Best Food Truck 2012 | Manna From Heaven | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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

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

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

Joni Schrantz

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 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

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

Telly Topakas is a veteran restaurateur who also owns a Greek spot in Colorado Springs. But he wanted to give Denver a more upscale Greek restaurant, and he did just that when he opened Axios Estiatorio last fall. It occupies a prime address in the Berkeley neighborhood and channels the Mediterranean in its decor; the space is comfortable and seductive. Topakas hired a novice to Greek cuisine to man the burners, and as a result, the Axios menu captures the joy of Greek culture in dishes such as dolmades, calamari and good feta with olives without strictly adhering to tradition. The food, like the space itself, is fresh, interesting and incredibly satisfying. Opa!

If you were born and raised in Denver, you are, by rights, a green-chile geek. And if you popped out elsewhere (New Mexico notwithstanding) and simply don't get why we're so besotted with suffocating our burritos, enchiladas, rellenos and french fries with verde, we can only assume you have yet to try the green stuff at Tia Maria. The affable owner treats his customers like royalty, which is reason enough to plop your butt down in a cushy booth and spend the afternoon slumped over shots, which he doles out in frequent doses. The tequila syllabus is impressive — and so are the tasting notes that accompany it — and the shots pair perfectly with the restaurant's green chile. It's a stinging, savory swamp of garlic, tomatoes, cubed pork and ambrosial chiles that weep with heat. This verde puddles plates heaped with all the usual suspects, and it also swathes a rotund, pink-fleshed ham hock that may be the best dish on the menu.

Readers' Choice: Santiago's

Best Green Chile After a Night on the Town


Molly Martin

When she bought the old Chubby Burger Drive-In on West 38th Avenue back in the late '60s, Stella Cordova fueled it with her original chile recipe. Today the thick, porky stew is a Denver icon, spicy enough that the only real way to put the fire out is to keep eating it. While many restaurants in town — run by Cordova's descendants — claim to make her chile, none of them are quite the same as the real thing. So on nights when you've been out drinking, it's worth forking over plenty of cash to a cabbie to make a stop at this takeout-only, flier-plastered establishment. The foil-wrapped green-chile-stuffed grilled cheese may be the best drunken munchie food we've ever found, but the chile is just as good coating a burrito or smothering a pile of fries. And Chubby's is also open until 3 a.m. on weekends — so it'll be ready and waiting for you no matter what time the party ends.

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