Highland Tap & Burger

Denver's seen a boom in burger joints over the past few years, with some stripping the burger down to basics and others loading it up so that it's no longer recognizable. Highland Tap & Burger falls squarely in the middle, rethinking this iconic American dish while also celebrating what makes it remarkable. The chimi burger tops a fat medium-rare patty with white cheddar and garlicky chimichurri. The Shroomluva's comes on a bun smeared with truffle aioli, along with a pile of sautéed mushrooms and a slab of Emmentaler cheese. Our favorite, though, is the Tap burger, accessorized with a layer of root beer-marinated pulled pork in smoky, caramelly sauce, a crispy onion ring and both cheddar and American cheeses. If this is the next step in the evolution of the burger, we're there.

Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe

Few cultures are more romantic than the French, and À Côté Bar à Absinthe channels that spirit flawlessly. This cozy sliver of a spot can become whatever you want it to on a first amorous rendezvous — whether that's an intimate dinner location, a low-key happy-hour spot or a place to seal the deal with a nightcap. The restaurant has a menu built for sharing, and it features all sorts of sexy foods, from silky charcuterie and decadent imported cheeses to open-face sandwiches and seasonal small plates to ethereal desserts. Everything pairs to a good wine list and solid cocktails, and nibbles are served beneath walls lined with art and a gorgeous chandelier made of colored glass. It's also much less formal than its sibling restaurant, Z Cuisine, making it much easier to duck out after one drink if that's what you need to do.

Readers' Choice: Vesta Dipping Grill

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

Hot dog carts continue to monopolize Denver's food-cart movement, but for a doggone good wiener that sizzles and drizzles with juices, Biker Jim's is the alpha Great Dane. The original cart, usually parked on the corner of 16th and Arapahoe streets, has been hustling franks from Continental Sausage for years. And clearly, practice makes perfect — because every day the stainless-steel mobile has junkies lined up to sink their incisors into a salty, meaty elk sausage or reindeer dog bulked up with onions caramelized in Coca-Cola and a surge of cream cheese ejected from a caulking gun. No wonder it's our favorite sidewalk snack.

Readers' Choice: Biker Jim's

Manna From Heaven Gourmet Food Truck

Talk about a movable feast! Manna from Heaven lives up to its name, turning out celestial Vietnamese street chow, including an amazing banh mi that's built with pork, cilantro and fresh vegetables, quality ingredients all heaped on a first-rate baguette streaked with a spicy sauce of sriracha and mayonnaise. But the congenial crew — it's a family affair — stakes its reputation on more than just this dish: You'll find other traditional pleasures such as fresh spring rolls, Vietnamese noodle soups and fruit smoothies best sucked up with an oversized straw.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Tacos Jalisco Mexican Food
Courtesy Tacos Jalisco

Sit down at Tacos Jalisco — an old, awkwardly partitioned joint at the edge of the Berkeley neighborhood — and your meal will start with free chips, straight from the fryer, and not just one delicious salsa, but a quartet of sips. One version pairs tomato with jalapeño and onion; another matches sweet mango to habanero heat; a third features tangy tomatillos; the fourth highlights creamy avocado with a fresh bite of cilantro. They all play so well off each other, it won't be long until you've scraped your way to the bottom of each bowl. And that's fine, because your server will keep offering free refills of both chips and salsas. Just remember to save some room for the rest of your meal.

Readers' Choice: Benny's

Elway's Cherry Creek

There are several strict rules of thumb when it comes to making french fries: First, the tubers — blanched, of course — must be hand-cut, with the skins left on for texture. Second, the potatoes shouldn't be cut too thin or, God forbid, too thick. Third, if the resulting fries aren't crisp, golden and hotter than a sidewalk sale in the heart of a Palm Springs summer, then the kitchen deserves a cold night in hell. And finally, they had better be liberally dusted with salt. The fries at the original Elway's, which arrive heaped into a large cone, adhere to every one of these rules. They're simultaneously fluffy and crisp, properly salted (and peppered, too), and they taste the way french fries should. And they don't require any damn condiments, most notably that horrible thing known as ketchup.

Readers' Choice: Jonesy's EatBar

Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome

Tucked in an out-of-the-way corner of Larimer Square, Bistro Vendôme has none of the stuffiness and over-the-top pomp and circumstance that marks some French restaurants — but it has everything a Francophile could ask for. This is a gracious, romantic arbiter of French food, with a kitchen overseen by chef de cuisine Dana Rodriguez. You'll swoon over her steak tartare haloed with a fried quail egg; fall madly, deeply in lust with the foie gras; propose marriage, if only you could, to Rodriguez's duck confit. Bistro Vendôme is a thoroughly charming restaurant with a deeply committed, confident chef and a pervasive Parisian-neighborhood spirit that never goes out of vogue.

Readers' Choice: Le Central

Crimson Canary

Crimson Canary channels the Hollywood version of Italian steakhouses that were popular in the 1970s, and several items on the menu are to die for. In particular, this spot makes killer calamari. The kitchen mixes lemon slices and spicy housemade giardiniera — the blend of pickled peppers and vegetables most often found on deli sandwiches — with the springy bodies and tentacles of the squid before covering them with a delicate batter, frying the whole mess and then dusting the finished product with sweet basil, lemon and plenty of salt. Sided with a basic basil pesto that further enhances the play of tart, spicy peppers against the supple squid and that feathery batter, the dish is stunning — and just might be the best fried calamari we've ever tasted.

Ensuring that you get your grubby little hands on a fat helping of super-crisp, super-delicious, super-hot fried chicken at Tom's Home Cookin' requires planning: You need to arrive before it's all gone, which can sometimes occur long before you're even considering lunch, and you'll need to carry a stash of cash, because the joint doesn't accept credit. But the planning always pays off. The wings and things, lightly dusted with flour before their plunge in a deep-fry bath, are the color of copper when they emerge, and owners Steve Jankousky and Tom Unterwagner live by the law of simplicity, which means there's no futzing with the skin, save for a liberal one-two punch of salt and pepper.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Karl's Deli

For more than thirty years, Karl's FF Delicatessen has used the same ordinary Centennial strip-mall address to hawk extraordinary things. A small market features a vast array of imported treats, including jams, chocolates and cookies. The deli serves up a board of old-world-style sandwiches featuring thinly shaved beef tongue, head cheese or bierwurst, plus specials that include wiener schnitzel, veal bratwurst and spaetzle. Those dishes pair with tart sauerkraut and some of the best potato salad we've had in the city. Also? The place pours Paulaner on tap — and honors free refills on beers all day Friday and Saturday, best enjoyed on the shady, beer garden-like patio.

Readers' Choice: Helga's

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