Best Nachos 2011 | El Camino | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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

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.

Courtesy Locanda del Borgo Facebook

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.

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.

Courtesy Table 6

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.

Mark Manger

From the moment Jesse Morreale bought the old First Avenue Hotel, he envisioned something special for the big space on the first floor that faces both Broadway and First Avenue. And he created it with El Diablo, a hellaciously clever tequila joint and Mexican restaurant. (Sean Yontz is in charge of the kitchen.) To one side are booths beneath Mexican-style murals lit by salvaged, red glass lamps, to the other tables flanking First Avenue, and at the edges are a handful of dark corners, suitable for all sorts of debauchery. But the center of the action, without a doubt, is the massive bar in the center of the space, which is always flanked with drinkers. That bar pours margaritas that run the flavor gamut from sweet to spicy, as well as Mexican beer and dozens of varieties of tequila and mezcal. And, as at any great bar, an air of naughty sexiness hangs over the entire scene, making anything feel possible. The devil you say!

Sorting through the city's java joints is a little like finding your foothold in a foreign city — and like foreign cities, coffee shops are all about personality. Rooster and Moon mirrors ours: Buzzy, quirky, allegedly spooked by ghosts, artistic and community-driven, this charismatic spot celebrates our obsession with octane by pouring organic Allegro fuel that's always piping hot and served with a genuine smile by animated baristas who often stop at your table with a carafe of fresh brew to refill your cup. It's a communal gathering place where caffeine-energized bunnies lap up their cinnamon-vanilla lattes, break out their laptops to troll cyberspace, and nosh on way, way above-average grub — most notably the holy-god-is-this-good banana pudding. Added bonus: Late afternoon into night, Rooster and Moon morphs into a bar with boozy cocktails — a ploy, of course, to make sure your morning hangover requires a heavy jolt of espresso.

Veteran Denver restaurateurs Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasiniski started with a clear vision for Euclid Hall: an American tavern, an unassuming place where diners could gather for beers and bar food, elevated well above bar level by making everything possible — sausages, mustards, pickles — in-house. With that articulate frame, they outdid themselves in every way imaginable. The space itself is beautiful, with history preserved in the brick walls and shiny wood floors, but washed clean of any memories of the grimy spots that inhabited the address before. The beer list is full of rare and stellar selections, and the contemporary cocktails are clever. But what makes Euclid Hall such an outstanding addition to the Denver dining scene is the menu: plump sausages in taut casings; a teetering stack of fried chicken and griddled sourdough waffles; a variety of poutines, hand-cut fries laden with gravy; cheese curds; and accoutrements ranging from mushrooms to foie gras. Be still, our hearts.

Molly Martin

Real New York-style pizza has a few rules. The crust must be thin but not cracker-like — crispy along the edges, but with some give in the center to allow the slices to be folded. That crust should be mounted with tomato sauce, spread thinly across the base so that the white of the dough is still visible beneath. The sauce is then topped with just enough mozzarella to cover it completely, but never in excess; one layer of cheese suffices. Then there's the true test: All ingredients must be employed with enough restraint that you can easily eat a massive slice — or an entire pie. Big Bill's New York Pizza makes pies that easily pass all tests: They have an excellent crispness-to-give proportion in the crust, which is coated with a zippy, smooth tomato sauce with plenty of oregano and a fine layer of freshly shredded mozzarella. And when the pizza arrives at the table, hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth, there's often a lake of grease pooling in the middle — which is really how you know the kitchen here is doing things right.

Best Non-Traditional Noodle Bowl


When Frank Bonnano opened Bones in late 2008, he took traditional Japanese noodle bowls and infused them with French touches, adding confit, pork belly and suckling pig to a lineup built around ramen, udon and soba. And while his dishes are a far cry from what you'd find over in Japan, they're undeniably good. The lobster ramen is ethereal, a decadent, delicate broth filled with tangles of curly ramen and fat spring peas. The pork udon is even better: The broth is sticky with fat, and thick hunks of pork belly swim against big buckwheat noodles, soaking up the gooey yolk of a perfectly poached egg that floats above the rest.

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