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.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
Scott Lentz

Gone are the days when looking for a late-night meal meant finding the most palatable diner or drive-thru. Because Euclid Hall was envisioned as a beer hall and tavern, the place stays open as late as most bars, serving its entire menu until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Which means that after most chefs in this town have hung up their toques and closed their kitchens, diners with hunger pangs — or drinking munchies — can still head over to Larimer Square, where they can nosh on blood sausage, foie gras, bone marrow, schnitzel and pork chops. And it's likely that the person at the next table or on the next bar stool will be one of those now-off-duty chefs, taking advantage not just of Euclid's late-night menu, but its industry-friendly deals.

Rioja
Scott Lentz

The hardback cover, a photo of Jennifer Jasinski's braised artichoke and white-truffle tortelloni — a recipe that has made grown men break down in tears faster than negotiations between PETA and the Pork Board — is the first stunning glimpse into The Perfect Bite, Jasinski's self-published cookbook comprising 76 Rioja recipes, including the chef's signature tasting menu, and page after page of glorious photography. Every recipe, insists Jasinski, was tested three times — by her. While those recipes aren't for the timid, the directions are clear and to the point, and if you can pull one off in your kitchen, you'll have earned yourself a culinary gold star.

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