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.

Vesta
Mark Antonation

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.

TAG

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.

Pico De Gallo

Starting at 6 a.m., squadrons of disciples elbow their way through the doors of Pico de Gallo, a comradely strip-mall Mexican joint that pushes a freaking awesome breakfast burrito, among other South-of-the-border beauties. Stuffed like a sumo wrestler before his next throwdown, and more or less the length of a telephone pole and weight of the Titanic, the griddled tortilla is tightly bundled with soft scrambled eggs, crumbles of housemade chorizo that drip with just the right amount of hot grease, and face-slapping roasted jalapeños. And because that's not enough bulk, the kitchen further amps it up with cheese, soft cubed potatoes and a liberal ladleful of spicy green chile, which is also poured on top. It's everything you require from a breakfast burrito. And more.

Comedy Works South
Eric Gruneisen

There's nothing funny about the Gospel Brunch offered at Comedy Works South. This is a serious brunch, and, appropriately enough for this second outpost of the famed comedy club, the spread is all Southern food, a groan-inducing board of carb-heavy and flavor-rich fare that's stunning on its own, but absolutely heavenly when set off by a serving of R&B gospel music. This could be our regular place to worship — but sadly, the Gospel Brunch isn't offered every week. Check with the club for scheduling.

Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik

There are so many reasons to heart Steuben's: the classic cocktail list that never feels old, even though most of the drinks were in vogue around the same time as shag carpet; the righteous soundtrack that begs for a dance floor (or at least a small corner dedicated to disco); tatted servers whose ink inspires you to get your own; nifty T-shirts that pimp pork; and a groovy menu that doesn't see darkness until the clock strikes eleven during the week and midnight on the weekends. And we're not talking about a bar menu or an abbreviated menu, but a full board of favorite American foodstuffs to satisfy the already well-lubricated, as well as those just getting started. Among the standouts: spaghetti and meatballs, deviled eggs, fried chicken, and an incredible green chile cheeseburger.

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