Best Shrimp Cocktail 2010 | El Camaron Loco | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.

Hunter Stevens

For those who can't decide between a T-bone and a twice-baked potato, chicken and waffles, lobster pot pie or a green-chile-smothered pork chop partnered with scalloped potatoes, we have good news for you: All of those dishes grace the menu of Second Home, the restaurant at the JW Marriott. The wide-ranging menu reads like a love letter extolling your mom's home cooking, and it's so full of rib-sticking, retro nostalgia that it's only a matter of time before the TV in the bar starts airing Mickey Mouse Club reruns.

Sure, plenty of places serve fashionable, frou-frou martinis, featuring chocolate or pineapple or organic juniper berries. And the affable bartenders at the Avenue Grill are willing to make a martini just about any way a customer asks for it. Over the years, this go-to spot has made other changes, too, including recently adding a Saturday brunch. But when we're ordering a martini, we like to cling to tradition, and our favorite remains the classic that they've been pouring for more than two decades: big, icy and guaranteed to leave you shaken, if not stirred.

At brunch at Colt & Gray, the lovely restaurant that made its long-awaited debut on Platte Street last August, the French-press coffee is woody and rich and strong. It has to be, in order to prepare you for the duck confit hash, served with the most beautifully poached eggs you've ever seen, the streams of yolk brighter than a yellow cab. Or for the heavenly, egg-crowned croque madame coupled with an unexpectedly vibrant tomato soup; if you're a heathen, you dunk the former into the latter and thank the kitchen for robbing you of any gram of refinement. That same kitchen also slyly seduces you with luscious potatoes, sliced the thinness of a silver dollar, edged crisp and rendered in foie gras and duck fat. When you've popped the last one through your lips and let out a long groan, your server nods in empathy. Few dishes in the galaxy are as wicked good as those potatoes. After brunch at Colt & Gray, you'll be ready for a long nap — but you'll wake up eager to return for dinner.

Scott Lentz

Everything about Rioja radiates perfection, from the flavors and flourishes on the plate to the wine list and waitstaff — which is precisely the kind of faultless experience you should expect when you're celebrating an anniversary, bar mitzvah, time off for good behavior or an extra five hours of furlough. If you're part of the precious few still flush with a no-holds-barred expense account, you may as well uncork a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne for $185 before moving on to a 2006 Numanthia Termes Termanthia Toro for a mere $525. To complement your impeccable taste in grapes, chef Jennifer Jasinski turns out a similarly flawless menu, beginning with oysters Rockefeller, tuna prepared two ways, or a "picnic" of artisan meats and cheeses. Follow the bliss with Jasinski's paella gnocchi or her braised Wagyu boneless beef short ribs. And for dessert, beignets plumped with black mission figs and goat cheese and a glass of 2007 Mission Hill Reserve Riesling Icewine. When the bill comes, kiss the feet of your host and hope that he invites you back for a repeat visit.

The candies created by Seth Ellis Chocolatier are wildly expensive, but each small piece yields a sensational level of flavor. These candies are developed by Rick Levine, who's devoted to the natural and organic and would rather boil down a field of mint leaves to create the decorative green squiggle on a chocolate than resort to artificial flavor. As a result, the pieces are elegant and inventive — an unusual marriage of lemon peel and dark chocolate, for example, or Levine's nut-free take on the peanut-butter cup, which uses sunflower-seed butter. You can find Seth Ellis chocolates at Whole Foods or order them online.

A classic cocktail deserves a classy, classic setting. The Brown Palace's Churchill Bar is like an exclusive club, complete with comfy leather chairs and obsequious service — but the only membership requirement here is that you cover the cost of your drink. And what a drink: The Churchill features an extensive roster of premium spirits, including an impressive array of Scotch, and creates each cocktail with painstaking care, using heavy silver shakers and expensive crystal. Get really decadent and puff on a cigar while you sip your drink: This is one of the few spots in town with a cigar-bar exemption, and it sells more than sixty stogies on site. In a town full of great saloons, the Churchill is a true classic.

Sarah McGill

FBI agents make the best drinking companions because they never steal the limelight. They couldn't if they tried: After a rigorous background check, each is hand-selected by Uncle Sam specifically for his or her lack of blackmailable individuality. Then the agents are all meticulously trained to keep their yappers shut and to listen long and hard. There's no need to conduct an investigation to find these ideal drinking companions: You can always find one on a bar stool at the Stockyard Saloon. That's the legendary bar and restaurant adjacent to the historic Livestock Exchange Building in the National Western Complex, which happens to be home to the FBI's penthouse offices for violent crime, Indian country crime, violent fugitive, major theft, transportation crime and violent gang units. You'll know these agents when you see them: They're the ones who cling to your every word.

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