still a human being! You can't live forever on Happy Meals and quote/unquote family restaurants. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and take the kids to a place with real chairs and silverware and a menu with no pictures. That's where Locanda del Borgo comes in. For starters, the food is fantastic — a nice, light and modern take on classic Italian cookery with the best spaghetti carbonara in the city and some fine gnocchi, all cooked by a skilled kitchen that really knows how to get the most out of that wood-fired pizza oven and racks of gleaming sauté pans. The room is simple and spare, but comfortable. Service is friendly and informal. And, most important (at least from where you're sitting), the place has a kids' menu and welcomes the little rug-rats with a smile. Junior has to learn how to behave himself in a proper dining room eventually, and there's no better spot to practice than Locanda del Borgo.
Griff's Hamburgers
Denver doesn't have an In-N-Out burger. But it has the next best thing: a Griff's, one of the few survivors of an also-ran chain in the burger wars of the last century. We love the weird, lost-outpost vibe of this Griff's, the sense that this spot has been cut off from history and forgotten by the powers that once brought it into being. And if we were ever going to get a tattoo, Griffy — the psychotic, lobotomized clown mascot of Griff's — would be high on our list of possible body art. But even more important, if you pull up to Griff's drive-thru window, you'll be rewarded with a fine burger, excellent fries and a shake so thick it'll kill you if you don't let it thin itself a little before you wrap your lips around the straw.
Kevin Taylor and the staff at his eponymous restaurant create some of the most incredible high-end food in Denver. Roasted Maine lobster and truffle bisque; French foie gras with a peanut financier, pineapple jelly and vanilla foam; lamb rack and belly with minted jus; and the best pavé of salmon anywhere. It's all there for the asking — if you have the answer for how to pay for this stuff, which is expensive. We're talking $15 apps and entrees that run as high as $65. If you're one of the few lucky ones employed by a solvent boss who's still covering your extravagant expenses, take advantage of it while you can and make a reservation at RKT posthaste. We promise it'll be the best free dinner you'll find anywhere in the city.
Sushi Den
Sushi Den
No question about it, Sushi Den has some of the best sushi in the city. Matter of fact, Sushi Den has some of the best sushi in the country. This is wonderful fish, fresh and delicious and artfully prepared with an artist's restraint. The one thing it isn't? Cheap. Even lunch at Sushi Den can easily damage your bank balance once the courses start stacking up. The best way to avoid this problem is to find a someone who can pick up the tab. Even in this bonus-busting environment, no one could quibble with the importance of such a perk.

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