Best Brewery for Neighbors 2012 | Copper Kettle Brewing | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

You won't find a brewery with a more dedicated clientele than the Copper Kettle, and you won't find a brewery that caters more to its regulars than this spot owned by Jeremy Gobien and Kristen Kozik. Stuck in a hidden business park between Denver and Aurora, the Copper Kettle has had to expand three times in less than a year of operation, in part because of regulars grateful for a craft-beer outpost on their side of town (a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival didn't hurt, either). This core group also makes up the brewery's fifty-member Brew Club, a beer-loving bunch of folks who were the first to buy the equivalent of fifty beers after Copper Kettle opened. Every member gets their own stein, along with special beer rates and opportunities to hang with the owners. "A lot of them, we see three or four times a week, and we know them intimately," Kozik says. "They have promoted us more than anyone else."

It's hard to imagine a brewpub with an ethos that better fits its community than that of Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery. From the amiable and eclectic staff members to the trippy decor, from the big, chewy beers, brewed right on site, to the menu specializing in fresh ingredients and new takes on old classics, Mountain Sun has a vibe that defines Boulder. Show up at 4:20 p.m. (yeah, that 4:20) and you're likely to find a new beer being tapped, but don't bring your credit card: Mountain Sun and its sister pubs, Southern Sun and Denver's Vine Street Pub, don't take them, although they'll let you mail your money in later if need be. And this year, Mountain Sun will get even more experimental when the company shifts most of its brewing operations to Denver, allowing the Boulder brewers to free their minds — and their suds.

Readers' Choice: Wynkoop Brewing Company

We've never found a better reason to lift our head off the pillow than brunch at Encore. Start the day off right with a plate of ethereal ricotta-filled beignets and a bloody Mary to soothe the debauchery from the night before, then move on to one of the other marvels created by chef Paul Reilly. Our favorite is his magnificent lamb posole, sidekicked with all the necessary accoutrements — sliced radishes, onions, cilantro and lime wedges — and capped by creamy scrambled eggs.

Readers' Choice: Snooze

Juicy Burger

Juicy Burger & Dogs, a buzzy joint in the 'burbs, makes the best burger around — and it's easy to see why. That's because the burger isn't all gussied up with elaborate toppings or brioche bread. Instead, a hand-molded, properly salt-and-peppered patty — made of freshly ground beef, lamb or chicken — is char-grilled until it gushes fatty juices and oozes the scent of an outdoor barbecue, then slipped onto griddled pumpernickel or a white bun baked by Udi's, blanketed with a thick slice of melted Tillamook cheese or smeared with spreadable cheddar. You don't need anything more for a great burger, but the standard condiments — tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, grilled and raw onions, ketchup and mustard — are available as free add-ons. And while you have to pay for them, the fries are perfection, too.

Readers' Choice: Cherry Cricket

Mark Manger

Like a glistening oasis in a seemingly endless stretch of desert, twelve reaches out to thirsty foodies with what is consistently one of the town's best wine lists — and definitely Denver's best by-the-glass list. Each version is more swoon-worthy than the last, and chef/owner Jeff Osaka and his talented right hand (and wine guru) Tristan Toney recently rolled out a brand-spankin'-new set of fifteen supremely quaffable sips. A great by-the-glass list must be able to multi-task like a mofo, simultaneously appealing to pre-dinner (or hell, sometimes no-dinner) guests who're eager to drink around a bit; satisfy a tableful of diners enjoying disparate dishes; and tantalize curious wine lovers with intriguing new labels. The list at twelve does all this and more — for less, because when you're dining at the bar, all wines by the glass are half-price. No wonder twelve hits it out of the Ballpark neighborhood, every single time.

Readers' Choice: Lala's Wine Bar & Pizzeria

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Maria Empanada

Three years ago, Buenos Aires native Lorena Cantarovici decided to open a catering business using her mother's recipes for empanadas and other Argentine specialties. The business went so well that by last fall, she needed a bigger kitchen. She found it in a strip-mall storefront that looks oddly like a log cabin. Inside, she has just enough room for two tables and a counter, where she keeps a glass case stocked with a dozen or so different types of empanadas plus dulce de leche-based desserts, tartas (savory pies) and eggy Spanish tortillas. But that's all she needs to keep diners happy. Cantarovici's empanadas are the real deal. The flaky crusts — shiny from a finishing brush of oil or butter and crispy on the edges — give way to a mouthful of fillings that range from corn to ham and stretchy mozzarella or braised beef with just a little kiss of heat. These empanadas offer the true taste of Argentina — and it's delicious.

Readers' Choice: Cafe Brazil

One hit restaurant won't be enough for Lon Symensma, whose prominence in Denver's culinary scene has risen like the perfect soufflé. But until the culinary luminary unleashes a spinoff to ChoLon, his Asian-influenced restaurant downtown, we'll continue to curtsy and bow at his feet for gracing our city with a remarkably refined restaurant and a menu that displays his pivotal role in influencing how we eat. Focused, provocative and ambitious, Symensma's beautifully presented dishes run wild — as does his imagination — and the results are nothing short of stunning. Open your mouth and you'll understand why there's a continued clamor for his food...and more of his restaurants.

Readers' Choice: Justin Brunson

Long gone are the days when chefs sliced and diced behind an iron curtain. Today's toques like the limelight — and they love being the center of attention, which is all the better for voyeuristic guests who like to eavesdrop on kitchenspeak while also watching a floor show. And at TAG, Troy Guard's Asian-guided restaurant in Larimer Square, the highly interactive chef's counter offers the best seats in the house. You can kibbitz with the animated cooks — they're all talkers — and also banter with Guard, who's usually right there in the thick of things. And if you're not sure what to order, just ask: You'll be flooded with recommendations, all of which will exceed your expectations.

Readers' Choice: ChoLon Bistro

Mark Manger

It's the blind leading the blind, those people who shun Jeff Osaka's twelve because they make the mistake of assuming it resides in a so-called "sketchy" neighborhood. It doesn't. And frankly, we'd go to far worse areas just for the chance to eat a meal from the likes of Osaka. He's a serious culinary craftsman, whose commitment to cooking — and to his fellow chefs — is unmatched, as is his food, a deft marriage of comfort and current. Add in the fact that he offers a creative, affordable prix fixe menu, and you have one of the most satisfying restaurant experiences in the any neighborhood.

While we don't subscribe to the belief that the only good hot dog is a Chicago dog, we will acknowledge that the Windy City makes one hell of a frank. And here in Denver, you'll find a reverent homage to the Chicago dog at the two Mile High Vienna stores, where Sonny Jarock and Jeremy Williamson have created shrines to Denver and Chicago sports. The menu shares a similar division, with green chile and tamales alongside Italian beef and a Chicago dog done exactly right: with a springy Vienna beef dog piled with sliced tomatoes, onions, neon green relish, spicy sport peppers, a pickle spear, mustard and celery salt (of course) on a steamed poppyseed bun.

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