The Village Cork

Sociable, inviting and foreplay-heavy with the murmurs and hums of flirtatious couples, the Village Cork earns a coveted spot in our amply lubed livers for its whimsy, its far-reaching list of wines by the bottle and glass, and its chalkboard menu of sumptuous sharable plates, including beef short ribs, roasted chicken and a trifecta of thrilling vegetarian dishes from new chef Samir Mohammad. Notable deals — 25 percent off "by the bottle" selections every Tuesday and Wednesday, and $5 pours by the glass on open bottles after 9 p.m. during the week and 10 p.m. on weekends — give us reason after reason to return again and again.

Bull & Bush Brewery
Hunter Stevens

The Bull & Bush is one of a handful of brewpubs in town that sell growlers — 64-ounce glass containers — that you can fill up and take with you. At this 39-year-old brewpub, you spend $12 for your first growler and then bring it back for $8 refills (of anything on tap aside from special releases). But on Tuesdays, Bull & Bush knocks a buck off both those prices. And if you get a growler punch card, your tenth refill is on the house.

Il Mondo Vecchio

Mark DeNittis, Adam DeSacco and Gennaro DeSantis are Denver's salumi sultans, and they've gifted us with Il Mondo Vecchio, the state's first (and only) USDA-inspected salumeria. During the tasting tours, which must be arranged in advance, DeNittis will seduce you with the best pepperoni you've ever tasted; make you kneel in gratitude just from the scent of the longanzia spiced with garlic, paprika and hints of citrus; and induce sighs of rapture as you sample the duck breast prosciutto, veal pancetta, guancie baciate, vino e pepe and whatever else the man is excited about — which is usually everything. There's no retail space and no cafe (though there's talk of doing both in the future), but you can order the meats directly from the website.

Colt & Gray

Last year, when owner/chef Nelson Perkins revealed plans to open Colt & Gray, he swore up and down that, if nothing else, his kitchen would put forth Denver's best burger. In a city that lives and dies by its beef, those were fighting words. And when that city is suddenly enjoying a windfall of burger joints — with more in the pipeline — that kind of declaration holds as much water as a leaky thimble. But you know what? Perkins was the wrong guy to doubt, because his burger — a stocky, juice-drooling hand-formed patty of loosely packed, house-ground dry-aged chuck, paved, if you want, with a swatch of really good Gruyère and shoved between the lightly grilled cheeks of a brioche bun — is indeed the best burger in town.

Lechuga's Italian Restaurant & Lounge
Courtesy of Lechuga's

Lechuga's is one of the great pasta-and-pizza joint holdouts that testify to northwest Denver's great Italian tradition. The generous calzones are nothing to sneeze at, but what sends patron's tastebuds spinning is the infamous Little Devil: spicy sausage, wrapped in spicy jalapeño, locked down in a chewy, fresh-baked roll. Dip it (or just smother it) in sweet marinara sauce and enjoy. Then have another. And another. Perfect for lunch, dinner, a sizable snack — or whenever you need that special reward for having been entirely too angelic — the Little Devil proves it's better to dine in hell than diet in heaven.

Why is Federal Boulevard Denver's best stretch of asphalt for pumping up your spare tire? Because of joints like El Taco Veloz, where a meager $1.75 gets you a steaming corn tortilla abundantly mounted with whatever animal flesh rocks your world, plus onions and cilantro and access to the bar of Mexican condiments, a startling reservoir of grilled or pickled jalapenos and incendiary salsas (including an absolutely amazing avocado and tomatillo version), trays of pickled onions, carrots and chiles, and tubs of everything from cucumbers and radishes to slivered red onions and fat wedges of lime. Our favorite style of taco is the al pastor, spit-carved and topped with pineapple, and so popular that this particular meat has its own spindle in a special corner of the rollicking taqueria.

Our ship came in the day Oceanaire landed in Denver. The restaurant itself has the feel of a vintage ocean liner, with a comfortable, clubby bar; the service is formal but friendly. But what really floats our boat at Oceanaire is the seafood: fresh fish brought in six days a week from around the globe, then handled with care by a kitchen that knows how to handle these creatures, even in landlocked Denver. And chef Matt Mine keeps his menu as fresh as the fish that's its mainstay, changing up plates, offering specials and making sure that the side dishes and meat-and-potatoes fare on offer are just as good as the seafood. Which is the best in Denver.

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.

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