Best High-End Steakhouse 2009 | Capital Grille | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
Tacos y Salsas is a tough place to miss. It's as bright and shiny and carnival-colored as the street outside is gray and grim and run down by long, rough use. It almost seems like a spot where clowns should go to buy their floppy shoes and hand buzzers, all red and yellow and orange. But this homegrown chain is serious about its food. The Federal outpost, in particular, always seems full of cooks from other restaurants. Cooks and families of cooks and other families and neighbors and construction workers. And dedicated gastronauts, too, who're digging into tacos and enchiladas filled with exotic grilled meats and weird, mushy rellenos that they've doctored up with salsas and toppings from the bar. In a town full of Mexican restaurants, there's always room for another Tacos y Salsas.
Stephen Cummings
The guys at the Old Fashioned know from good hot dogs. Why? Because they're from Buffalo, a city that knows from good dogs. Here, they're Sahlen's brand, boiled to a beautiful, ruddy pink and served on a simple bun, with a little twist of casing that makes a tail at both ends. The standard at the Old Fashioned is "flying with everything," which means topped with Buffalo's own Weber's horseradish mustard, dog sauce and jalapeños and much more, taken to go. But we prefer our dog naked, with just a shot of Weber's. And we like to eat it here, where the setting is as authentic as the dogs: slightly grungy, with walls covered with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, mismatched tablecloths, Sopranos memorabilia, and shelves loaded down with pastas, canned tomatoes and other Italian dry goods.
Danielle Lirette
Denver drinkers used to be content ordering snifters full of ice, cheap tequila, sweet-and-sour mix that made your teeth squeak, maybe a lime wedge, and all sorts of top-secret (and cheap) ingredients guaranteed to give them a big headache in the morning. If they wanted to get really fancy, they might even order their margaritas frozen so they didn't have to taste what was going to give them a big headache in the morning. But then Denver drinkers started studying tequila, differentiating the regional nuances, demanding fresh lime juice and margs served coin-style. While local bars increasingly focus on specialty drinks that quench the ever-growing thirst for better margaritas, they often give scant attention to the house marg. But that's not the case at Mezcal and its sibling, Tambien, which continue to turn out spritely, fresh-tasting, potent house margs that feature plenty of quality tequila, plenty of fresh juice, and just a spritz of carbonation to keep your evening bubbling along.
The Royal Peacock would win this award on smell alone. As you walk up to the restaurant, it feels like you could be lifted off the ground by the mingled aromas coming from the kitchen, like a cartoon hobo smelling pie. But once you get past the smell of tandoori and cumin, curry, saffron and a hundred other barely identifiable odors — once you get through the door, make your way to a table, thumb through the well-worn menu and order a royal feast — it's the flavors those smells ride on that make such a lasting impression. The Royal Peacock's setting is a nondescript strip mall. But its food is so good as to be almost beyond words.
A cement bunker filled with soup: That's Pho 79. It doesn't serve anything more than pho and rocket-fuel Vietnamese coffee and a few boba tea drinks — but then, it doesn't need to. Long a popular breakfast spot for the local Vietnamese community and usually far more populated (at least during the morning hours) by members of that group than by wild-eyed hipsters, East Coast transplants and others of their foul ilk, Pho 79 is nonetheless a miracle for those who feel that nothing starts the day better than a gigantic bowl of noodles, basil, broth, lime juice and various cow parts.
Maybe it's the rock-bottom prices. Maybe it's the authentic fare. Maybe it's that we've got noodle bars on the brain. Maybe it's the freaky little alien-moose thing that stands as the house mascot, because we've always had a weakness for creepy mascots and patron cartoon characters. Maybe (probably) it's all of those things. This year, we kept finding ourselves returning to Oshima Ramen, the only link in this country to a Japanese chain. Everything about this place is awesome and bizarre at the same time — from the giant bowls of fresh-made ramen to the tasty chicken bits and gyoza to the unusual Japanese sodas behind the bar. The walls are sketched with years' worth of graffiti, the history of a thousand love affairs with Oshima Ramen, of which ours is only one.
Cassandra Kotnik
Korean barbecue isn't barbecue at all by the traditional definition — but when it's as good as what's called barbecue at Sae Jong Kwan, who stands on ceremony? Sae Jong Kwan (aka: House of Korean BBQ) is almost a gastronaut hideout, a spot where adventurous eaters gather to stuff themselves with meats and vegetables and other odds and ends all cooked on the little barbecue grills built right into the tables. Join the fun: Bring a bunch of friends, order a bunch of drinks (because there's nothing more adventurous than mixing alcohol and an open grill) and let one of the helpful servers be your guide through the long, detailed and very traditional menu.
Izakaya Den
Denver has always had a shortage of good late-night restaurants. Most places in town lock the doors around nine or ten and leave the late-night service to the drive-thrus, bars, diners and street-corner burrito vendors. So before the clock strikes eleven, head to Izakaya Den, which has a great menu for late-night snackers: a combination Italian/Mexican/French/American/Japanese board that offers both the lowbrow and the high-tone side by side.
Molly Martin
Bastien's isn't retro. The rest of the world might be leaning in that direction, looking for cool, but Bastien's is something else entirely: It's classic. Looking for the cocktail culture of the '50s? Bastien's has it. Early-'70s swinger swank? It has that, too. Bastien's doesn't change with the times; the times change around it. Like they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and while the batteries on Bastien's Timex ran down a long time ago, this is still a great place to go for sugar steaks, sidecars, fried cheesecakes, steely martinis and a taste of Denver's culinary past.

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