Best Expense-Account Lunch 2010 | Sushi Sasa | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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There's nothing cheap about Sushi Sasa, the elegant — and expanding — sushi restaurant at the edge of downtown. Not the toned and tony clientele, the kind of customers who never bobble their chopsticks, stab their toro or dip their rice into the dish of soy sauce. And not the raw fish, not the Chilean sea bass steamed in a salty black bean sauce, not the seared tuna tataki on a jungle of greens, not the freshly grated wasabi, and certainly not the scene-stealing omakase, a $40 tasting menu of lovely compositions from chef/owner Wayne Conwell. If that sounds too rich for your thinning wallet, find someone who owes you a favor. Or money.

You would think that D Bar Desserts, the dessert bar that Food Network star Keegan Gerhard and his wife, Lisa Bailey, brought to Denver almost two years ago, offers enough of a sugar rush just with the incredible desserts and other goodies on offer; the crowds that pack this little joint certainly come away satisfied. But late on weekend nights, if you time things right, you might find a very special special: Brown Sugar Shenanigans, when Jay Brown comes out of the kitchen and offers a dirty (though clothed) dance for a customer celebrating a birthday or other noteworthy event. Although this dish isn't officially on the menu, call ahead to see if you can order it.

How do we love Lola? Let us count the ways. We love the history of the building it resides in, an old mortuary that served as the almost-final resting place of Buffalo Bill (he couldn't be buried on Lookout Mountain until after the ground thawed). We love looking out over the city from its deck, heated so that you can enjoy the view year-round. We love the brunch, with the inventive specials that change every weekend. We love the happy-hour deals, when you can grab a great taco for $3. We love the music on Sunday afternoons, and the special-occasion dinners, and the accidental dinners, when you come for a quick snack and wind up swimming in a whole fish. And above all, we love the margaritas. Lola stocks more than 150 tequilas, and mixologist Jimmy Zanon is always using them in new ways — but our favorite remains the house marg, perfectly mixed, very strong, and pure love in a glass.

You go to the Edgewater Inn for the pizza and the atmosphere — "Howdy, paisano!" — but you won't be able to leave without ordering a schooner. Perhaps the most festively shaped drinking vessel known to man, schooners are like giant, rounded margarita glasses perfectly suited to toasting. And you'll have reason to toast, because during happy hour, the Edgewater fills its schooners with domestic drafts for just $3 (they're $3.75 at other times). It's eighteen ounces of liquid joy.

Cassandra Kotnik

Not only is John Broening, Olivea's incredibly talented chef/co-owner, crafting authentic charcuterie in the small confines of his culinary workroom, but he's also making his own headcheese, the tour de force of all offal. There's just something so maniacally pleasurable about seeing all the scraps from the meatiest parts of the pig's head — Broening uses the tongue, too — turned into a gorgeous terrine of fine swine, fat and spices. If you're in the house and Broening is offering it as an off-menu special, you'd be crazy not to order it. And that's the offal truth.

Nothing more profoundly scents a room than the char of smoke-impregnated animal flesh — especially when that flesh has been smoked low and slow over hickory, which is the wood of choice at Boney's Smokehouse, Lamont and Trina Lynch's downtown, down-home temple of barbecue. From long before noon to long into the afternoon, pit worshipers pile in to stuff themselves with deliciously fatty, black-crusted brisket that pulls apart easily; potently spicy sausage links; beautifully seasoned ribs that are quickly stripped clean; and pulled pork, usually slapped between a soft bun and served Carolina style. And such side dishes as the baked beans and the creamy potato salad are solid sidekicks.

Do bagels turn you on? Do you get just as hot and bothered over thick, sesame-seed-encrusted buns as you do over the meat between them? Carb lover, let us introduce you to your next meal: Sexy Pizza's Baked Ziti Pie. Picture it: ziti on top of cheese on top of sauce on top of bread. Eating a slice is like going to a church-basement spaghetti dinner and an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet at the same time. In other words, it's like going to heaven – and then realizing that in heaven, all the carbs you can eat cost just $13.99 for a twelve-inch pie.

Mark Antonation

There are very few dishes on the menu of El Camaron Loco that don't include shrimp. But if you look around the dining room of this Mexican seafood shack on Federal (our favorite of the three metro locations), almost everyone is tucking into a huge goblet of shrimp cocktail. Swamped with a land mine of shellfish bobbing in a soupy tomato broth livened with cilantro leaves and onions, it comes to your table crowned with half-crescents of avocado and additional accoutrements like lime wedges, ketchup and more than a half-dozen bottled hot sauces that you can dribble in to amplify the flavor. The server also delivers a bag of saltines and tostada chips, which you can use as rafts to float the little suckers.

Sushi Den

Denver, we're often reminded by those who can't help themselves, is a landlocked city — which, according to those same clever people who think they know everything, undercuts our ability to serve anything that swims in the ocean. But those people don't know their Starkist from their salmon collar. At the very least, they obviously haven't ever been to Sushi Den, the city's shrine to raw glory. Even after 25 years, Sushi Den remains immaculately fresh, flying in fish daily from Japanese markets and serving it up immaculately, with elegant style. The sushi at the Den is beyond reproach. And as an added benefit, this restaurant offers some of the best beautiful-people watching in town. Get in the swim.

Mark Manger

With all due respect to the rest of the Chinese restaurants in town, China Jade whups your sorry wooden chopsticks. This joint is that glorious rarity whose food makes you moan and groan and sigh and hoot and holler, sometimes all at once. It's the type of place that stops you dead in your stilettos, if only to remind you that you're only as good as your next Chinese meal — which, in this case, will be something from the laminated "secret" Chinese menu. The other menu is inked on yellow paper, and unless you're completely gutless, ignore it. Focus solely on the Chinese menu and take the advice of the servers who will likely steer you toward the cuminum cyminum beef or maybe the twice-cooked pork. Ultimately, it won't matter what you order, because whatever ends up under your nose will be so disarmingly delicious that you'll choke up with gratitude.

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