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.

Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik

We live in hip times, times when out-on-the-town diners can order flights of just about anything — from wine to bacon to pancakes. But what about our hip kids? How can we keep them in the loop? The answer is the milk flight at Steuben's, which consists of a glass of chocolate milk, a glass of vanilla and a glass of strawberry. It's a creative treat so fun that adults can order it, too. Just watch out for the multi-colored milk mustache.

H Burger Co.
Cassandra Kotnik

It's great being an adult: You can have dessert first. And you'll want to every time you eat at H Burger, which makes liquid-nitrogen milkshakes so cold and creamy they're almost powdery, with a texture like that mouthful of snow you get when you follow a friend down a ski hill after a big dumping — though they come out to the tables with billows of nitrogen smoke rolling off the tops. The hazelnut-chocolate Nutella version is particularly delightful, sinfully decadent and topped with tiny marshmallows that crack on the teeth and dissolve instantly on the tongue. Richer still is the shake that combines chocolate and peanut butter; more refreshing is the crisp, fruity strawberry-mint rendition.

El Camino Community Tavern
Mark Manger

El Camino is known for several things, including stiff drinks and the joint's near-bottomless bowls of queso — but the appropriately named grande nachos should be at the top of the heap. Whether you have the guts to down the entire platter on your own is debatable, but three amigos, maybe two, should have no problem plowing through the pile of chips, slightly toasted on the edges, draped with curtains of cheese, and elevated to near-ceiling heights with properly seasoned refritos, hefty dollops of sour cream and guacamole, a feisty jalapeño-laced salsa, and a generous push of meat — chicken, beef or crisp-edged carnitas. This is drunk-junk food at its finest.

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