Second Home Kitchen and Bar
Hunter Stevens

We love just about any dish where sweet meets savory in magical harmony, but the epitome of that blessed union may very well be chicken and waffles, an orgy of fried decadence. You'll find the best in the city at Second Home, a restaurant that commands much of the bottom floor of the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek. Each element of the dish is damn near perfect on its own: The chicken encased in a crackle of golden batter is hot, juicy and tender; the waffle, made with sweet cornmeal and redolent of cheddar, is light and crisp. But tied together and drizzled with sweet, earthy maple syrup, the combination is utter bliss.

Hong Kong Barbecue
Mark Manger

Hong Kong is famous for its siu mei, a blanket term that covers many roasted meats; siu mei shops in that city display whole, honey-glazed and five-spice-dusted, slow-cooked animals in their windows. Pigs and geese are the most popular critters, prized for the high fat content that makes the meat so moist as the fire melts the fat. Though siu mei is easy to find in cities with a vibrant Chinatown, it's a rarer treat in Denver, where Chinese restaurants tend to offer a mishmash of specialties from all over the country. But at Hong Kong BBQ, you can order cuts of siu mei served over rice — or simply buy a whole roasted duck or pig to take home. You can also order from the regular menu, which is loaded with such familiar items as kung pao chicken and lemongrass beef, as well as fried rice, noodles, hot pots and even curries — and every dish we've tried has been exceptional.

Readers' Choice: Wokano

The Bardo Coffee House
Courtesy The Bardo Coffeehouse on South Broadway Facebook

Bardo CoffeeHouse is mellow enough that you can hunker down and study for finals here, but you won't get hushed or scowled at if you stop in to grab coffee with your chatty girlfriends, either. The owners clearly spent a lot of time researching proper coffee-shop ambience, because Bardo has everything: booths, couches, meeting tables, two-tops, window seats, movable tables, multiple rooms, even a patio. The lighting isn't intrusive, the artwork is minimal and tasteful, and Otis Redding can be heard through the speakers at all hours of the day. Those hours, by the way, are 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. weekdays, and until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Crema Coffee House

Our love affair with Crema Coffee House started over coffee: well-pulled shots, sexy cappuccinos and beans from kick-ass roasters across the country. But now Crema has given us even more reason to hang out: some of the best food you'll find in any coffeehouse, anywhere. Owner Noah Price brought on chef Jonathan Power to come up with a creative breakfast-and-lunch menu, whose highlights include sweet-and-spicy five-spice granola paired with Noosa yogurt, rose sugar-brûléed grapefruit, a quivering egg custard loaded with bacon and Gruyère in a flaky crust, and a crave-worthy banh mi. Power sprinkles in occasional specials, too, and we have yet to be disappointed by any of them. "I wanted to make really fun, really good food that didn't overshadow what Noah has done with Crema," the chef told us when he introduced his menu. And he hasn't — but he's definitely created food that matches it.

Sugar Bakeshop

With coffeehouses on just about every block in Denver, it takes a lot more than a good bean to keep people coming back. At Sugar Bakeshop, that something extra is the service. Every latte slinger here seems eternally happy to see you, as does owner Natalie Slevin, who can usually be found rolling dough for her exquisite pop tarts in the open-fantasy kitchen, serving Novo coffee or chatting with tables. Sugar Bakeshop also has a great daily selection of homemade cupcakes, pastries, burritos and even paleo muffins for finicky foodies — and everything is served with a smile.

Denver is so into cocktail culture that ordering a drink — be it a Manhattan made with Colorado whiskey and handcrafted bitters or a Moscow Mule — can be an agonizing dilemma. Cocktail syllabuses are even beginning to outshine menus, both in breadth and depth. But Williams & Graham, the elegant new speakeasy in Highland, is not only packed with a profundity of knowledge, but it displays a refreshing and deliberate lack of pretense. The bar is commanded by tenders who understand that you want a damn drink, not a judgmental oral exam on why you drink what you do. The cocktails they concoct are bright, fresh and bold, whether they're classic revivals or modern journeys into territory unknown.

Readers' Choice: Green Russell

No matter how cold it is outside, the atmosphere inside Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe is downright beachy. This family-run spot that opened last year in a Lakewood strip mall moves to its own island rhythm. Roxana and Sergio Negrin man the counter and do the cooking, and they turn out excellent ropa vieja, lechón, Cuban sandwiches and Cuban empanadas, plus an array of specials — including guava-sauced ribs — that offer a taste of both Cuba and Florida, the places they once called home. Finish your meal with a slice of flan and a cafecito — a superb shot of sweet espresso — and you may want to express your joy by shouting "Que rico!" over the din.

We've seen plenty of ham, pork and Swiss cheese sandwiches posing as Cubans, but the real deal is a rarity in this town. At Buchi Cafe Cubano, a sweet spot in Highland, though, the Cuban sandwich is absolutely authentic, right down to the Cuban bread: a slightly sweet, crusty white loaf similar to — but not the same as — French bread. Buchi stacks this bread with slices of ham, succulent roast pork, layers of Swiss and pickles, then grills it in the panini press until the cheese is gooey. A smear of hot mustard adds the classic final touch before this sublime sandwich is simply wrapped in a sheet of butcher paper and delivered to your eager hands.

Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik

Even a recent expansion hasn't thinned the impenetrable crowds that descend upon Super Star Asian. They huddle and mutter under their breath near the doorway, their eyes peering over the cavernous combat zone, where fast-moving carts dash between big, round tables covered with bamboo steamers of everything under the dim sum sun: terrific shu mai and congee, salt-and-pepper shrimp, barbecued pork buns and egg-custard tarts, chicken feet and Peking duck. And while you'll bust your belt, beg for mercy and implore someone with a modicum of moderation to carry you out the door, you'll be back...again and again.

Readers' Choice: Star Kitchen

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs has been hawking fat sausages from a handful of carts for years now, but last spring, Jim Pittenger also opened a brick-and-mortar establishment that's quickly become a mainstay for those looking for a cheap dinner before a night on the town — or a cheap dinner at the end of a long night, since this spot stays open after last call on weekends. Most of the dogs — including such exotic sausages as boar, elk and veal — run just $6 or $7 and come piled high with caramelized onions and decorated with a ribbon of cream cheese. That still leaves you a couple of bucks for a side of deep-fried mac and cheese. Or go with the Usual, which nets you a topped dog, fries and a PBR for just $9.25.

Readers' Choice: Chipotle

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