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.

Fruition
Mark Manger

It would be nearly impossible to overestimate the magnetism of Fruition — or its chef, Alex Seidel, whose New American restaurant, barely bigger than a walk-in closet, can be credited in part for vaulting Denver's dining scene into the culinary limelight. Seidel's reverence for inscrutable seasonal ingredients, many of which he plucks from the soil on his farm in Larkspur, along with his indisputable grasp of presentations and flavor combinations — veal cheeks with roasted chestnuts and foraged wild mushrooms, for example — have raised the bar for restaurants not just in Denver, but all over the country. Seidel wasn't named a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef for nothing.

Readers' Choice: Fruition

Williams & Graham

It took longer than expected for Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon, author of Westword's "Ask the Bartender," to get the doors open at their spot in Highland, but the wait was worth it: They created a sexy, sexy place with Williams & Graham. Step across a threshold concealed by a miniature bookstore and you're in a 1920s-themed world, filled with plush leather, dark woods and quirky artifacts from the age of Prohibition. It's the perfect setting for enjoying Kenyon's comprehensive cocktail and spirits list, which includes inventive twists on classics and rare selections from all over the world. And don't miss chef David Bumgardner's menu, either: The food is excellent and perfect for pairing.

Readers' Choice: Renegade Brewing

Bull & Bush Brewery
Hunter Stevens

Brothers Dave and Erik Peterson love beer. That's why they added a brewery in 1997 to the venerable Glendale watering hole that their dad and uncle started in 1971. This year, the Petersons took that love and hopped it up with a tableside trick — they're calling it Whole Hops Infusions — that allows customers to experiment with the subtleties of beer's fragrant flower. Here's how it works: Order a Bull & Bush beer on tap and then pick one of five hops varietals grown by Jack Rabbit Hill Hops near Hotchkiss. The beer is served in a French press with the crumbled hops cones added. The customer can choose how long to wait before pouring the beer and tasting the effect. A one-minute wait will add a bit of flavor; three minutes will infuse a significant amount; and five minutes will give you an eye-opening hop wallop. It's a heady idea whose time has come.

Wit's End Brewing

Growlers, those familiar glass jugs that allow beer-drinkers to take their suds to go, have been around for as long as, well, for as long as people have been drinking beer. But 64-ounce modern growlers can be unwieldy and impractical, and that often let beer go flat within a day. Enter Wit's End Brewing's stainless-steel forty-ounce canteens. You can buy one for $20 (including your beer) and refill it whenever you want for $9. (Between fills, you can use it for water or whatever other liquid makes you happy.) A heavy-duty o-ring should keep the beer fresh for at least two weeks. "And besides," says brewery owner Scott Witsoe, "we couldn't pass up on the irony of a craft brewery selling beer in forties."

Denver Beer Co.

When Denver Beer Co opened last August, owners Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford wanted to do something different, and they have largely stuck to their vision of constantly brewing new recipes, almost never returning to the tried and true. While that occasionally frustrates fans of one beer or another, it's easy to forget your cares while sitting inside the airy, comforting space or outside in the gorgeous Platte Street beer garden — just blocks from where Denver itself bubbled to the surface in 1858. But the liquid gold here is the beer, and Denver Beer Co has already had some success with its brews, winning a bronze medal for its Graham Cracker Porter at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival — a beer that Berger and Crawford decided, thankfully, to make an exception for and brew again...and again.

Readers' Choice: Denver Beer Co.

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