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

Patsy's

Patsy's
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
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.
Duo Restaurant
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.
Fruition
Mark Manger
"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.
Lou's Food Bar
Brian Defoe
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.
If ever a food deserved to take off as a fast-food staple but didn't, it's the humble kolache. Sure, it's been ripped off as everything from Hot Pockets to Pizza Rolls, but the only place that gives kolaches the care they deserve is the Kolache Factory, a small, Texas-based chain. And while the traditional kolache is a simple, yeasty, slightly sweet roll filled with sweet or savory leftovers, the Kolache Factory has modernized things by shoving all sorts of surprises inside its fresh-baked rolls. Chicken Ranchero kolaches? You bet. Breakfast kolaches with potato, egg and cheese? Of course. Since most versions retail in the one- to two-dollar range, you can essentially stuff yourself with three gastrointestinal hand grenades for just five bucks. But the Kolache Factory also sells them by the dozen, in case you have a sudden need for twelve sausage, jalapeño and cheese kolaches.
Lucile's Creole Cafe
Courtesy Lucile's Creole Cafe Facebook
In New Orleans, people might say that eggs Sardou is just as traditional as any white-bread, ham-and-holly eggs Benedict. But here in Denver, this Gulf prawn-and-spinach version is an exotic, rule-breaking freak Benny — and the best thing on Lucile's menu full of very good things. As such, it stands as incontrovertible proof that any classic recipe ever touched by a Cajun or Creole chef is only made better by their restrained fussing and murderous application of heavy cream, butter, eggs, butter and butter to everything. The eggs Sardou at Lucile's are so good that we've occasionally been tempted to order two plates and eat both at a single sitting. The only thing holding us back? The sure knowledge that we'd die from the pure excess — though God knows, we'd go out smiling.

Best Not-So-Traditional Japanese Restaurant

Kokoro

Kokoro
Courtesy Kokoro Facebook
An argument could be made that all Japanese food is fast food. Dumplings and noodle bowls are basic convenience foods, and sushi's ready with the slash of a knife. But Kokoro puts a uniquely American (and, arguably, uniquely Denver) spin on this idea that lands its noodle bowls, rice bowls, gyoza and sushi right between Chipotle fast-casual and old-time Woolworth's lunch-counter grub — except here the customers are eating unagi rice bowls, shrimp tempura udon, tekka maki and "sobaghetti" (yakisoba with vegetables and sauce) instead of cheeseburgers and milkshakes.
Beatrice & Woodsley
Why "Old American"? Because the central conceit behind both the menu and the design at Beatrice & Woodsley is that the restaurant is supposed to look like a place that might've been prepared by a particularly adept woodsman for his lady love in turn-of-the-last-century Colorado — and the food is part of the same fantasy. Thus are the bar's back shelves mounted to the wall by way of chainsaws, and the main floor has aspen trees growing out of it. Thus does the menu manage to mix beautiful frog's legs, deconstructed Fig Newtons, turtle soup, buffalo hash, pork belly, roast quail, crawfish beignets and foie gras all together — a lineup that would be ludicrous without the design. And without the menu, the design would be goofy and annoying. But when everything comes together, Beatrice & Woodsley becomes much more than the simple sum of its parts; it becomes one of the most singularly beautiful and brilliant restaurants that Denver has ever seen.

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