Best Mexican in a Former Chinese Restaurant 2009 | El Viva Villa | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Mexican in a Former Chinese Restaurant

El Viva Villa

The first time we ate at El Viva Villa, we immediately wanted to eat here again. The second time we ate here (roughly six hours after the first time), we knew that it was going to go into heavy rotation on our dining schedule. While there's nothing unique about the space (other than the fact that it used to be a good dim sum restaurant), El Viva Villa serves a spread of amazing Mexican food from early in the morning until late in the evening. Our favorite is the burritos — all deeply flavorful (the al pastor in particular), charry-sweet, just the right size and significantly cheaper than a burrito at the Chipotle across the street.
First things first: The service at Ya Hala Grill is terrible — sometimes laughably so, sometimes maddeningly so. The building itself is little more than a cement bunker on Colorado Boulevard with half a bakery in front and a few tables in back, and the kitchen often seems to be working in its own little world, releasing your dinner in dribs and drabs and often completely out of order. But you've just got to get past all that, because the food at Ya Hala is so good. It's Syrian food, done traditionally and exceptionally well. Gyros for lunch, ballila and fouel and roasted chicken for dinner, the greatest baklava we've ever had for dessert. It's worth putting up with any indignity to get your hands on a plate of that baklava. When a restaurant serves the best Middle Eastern food in the city, you just have to be ready to suck it up — and then eat it up.
On the one hand, Parallel Seventeen is like a Vietnamese tapas restaurant — the style having been co-opted by owner Mary Nguyen from the banquets once held by the Vietnamese royal family. On the other, it's a proper sit-down restaurant that is almost fusion-y in its modern reinterpretation of the traditional French-Asian cuisine of Vietnam. Put those two competing influences together and you get a completely original, delicious concept. From the Maine lobster dumplings with kaffir lime beurre blanc to the steak frites and Hanoi curry, Parallel Seventeen slips effortlessly between culinary traditions and time periods, offering Denver diners the best of all possible worlds.
This isn't your typical huevos breakfast place. Lola's creative weekend brunch menu — right now, at least — includes crawfish and grits, catfish, chicken-fried pork, even a breakfast torta with smoked shrimp, Serrano ham and tomato-jalapeño jelly. And then there are the weekly specials, each one more inventive than the previous week's. The flavor is distinctly Mexican, with an emphasis on coastal cuisine — and on a sunny day, there's no better beach than Lola's outdoor deck, particularly when you're enjoying it with a margarita in hand.
Sibling restaurants Racines and Dixons are great places for casual breakfasts, power breakfasts, late-night snacks and the last drink of the night. But we're particularly partial to their nachos — the biggest, boldest plate of nachos in town, a piping-hot heap of food for under ten bucks. You can customize them with black or refried beans, subtract the sour cream or guac, throw on more jalapeños, add meat (flavorful steak or tender chicken), or douse them with the house salsa or your choice of hot sauces. They're carefully constructed so that the gooey nacho goodness goes all the way to the bottom of the platter, and the ratio of toppings to chips ensures that the last bite will be as good as the first.

Best Neighborhood Italian Restaurant


Just in case you were ever wondering, yeah, every neighborhood Italian joint back east is a little like Patsy's. Which is to say that every one of them has a claim to some kind of history, serves a wicked good linguini with white clam sauce, has a weird bar filled with exactly the kind of guys you never want to grow up to be, and makes spaghetti and meatballs that will hang with you, in flavor and in sweet memory, for the rest of your days. Patsy's has been around in one form or another, under one owner or another (a cousin of the founding family recently took over) for more than seventy years, since back when northwest Denver was a true Italian neighborhood, and it remains the best taste of neighborhood Italian in town. The kitchen does the simple stuff (pizzas again, mussels, that benchmark linguini with clam sauce) very well and, wisely, leaves the more complicated things for other restaurants. But you won't miss them, because at Patsy's, you'll find a dish you like and stick with it for the rest of your life — just like customers at a proper neighborhood joint are supposed to.
Venue serves American comfort food. It serves American comfort food prepared with French technique, with a little Italian influence, with a greenmarket sensibility. But that doesn't begin to convey the wonders coming from this kitchen: Manila clams with crumbled fennel sausage and roasted quarters of tomato in a sweet and rich broth spiked with lime and smoked paprika; slow-slow-slow-cooked beef short rib with oyster mushrooms, the meat so sweet and soft that it seems to melt; homemade tomato soup (a perfectly smooth purée of house-roasted tommies) with fresh thyme and garlic, an unexpected dart of spice that hits you right on the back of the tongue. Holly Hartnett's new restaurant is the neighborhood place everyone wishes was in their neighborhood — a place that will happily serve you grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and then agnolotti with brie, white beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and leeks for dinner just a couple hours later.
Scott Lentz
Duo has the trappings of a simple neighborhood bistro — but one with a particularly inventive cook behind the grills. Chef John Broening can do French, as evidenced by his duck confit over potato pancakes with apricot mustard. He can do Italian (gnocchi with oyster mushrooms and pecorino), fusion (a dish of pastry-wrapped mahi with herb pistou and sautéed vegetables). And he clearly knows his way around the fine points of old and new Continental, greenmarket and straight-up American cuisine (parmesan-crusted chicken with bacon-shot potato salad and watercress). Add to those talents a pastry department run by Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (one of the best pastry chefs anywhere), and the result is the most intelligent, consistently well-executed and grounded New American menu in the city.
"New American" is a term that's fallen somewhat out of favor as a way to describe the type of cuisine that essentially marks the page where, in the history of gastronomy, American chefs began asserting themselves as being capable of cooking more than just cheeseburgers and fat steaks. And that's because, for a time, the phrase was used to describe just about every restaurant that wasn't a takeout Chinese place or a Greek diner. But really, the reason that no other Denver restaurant wants to be labeled "New American" is simply because no other New American restaurant in this town (and maybe anymore) could be as good as Fruition. Chef Alex Seidel and his crew take their beef barley soup, oysters Rockefeller, confit pork shoulder and notions of American mastery very seriously, and in the front of the house, partner Paul Attardi takes the ideas of comfort and ease just as seriously — making a room that lulls you into a focused languor where nothing matters but the meal in front of you and the person you're sharing it with.
Bones is a restaurant made by a cook, for cooks. It's a restaurant dreamed up by a guy who loves food unreservedly and opened for those who share his outsized passions. Borders? Canon? Fads? Fuck 'em. Nominally a noodle bar, Bones is really a loose conglomeration of plates and styles and techniques that came together only because one man thought to stick them together. But what makes Bones work — makes the place truly sing — is that each one of these plates is an act of love, an ode to flavors and tastes that cooks love. It's a peek behind the curtain, a kind of psychological report on the passions of the food-obsessed and the food-drunk. "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are," Brillat-Savarin once said. And Bones, where owner Frank Bonanno and his guys cook what they like to eat, is simply this: the best new restaurant in Denver.

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