Star Kitchen
Lauren Monitz

"You back! Long time to see!" shouts the woman. It's been a while since we last picked the pushcarts clean at Star Kitchen, and the tiny owner with the one-inch waist won't let us forget it. "It's been long time," she repeats, shoving metal-rimmed steamers full of siu mai dumplings under our noses. "You love these!" she enthuses. She's right, of course. We do love the siu mai dumplings. We love the thin-skinned scallop dumplings, too, as well as the shrimp dumplings and lobster dumplings. It's easy to spend the day in this boxy dining room, swelling our gullets with spongy turnip cakes, soy-soaked jiggly rice crepes stuffed with minced pork, steamed barbecue buns plump with sweet roasted pork, head-on shrimp crusted with salt and pepper. How much do we love the dim sum at Star Kitchen? So much that if today were our birthday, this is where we'd celebrate.

Africana Cafe

Denver is home to an estimated 10,000 people of Ethiopian descent — and nearly as many Ethiopian restaurants, or so it seems when you're driving east on Colfax through Aurora. Choosing one that reflects the diversity and nuances of Ethiopian cuisine can be a challenge for those unfamiliar with the smells and spices of East Africa. But the native, the initiated and the adventurous can all be found at Africana Cafe, where the city's Abasha community meets to eat. Africana offers the usual array of traditional Ethiopian food: spongy injera bread, platters of vegetables and meats accented with the earthy berbere chili spice, as well as really traditional dishes such as kitfo — raw or rare ground beef served with lots of fire. But Africana stands out for its perfect rendering of a few simple but beloved staples, including shiro wot, a stew of chickpeas puréed with garlic. This is comfort food for those yearning for Addis Ababa — and anyone who just loves simple, tasty and good.

Ask a dozen Denver food fans to name the best 'hood for grubbing, grazing and guzzling, and you'll get a dozen answers — plus a few extras from people who can't stop at just one — which just confirms what we already know: There are pockets of fiendishly great eating all over the city. But right now the lower edge of the Highland neighborhood — a neighborhood we will not stoop to calling LoHi — is a red-hot incubator of notable restaurants. You'll find a dazzling charcuterie plate and cassoulet at Z Cuisine and Z Cuisine À Côté, complemented by an esoteric wine list; flamboyant cocktails at Root Down; rustically citified dishes, always with a local bent, at Duo; some of the best cooking in the city at Squeaky Bean, where Max Mackissock does breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner from an impossibly tiny kitchen; schooners of craft beers and plates with good steaks and even better fries at LoHi SteakBar; and sensational views of the city (not to mention perfect margaritas and Bloody Marys) at Lola. Dining in Denver never looked so good.

Benny Armas got his start more than three decades ago, cooking in other people's kitchens. But from the moment he opened Benny's, his own place in central Denver, it's been a Denver institution, growing bigger (gaining a new patio last year) and better, catering to generations of families, friends — and drunks. Because Benny's regulars know that as welcoming as this spot can be for lunch and dinner, there's simply no better restorative than a breakfast burrito or a big plate of Benny's huevos rancheros, smothered in that distinctive, slightly sweet green chile. This will definitely cure what ails you — which very well could be that pitcher of Benny's margs you drank the night before.

The Walnut Room

You can slum it with a slice and a drink for $5 at just about every pizza joint in town, but when you want to slum it in style, either location of the Walnut Room feels your vibe. Throw down a fiver at the original, up on Walnut, or the new store, at the heart of Broadway, and a fresh-faced server, usually of the hipster sort, will trot out an eight-inch, thin-crusted pizza topped with whatever single ingredient tickles your fancy, a cup of soup or a house salad scattered with mozzarella, and a soft drink. If you're not a proponent of pizza, not a problem: You can order a half a sandwich instead, including the "Fat Bastard," heaped with provolone, five meats and a few scant vegetables to soften the guilt (or impending coronary). The $5 lunch deal runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Liks Ice Cream Parlor
Courtesy Liks Ice Cream Facebook

By old-fashioned, we're not talking turn of the last century. We're talking the '70s, which were short on decor but long on flavor. Liks Ice Cream hasn't changed much in decades, and this Capitol Hill mainstay continues to attract both children and meandering urban couples, in warm weather and in cold, who appreciate the shop's dedication to craft that produces damn good ice cream (yogurt and sherbet, too). Each batch is made in lots of twelve gallons or less, for the sake of the ingredients, and stored at a specific temperature, for the sake of texture. Perhaps the coolest part of the Liks experience: If you call ahead, Liks will personally craft a favorite flavor from your childhood — or your imagination. Chill.

Caveau Wine Bar

At their worst, wine lists are pompous, stratospherically overpriced, ridiculously long, awkwardly categorized and full of overexposed, yawn-inducing labels. But at Caveau Wine Bar, the 75-bottle list (55 are available by the glass) is an easy-to-navigate document of new discoveries, small producers and familiar but not overrated labels. The polished yet easygoing staff is well-versed in wine education and just as enthusiastic about pushing a $30 bottle of vino as a three-digit one, which is a welcome change to the rigorous sport of upselling. Those prowling for deals know to show up at 4 p.m. for the daily happy hour, when pours priced at $12 and over are knocked down to five bucks and glasses over $13 are sold for half off.

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.

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