Santiago's Mexican Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik
It took us a year to make this decision. Seriously, a year. We spooned our way through bowl after bowl around the city, through green chiles thick and thin, sweet and sour, dull and devilishly hot. And we kept coming back to Santiago's. Fortunately, it was easy to do so, because this homegrown chain keeps opening up more stores all around the city, and all of them serve the same great green. With its moderated heat and perfect balance of the chile's vegetable sweetness to the savor of pork fat, this elixir goes with everything from eggs to tacos to midnight snacks — and is also just splendid on its own. In our hearts, we knew Santiago's green chile was the winner from the start. All that testing and experimentation? Just an excuse to eat the leftovers, really.
Venue
Grits: the ultimate comfort food. So poverty-simple, and now, like Britney Spears, so trash-gone-superstar. It's the American polenta, the best thing to happen to high-end food costs since wasabi mashed potatoes. Just about every kitchen cooks grits these days, and just about every kitchen cooks them poorly. But not at Venue. Holly Hartnett's kitchen treats grits with care and respect, topping an immaculate white mound with a piece of perfect pork tenderloin, surrounded by a puddle of maple-pork jus and studded with dried cherries. When a kitchen gives such thoughtful attention to the most simple things, it can do almost anything exceptionally well.
El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurant
Courtesy El Noa Noa Facebook
We love a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast. And if there's one thing we love more than a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast, it's a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast and then continues to serve that breakfast all day long — a mercy for those of us whose notion of "breakfast" is somewhat fluid, defining it only as the first meal of any waking period, even if that meal happens to be taken at, say, one in the afternoon. El Noa Noa is just such a lovable place, a longtime neighborhood favorite that does a brisk breakfast trade throughout the day. Of all its breakfast options, the best for a man who's been drinking is the nice, greasy plate of machaca con huevos: shredded desebrado and scrambled eggs mixed together, served with a side of rice and a double-sized side of refritos. If that's not enough to get you up and going on the morning after whatever weirdness you got up to the night before, then God's mercy be with you — because you are beyond the help of man or breakfast magic.
Lancer Lounge
In these debilitating economic times, stretching your dollars as far as they can possibly go isn't just frugal; it's the only way to make sure you don't end up in a sleeping bag outside of Jesus Saves. Bless its soul, the Lancer Lounge — already known far and wide for stiff pours and recession-friendly prices — has your back with its aptly titled Panic Bar. "It frightens me," one bartendress told us, and it should. Because every Monday night from 10 to 11 p.m., well drinks and draft beers are free. That's right: FREE. Go ahead and stretch those dollars right back into your pocket. But if you fail to tip, not even Jesus will save you.
Delite
Last spring, Deluxe owner Dylan Moore opened Delite right next door to handle the overflow from his excellent restaurant. But on some nights it seems to work the other way around, as Delite fills up early. And while, sure, the bar is the focus here, the menu — an offshoot of the Deluxe board and dosed with the same vaguely Californian sensibility — is incredibly satisfying. The green eggs and ham is brilliant: deviled eggs with bacon and pesto. The Chinese barbecued pork buns re-envisioned as American sliders are so good you'll want to order two plates (they come two to an order, topped with tiny jungles of scallion). And then there's Deluxe's trademark oyster shooters: single oysters, fried, topped with a chipotle rémoulade and served over a spicy salsa in a pho spoon. Moore makes the best fried oysters in town, no doubt, but the best thing about Delite's menu is the happy-hour deal: half off the normal price, which means you'll never pay more than six bucks, tops.
Le Central
From 3 to 5 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday at Le Central, owner Robert Tournier more or less gives the house away, offering about twenty small plates at two bucks or less. We're talking rillette, chicken-liver pâté e foie, Merguez sausage or pissaldiere for $1.50 each, and moules Provençal, duck confit or salmon fumée for $2. Meanwhile, all well drinks, mulled wine and house wines are just three dollars a throw, and espresso, lattes, cappuccinos and hot chocolates go for two bucks a cup. Le Central has always billed itself as an affordable French restaurant, but this is ridiculously good: fine French cuisine at prices cheaper than a McDonald's value meal.
Venice Ristorante & Wine Bar
Just looking at the menu at Venice Ristorante is like reading poetry. Actually eating off that menu is amazing. Some restaurants decline over the years, others reach a mid-level plateau and just hang there forever after. Only rarely does a restaurant continue to improve across the years, though, and Venice is one of those rare finds. From its start as an overcrowded strip-mall joint where every night looked like an open casting call for The Sopranos to its early days in its new LoDo home (formerly occupied by Adega) to today, when no one remembers a time when Venice wasn't holding down that corner, this restaurant has only gotten better. If you haven't been recently, it's time to return to Venice.

Best High-End Neighborhood Italian Restaurant

Il Posto

Il Posto
Mark Manger
There was something about Il Posto that moved us on our very first meal there. It wasn't the food, and it certainly wasn't the staff. No, it was something about the vibe — some indefinable hum of friction between the kitchen and the floor, the customers and the chalkboard menus hung high on the walls, that just made the place seem alive. And since it opened three years ago, the food has improved markedly, the staff has mellowed, the early crush of neighborhood trend-humpers trying to squeeze through the door on a Saturday night has cooled, but that vibe remains — that feeling of excitement that the best neighborhood restaurants must have, regardless of their price point.
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
Boulder is blessed with many good restaurants, but the best of all is Frasca. Although it no longer has the three-month backlog of reservations it did in the early years, this deceptively plain-looking spot is still an amazing little Northern Italian restaurant with a strong vein of modernism running through its big heart, staffed by the best crew around and featuring an ever-changing menu offering gorgeous and unpretentious proof that, absent all other modifiers, greatness lives wherever great cooks choose to settle.
We've eaten at every steakhouse in this steakhouse-heavy town, and we've never found anything that tops the Capital Grille. Everything about this restaurant — from the hand-cut steaks and perfectly set tables to the flawless service, cool lunches and killer weekend dinners — is a model against which all other steakhouses might be judged. And thus far, no others have measured up. While there might be better individual steaks, better sides, better drinks, even the occasional better night at another beef palace, no other place in town puts it all together the way Capital Grille does.

Best Of Denver®

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