Vine Street Pub & Brewery

Microbrews aren't cheap, whether on tap or on the shelves. But Vine Street Pub, part of the Boulder-based Mountain Sun string of brewpubs, makes things a little easier on the wallet by charging only $4.20 (yeah, it had the marijuana thing going long before your local dispensary) for a pint as opposed to the usual $4.50 or $5 (an eight-ounce goes for $2.60), a deal that's made even sweeter by the high quality of the beers. And during happy hour (Monday to Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close; Sunday, 4 to 6 p.m.), you can get a pint for just half that, making Vine Street Pub a beery investment you can't afford to miss.

Tony's Market
Dylan Burkhardt

When Tony's decided to open a new market, complete with a small restaurant, close to downtown Denver last year, it made a critical move: It applied for a liquor license that covered not just the bistro, but the entire building. As a result, Tony's now offers one of the greatest grocery-shopping amenities imaginable: You can buy a glass of wine or a beer and sip it as you do your shopping, sampling whatever free snacks the market has put out. And Tony's also has a more formal happy hour in the bistro, from 3 to 6 p.m., with drink and food specials — including a terrific meatball slider for just $2 that's a meal in itself. Special bonus: On most Friday evenings, Tony's also offers live music.

Park Burger
Cassandra Stiltner

Ah, Park Burger, how the Platt Park neighborhood loves thee. How else to explain the restless bodies spilling onto the sidewalk, the thirty-minute waits for a table, the sparring over who gets the last slurp of milkshake, the brawls over the fries? It took you a while to get those tubers right, but once you did, we could hear the collective sighs of rapture from here to Idaho. Hand-cut, thin-stemmed, licked with salt, hued the color of polished gold and piled higher than last year's pink slips, these spuds are enough to fry you to the moon.

Encore on Colfax

Those people you see hanging out by the door, their feet shifting impatiently, their jaws moving up and down, mimicking the eating motion? Those people have been to Encore before, have already tried the fig 'n' pig flatbread pizza, and can't wait to get at it again. A properly charred oval smeared with a fig spread that's dotted with crumbles of Gorgonzola, sheeted with tarps of salty prosciutto and forested with bright arugula leaves, this is a non-traditional pizza that promptly transports you to hog heaven.

Racines
Courtesy Racines

The winner and still the chomp: Sibling restaurants Racines and Dixons are known as go-to spots where you can start your day with a power breakfast and end it with a powerful cocktail. But our favorite item on the vast (and differing) menus at both is the nachos: a mountain of food that's more than a meal, particularly if you add chicken or steak. They're carefully constructed of beans (refried or black), lots of cheese, quality chips and good toppings (including plenty of pickled jalapeños), layered so that the gooey nacho goodness runs all the way through the platter, and heated just the right amount until everything's warmed through and the chips on the edge have a delectable crispness. Amazingly, the last bite is always as good as the first. And making the best even better: During its seven-day-a-week happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m., Dixons offers a smaller version of the nachos for just $3.

Commerce City is hardly a restaurant utopia, and Gala Gardens isn't exactly the first joint that floats into your head when you're lusting after a brick of beef. But it should be, because the steaks — of which there are several, including a hefty 25-ounce porterhouse, a 22-ounce T-bone, a couple of New York strips and a club steak — are juicy, full of flavor and dirt cheap. Especially since they're served with a throwback relish tray, a cup of made-from-scratch soup, salad, and either rice pilaf, potatoes — mashed, baked or fried — or steamed vegetables. The porterhouse is the most expensive steak on the board, ringing in at just under $24, but the hospitality, which is ample, is free. And the beers — you don't drink wine at a place like this — are practically free.

J' Shabu

Glide a near-translucent slip of beef through a deep vessel of gurgling broth, and the sound you'll hear is shabu shabu, a swooshing hiss that's heard often at J'Shabu, a superb Japanese restaurant. Shabu shabu is a do-it-yourself proposition, a little like fondue. A server equips you with a burner, a pot of broth — water with kale, miso, sweet soy or fish stock — plus meats, seafood, noodles and a beautiful drift of vegetables. Drop the vegetables in first to flavor the broth, then quickly sweep the beef through the liquid, holding tight with your chopsticks all the while. Shabu shabu: It's the secret Japanese word for happiness.

Best Lamb That Mary Would Have Liked

Mecca Grill

Mecca Grill
Danielle Lirette

The service is peculiar, and the droning music even weirder at Mecca Grill, a mini-mall storefront with a saffron-stained dining room that smells unmistakably of mothballs. But the food — herby falafel, hummus, gyros, lemony fattoush, shawarma, kabobs and grape leaves — is undeniably good. The best dish: the bold-flavored lamb shank, an extravagantly huge hunk of meat that arrives propped against a mound of fluffy rice scented with Mideast spices and submerged in a pungent soak of lamb-y juices, garlic, spices and tomatoes sweetened with carrots. This is an animalistic abundance that you'll wake up dreaming about — and craving — at 2 a.m.

Argyll
Cassandra Kotnik

In the great gastropub movement that's marching through Denver, Argyll is doing its part to ensure that its contributions to the crusade don't go unnoticed. There's an awful lot to appreciate about this joint: the cask-conditioned ales, wickedly strong and poured only on the weekends; the bartenders and servers, who are quick with a smile and a good story; and the music, which always seems to pulsate with danceable one-hit wonders from the '80s. The wine list has come full circle, too, since owner Robert Thompson unlocked the doors last spring, and the patio? It's killer. But the real reason to grab a stool at Argyle's tartan-topped bar has everything to do with chef Sergio Romero's menu, which trumpets all sorts of triumphs, including the best corned beef hash in the galaxy; plump mussels steamed in an Indian-laced curry fragrant with lemongrass and cilantro; creamy, dreamy macaroni and cheese; well-crafted charcuterie plates; house-cured pork belly; house-brined pickles and the most amazing potato chips in the free world. So far, so awesome.

Waffle Brothers
Hunter Stevens

You know the frozen waffles that come 24 to a box, 72 if you shop the chaotic aisles of Costco? The waffles that you'll eat at Waffle Brothers are not those waffles. No, these waffles – yeasty, caramelized, misshapen, chewy, simultaneously savory and sweet, toasty and tinged the color of a tiger's eye — are made-to-order morning glories conceived by two friends (not brothers) who've fine-tuned the essential Belgian waffle. The waffle irons are imported from Belgium, as is the pearl sugar that sweetens them. You can get yours crowned with everything from lemon curd and fresh kiwi to marshmallow fluff and cranberry stuff, but, like ripped abs, they're best minimally dressed — in this case, with nothing more than a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar. And now you can even sit down to enjoy them, since Waffle Brothers, which used to simply have a mall cart, now has a permanent home.

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