Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar

Crooked Stave brews what is perhaps the most challenging style of beer — not just for the palates of the general public, but for craft-beer lovers, as well. Sour and wild ales are fermented, usually in wooden barrels, with specific kinds of yeast and bacteria that add funky, occasionally off-putting and potentially addictive flavors to beer. It's not a new fad; the Belgians have been making this style of beer for hundreds of years. But almost no one in the country, let alone Colorado, does it as well as Crooked Stave owner Chad Yakobson, who has built up such a fierce following that his skills are borrowed by other brewers across the country and his ales are talked about by beer geeks around the world. You'll always find a couple of them on tap in the Barrel Cellar (along with interesting people from unexpected places). Crooked Stave will triple its production this year, from 450 to 2,000 barrels, which still makes it one of the smallest breweries in Colorado, but one with an enormous footprint.

Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Mark Antonation

As craft-beer culture grows, breweries, bars and restaurants increasingly add to their collections of style-appropriate glassware. But it took a single-minded dedication on the part of Black Shirt Brewing to help design a brand-new — and somewhat challenging — glass with Golden's Offero Vessels. Based on a coffee-mug design engineered to capture the aromas of a drink as you bring the glass to your lips, the glasses, one with a stem and one without, have slanted rims that can result in spills but also forces drinkers to concentrate on the beverage before them. It's the only glass you'll find at Black Shirt, which opened in October 2012, but even that wouldn't help if the beer wasn't tasty. At Black Shirt, each one is a gem — and worthy of careful, thoughtful sipping.

A brewpub needs to do two things: serve its own food and make its own beer. Since opening in 2008, the Vine Street Pub has done the former very well, offering a mix of healthy fare, Colorado-centered creations and elevated pub food, like its meaty, award-winning wings. But last April, the neighborhood spot also became the primary brewing facility for its owner, the Mountain Sun group, which has three other locations, all in Boulder. Vine Street now brings together its already excellent menu with outstanding beers, a mellow vibe, growlers of beer to go, and a sunny patio to give the east side of town a can't-miss spot. Way to put the "brew" in brewpub.

Table 6
Cassandra Kotnik

Table Six is the consummate neighborhood hang, the kind of place where, at least on Sunday, you can wear your mismatched PJs and fit right in with the rest of the smitten disciples — many of them local chefs — who converge in droves for dashing dishes that stretch far beyond pancakes and eggs Benedict. Chef Scott Parker's eccentric menu is a fanciful blast of morning treats, beginning with the tater tots dipped into blood-orange ketchup and moving on to the "haute pocket" filled with Tasso ham, steak, silky scrambled eggs, grilled onions and cheddar. DJ Ginger Perry keeps things hip with energetic spins, and the intriguing cocktails — stiff and sexy — will make you want to linger long after the 2:30 p.m. closing time.

Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet
Mark Antonation

Let's face it: Most brunch displays are mirror images of each other: omelets, waffles, strips of (cold) bacon and shriveled sausage links. And more often than not, you'll pay through the pancake for that kind of carbon-copy brunch spread — most of it stuff that you could make at home. If you wanted to. Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet has a different kind of brunch — and a remarkably inexpensive one at that. Priced at $9.99 per person during the week and $15.99 on the weekends — when the spread includes fresh oysters, ceviches, seafood soups and shrimp prepared in a variety of ways — it's a full day's worth of flavor-bombed fuel that will feed your belly without starving your wallet.

Highland Tap & Burger

Even in this era of carbonated mojito spheres, caviar bubbles and beet cheesecake, the hamburger remains America's favorite food, and burger fans — of which you are undoubtedly one — are insanely opinionated about what the consummate burger should look and taste like. Highland Tap & Burger gets to the meat of the matter, serving its plump, char-grilled patties every which way: from classically naked to blanketed with cheese to whimsically fancified with feather-light shavings of foie gras. The beef, all Angus and 100 percent natural, is judiciously seasoned, cooked to temperature (if you want your beef to be bloody-red squish, the kitchen is happy to oblige), and the buns — white, whole wheat or gluten-free — are soft but sturdy. Tear into it, make a mess, and dribble 'til the cows come home.

Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar
Mark Manger

Row 14's dizzying array of wine that can be ordered by the glass — more than forty options in all, evenly divided between reds and whites — is reason to toast. Creating a killer BTG wine program is no easy feat. Offer too few selections that aren't regularly updated, and you run the risk of failing to keep guests intrigued. Feature a lineup that's too ambitious — or changes too frequently — and you might alienate fans who look forward to finding their faves night after night. On top of those challenges, wine-by-the-glass programs have the less-than-enviable task of needing to satisfy both drinkers with absolutely zero intention of pairing their vino with anything other than their thirst and diners eager to mix and match glasses to each course. Still, Row 14 has designed the perfect list for everyone. Cheers!

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Las Salteñas

Las Saltenas

You may not even know that metro Denver has a Bolivian restaurant, much less what kind of food you'll find there. But this tiny restaurant's name gives away the Bolivian national treasure: empanada-like pockets of beef or chicken stew called salteñas. Soupy and notoriously difficult to eat without spilling, salteñas contain spicy filling studded with olives, potatoes and diced hard-boiled eggs. Poke a hole to let the steam out before nibbling the slightly sweet pastry and downing the rich, warming broth. Other specialties include lomo borracho — a beer-based, chunky beef soup topped with a fried egg — and pique macho, a street-food-lover's dream dish of tender beef, french fries, hot dog slices and spicy gravy. With only a few seats in the place, takeout is a definite option, but then you'll miss the owner's warmth, charm and wistful descriptions of Bolivian culture and cuisine.

Bull & Bush Brewery
Hunter Stevens

Here's the primary problem with ultra-cheap steaks: They're annoyingly thin — too thin to prepare mid-rare — and for those of us who prefer a mooing cow to a muffled cow, that just doesn't cut it. But you don't have to pay upwards of $30 for a great piece of meat. For a bargain-priced steak that's thick, beastly and full of beefy flavor, head to the appropriately named Bull & Bush, which serves a twelve-ounce baseball center-cut sirloin that's liberally rubbed with salt and pepper and then grilled to the exact temperature requested. Included in the $17 price tag is soup or salad and a choice of mashed potatoes, wild rice or a loaded baked potato. This is a steak you can bank on.

ChoLon Modern Asian

If the kitchen is a stage, then Lon Symensma, chef-owner of ChoLon, is its undisputed star. He exudes extraordinary verve and charisma behind — and beyond — the line, and there's no end to his experimental innovation and bedazzling flavors and textures. But even more important is his endless pursuit of perfection, evident in every dish he creates, plates and tastes before it's whisked from the kitchen. He leaves absolutely nothing to chance, cooking with precision and finesse, standing guard over his troops and exposing his soul in every sauce, glaze, skewer, dumpling, potsticker and egg cloud that touches your lips. This is the kind of restaurant — and Symensma is the kind of chef — that makes you want to drop everything you're doing and just surrender to delicious temptation.

See also: A look at the last decade of Best Chef winners

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