Hops & Pie
Mark Manger

While most people who head to the newly expanded Hops & Pie are looking for craft beer and pizza, we'd hop over to this friendly spot for the mac and cheese alone. An order brings a mound of elbow macaroni glazed in a sharp cheddar sauce mixed with pudgy peas and strands of smoky braised ham hock, then spackled with breadcrumbs. But lifting this dish above all others is the deep bite introduced by adding India pale ale to the pot: It lightens the heaviness of the cream and leaves a seductive tartness lingering on the tongue. The mac and cheese is served in a ceramic bowl delivered on a Sicilian pie pan to catch stragglers — good idea, since you don't want to let a single bite escape.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Boba & Crepes

After you order your bubble tea at Boba and Crepes, a strip-mall spot tucked off Colorado Boulevard, head over to the shelf between the aquarium and the loveseat, where you'll find issue after issue of Slam Dunk, the sports-themed manga series about a high-school basketball team in Japan. There are more issues of Slam Dunk than you can read over a cup, more than you can read over the course of a day. The collection is a welcome, personal touch — the kind that's lost on Boba and Crepes' corporate-minded competitors.

Green Russell
Joni Schrantz

The speakeasy-style, subterranean Green Russell features an inventive cocktail list and a massive library of spirits, which makes it tempting to sample something new instead of sticking with a classic. But that would be a mistake. Order a Manhattan at Green Russell, and you'll get a question in response: "Bourbon or rye?" That's how you know you're in very good drink-mixing hands. We recommend the rye, both because the original Manhattan recipes call for it and because it imparts a nice spice to the drink. The bar here mixes Leopold's rye with Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth and two dashes of housemade orange bitters, then stirs it with block ice before fine-mesh straining it into an up glass. And that cherry on top? A tart, juicy globe of booze-marinated fruit that the bar also makes in-house.

Readers' Choice: Green Russell

Linger
Mark Manger

Linger has an excellent beverage program, with an impressive list of wine, beer and cocktails. But we're particularly awed by how well the bartenders here understand the classics — well enough that they can play with them without bastardizing the purpose of the drink. Consider this martini, for example: a 50/50 gin and Dolin white vermouth split, dashed with orange bitters and served with a flamed orange twist, which gives the depth of caramelized citrus to the first sip. Ask for just a plain, old-school martini, though, and you'll get a drink that's the classic two parts gin to one part vermouth, stirred over ice, served up — and far from plain. It's the epitome of refined refreshment and will make a believer out of even the staunchest anti-martini drinker.

Readers' Choice: Cruise Room

Mecca Grill
Danielle Lirette

Like the stars in the sky, Denver's Middle Eastern restaurants look alike, indistinguishable carbon copies with similar menus that you can mumble by heart. Hummus, check; falafel, check; baba ghanoush, double check. Mecca Grill, however, separates itself from the rest by virtue of its unassailable hummus, a sumac-dusted smooth purée of chickpeas and tahini, garlic and squirts of fresh-squeezed lemon that's ringed in nutty olive oil. And the falafel, burnished domes of ground chickpeas stained green with fresh herbs, are so good that it's all too easy to forget to share.

Readers' Choice: Jerusalem

Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine
Mark Manger

Mexican cuisine is awash in moles, and in Oaxaca, one of the best food cities in the world, there's a different mole for every day of the week. But in this country — save for in Los Angeles, where there are dozens of Oaxacan restaurants — mole, at least proper mole, is difficult to find. Lucky for us, we have Tarasco's, a Mexican/Latin restaurant that feeds our mole obsession with two different versions, including a remarkable mole verde. It's greener than money, greener than an enchanted forest, greener than Kermit the Frog. Made with poblano and jalapeño peppers, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, crushed almonds and cloves, this mole is a riot of texture and spice and comes generously draped over long-simmered, crisp, caramelized shards of pork.

College Inn

College Inn is a down-home sports bar that attracts regulars who want to watch a game and drink beer from the tap lines, but it could also educate the rest of this town's kitchens on how to make a perfect platter of nachos. Melted Jack and cheddar coat a bed of chips covered with fresh jalapeños, diced tomatoes and tender barbecued pork. The whole mess is smothered with a racy pork green chile, which plays nicely off the sweet-savory-tart flavors of the rest of the components, and then topped with guacamole and sour cream. The chip-to-stuff ratio guarantees that each bite is loaded with the goods, right down to the last tortilla triangle. These are macho nachos.

Readers' Choice: Vine Street Pub

Renegade Brewing

Is Denver oversaturated with neighborhood breweries? It's a question that gets asked a lot these days, but there is a simple answer: Denver can handle as many neighborhood breweries as there are vibrant neighborhoods. One of the most vibrant 'hoods in town was blessed with its own suds-seller last year when Renegade Brewing opened in the Art District on Santa Fe, and judging by the slurping sounds, the district was thirsty. The brewery, owned by Brian and Khara O'Connell, boasts Spanish architecture, big garage-door windows and even bigger beers, and on First Fridays, the place is packed. Good art needs a muse, and the district has found it with Renegade Brewing.

Best Neighborhood Italian Restaurant

Sketch

Sketch Food & Wine
Cassandra Kotnik

A few months ago, Brian Laird, the former executive chef of Barolo Grill, was flipping burgers at Rockbar. But he soon moved on to Sketch, where he's returned to his Italian cooking roots, turning out bowls of majestic housemade pastas, including pasta puttanesca — which, if you didn't already know, was allegedly invented by prostitutes, who relied on the sauce's come-hither perfume to lure customers. But when you order Laird's puttanesca, you're getting a lot more than that: His textured, chunky sauce, flecked with red-chile flakes, tangled with capers and olives and scented with garlic and a whisper of anchovies, is better than most sex. And so is the rest of the fare he turns out at Sketch. This isn't your standard neighborhood Italian joint; it's much, much better.

Readers' Choice: Carmine's on Penn

Cafe|Bar

After they'd landed the lease for a spot on Alameda, Cafe|Bar owner Dane Huguley and chef Eric Rivera examined the area to determine what kind of restaurant would best fit. The result was a reimagined neighborhood joint, a spot that could lure nearby residents for any occasion, be it a dinner date, a nightcap or a working lunch. With a sexy design and sourcing that focuses on local, sustainably grown ingredients, the pair put together a menu of American fare — which features large portions and a great burger — and an unpretentious bar that does just what the founders set out to do: draw a community of regulars every night of the week.

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