Best Of :: Food & Drink
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.
Rise and Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe, a pioneering little enterprise that shares the same Crestmoor quarters as Basil Doc's Pizza, buzzes with a heavy trade of moms toting toddlers in state-of-the-art strollers, java guzzlers and bread heads who show up bright and early for the flaky, fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits — pudgy, warm in the center and delicious on their own or slathered with butter, jam or honey. Naked, they're just $1.25; add jam or honey for another two bits. Owner and master biscuit-maker Seth Rubin always offers a biscuit of the day — bacon cheddar, Nutella, smoked Gouda and rosemary olive oil have all been recent offerings — and on Fridays, he bakes batches of beer biscuits with brews from Great Divide Brewing Company.
The champagne just keeps flowing at the Dom Perignon Sunday Brunch, offered from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. every week in Ellyngton's, the elegant corner dining room at the Brown Palace. And the brunch buffet spread is just as sumptuous as the surroundings: There are stations that make waffles and omelets to order; stations that carve up huge haunches of meat and dish up fresh fish; salad and sushi stations; pastry stations overflowing with incredible confections. The buffet alone will run you $46.95, but since this is food fit for a king, you might as well treat yourself royally and fork over the $186.95 that will let you brunch with Dom.
Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe marked its 25th anniversary this year — 25 years of serving up some of the city's best Mexican food in a northwest Denver neighborhood that was beyond sketchy when Rosa Linda's first opened and is now the hottest restaurant neighborhood in the city. To celebrate this big birthday, the Aguirre family decided to give the entire city a present: weekly specials that roll prices back to 1985. In honor of the restaurant's very first Best of Denver win, through April 7 the special is the Best of Denver Combo: one shredded beef or chicken burrito, one chile relleno, both smothered in green with a side of rice and beans, for just $5.95. But even ordering off Rosa Linda's regular menu, you can get a big dinner for under ten bucks — and the incredible hospitality from this friendly family is all free.
Put this in your pipe and smoke it: If you like your coffee strong and the atmosphere in which you drink it just as pungent, head for Gypsy House Cafe. The specialty here is Turkish coffee, which is a leap for the Starbucks connoisseur, but it's well worth the plunge. The food is good, the wi-fi is free — and they'll hook you up with just the right tobacco for your hookah.
Happy has made a number of adjustments since it opened in early 2009 as Happy Noodle House, most of them very smart (and earning this Big Red F venture a nod from Forbes in its "America's Best New Restaurants" lists). But none of the developments have been as happy as the evolution of the Bitter Bar, Happy's "late-night alter ego," where mixologist and partner James Lee (named one of the country's top ten mixologists by Playboy Magazine) has turned the handcrafted cocktail into a contemporary art form. At the Bitter Bar, what's old is brand-spanking-new again, as the staff gives an original twist to traditional cocktails, using local, organic, fresh ingredients — and very fresh thinking. Lee shares that thinking at regular cocktail classes that have become one of the hottest tickets in town.
Twenty bucks might seem like a steep admission fee, but you won't leave one of Great Divide Brewing Co. Tap Room's events sorry — or sober. The brewery's garage-like warehouse is big enough for snaking beer lines, and its fenced-in outdoor space is a great place to throw a summer bash. Plus, Great Divide never forgets the food — which is delicious, and included in the price. Check Great Divide's website for information on upcoming $20 events, or stay informed by signing up for its "Brewsletter." You won't be sober. Or sorry.
Fearlessly spiced with garlic, ginger, chile, onion, cumin and curry leaves, the food of south India is some of the best in the world. And Masalaa, a divey storefront surrounded by international markets in a dilapidated strip mall in Aurora, is the sole Indian restaurant in the metro area that really delivers the goods via uttapams, spongy idlis, savory vada and superb dosas — shatteringly thin crepes, tinged golden, that conceal hidden gifts of seduction. Masalaa hustles nearly a dozen different dosas on its menu, but the masala dosa, rolled around nothing more than a heap of curried mashed spuds powerfully scented with intoxicating spices and served with a trio of chutneys and sambar, should be on everyone's must-eat-now list.
Like a Midwesterner clutching his cheese mac, the true Francophile embraces the delectable stews and soups of provincial (or is that Provençal?) tradition, the unsnooty side of French cuisine. Felix is a welcome westside refuge for those who like their comfort food exquisitely prepared, reasonably priced and served in a leisurely fashion. From la soupe a l'oignon to the bouillabaise, there's a lot of hearty lip-smacking available here, but the coq au vin is a particular knockout: chicken impeccably roasted, fragrant with red wine sauce, bedded with pearl onions, mushrooms, baby carrots and wedges of red potato. Unpretentious, oui, and so damn good.
Sure, the chili's good — but the presentation is unbeatable. The chili comes in a silver measuring cup, with the toppings — shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and green onions — arrayed in the half-cup, third-cup and quarter-cup that complete the set. Wash it down with a shot of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, which is distilled right next door to the new Rackhouse Pub, an addition to the local saloon scene well worth toasting.
Although El Paraiso offers more than 400 dishes, this restaurant's regulars never seem to crack open a menu. They'll spend five minutes agonizing over whether they should spring for a margarita, agua fresca or cerveza, but they never have any trouble deciding what to order for their meal. That's because they know to go with the sizzling molcajetes, lava-hot mortars overflowing with fresh corn tortillas, garlic, meats, onions and chiles. All the versions are fantastic, but the champion is the molcajete a la Mexicana, a heap of housemade chorizo, smoky carne asada, grilled cactus petals, tender chicken, grilled spring onions and ropes of Oaxacan cheese melting into the stewy mix of chiles and tomatoes.
Den Deli pimps bobas and hijikki, a lovely miso soup and a Japanese French dip, sushi and spicy shrimp and udon, soba and, above all, ramen. It arrives in a smoldering bowl of chicken broth, lightly seasoned, and you slurp the noodles with deliberate abandon, making as much noise as possible as they slip through your lips. The noodles drift with bean sprouts, slivers of green onions, wilted bok choy and the Deli's version of tamago, usually a sweet omelet with soy that, in this case, is a soft-boiled egg with a bright yolk that weeps streams of wet gold into the lush broth. And there, lurking below the mound of vegetables and garnishes, are slices of pork belly, our favorite food in the culinary solar system.