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

Axios Estiatorio

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!

Tia Maria Mexican Restaurant

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

Chubby's

Chubby's
Danielle Lirette

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.

Westerkamps Steakhouse and Meat Market
Mark Manger

The walls of Westerkamps feature an excellent collection of kitsch: Besides proclamations of love for the Lord, there are photos of '50s Western stars, tools that might have been used on the prairie, old skis hung in an X shape, and hubcaps from classic American cars. The place is part Norman Rockwell museum, part small-town butcher store and part shrine to Jesus. And it also happens to make an insanely good green chile. The sauce itself is thin, but it's filled with chunks of tomato, pork and jalapeño that give it heft as well as a tangy earthiness — plus an all-encompassing, slow-burning heat that spreads across the palate subtly until every part of your mouth, including your lips, gums and even teeth, tingles. It works beautifully with the steak-and-potatoes fare that are the less surprising offerings at Westerkamps.

Lou's Food Bar
Brian Defoe

We fell in love at first slurp with Bones, Frank Bonanno's homage to the noodle bar. The menu is small and well-edited, with French technique influencing a list of mostly Japanese specialties, which can be paired with a smart list of sake and well-chosen wines. But the noodles are the real reason we keep coming back, particularly the lobster ramen — curly noodles bathed in a sweet broth thickened luxuriously with butter and swimming with fat edamame and rosy chunks of perfectly poached shellfish — and the pork udon, a hearty soup filled with fat chewy noodles and chunks of tender braised pork shoulder, with a yolky poached egg floating on the surface of the dish. The best place to enjoy all this is at the bar itself, where you can watch the chefs in action.

Steve's Snappin' Dogs
Cassandra Kotnik

The first thing you'll notice as you browse the menu at Steve's Snappin' Dogs is that Steve is not a traditionalist. You won't find a proper Chicago dog here, for instance, nor will you find a Coney Island dog. Rather, Steve's reinvents the idea of what a hot dog can be, serving up Thumann's franks in creative ways — including tucked into a burrito, deep-fried, smothered in green chile and topped with bacon. If you can get past your poppyseed-bun snobbery, you'll find that all of the dogs at this East Colfax spot are delicious, especially when paired with sweet-potato tots and a fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Readers' Choice: Biker Jim's

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