Viva Burrito Company
Take one Mexican restaurant, add a drive-thru, and what do you get? Another Best of Denver award for Viva Burrito. This spot is a great at virtually any hour of the day — breakfast burritos in the morning, enchiladas in an unbelievably good red chile after work, deep-fried tacos on the way home from the bar — but perhaps the best expression of Viva's greatness is during the lunch rush. Where else can you get a Mexican taco-and-enchilada combo plate, a horchata and some weird, jelly-filled churro-esque dessert in under five minutes, and for less than a ten-spot? We doubt that any such place exists — and even if it does, it would be hard-pressed to do the job better than Viva.
The Bagel Deli & Restaurant
Courtesy The Bagel Deli Facebook
We don't know what it is, exactly, but certain cuisines and certain restaurants are always better when the weather is right. A smoothie is always sweeter when the sun is out. A plate of goulash or bowl of borscht always tastes better in the frozen dead of winter. And a rainy day always — always — makes the food at Bagel Deli taste better. On such days, we like to take a quick turn around the market shelves and then settle into one of the well-worn booths where, as the rain patters down, we order up a cup of watery coffee and a nice scrambled-eggs-and-salami plate, maybe some latkes, rugelach or matzoh ball soup. The Bagel Deli also has some good sunny-day picnic food — thick sandwiches and good egg salad and a sixer of Dr. Brown's from the shelf. Still, when the rain is coming down, we always find ourselves heading straight for the Bagel Deli.
Las Tortas
Courtesy Las Tortas Denver Facebook
Las Tortas sells tortas and nothing but tortas — about two dozen varieties, from the simplest steak-and-chicken Jalisco to the most bizarrely overpowering La Macha, with steak Milanesa, chorizo, chile, a fried egg and a hot dog crammed together on a roll. There's a counter on one side where you order and pick up, a few high-top tables on the other, a cooler with Mexican Coke and beer by the bottle, and a couple of TVs hanging from the ceiling playing telenovelas and VideoRola. The joint is simple and spare and unbelievably awesome. And the best thing about it? No torta will run you more than eight dollars, and even that price is only for las especiales. The bulk of the items on the menu can be had for six or seven bucks, and just one of the tortas at Las Tortas is plenty big enough to make a meal for any big hungry boy.
This year's hot restaurant neighborhood news is a northwest-side story. In 2008, three new restaurants sprang up at the corner of 44th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard long held down by Cafe Brazil: Billy's Inn, Tocabe and Shazz. From there, it's a quick trip to Tennyson Street, where you can have breakfast at DJ's Berkeley Cafe, lunch at Brasserie Felix, then drinks at the Berkeley Inn, the recovered dive bar where you can still have a couple of cigarettes with your beer and shot. Then it's down to 32nd Avenue for happy hour at Venue, dinner at Duo, a quick after-dinner glass of wine at Z Cuisine À Côté, and a final nightcap at another newcomer, Root Down. In between, there's Big Hoss Bar-B-Q (fried cheese and whiskey floats), Bang, Taquería Patzcuaro (chicharrones), Masterpiece Deli and about a hundred other spots that range from a few of Denver's worst to some of its very, very best.
Bistro One
A roasted chicken is a benchmark dish for any kitchen. It can be the simplest or cheapest or most popular dish. But at Bistro One, it is none of those things. Instead, it's the soul of the menu — classic, traditional, borderless. The bird comes stuffed with cornbread, its little legs crossed, roasted to a perfect golden brown, surrounded by winter vegetables and sauced with a delicious, deep and complex golden raisin sauce. Of all the plates at Bistro One, this is the best, the most fully formed and skillfully executed — proof of the potential for a great restaurant in the making.
At Thai Lotus, the crew is Thai and the food obviously Thai, unkinked for the American palate, presented the way the best immigrant cuisines are — as recalled from home. The menu is, for the most part, a standard retelling of the country's culinary history: lad na and pad thai, curried this and that, and "hot" meaning hot-hot, like crying gasoline hot. But it takes one small diversion, into a section marked "Rotisserie" that has only one dish listed: a rotisserie chicken that is flat-out amazing. After you order it, you can hear the thunking of the cleaver as the chicken is deconstructed — and when it arrives, accompanied by rice and a bowl of thick red sauce flecked with dried hot pepper, it's steaming like something out of a commercial. Under that steam, the chicken has been roughly hacked into bone-spurred chunks, its golden-brown and fatty skin perfectly roasted and still attached, the meat inside juicy and incredibly tender.
At Masterpiece Delicatessen, partners Justin Brunson and Steve Allee do some pretty amazing things with a little bread, a little meat, a little this-and-that. Their simplest creations — egg sandwiches, grilled cheese, turkey with pears and cranberry honey — show their command of the artistry of restraint (just enough, never too much), while their more complicated plates demonstrate a high-end, Super Frog cookery gone feral in the service of a soup-and-sandwich board. Their kung fu is strong, no doubt. And here in Denver, we're lucky to have them.
Senor Burritos
So you're planning on getting out there and tearing it up on Saturday night? Well, cowboy, you might want to put a little something in your stomach before you start sucking down the shots — and Señor Burrito is just the place to do it. Or maybe you're thinking about catching a movie at the Mayan. Why not grab a snack at Señor Burrito before the show? What? The boss called you in to work on Saturday and you're just getting off at eight? Time for Señor Burrito, pal. We can't think of a single circumstance when a burrito or pork chop plate at Señor Burrito won't make things better.
What does it take to run a great seafood restaurant a mile above sea level and a thousand miles from the nearest ocean? The kind of system that hums behind the scenes at Oceanaire — a business structure that brings in fresh fish daily, six days a week, following supply lines that run back and forth across the globe, all terminating in a kitchen that actually knows what to do with a glut of great product. Under the command of chef Matt Mine, Oceanaire serves up the best sea critters you'll find this far from the ocean. And the kitchen also hands down some nice non-piscine thrills as well, banging out bacon steaks, salads and more for those who (for whatever reason...) decide to go to the best fish restaurant in the city for meat-and-potatoes fare.
Solomon's Grocery and European Deli
It's a long way from Uzbekistan to Aurora, but Bukharan immigrant Solomon Gurzhiev and his family take the miles in stride at their Russian-Jewish deli, where they feature a compact selection of imported Eastern European foods as well as more than eighty kinds of deli meats, smoked fish, sausages, pickles and cheeses. Authentic is the word at Solomon's, where the proprietors are bend-over-backwards friendly, the coolers stuffed with a dozen varieties of kefir and farmer's cheese, and mom Gurzhiev whips up homemade pelmeni on request. But nowhere is that authenticity more evident than in the small but potent selection of fresh-baked breads offered daily at the counter, including a dense, coriander-laced rye loaf that goes nicely with the deli fare.

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