Fourleaf Chopped Salads

The Denver Tech Center is full of green energy, thanks to Fourleaf Chopped Salads, a homegrown marvel. This subterranean spot is only open weekdays, and only at lunch — when it's always packed. The menu features a dozen specialty salads, as well as some basic choices of greens, a couple dozen dressing options and a dizzying number of proteins and other possible additions: tofu, shrimp, turkey, salami, three kinds of chicken, apples, artichoke hearts, avocado, broccoli, chickpeas, corn, cranberries, eggs, jicama, olives, peas, pasta, sunflower seeds...and on and on. After you choose between iceberg, romaine, spinach or spring mix, you can add as few or as many toppings as you like; everything is then stashed in a bowl, and just before serving, a staffer dumps the mix on a cutting board and works it over with a giant, two-handled rocking knife that chops it all into bite-sized pieces. It's fresh, it's fast, and it's amazingly good.

Readers' Choice: Mad Greens

Carnitas Estilo Michoacan

"Burn, baby, burn" should be the slogan of Carnitas Estilo Michoacán,a superior taqueria whose savage salsas would knock Mike Tyson out of the boxing ring...after just one round. There are ten in all, in varying hues of green, orange, red and firecracker, residing in side-by-side metal buckets. There's a creamy avocado, jalapeño and tomatillo version; another with honey, fresh orange juice and bracing chile de arbol, as well as a hell-hot salsa with mixed chiles that hits more high notes than most mariachi bands. The salsa bar is stocked with plenty of other street-taco requisites, too, including sliced radishes, cucumbers, cilantro, lime wedges and pickled onions, carrots and jalapeños. And while there's no alcohol to dull the pain (a liquor license is pending), the housemade aguas frescas are terrific.

Readers' Choice: Tacos y Salsas

You can get a sandwich just about anywhere, but if you want to wrap your muzzle around a monument, then you need to go to the master of sandwich-making. And that's Masterpiece Deli, the spot that Justin Brunson opened several years ago in Lower Highland, before this part of town was a hot restaurant neighborhood. The come-to-Jesus white-truffled egg salad is the best in the city, but you can say the same for the Italian and the roasted vegetable, the pastrami special and the braised beef brisket on a baguette. This shop sticks to a simple formula: Use the best ingredients you can get your hands on (Brunson's own bacon, for example). And the result is inevitably a masterpiece.

Readers' Choice: Snarf's

Jax Fish House
Jax Fish House

This LoDo shrine to aquatics — thankfully bereft of any Disneyland-under-the-sea nonsense — is quite a catch for crab cakes, catfish and calamari, paddlefish and luxurious caviar, as well as a lovely raw bar glistening with oysters, the true benchmark of a seafood restaurant. Purists will insist that fresh oysters need no adulteration; dispense with the cocktail sauce and the Mignonette, they'll demand, and for chrissakes, never, ever cook them, they'll tell you, shuddering at the mere thought of oysters Rockefeller. And Jax does hustle fresh, briny oysters by the boatload, their exposed flesh scented with nothing more than the purity of the exotic sea. But there are exceptions to every rule — even for purists. To wit: the Hama Hama oyster, the fat mollusk floating in a tide pool of classic buerre blanc, its body festooned with translucent orbs of salmon roe, microgreens and scant shavings of black Périgord truffles. Proof positive that life is better on the half shell.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House

Pints Pub

Scott Diamond, who owns Pints Pub, has been collecting single-malt Scotches for twenty years, and while he claims to have the largest collection of the spirit outside of Great Britain, he's not just amassing bottles for sport. "One hundred and twenty-five distilleries have been making whisky in Scotland since World War II," he says. "We have whisky from 124 of those — and no one in the world can make that claim." Of those 125 distilleries, only 85 or 90 are producing the spirit today, so Diamond has spent the last several years tirelessly hunting down expressions from lost stills (stills that will never produce again) and silent stills (stills that exist but aren't currently making whisky). If you want to sample the breadth of what single-malt Scotch has to offer, there may be no better spot in the world to do so than Pints Pub, right in the heart of the Golden Triangle.

Mama Sannino's
Mark Manger

Jimmy Sannino, owner of Mama Sanninos, has decades of experience behind him; he jokes that he's been in the restaurant business since he was six years old. His family once owned the iconic Three Sons, and he's imported many of the recipes from that longtime north Denver spot to an Arvada strip-mall space that specializes in homestyle cooking and old-school red-sauce dishes. If you're craving that type of food, just about any dish on the menu will do, but Mama Sanninos makes a sublime spaghetti and meatballs. Pencil-thick homemade egg noodles come covered with a thick, spicy-tangy red sauce spiked with garlic and just a smattering of red chiles for extra kick, then topped with a couple of hefty meatballs, the beef pungent with garlic, basil and oregano.

Osteria Marco
Scott Lentz

Osteria Marco is not a pizzeria. It's a shrine to handcrafted cheeses and salumi, to suckling pig on Sunday nights and panini paved with prosciutto. It also happens to be a restaurant whose repertoire includes some of the most superb pizzas to ever cross our lips. A few bites in and you're transfixed by the salty, airy chew of the crust and the inspired combinations of toppings: pancetta, Pecorino and a yolk-flowing egg that seeps across the center; goat cheese, Fontina, fig purée and crisp nubbins of prosciutto that shatter like glass; and our favorite, a pizza with housemade sausage, caramelized onions, Fontina and thin rings of racy red Fresno chiles.

Readers' Choice: Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria

There are steak emporiums staked out all over metro Denver, but for a huge whiff of testosterone perfume — for the essential steakhouse experience — head to the Capital Grille. This is a rich man's utopia, an expanse of power suits and American Express gold cards, of glorious, charred, hand-cut slabs of beef more expensive than seats to Lady Gaga, of indulgent side dishes that make your heart race faster than a Ferrari, of doting, exceptional service reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour, of impeccable wines and cocktails that make your cheeks glow crimson. In other words, there's a brazen disregard for cow-ardly moderation, which is why the beef palace stands steers above its peers.

Readers' Choice: The Keg

La Villa Real
Mark Manger

Before gourmet trucks and new-style taquerias started fancying up tacos, old-school food trucks were turning out inexpensive, authentic street tacos. Many of these loncheras are still displaying their street smarts, including the pair of trucks that comprise the La Villa Real enterprise. This truck, usually parked at West Alameda at Raritan, attracts a constant crowd of patrons, some of whom stop by twice a day for the gorditas, burritos, tortas and, in particular, the tacos. Fresh, hot tortillas are loaded with spicy carne asada, velvety cheek meat or spongey tripe, sprinkled with cilantro and onions, then served with several salsas on the side. They're simple, delicious — and really from the street.

Readers' Choice: Pinche Tacos

Land of Sushi

Land of Sushi opened in a strip mall across from what was then Southglenn Mall — now the Streets at SouthGlenn — a dozen years ago, and quickly made a splash. Over the years, this spot has just gotten better. The restaurant itself doesn't look like much, but the bare-bones ambience just means there's nothing to distract your attention from the food — and the food definitely deserves all your attention. Owner Steve Lin gets shipments of fish every day, and he regularly posts specials like live scallops and uber-fresh uni. But even if you're ordering the usual suspects, like salmon, tuna and yellowtail, you're assured some of the freshest fish around, excellently cut and beautifully displayed.

Readers' Choice: Sushi Den

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