Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Mark Antonation

More than 300 restaurants opened in metro Denver last year, and many of them added something new and special to an already vibrant dining scene. But none did it with the aplomb of Pinche Taqueria, a raucous, irreverent spot that grew out of Kevin Morrison's highly successful food truck. The menu here is focused and simple, featuring an array of gringified tacos packed with succulent meats and punchy flavors, as well as a handful of appetizers and the best churros we've ever tasted; the bar program is a frequently evolving homage to tequila, whiskey and debauchery. But this restaurant is so much more than a sum of its parts: Every time we stop by, we love it a little bit more. Pinche Taqueria feeds more than our bellies: It feeds our imagination, letting us enter someone else's magical world for a while so that we remember, again, what dining out is all about.

Readers' Choice: Ambria

Also read: "Denver's ten best new restaurants."

Virgilio's Pizzeria and Wine Bar
Courtesy Virgilio's Pizzeria & Wine Bar Facebook

If you want a perfectly pleasant conversation to turn contentious, just mention the word "pizza" and watch the dough fly. Or you can just shut your piehole and plop yourself down at Virgilio's, where the New York-style pizzas are generally known to silence even the most severe skeptics. The pizzas — sturdy, slightly raised, requisitely chewy and uniformly tinged golden — are staunchly traditional (seekers of Brussels sprouts or ornamental orange blossoms should fuhgeddaboutit), and the lightly herbed sauce, a judicious balance of acidity and sweetness, paves the way for classic toppings like sausage and pepperoni, onions and olives. With so many frou-frou pizzas littering menus these days, the pies at Virgilio's are a welcome journey down memory lane.

It's not exactly convenient to jump on a plane every time you get a hankering for Panang curry, so we've spent some serious hours searching out a local replacement. Enter Thai Flavor, where you can get a brimming bowl of Panang curry, creamy and caramel-colored, pungent and peppery, swimming with tender strips of pork, scallions and basil, and laced with a chile-infused heat that's checked — somewhat — by the natural sugar of coconut milk, the savory bite of garlic and the tangy nip of a freshly squeezed lime. With a side of sticky rice, it's almost as good — almost — as a curry you'd find on the banks of the Mekong in the north of Thailand.

Wooden Spoon Cafe & Bakery
Mark Manger

It's easy to go crazy at the pastry case at Wooden Spoon, a tiny bakery tucked into a row of Highland storefronts. Every time we stop in, we want to order one of almost everything. We can't pass up the macarons; the egg white-and-almond-based cookies, filled with buttercream, melt away into nothing on the tongue. Nor can we turn down a lemon meringue mini-pie, the individual-sized flaky crust packed with smooth, tangy lemon filling and topped with ethereally light peaks of meringue. The cinnamon rolls, troweled with tart cream-cheese icing, are not to be missed; the turtle is a rich, sticky mix of chocolate, caramel and pecans. And while you may only be able to take about three bites of the chocolate dome, they'll be three glorious spoonfuls of dense chocolate ganache encrusted with chocolate fondant on a thin chocolate cookie.

Gaia Bistro
Mark Manger

Gaia Bistro is one of the homiest restaurants around, not least because it's actually located in an old home. The inside is cozy and comfortable — especially in the winter, when the warren of rooms creates a warm, welcoming haven — but Gaia shines brightest outside. You can eat on the planter-lined patio or at one of the tables scattered across the expansive lawn; when summer settles over the Mile High City, these outdoor areas are always packed on weekends. But on cool weekend mornings, the deck is empty — and when you have a French press full of coffee, one of Gaia's housemade pastries and a newspaper before you, this can feel like the most perfect place in the world.

Quixote's True Blue

Come spring and summer, the back patio of Quixote's True Blue fills with the odors of hippie food on the stove, a few cigs and stogies, and often the sweet, skunky smell of other burning materials — not that anyone is condoning anything here. Snag a seat at the picnic table, where you can enjoy a post-Rockies beer or boogie your butt off in front of the outdoor stage featuring a Grateful Dead bluegrass cover band. Either way, we guarantee you'll get high...on life.

Pho Duy
Mark Antonation

The Denver area has dozens and dozens of pho shops, most of which serve up decent bowls of noodle soup. But only a few really stand out, and the one that rises to the top is Pho Duy. The menu is as spare as the decor at this strip-mall spot; save for a few specialties and spring rolls, there's not much offered beyond pho. But the kitchen doesn't need to make anything else to pull in crowds. Its intensely layered broth, which tastes like it comes from a very well-seasoned pot, supports nests of springy noodles, thin slices of beef, brisket or offal, and all the fresh herbs you can stand. Ribbon it with sriracha or ask for a little of the restaurant's homemade hot sauce for a punch of heat.

Euclid Hall has given Denver foodniks more than they could possibly ask for: poutines, fried cheddar curds, bone marrow, the Tim T-boning Manhattan shot, housemade blood-blotted boudin noir and a fulfilling armory of other fantastic sausages, foie gras and...pig's ears. No matter how often we go, the pig's ears, expressively Thai in preparation, are our dream date: Salty, sweet, penetratingly spicy and tart with citrus, the curls of flesh and cartilage, slicked with a tamarind sauce sharp with chiles and textured with peanuts, are crisp and crunchy. Chef Jorel Pierce crowns the ears with mung-bean sprouts, mint and cilantro, creating one of the most marvelous mouthfuls of food in the galaxy.

Pizzeria Locale
Rob Christensen

"There's no other style of pizza in the world that's as geeky as the Napolitano style," chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson proclaimed when he opened Pizzeria Locale. "And we're trying to do it exactly right." Doing it right included MacKinnon-Patterson and partner Bobby Stuckey bringing oven-makers from Italy to build a custom wood-burning stove in their new space near the flagship Frasca. The hard work paid off, though: Pizzeria Locale turns out mind-blowing pies that begin with a rich and chewy crust, thin and soft in the center and fluffier around the edges. The menu offers about fifteen different combos, from a traditional Margherita — with sweet and savory milled San Marzano tomatoes, stretchy and decadent mozzarella di bufala and a few leaves of fresh basil — to the Mais, a combination of sweet corn, silky slices of prosciutto cotto, tart crème fraîche and more mozzarella. And, as in Naples, these pizzas don't come sliced — so be prepared to eat yours with a knife and fork.

Readers' Choice: Sexy Pizza

Euclid Hall was one of the first upscale restaurants in Denver to tailor its menu — full of rich, hand-cranked sausage, poutine and cheeses — to beer rather than wine, and Denver hasn't stopped loving the combination. Over the past few months, however, Euclid Hall has upped its game, hosting a variety of events and evenings featuring beers on tap that are just as brilliant as the menu items — and matching together in a way that makes you realize that in Denver, beer really is the new wine.

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