Jax Fish House
Jax Fish House

Many bars in this town turn out balanced drinks, but the team of bartenders at Denver's Jax Fish House exhibits a different kind of equilibrium. The restaurant employs a complementary cadre of professionals with varying skills. Some lend deep, geeky spirits knowledge to the list, contributing housemade sodas, knowledge of the classics and inventive mixology wizardry. Others have perfected the true art of tending bar; they're expert conversationalists and endlessly entertaining — and they remember every drinker's name. The mix makes Jax a special place to go for a drink; it's both your friendly neighborhood watering hole and a worthy stop if you're after a killer cocktail.

Thai Street Food Restaurant

When Utumporn Killoran, who runs the Thai Street Food cart on the 16th Street Mall, opened a same-name brick-and-mortar last year in Aurora, it quickly earned a spot on everyone's you-must-go-here list. From her tiny exhibition kitchen, which she runs with her husband and son, Killoran turns out deeply flavored curries and soups, all of which boast bold spices. There's nothing on her tidy menu that we don't love, but we're particular fans of her noodle jelly salad, which doesn't contain jelly at all. Instead, a slippery mound of glossy glass noodles is tangled with ground pork, shrimp, pungent herbs and lashings of fiery red chiles, the heat of which makes your stomach quake like a coin-operated waterbed. The dish is at once salty and sweet, tart and spicy — and incredible. But you can only get it on Saturdays, which is the only day that the Thai Street Food restaurant is open.

Readers' Choice: Thai Basil

D Bar Desserts

Dessert king Keegan Gerhard is renowned for his sensational sugar sensations, but his savory creations are just as inspiring — starting with the crue fries, an irresponsible mound of Parmesan-dusted thin potato strips buried under a rich cheese sauce that in and of itself has the ability to take over its victims' veins like a heroin injection. But Gerhard doesn't stop there: He covers the heap with melted Jack and cheddar, crumbles of smoky bacon, snips of chives and zigzags of housemade ranch dressing. You'll push the plate away more than once in an effort to pretend that you couldn't possibly eat one more bite — and the second a staffer swoops in to take it away, you'll snatch it back and slap her hand for daring to try.

City, O' City
Hunter Stevens

City, O' City got a new chef and a new interior this past year, but it wisely kept the burger known as the Maximus, a hearty quinoa-and-pinto-bean patty grilled and served up on a Kaiser with special sauce and cheddar. But not content with leaving well enough alone, Brendon Doyle devised an El Jefe option, which adds sautéed mushrooms, onion rings, hot-sauce aioli and a fried egg. Vegans can switch the cheddar out with non-dairy cheese and get rid of the egg; the result is still a righteous burger that satisfies any late-night (or midday, or dinnertime) craving.

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

Although many cuisine types are easily adapted to a vegan lifestyle, the cheeses and meats so prevalent in Italian cooking make it more difficult to find vegan versions of certain Italian staples, especially pizza. But not at Virgilio's. Many of the specialty pies at this very popular place (be prepared to wait for a table) lend themselves to vegan interpretations, or you can build your own pizza with a tomato- or olive oil-based sauce, dairy-free cheese, and all the usual veggie toppings plus a few unusual options, including green olives and fresh spinach. Do yourself a favor and order an extra pie — because when you can find vegan pizza this delicious, you'll definitely want leftovers.

Readers' Choice: Jonesy's EatBar

Moe's Original Bar-B-Que
Cassandra Kotnik

Lovers of vegetarian barbecue, prepare to meet your maker. Moe's Bar-B-Que, a homegrown chain that got its start in the Vail Valley, prepares a heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth smoked tofu. You can order it as a plate, or smothered with coleslaw and slathered in barbecue sauce as a sandwich; you can also nix the slaw for a vegan version. To balance out your meal, Moe's has mac and cheese, potato salad and fresh green salads. And if you're eating at the Englewood address, you can also bowl a lane. 'Cue the applause!

Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

New Saigon

New Saigon
Mark Manger

The book-like menu at New Saigon is dizzying, an ocean of letters and numerals with a whole bay of vegetarian options. But we always land on 10N, Bun Tau Hu Xao Sa Ot, located under the noodle bowl section and highlighted in red. Described simply as "stir-fried tofu with lemon grass noodle bowl," this peanut-topped dish is a tangle of thin rice noodles, carrots, mushrooms, snow peas and thin strips of crispy, savory tofu. While New Saigon's fried rice and cari chay curry are also good vegetarian options, 10N could be the best vegetarian dish in the city (leave the special sauce on the side; it's made with fish) -- and definitely the best vegetarian dish you'll find in a non-vegetarian restaurant.

Readers' Choice: Arada Restaurant

Sam's No. 3
Danielle Lirette

In its various incarnations, Sam's has been serving up classic diner fare for close to nine decades. The current Sam's No. 3 was featured in a recent episode of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives devoted to a "Porktastic" theme, so you know that its pig (and ubiquitous pork green chile) is up to scratch. But vegetarians have their own reason to seek out Sam's: The thick, spicy vegetarian version of the green can be added to any number of dishes on Sam's extensive menu, smothering huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos or ordered as a side, cup, bowl, pint, quart or even gallon to take home. The hearty flavor and texture is enough to make even the most reluctant vegetable-eater sit up and say "Arriba!"

Readers' Choice: Illegal Pete's

Masalaa

Ravi Kumar and Ehmad Ansari, two strict vegetarians, opened Masalaa in an Aurora strip mall close to a decade ago, and it's still going strong — and is still meat-free. While some specialties from the north, as well as Indochinese offerings, have crept onto the list, the focus is definitely food of southern India — and not a single dish contains meat. The best time to try Masalaa is during lunch, when a hot buffet table is filled with spicy curries and bright stews featuring lentils, chickpeas, eggplant and okra. The server will also deliver plenty of hot, bready items to supplement your feast, including the best dosa we've had in town.

Best Vegetarian Meal From a Non-Vegetarian Food Truck

Quiero Arepas

Quiero Arepas

The food-truck revolution in this city was kind to vegetarians and vegans, with almost every vehicle offering at least a couple of options for non-carnivores. Quiero Arepas drives down both sides of the street, catering to both meat-eaters and plant-eaters with a roster of arepas — corn-based, flatbread-style wraps — with filling choices that include beef and smoked salmon as well as eggs, roasted red-pepper hummus and creamy slices of avocado. The vegan arepa really gets our motor running, with a thick dollop of black beans, avocado slices and plantains tucked in the crispy corn blanket.

Best Of Denver®

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