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.

Infinite Monkey Theorem

According to the infinite monkey theorem, a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. But could a monkey squeezing grapes for even an infinite amount of time ever come up with wines as wonderful as those created by Ben Parsons at his Infinite Monkey Theorem? That's the urban winery he opened last year in a very unlikely area just off Santa Fe Drive. Parsons has quickly become part of the community, though, working with artists on special pairings and offering tours of his place, where you can buy the nine wines — four whites and five reds (so far). It may not be the city's biggest selection of vino, but it's very, very choice. And fortunately, given the limited public hours at the winery, it's now available at 125 local bars and restaurants.

Odell Brewing Company

What could go better with a social beverage than social media? Last spring, Odell Brewing Company asked beer enthusiasts to tweet suggested styles for the company's first Twitter Brew poll. After the votes were tallied, the brewery asked followers to tweet suggested qualities such as color, strength, body and hop character, as well as the name and tap handle design. The resulting Twitter Brew, a schwarzbier, went on tap in June, and the ten kegs were quickly drained. Odell, which now has 4,500 followers on Twitter, will create a new Twitter Brew later this year. Call it a retweet.

Deluxe

In 2003, when Dylan Moore opened Deluxe on a stretch of South Broadway that was better known for its bar brawls than its restaurants, he knew was taking a risk. But his first menu, a straight-ahead California board, was a quick hit. Since then, even as he's added new ventures (Delite next door, Deluxe Burger over on East Colfax), he's occasionally added new dishes to Deluxe's lineup — but the one constant has been the masa-fried oyster shooters, which are so brain-numbingly transcendent that we wouldn't be the only ones to kick Moore's ass from here to the California coastline if he ever dared to shuck them from the menu. He arranges the shelled meat on five Asian soup spoons couched with a tomato, lime and cilantro-studded salsa fresca, then tops the bronzed jackets with a smoky jalapeño aioli. And that, people, is love at first bite...after bite...after bite.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Danielle Lirette

Biker Jim, aka Jim Pettinger, a former repo man who slings Denver's best wieners from his polished stainless-steel carts downtown and, more recently, from the parking lot of Argonaut Liquors, knew he'd struck culinary gold when acerbic food mouthpiece Tony Bourdain declared publicly, to a full audience at the Temple Buell Theater, that he'd "been to the mountaintop and found enlightenment" at Jim's stand at 16th and Arapahoe, where Bourdain had spent the afternoon stuffing weenies down his throat. All of Jim's sausages are creatures of beauty, but the Alaskan reindeer showboat takes top dog for its mildly gamey flavor, woodsy earthiness and slightly spicy kick. As with all of his offerings, Jim splits it down the middle, sears it on a blazing grill and tucks it into a crusty roll speared with a shot of cream cheese from a rifle-sized caulking gun, then heaps it with a mound of grilled onions soaked in Coca-Cola. Hot dog!

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