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.

Novo Roasting Facility

Herb, Jake and Joe Brodsky are passionate about getting the best cup of coffee possible into the hands of consumers. And so they spend a lot of time forging relationships, searching for beans and perfecting the processing of Novo Coffee. Their search for perfection sends them to Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Indonesia and many other corners of the world, but then they bring their finds back to their warehouse just north of downtown Denver, where they use a custom-built roaster to finish the coffee for packaging. The father-and-sons team is obsessive about quality control, checking for flaws and roasting in small batches; the Brodskys are also willing educators and ardent about building the coffee community, conducting on-premise cuppings with the public to explain the nuances of beans, roasts and brewing methods. But a cup of Novo coffee speaks for itself: It's rich, complex, heady and absolutely delicious.

La Villa Real
Mark Manger

The two trucks that comprise the La Villa Real operation hold down two very different corners in Denver: one at Alameda and Raritan, the other at Fourth and Federal. But both attract a steady stream of regulars who shout their orders through a window over the noise of a sizzling grill, ordering tacos piled with spicy strips of carne asada or bits of grilled tripe or shredded beef, all drooling juice, all accompanied by fiery roasted chiles and sweet grilled onions, chunks of avocado and fresh cilantro. Or they might go for fat burritos, bursting with gooey beans and meat, drizzled with sour cream and salsa, the entire package wrapped tightly in foil for easy transport and consumption. But the specialty at La Villa Real is the gordita: a couple of flat corn rounds slightly thicker than tortillas sandwiching a filling of grilled meat, spicy peppers and white cheddar, the tidy package griddled until a golden-brown crust forms around the edges and the cheese oozes. Just about everything on the incredibly authentic menu is under $5 — which is why Villa Real has customers who stop by not just for the best lunch under $5, but the best dinner, too.

The crew at Tom's Home Cookin' cooks up real comfort food, serving up plates of fried chicken and catfish as well as such typical Southern sides as sweet potatoes and peach cobbler. But one side definitely qualifies as the main event: the macaroni and cheese. You get a baseball-sized scoop of fat elbow macaroni swimming in creamy, orange cheese sauce that recalls butter, Velveeta and childhood. This dish isn't fancy, but if you've got a hankering for the kind of mac and cheese your mom used to make, Tom's does it exactly right. And that's what comfort food is all about.

Encore on Colfax

Any bar can ice down three ounces of vodka or gin and pour it in an up glass, but a true martini is a classic cocktail, made with care above all. It also contains gin, vermouth and maybe a dash of bitters, stirred and served up with a twist. If you order a martini at Encore, you'll know you're in the hands of a pro immediately: The bartender's first question is "sweet or dry?" No matter your response, the bar makes a spot-on rendition of the drink, a balanced mix of one of a handful of gins and top-notch Dolin vermouth. Garnished with a fragrant lemon twist, the drink is crisp and refreshing — and might even make a martini lover out of a staunch non-believer.

Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet
Mark Antonation

The buffet at this Mexican restaurant is a spectacular parade of chafing dishes swelled with just about every Mexican dish under the blazing sun: barbacoa; menudo; posole, one with pork, the other with shrimp; ceviche de pescado; tacos dorados; tinga de pollo; fried fish; enchiladas de roja and verde; fish and shrimp soup; costilla de puerco; nopalitos; a half-dozen salsas. At least three, maybe four dozen items vie for your attention, and they're all stupid-good. It could take weeks to eat your way through all of the opportunities, which means only one thing: Start now. And finish with the pig-snout tacos, succulent and salty (and thankfully devoid of nostril hairs), scattered with diced onions, cilantro and splashes of tomatillo salsa.

Shish Kabob Grill
Lori Midson

For more than six years, Shish Kabob Grill, a block from the State Capitol and a million miles from Lebanon, has been a popular Mideast feast house for falafel and fattouch, baba ghanouj and beef kafta kabobs, grape leaves and gyros, tabbouleh and hummus. The food, created, cooked and plated in an open kitchen, is stunningly prepared. The hummus is a particular standout: nutty, silky, tart with lemon juice and jolted with enough garlic to stupefy a clique of vampires, stained with sumac and perfectly on point with its chickpea-to-sesame-paste ratio. Like just about every other dish here, it's served with large rounds of piping-hot toasted pita that, while not baked in-house, is still a very good utensil for mopping up the fantastic mess.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of