Gypsy House Cafe

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 Noodle House

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.

Great Divide Brewing Co.
Eric Gruneisen

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.

Masalaa

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.

Brasserie Felix

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.

Rackhouse Pub

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.

El Paraiso
Mark Manger

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 and Seafood Market
Cassandra Kotnik

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.

What you should eat at Vesta Dipping Grill: the cheese plate, simply one of the best in the city. Also anything the kitchen does with duck, or beef, or pig, or venison or lamb — especially lamb. Definitely Matty's Wacky Apple, dipped in caramel and swathed in crunch. And the samosas, which fly under the radar but are vastly better than any samosa that's ever passed your lips at a curry house. An Indian food habit as common as mustard on a hot dog, samosas are standard at just about every Indian joint, and they all taste (and look) more or less the same. But at Vesta, the pocket-sized street snacks are softer, shapelier and sexier than their counterparts, with soft, subtle hints of curry scenting the smash of mashed potatoes and peas tucked within their shell. They come in a basket with a pair of dipping sauces just short of ambrosial.

Troy Guard's TAG, which he launched last May in Larimer Square, swaggers one of Denver's brashest border-crossing kitchens — a kitchen that slants toward the other F-word. So what? Guard is a master of multiculturalism, and his menu, which is full of playfully modern dishes that usually erupt into something wondrous, is smart, hip and approachable. He sets off his flash-seared hiramama with pricks of jalapeños and Pop Rocks in a basin of white soy and yuzu; creates his own interpretation of French onion soup, which results in irresistible "soup" dumplings that explode with juice; and plates his duo of meaty lamb chops, studded and glazed with all things Asian, in a pool of no fewer than four sauces. In the hands of a less confident chef, all this might spell disaster — but in Guard's grasp, fusion turns out food that's nothing short of miraculous.

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