Viet's Restaurant

Jammed into the corner of the Far East Center, Viet's is the unsung emperor of Vietnamese restaurants, the handsome prince among the plebes of Federal Boulevard, the kind of discovery that every gastronaut dreams of making. And there's no discovery here more dazzling than the House Special, which includes an array of different dishes — soft-shell crab, grilled ropes of pork, pudgy shrimp, golden Vietnamese egg rolls, shrimp paste and shrimp cupcakes — heaped on a platter and served with rice noodles, a glistening mound of lettuces, cilantro, mint, basil and julienned turnips and carrots, and spring roll wrappers in which to clumsily roll your vegetables, slippery noodles and meats, then dunk into bowls of nuoc cham whipped with chile flakes. It's a stunning blizzard of textures and flavors that everyone should eat at least once in their lifetime. But why stop there? To make the best even better, Viet's pours sake and wine.

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Los Cabos II

Los Cabos II
Eric Gruneisen

"Puro Peru," promises the website of Los Cabos II, and this downtown restaurant delivers. Peruvian food is some of the strangest, most delicious stuff in the world — a mishmash of centuries of cultural influences thrown together on one plate. Spanish conquistadors, Arabs and Moors, explorers bringing spices from India, Italian cartographers, historic Creoles, African slaves and Asian immigrants — they've all added to the rich history of Peruvian cookery. And at Los Cabos, you can taste all of that (or most of it, anyway) every time you walk through the door. Your best bet: the $15 international buffet from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, which adds a world tour to the already generous weekday buffet lunch.

Melita's Greek Cafe & Market

There are people who come to Melita's to bulk up on Greek feta; others stock up on sumac, a lemony powder that the Greeks use on, well, just about everything. Still others pop in for the aptly named "Hercules" burger, five or six inches of heft favored by those whose only afternoon requirement is a really long nap. But it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be just as happy with the Greek pizza, a sphere of chewy pita bread brushed with Greek olive oil and piled with salty feta, grilled onions, tomatoes and peppers, kalamata olives, shavings of well-seasoned gyro meat and, if you ask nicely, a dusting of sumac. This isn't your corner pizza, or your grandmother's pizza, or like any other pizza you've stuffed into your pie hole, and that's the whole point.

Lucile's Creole Cafe
Courtesy Lucile's Creole Cafe Facebook

There are now branches of Lucile's in Fort Collins, Longmont and Denver, but the only true Lucile's is the one situated in a charming Victorian house on a side street just off the Pearl Street Mall, a spot this restaurant has occupied for almost thirty years. Lucile's served good coffee long before everyone started talking shade-grown, organic, single origin or fair trade, along with big, sloppy, delicious breakfast plates of eggs, cheese, potatoes, spinach and/or salmon, and lunch offerings that include homemade andouille sausage, red beans and rice, and huge, gorgeous buttermilk biscuits, full of cracks and crevices for butter to slide into before they're topped with homemade rhubarb-strawberry jam. Enjoy them in a Mardi Gras atmosphere, complete with a poster of Haiti's Aristide on one wall, colorful frayed bits of cloth that serve as napkins and a photo on the menu of owner Fletcher Richards as an infant in his mother's arms. And save room for the sugar-dusted beignets.

Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington

There's nothing cheap about Sushi Sasa, the elegant — and expanding — sushi restaurant at the edge of downtown. Not the toned and tony clientele, the kind of customers who never bobble their chopsticks, stab their toro or dip their rice into the dish of soy sauce. And not the raw fish, not the Chilean sea bass steamed in a salty black bean sauce, not the seared tuna tataki on a jungle of greens, not the freshly grated wasabi, and certainly not the scene-stealing omakase, a $40 tasting menu of lovely compositions from chef/owner Wayne Conwell. If that sounds too rich for your thinning wallet, find someone who owes you a favor. Or money.

D Bar Desserts

You would think that D Bar Desserts, the dessert bar that Food Network star Keegan Gerhard and his wife, Lisa Bailey, brought to Denver almost two years ago, offers enough of a sugar rush just with the incredible desserts and other goodies on offer; the crowds that pack this little joint certainly come away satisfied. But late on weekend nights, if you time things right, you might find a very special special: Brown Sugar Shenanigans, when Jay Brown comes out of the kitchen and offers a dirty (though clothed) dance for a customer celebrating a birthday or other noteworthy event. Although this dish isn't officially on the menu, call ahead to see if you can order it.

How do we love Lola? Let us count the ways. We love the history of the building it resides in, an old mortuary that served as the almost-final resting place of Buffalo Bill (he couldn't be buried on Lookout Mountain until after the ground thawed). We love looking out over the city from its deck, heated so that you can enjoy the view year-round. We love the brunch, with the inventive specials that change every weekend. We love the happy-hour deals, when you can grab a great taco for $3. We love the music on Sunday afternoons, and the special-occasion dinners, and the accidental dinners, when you come for a quick snack and wind up swimming in a whole fish. And above all, we love the margaritas. Lola stocks more than 150 tequilas, and mixologist Jimmy Zanon is always using them in new ways — but our favorite remains the house marg, perfectly mixed, very strong, and pure love in a glass.

You go to the Edgewater Inn for the pizza and the atmosphere — "Howdy, paisano!" — but you won't be able to leave without ordering a schooner. Perhaps the most festively shaped drinking vessel known to man, schooners are like giant, rounded margarita glasses perfectly suited to toasting. And you'll have reason to toast, because during happy hour, the Edgewater fills its schooners with domestic drafts for just $3 (they're $3.75 at other times). It's eighteen ounces of liquid joy.

Olivea
Cassandra Kotnik

Not only is John Broening, Olivea's incredibly talented chef/co-owner, crafting authentic charcuterie in the small confines of his culinary workroom, but he's also making his own headcheese, the tour de force of all offal. There's just something so maniacally pleasurable about seeing all the scraps from the meatiest parts of the pig's head — Broening uses the tongue, too — turned into a gorgeous terrine of fine swine, fat and spices. If you're in the house and Broening is offering it as an off-menu special, you'd be crazy not to order it. And that's the offal truth.

Nothing more profoundly scents a room than the char of smoke-impregnated animal flesh — especially when that flesh has been smoked low and slow over hickory, which is the wood of choice at Boney's Smokehouse, Lamont and Trina Lynch's downtown, down-home temple of barbecue. From long before noon to long into the afternoon, pit worshipers pile in to stuff themselves with deliciously fatty, black-crusted brisket that pulls apart easily; potently spicy sausage links; beautifully seasoned ribs that are quickly stripped clean; and pulled pork, usually slapped between a soft bun and served Carolina style. And such side dishes as the baked beans and the creamy potato salad are solid sidekicks.

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