Jorel Pierce worked the line at Rioja for nearly four years under chef Jennifer Jasinski (who owns Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendôme with business partner Beth Gruitch) before taking his maverick prowess to Euclid Hall, where he now mans the kitchen. Pierce is confident, brilliantly innovative and, at 26, one of the city's youngest kitchen kingpins to pioneer a line that turns out what may very well be the most ambitiously executed menu in Denver. His board, a witty, pithy digest of under-represented foodstuffs — blood sausage, for instance — dazzles, as does he. "This is my life, this is what I do, and I take it very, very seriously," Pierce says of his craft — a craft that's just beginning to shape a very bright future.

El Jakalito

In salsas, as in sex, it's all about the spice. And at El Jakalito, a canary-yellow taqueria that serves up tacos, gorditas, tostadas, tamales and tortas, the salsa bar — actually a stainless-steel cart — is filled with exotic concoctions powerfully fragrant with the fruit of chiles, most of them lashed with fire. You'll want to douse everything on your plate with a little of this and a little of that — a dab of red, a jolt of green, snapping up cucumbers, radish coins, ribbons of cabbage, marinated carrots and onions, and chubby pickled jalapeños, their seeds hotter than a Sunset Boulevard hooker — along the way.

Spinelli's Market

Generation after generation of sandwich lovers stroll through the aisles of this market-cum-sandwich emporium, pausing to rap with neighbors and non-neighbors — most of whom are headed for the deli case, filled with cold cuts and cheeses, salads and spreads, olives and roasted peppers, shells and sauce. During the lunch rush, Spinelli's Market is busier than a free day at the zoo, and the countermen, seasoned professionals who prefer that you order with rapidity, don't waste any time assembling your order. But with nearly two dozen choices on the board, selecting a sandwich can be beyond daunting. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter which way you roll: Everything — from the Reuben stacked with corned beef, lacy Swiss and sauerkraut to the hot Italian roast beef — is the stuff of daydreams.

Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli
Mark Manger

The lines outside Carbone's spill onto the sidewalk, a declaration of the devotion that cultists have for this decades-old, ramshackle purveyor of Italian meats and cheeses, spicy peppers plumped with Provolone and prosciutto, dried pastas, frozen pastas, meatballs and marinara sauce and, most important, sandwiches. Owner Rose Lonardo knows just about everyone by name, and everyone certainly knows hers. She'll size you up faster than you can say "meatball," and she's a quick-witted master conversationalist. She also knows a thing or two about Italian sausage, which she makes in-house, flecking the ground pork with fennel and crushed red pepper. Her Italian-sausage sub, a flattened brick of pigginess sheeted with Provolone and tucked into a long, chewy roll smeared with an herb-specked marinara and dotted with pickled jalapeños, is one of the best sandwiches in Denver. So is the No. 2 Italian. Take our advice and get one of each.

Il Mondo Vecchio

Mark DeNittis, Denver's high priest of salumi, is a sausage-slinging genius, his pristine laboratory of pig — and the state's only USDA-inspected salumeria — a shrine to dry-cured sausages and fresh sausage links made with amore from a hot-blooded Italian who's devoted his career to pimping meaty, salty, pudgy ropes and rings of porky goodness. Sausage-making is his passion, and after biting off more than we can chew — hot Italian sausage flecked with crushed red pepper, breakfast sausage injected with Stranahan's whiskey, British-style beer bangers, German beer brats, Greek loukanika, Polish sausages and Mexican chorizo — we still want more.

Troy Guard, chef/owner of TAG and the just-opened TAG|RAW BAR, grew up in Hawaii, which may explain why his board at TAG is a fish-lover's deep-sea dream, floating such dishes as Maine diver scallops puddled in a parsnip-vanilla purée and sushi rolls tucked with yellowfin or lobster. Guard's infatuation with aquatics spans the world, and he embraces a universe of sea creatures that you rarely find on Denver restaurant menus. To wit: South African black ruff, a blunt-snouted species that's been known to wander a long way from home, even surfacing in the waters off the southern coast of Massachusetts. But even if it featured a bottom-feeder from the floor of a muddy swamp, we'd still fall hook, line and sinker for any dish created by Guard. In Denver's pond, he's a very big fish.

Frank Bonanno oversees a burgeoning group of local restaurants, the newest of which is Lou's Food Bar, a down-to-earth American comfort-food den with an affinity for market-driven French influences and, on occasion, Italian-American dalliances. This is a neighborhood joint, pulsating with lively crowds, where you can sample a plate of portly housemade sausages followed by Frenchy escargot bobbing in butter and end with spaghetti and meatballs. Bonanno could pull flavor out of a newspaper, but his spaghetti and meatballs, thick-walled blades of bucatini swathed in a straight-up tomato sauce whomped with garlic and overlaid with pudgy meatballs stuffed with housemade mozzarella, is a wistful tribute to what life was like before pasta was relegated to purgatory.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Danielle Lirette

Biker Jim Pittenger used to repo cars for a living, but several years ago he ditched the lucrative life of dumping Dodge trucks to wrangle wieners — fat, juicy, flame-licked dogs that he dispatches from his downtown Denver carts, as well as his just-opened brick-and-mortar restaurant. The un-ordinary sausages — reindeer, elk, venison, yak and pheasant among them — are taut and thick-skinned, and when you sink your fangs into the plump flesh, smothered with grilled onions caramelized in Coca-Cola and squiggled with ropes of cream cheese, they combust in a culinary explosion that makes you wonder why you'd ever wrap your lips around anyone else's wiener.

Brava! Pizza
Mikhaila Costa

Weeks, months or years from now, when someone decides it's time to compile a compendium of Denver's high priests of pizza, dough-slinging genius David Bravdica should occupy the centerfold. A former airport manager-turned-pie peddler, Bravdica now operates a wood-fired pizza wagon that squats on the 16th Street Mall, an 850-degree powerhouse of smoldering Missouri oak wood. When Bravdica yanks the thin-crusted, misshapen pies, smeared with unadulterated San Marzano fruit and blotted with orbs of creamy mozzarella, from the embers, they're charred, bubbly and insanely delicious. His crusts need no improvement, nor do his ingredients, many of which originate in Colorado: The pepperoni and sausage are procured from Il Mondo Vecchio, the goat cheese is made at Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy in Buena Vista, the herbs are grown by Grower's Organic, and even the flour is sourced locally. In Bravdica's crust we trust.

Elway's Cherry Creek

Elway's Cherry Creek is a lot of things, including a meat market — meeting a potential mate, meeting up for a drink, meeting a moneyed sugar daddy or meeting a pair of enhanced breasts that make you slap-happy. But that's just foreplay, because at the meat of the matter is the real beef: majestic slabs of seasoned steer weeping with bloody juices; ruddy prime rib seeping with the same; classic beef tartare; a steak chili that deserves its own monument. Although the cow is king here, even the usual-suspect steakhouse side dishes of au gratin potatoes, creamed spinach and creamed corn — and creatively tweaked sidekicks of Brussels sprouts hash, roasted cauliflower and sweet-potato risotto — separate Elway's from the rest of the herd.

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