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.
Red Trolley
Who's the party pooper who decided that happy hours were just for the boozin' crowd? Shouldn't everybody be able to revel in that special time of day when the sun slants just right through the trees and proprietors slash prices like maniacs? Red Trolley, the popular new ice cream joint on West 32nd Avenue, is happy to cater to the non-alcohol crowd with happy-hour $2 root beer floats. Like everything at Red Trolley (the divine banana bread ice cream and insanely good salted caramel gelato come to mind, but there is also a bottomless cereal bowl that is a real deal for five bucks), these floats are done right - with Wynkoop Brewing Co.'s Tiger Root Beer straight from the shop's in-counter tap. Fair warning: With a few of these sugary concoctions on board, you may still need a designated driver.
Le Central
First dates are tricky. You want a restaurant that's inexpensive but not cheap. You want a restaurant that's loud and crowded in case the two of you have nothing to talk about, but not too loud or too crowded in case you hit it off so well you actually want to hear what the other person is saying. You want a restaurant that's cool without being flighty, solid without being ponderous. And, in the event that everything goes terribly wrong, you want a restaurant with a fairly open floor plan so that you can make a speedy escape into the night. The ideal spot: Le Central. It's French, so it seems immediately classy, but also inexpensive, so dinner won't leave you feeling like you got mugged in the parking lot. The food is excellent, the wine list extensive and, most important, it's a nearly straight shot to the door from any of the dining rooms.
Morrison Holiday Bar
The Morrison Holiday Bar makes tasty, strong drinks; the covered patio is always open; there's live music Thursday through Saturday, karaoke on Sunday and a jazz/blues band on Monday, plus card games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; and you never have to pay a dime to walk in the door. In other words, there's always a good reason to be here (no wonder regulars refer to it as the Local Cure). But the best day of the year at the Holiday Bar is Christmas — because not only does the joint stay open, but it puts out a full Christmas dinner buffet, free to anyone in the bar. All the owner asks is that you stick around after eating and buy a few drinks, to celebrate the true spirits of Christmas.
Little Anita's New Mexican Foods
Scott Lentz
There's Colorado Mex, Tex Mex, Cali Mex and New Mexican Mexican food, best exemplified in this city by the three Little Anita's outlets (soon to be joined by a fourth). But one Little Anita's item erases all borders: the complimentary sopapillas at the end of every meal. Little Anita's starts making these fried treats every day at 10 a.m., guaranteeing that the warm pillows of dough are always fresh when they arrive at your table. Land of Enchantment, indeed.
Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome
It's worth going to Bistro Vendôme every weekend just to see what sort of crepes du jour the kitchen is cooking up. It's worth going twice in a single weekend just so you can have the croissants with rose jam and croquet madame and bier rouge one morning and the steak tartare, mussels in garlic-wine broth and gaufre maison with Nutella whipped cream, shaved chocolate and sauternes-poached pears the next. And when the weather is nice, it's worth getting up extra early so you can hurry down to Larimer Square and claim one of the tables in the lovely courtyard.
Encore on Colfax
An encore performance by Encore, which continues to serve the best french fries in the city. They're hand-cut shoestrings, perfectly fried, then given a drizzle of hot mustard sauce that sounds a little scary until the first minute you taste it on the hot frites. After that, you'll be a shameless addict, hooked for the rest of your days and comparing every other french fry in the city to those coming from this kitchen.
Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe
It begins with the assiette de charcuterie maison — the house meat plate, a delirious mix of pâté and rillette and cheeses and sausage and cornichons and chutney and more. From there — from that best of all possible beginnings — Z Cuisine's menu blooms outward into a board that might include foie gras marinated in sauternes, pork belly brined in white wine and served with caramelized skin, oxtail crepes, cassoulet and lamb Niçoise. Chef Patrick Dupays sources as close to home as he can, scouring farmers' markets for the best product he can lay his hands on. Every one of his plates is a benchmark preparation. And amazingly, when the menu changes — as it does weekly, sometimes daily, sometimes even in the middle of service — every one of the new plates will be just as good.

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