ChoLon Modern Asian

Chef Lon Symensma may tout it as a charcuterie board on ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro's menu, but this platter of meat and bread is really an ingeniously deconstructed banh mi, an artfully arranged spread of the traditional elements of the Vietnamese street-food sandwich — bread, pâté, shaved meat, mayonnaise, pickles and microgreens — that very much belongs on a special-occasion table. The crisp, delicate toast points, peppery, bacon-wrapped duck terrine and whipped, decadently creamy foie gras and chicken-liver pâté, all sprinkled with salt, are balanced by the crunch of lightly pickled carrots and daikon radishes, as well as the sharp nip of a Chinese mustard-mayonnaise specked with micro cilantro. ChoLon opened in LoDo last fall, and it's a welcome addition not just to the neighborhood, but to the entire Denver dining scene.

Spuntino
Danielle Lirette

We're hot, like California boys on California "Gurls," for popsicles. But not — definitely not — the shirt-staining, artificially flavored ice pops in supermarket freezers: Those suck. So do the ice crystals that pass for popsicles handed out by your creepy neighborhood ice-cream truck driver, all in an effort to force kids to spend their entire allowance just to be able to yell "Bomb Pop" without getting sent to juvie. No, for popsicles that really make your tongue go wild, you've got to head to Spuntino. The popsicles here are made in-house, from natural juices and fruits (and sometimes spices), in some sort of awesome contraption that swirls and whirls and freezes. The flavors change on a whim, but if the incredible celery and lime ice pop is available, buy a case and hoard it like gold. The juice, combined with the intense citrus of the lime, is an unlikely combination that's about as much fun as you can have sucking a stick.

Olivea
Cassandra Kotnik

Sugar sultana Yasmin Lozada-Hissom is arguably Denver's top pastry chef, and her deeply delicious desserts, created in the kitchen of Olivéa, where she shares space with husband and executive chef John Broening, make our veins rupture in rapture. Indulgent, innovative and wholly gratifying, they're culinary masterpieces of art that have been recognized — and heralded — by the James Beard Foundation. Her desserts aren't child's play; rather, they're impassioned, unrepentant creations that make us happy to be grownups — even if they do speak to our childhood fantasies. Her sweets change with the seasons, as does the rest of the menu, but no matter what's up her sleeve — a chocolate and fleur de sel caramel tart, sugar-powdered Italian doughnuts with ricotta and lemon or the honey-almond semifreddo — it'll take you on a sugar-fueled carpet ride that never stops.

Star Kitchen
Lauren Monitz

It's high noon on a Saturday and, predictably, there's a crowd of hungry people pushing through the door, speaking in English and foreign tongues, wondering how long the wait might be for a table. It's just another dim sum day at Star Kitchen, a brightly lit utopia of imaginatively prepared, vibrant dumplings and steamed barbecue buns, floppy shrimp rice-noodle rolls and fried sesame balls. The servers wheel shimmering silver carts through the dining room, offering anything — and everything — you could possibly want from a dim sum (and then some) experience. Bonus: There's beer!

Vesta
Mark Antonation

The Denver Restaurant Week deal lives on at Vesta Dipping Grill, one of the sexiest, best-dressed feedlots in the city. While many restaurants shutter on Mondays, Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth, flaunts her prowess by offering a three-course meal — which changes every month, and often features past Vesta favorites — at the DRW price of $52.80 for two. And Vesta isn't serving any rubber chickens: A recent Monday menu featured duck leg confit with tomato jam; skewered scallops with fingerling potatoes, fennel and bacon aioli; and a Riesling-poached pear dolled up with caramel and cinnamon ice cream. That's a cheap date that delivers.

Pho Duy
Mark Antonation

Tucked into a dilapidated shopping area on Federal and flanked by an impossible-to-maneuver parking lot, Pho Duy has somehow managed to keep slinging pho for nearly two decades. Every seat in the sparse dining room is almost always filled, as staffers scurry through the crowd to take orders, unceremoniously deliver dishes and then clear away the remnants just in time to seat the next group of diners coming in. Save for a few appetizers and specials, this shop simply hawks pho, which starts with dark and pungent beef broth, with depth added by slices of onions cooked soft, their flavor infused into the liquid. The boiling broth is poured over a nest of rice noodles and your choice of peppery, tender flank steak, chewy chunks of tendon, textured strips of tripe and other meaty combinations; the diner tosses in fresh basil, bean sprouts, lime and spicy sriracha to taste. So pho, so good.

The Kentucky Inn reopened in December 2017, after a five-month remodel.
Mark Antonation
The Kentucky Inn reopened in December 2017, after a five-month remodel.

Dive right in! An utterly unceremonious spot that we'd never want to see in the light of day, the Kentucky Inn is a classic dive that's never been anything but. A jukebox serves up drinker's picks, which range from Eminem to Miles Davis to Metallica, depending on who's in control. A pool table occasionally plays host to a group of Wash Park neighbors who wander in for drinks. But most regulars just cozy up to the bar, where amiable bartender Red pours all sorts of alcohol (including PBR, cider and fernet), engages everyone in conversation, and keeps us coming back when we've got nothing but time on our hands.

Falling Rock Tap House

It's hard to argue with an entire wall of taps representing some of the best breweries in Colorado, the country and the world — unless you're drunk. Which you might be, since many of the rare and hard-to-find beers here have a nice, hefty alcohol level. For years, the tap list made Falling Rock Tap House the only place for beer geeks — local or visiting — to gather in Denver for a pint, before a Rockies game, during the Great American Beer Festival or for a special event. Thanks to Denver's burgeoning beer culture, Falling Rock is no longer the only place. But with 75 brews on tap, some of which are nearly impossible to find elsewhere in Colorado, the beer list still makes it your happy place.

Devil's Food Cookery
Cassandra Kotnik

How do you make really excellent eggs Benedict? Perfect each element and then combine for peak perfection. Devil's Food starts with a base of slightly sweet, lightly toasted, spongy challah bread, topping it with thick cuts of ham and a couple of quivering poached eggs, the yolks simultaneously runny and thick. All of that is smothered in the tangy, housemade, paprika-specked hollandaise, a sauce so bright, hearty and savory that we could eat it with a spoon. On the Benedict, though, it mixes with the yolk, creating a decadently rich and creamy combination — and you'll want to use every morsel of bread you can spare to sop it up.

Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant
Mark Manger

Save for a few maps of Ethiopia, the decor at Queen of Sheba, an East Colfax storefront, is modest. But the food? As owner Zewditu (Zodi) Aboye's daughter puts it, "Some people just have a gift for cooking, you know?" From a partially visible kitchen, Aboye turns out stellar renditions of her home country's cuisine: stews of earthy lentils, gamey yebeg wott thick with chunks of lamb, and tender legs of juicy, roasted chicken, all infused with the piquant smoke of berbere, the spice that's ubiquitous in this type of fare. Those stews come on a platter, hemmed in with tart, spongy injera (like a flat sourdough) used for scooping everything up between fingers. To wash it all down, Aboye pours Ethiopian honey wine and Harar beer, of course. Denver is lucky to have many Ethiopian restaurants, but Queen of Sheba rules.

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