Best First-Date Dinner 2009 | Le Central | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
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.
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.
Joni Schrantz
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.
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.
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.
No matter how many bodies you pack inside, some restaurants are always going to be as cold and sterile as a surgical pre-op, where voices seem to evaporate into wisps of cold before they can travel across the length of a table. But there are also restaurants that miraculously exude warmth and life and comfort no matter the condition of the floor. These are the rare ones, as extraordinary as real magic, where the house — despite a lack of trade, of buzz, of superficial action — subsists on a sort of rich inner life, a passion that flows outward from the kitchen, through the bar, to suffuse even just a few tables, even just one, with the sense that everything is going to be all right, despite all evidence to the contrary. Indulge French Bistro is just such a magical place, a wonderful Normandy French restaurant that serves amazing steak tartare, beautiful salmon with leek fondue, and the best duck we've ever tasted.
Danielle Lirette
Mezcal is a fantastic starting and ending place for any Friday night. Why? For so many reasons. Let's start with the fact that the kitchen serves until one in the morning. The cheap tacos, which we've loved since day one, are just the thing to fortify you before you head out to whatever weirdness awaits you downtown — and work equally well sopping up that excess alcohol at midnight. And then there's the bar, arranged like an agave stockade — walled in by bottles of all the best and worst tequilas and mezcals on the market. A shot could be just what you need to prepare you for the night ahead — or make you forget whatever just came down. And if things really went wrong, you can drink here until closing, go sleep in your car, then come back in the morning for a nice brunch.
Henry Coleman, owner and head cook at Coleman's Soul Food, which took over the space occupied for decades by Ethel's House of Soul, knows from Detroit soul food, Detroit comfort food, Detroit's streetside, slapdash, eat-while-walking cuisine. He's a veteran lunchwagon cook from the city. Now, behind the rail of his kitchen at Coleman's, he knocks out specials (roasted barbecued chicken breast with greens and rice and gravy), bakes cornbread, slow-cooks his brisket and hot links. But what he does best is fry chicken. Each serving brings two legs and a big, plump piece of breast, steaming and juicy beneath a simple crust of flour, pepper, salt and spices. And on the side: a little cup of straight, uncut hot sauce; a big bowl of excellent church-picnic potato salad, heavy on the mustard, with celery and hard-boiled egg; another bowl of soft, sweet, molasses-y baked beans; a slab of cornbread big as a piece of birthday cake. The only thing missing? A couple shots of whiskey to wash it down.
Fish, chips, prawn chips, Cornish pasties, bikers, punks and soccer jerseys — what more could you ask of a neighborhood chipper in Denver, Colorado? Owner Alex Stokeld has done a fine job of transforming this cement bunker of a space into a down-and-dirty fish joint, with picnic tables in the dining room and beers at the bar. All of the food is excellent, but the best dish is the namesake fish and chips: sticks of flaky cod cut off the fillet, jacketed in a perfect, crisp, crumbling batter (which took Stokeld years to get right), scalded by the heat of the fryer and served in generous, greasy portions over a mound of proper, thick-cut chips fried the way chips are supposed to be fried — hard and fast, in animal fat.

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