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.

Hops & Pie
Mark Manger

Beer taps are our friends. They are utilitarian devices, often carefully and creatively adorned at the handle with a beer name and brand. But rarely do we give our friends their own names. At Hops & Pie, owners Drew and Leah Watson have a special tap, one that serves a house beer, Hops & PiePA, made just for the restaurant by Strange Brewing Company. Hoptymus Pryme, as they call it, pushes the beer through a water filter that has been filled with whole-flower Cascade hops, giving it a bright and pungent freshness. The handle, meanwhile, is hand-blown glass made by neighbor Shackman Glass Studio, also on Tennyson Street. Try it – you'll be transformed.

Locanda Del Borgo
Mark Manger

Just folksy enough to make fidgety rugrats feel like they're not a nuisance, but classy enough to make their well-heeled adult guardians feel coddled, this warmly welcoming shrine to Italian cuisine is the kind of restaurant that neighbors and non-neighbors alike seek out when they want a home away from home. Part of that stems from the affable — and never moody — servers, who are well-versed in both food and wine; the other half can be attributed to chef Giancarlo Macchiarella, who cooks with sincerity, discharging dishes with minimal fuss and fanfare but maximum results: housemade ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach and pooled in a light cream sauce scented with sage; ricotta gnocchi dotted with speck; a seaworthy cioppino buoyant with seafood; and lovely pizzas festooned with standout ingredients.

Ernie's Bar & Pizza

People flock to Ernie's every night, using this Highland restaurant for everything from a heated game of Skee-Ball with a first date to a respite from that home office. Groups convene over massive bowls of family-style salads, platters of meat and cheese and large, thin-crust pizzas; individuals post up at the bar to nurse local draft beers and catch a game on TV. The restaurant has a convivial, open atmosphere that's conducive to both intimacy and socializing, making you comfortable even if you've never been here before. Ernie's may not be in your neighborhood, but it's exactly the kind of restaurant every neighborhood needs.

Table 6
Cassandra Kotnik

Is it the smashing wine list, the Sunday brunch that encourages a pajama-clad clientele, a sommelier who has a fetish for deliberately mismatched clothes, the riotous din, or chef Scott Parker's exceptional food that makes you wonder if you've somehow just stepped into a restaurant that's more akin to a playground, where frolic and fun are the name of the game? Parker's daily-changing, seasonally conscious menu never gets tired, and never, ever feels aggressively trendy. Instead, he does what he wants, when he wants, culling from cult-quality ingredients that are carefully prepared with subtle fits of flair. His innovative split-pea and porcetta soup is mind-numbingly good, as is the shrimp risotto, matched with melted leeks and arugula. And whereas many restaurants view their sugar finales as afterthoughts, here they're anything but: Try the close-to-perfect beignets or the lemon panna cotta, then express your gratitude by buying the kitchen crew a six-pack of suds.

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