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.

Sweet Action Ice Cream
Danielle Lirette

Vegans and lactose-intolerants know all too well that sometimes the best stuff, like pizza and fettuccine Alfredo and especially ice cream, is made with milk. But those who shun dairy no longer have to suffer in the summer — or settle for sorbet. Sweet Action Ice Cream, a bastion of rotating flavors of homemade deliciousness, regularly has one or two vegan options in the mix, including vegan cookie dough, vegan cinnamon roll and vegan cherry chocolate chip, made with a base of coconut cream instead of dairy and just as smooth and sinfully decadent as the ice cream that actually contains cream. Check the shop's Facebook page for the flavors of the day.

Mirch Indian Grill

The southern suburbs, with their mega-priced steakhouses, chain horrors and multimillion-dollar mansions, are hardly where you'd expect to find the most interesting Indian restaurant in the city — hustling Indian street food, no less. The two Mirch Indian Grill outposts are brightly hued, comfortably informal shrines to Bollywood, where Indian pop music pulsates from the speakers while the kitchen turns out authentic foods that have made that country a culinary mecca. The menu, which reads like a personal travelogue, is full of beautifully prepared, flavor-bombed dishes, including "Frankies," griddled rotis smeared with chutney and a thin layer of scrambled egg and rolled with cubed lamb, chicken or potatoes; somosa chaat spread with yogurt, chutneys and chickpeas; meaty kabobs; and aloo tikki, crisp potato patties lashed with bold spices. Just make sure to save stomach space for the diabolically good mango ice-cream sandwiches.

Panzano
Linnea Covington

Elise Wiggins, the enormously talented executive chef of Panzano, holds true to a steadfast rule when she designs her menus: "The dishes I create are all mine: I don't copy what anyone else is doing," she insists. Indeed, Wiggins marches to her own drummer, and her contemporary, come-hither Italian dishes — seductive, sophisticated and classier than a cashmere shawl — are draped in marked individuality; her creative standards, right down to the impeccable happy-hour board, perfectly reflect her reverence for Italian food done right. Among the showstoppers: salumi ravioli pocketed with cured meats and cheeses; Hazel Dell-mushroom crepes blanketed with a luxe fonduta sauce; and pan-fried Brussels sprouts, charred and crisp, splashed with apple cider vinegar and tossed with toasted pistachios and slivers of green apple.

Izakaya Amu
Samantha Baker

Loosely translated, the word "amu" means "everything and nothing." Amu is a quiet sliver of a restaurant attached to the raucous Sushi Zanmai, easily missed by the masses but fervently supported by fans and Boulder's chefs, who spend hours in this authentic izakaya. Amu doesn't serve sushi, as the robed chefs behind the narrow bar will note when a guest walks through the door. Instead, it serves other classic Japanese dishes: glittering fried green mussels served in their shells with plenty of Japanese mayonnaise; a perfect piece of red tuna set on a soft, delicate paste made from mountain yam; mochi kakiage, a chewy Japanese rice cake that's battered and fried; and superb aged ashi tofu, delicate and silky with a crispy fried shell, served in a subtle ponzu broth with a pinch of minced green onions and a single pickled carrot cut into a tiny star resting atop the glorious, golden mass. The food may look so simple it seems like nothing, but that simplicity is everything to a fabulous Japanese meal.

Seoul BBQ & Sushi
Mark Manger

Every meal at the upscale Seoul BBQ starts with the superb, complimentary banchan, a collection of a dozen or so tiny dishes that showcase what Korean cuisine is all about. Savory mini-omelettes full of garlic and scallions. Baked Korean yams doused in sweet syrup. Crisp pickles, totori muk acorn jelly and, of course, kimchi, pickled napa cabbage coated in chili oil. You hardly need an entree after that, but Seoul also makes excellent Korean specialties such as bulgogi — strips of marinated beef sizzling on a grill pan — and bibimbap, a clay pot of rice topped with a yolky egg and savory ribeye, getting crispier as it sits.

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