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.

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.

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.

Thai Food Cart

You'll wait for twenty minutes, maybe thirty, sometimes even forty before it's finally your turn to step up and order from She Who Won't Be Rushed, the conversational but don't-push-me Thai woman who single-handedly commands the sensational Thai Food Cart on the 16th Street Mall. And once you've made it to the front of the queue, decisions await: Do you want the heat level with your pad Thai "baby spice," "nice spicy," "medium high" or "fire?" And that last option you should take very, very seriously, because She Who Won't Be Rushed is also She Who Isn't Afraid to Kill You With Fire. Get the pad Thai — large or extra large — as well as a bag of seriously awesome crab wontons, drunken noodles and banana wraps, and then, when you're ready to go back for more, give one of the mall rats a few bucks to stand in line so that you don't have to.

Sweet Action Ice Cream
Danielle Lirette

Who'd have thought that the hottest spot on SoBo would serve ice cream? When Samantha Kopicko and Chia Basinger opened their storefront spot last year, they just wanted to serve up the very best homemade ice cream they could, using milk and cream from Diamond D Natural Dairy and spices from Savory Spice Shop to create dozens of truly cool new flavors — including the incredible Stranahan's Whiskey Brickle, featuring Colorado's own whiskey. But in the process, they've become a must-stop for all the hipsters heading out for a night on the town.

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