Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe

The sliver of a spot that holds Z Cuisine's A Côté Bar à Absinthe is filled with lovely things: French art, a handmade chandelier, wooden tables topped with candles, and old French movies projected on one wall. The place is intimate without the blatant romantic air (or pricing) of its sibling next door, making it an ideal spot for a girls' night out. Though absinthe is the noted spirit, the wine also pours freely, supplementing a board of bistro food — cheese, foie gras and crepes — that's perfect for sharing between a group of girlfriends, gathered in good light to gossip without the distraction of bar TVs, a rowdy crowd or, worst of all, ogling men.

Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik

The beauty of Steuben's lies in its steadfast refusal to bow to those whose lives are dictated by calorie counters, hour-long infomercials pimping the latest and greatest way to turn no abs into abs of steel, and self-medicating cookbooks penned by the latest diet guru. Those people, sadly, will never experience the exhilaration of inhaling the gravy fries at Steuben's. The retro diner already hustles some of the best hand-cut shoestring fries on the planet, but when they're blanketed with cheese and smothered with a husky, pepper-specked gravy, it's a quick trip to heaven punctuated by exclamation points. The plate is hilariously large, which means you'll have late-night leftovers — and a car that smells like Main Street Americana.

Los Farolitos

This is a city that loves its green chile in all forms, but the verde at Los Farolitos, a sincere Mexican joint shoehorned into a featureless Aurora mini-mall, is the most lovable of all. Tart with tomatillos, specked with oregano and unleashing an unrepentant hot flash of blistering heat, it's the perfect cloak for everything it drapes, including the equally unassailable barbacoa burrito, filled with robust, long-stewed lamb. Everything here, including the Mexican buffet, is worthy of praise, but the green chile consistently delivers. The only bummer is the absence of alcohol to subdue the five-alarm fire, but you can waste away in Margaritaville elsewhere.

Root Down

The happy-hour menu may not be as cheap as at other spots, but at Root Down, you get what you pay for — and much, much more. This eccentric spot has a wonderful vintage-kitsch-meets-modern-funk vibe and a bar that's always buzzing with good cheer — and booze, poured by talented bartenders who know just when we need another round. The happy-hour cocktails include spirited creations like the rosemary-lavender vodka lemonade poured with a heavy hand and a whole lotta love, and the list of happy-hour munchables has something that appeals to everyone's palate. We're partial to the sweet-potato falafel and duck confit sliders, which beat the hell out of mozzarella sticks and nachos any day.

Interstate Kitchen & Bar
Mark Manger

Interstate has the best happy-hour deal in Denver — and not just because it offers the deal twice a day. And not just because the lineup includes a variety of delicious snacks, all of them a bargain. We'd brake at Interstate for the stovetop popcorn alone. Not only is the corn popped in wickedly rich bacon fat, but exec chef Andre Lobato then crowns a generous mound with crumbles of bacon and spice-dusted peanuts. At happy hour, is there anything better than peanuts, popcorn and bacon — especially when you get all three for just three bucks? "Ever since free bar food went the way of the dodo bird — about the same time that people forgot that a martini was a gin drink — we felt we had to do more than just offer straight popcorn if we were gonna charge any amount of money for it," says Lobato. We'd happily pay double.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Denver's been in love with Chipotle ever since Steve Ells opened his first store on East Evans Avenue back in 1993. And with each passing year, Chipotle gives us more to love. Even as the homegrown chain opens more and more restaurants, it keeps working to improve its gourmet Mexican food, strengthening its commitment to sustainably raised meats and sourcing local produce, using its reputation to change the way people think about and eat fast food. Even if it does still come wrapped up in foil. Over the past year, Chipotle opened its 1,000th restaurant, expanded into London, teamed up with food crusader Jamie Oliver to promote the importance of real food — and got Ells face time as a judge on the Next Great Restaurant. Almost two decades in, life is still burrito-ful.

Mile High Vienna Stand

Cubs ticket stubs, Harry Caray photos and other Chicago sports paraphernalia line the walls of Mile High Vienna Stand, channeling the city that's famous for a favorite sports snack: the Chicago dog. Naturally, that's what Mile High Vienna serves. The bona fide Chicago dog starts with a pungent Vienna beef dog, then adds chopped white onions, pickled sport peppers squirting seeds and juice, nuclear-green sweet relish, a dill pickle spear, thin slices of translucent tomato, a ribbon of mustard and a healthy dusting of celery salt, all piled on a perfectly steamed poppyseed bun. Served with a clip of fries, it's as close as you'll get to the Windy City without leaving the Mile High.

Second Home Kitchen and Bar
Hunter Stevens

The lure of finding a young, impressionable female draws more than a few prowling males to Second Home, a clubby, perfectly lit Cherry Creek watering hole in the JW Marriott, where the day's stresses are drowned in aggressively potent cocktails that pack a decisive punch. The long, narrow lounge, bedecked with cushy sofas and chairs, is simultaneously chic and understated, with model types on a mission moving through the room with confidence and a cool attitude, encouraging well-suited men to stop and stare. It's a bustling oasis of flirting and flamboyance, of tourists and locals looking to sip, stretch out and, if the mood warrants, sin.

El Camino Community Tavern
Mark Manger

In its most basic, blissful form, the margarita is nothing more than tequila, triple sec and lime juice — no orange juice, no sugar, and for God's sake, no mix. And while it's possible to achieve good results by gussying up that original recipe — using a premium añejo spirit and Grand Marnier, for example — our utmost respect goes out to those bars that follow the basic recipe and craft a kick-ass house beverage, sold at a house price. Enter El Camino. This spot has a tequila list three pages long, not counting the flights, and offers many varieties of margs — but we're partial to the basic house drink: a mixture of lime juice concentrate, triple sec and El Jimador Blanco, a sexy, smoky 100 percent blue-agave tequila that goes down smooth. Served in a rocks glass rimmed with coarse salt, it packs a refreshing sweet-tart punch and is so easily quaffed that it's almost impossible to say no to another round.

Sweet Cow

O — MOO — GOOD! You really haven't had ice cream until you've had Sweet Cow's. Spike-haired Drew Honness, a young DIY-style entrepreneur who got his start in the ice cream business scooping for Springs-based Josh and John's, runs his ecologically correct concern in downtown Louisville with a friendly air that extends to kids and adults alike, and the ice cream is to die for, no foolin'. The Almond Joy cone comes triple-loaded with ginormous chunks of chocolate, almond and coconut in a creamy, perfectly sweetened base; other flavors include an incredible Chocolate Coffee Bean concoction, Ozo Coffee and a tart Key Lime Pie...and that's not the half of it. The large patio in front makes eating these sweets even sweeter.

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