Best Dive Bar 2013 | Bar Bar (Carioca Cafe) | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin

Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We've lost many of this city's old saloons over the last few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar — something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. It's fascinating to watch how the clientele at this spot at the edge of downtown changes over the course of a day (and three happy hours). Get there at noon and you can grab a cup of coffee and reading material — or just study some of Denver's finest barflies, a few of whom might have been there since the doors opened at 7 a.m. As the hour gets later, an assortment of hipsters, punks and rockers mixes in with those barflies, the live music starts, and the next thing you know, it's last call. Dive, he said.

It's good to be king, and Falling Rock Tap House has ruled this city's craft beer scene since owner Chris Black opened the place sixteen years ago, serving rare beers from sought-after breweries all over Colorado, across the country and even overseas. If Falling Rock doesn't have the beer you're looking for, it's probably not possible to get it in Colorado. You might have a hard time making a decision when you're staring at eighty taps, so you'll want to take a peek at the frequently updated beer menu before you hit up the bartender for advice. Still, half the fun is trying something you've never heard of. Go ahead, take a sip.

Cassandra Kotnik

Nothing says breakfast (or brunch) better than a plate of eggs Benedict, and no one does them better than Devil's Food, a diabolical morning powerhouse in Washington Park, where the kitchen cooks up a trio of these morning glories: one with ham, another crowned with fresh spinach and ripe tomatoes, and a third slapped with smoked salmon and arugula. Each version boasts two wiggly, jiggly poached eggs plopped atop fresh challah and draped with a lemon-smooched Hollandaise that raises the dead like the morning sun.

Maureen Witten

You'll know you're in the right place when you see the red, green and yellow stripes of the Ethiopian flag lining the windows of this nondescript storefront. Nile Ethiopian's dining room may be run down, and service can be slow, but decor and service aren't the things that families and friends, many speaking African languages, look for here. They come for chicken wot, a thick stew of red peppers, onions and nutmeg with a drumstick and hard-boiled egg; zilzil tibs, chewy strips of sautéed beef; and a vegetarian combo with carrots, potatoes, lentils and the popular berbere-spiced chickpea dish known as shiro wat. Food is served on platter-sized rounds of sour, spongy injera bread, edges folded up like a galette, with more injera on the side so there's plenty to scoop up the often searing food.

At restaurants across town, it's not hard to rack up a big bill: Those small plates add up, and one steakhouse slab can carve out a day's pay. But if the sky — or at least your card's credit — is the limit, you're looking not just for fabulous food, but impeccable service and an upscale ambience to match. And for that, you're not going to do any better than Restaurant Kevin Taylor, the restaurant tucked into a corner of Hotel Teatro, and overseen by Kevin Taylor. The space is intimate and elegant but not overbearing, the service attentive but not obsequious, the wine list comprehensive and the food absolutely stunning. Your bill will be, too.

Root Down Instagram

On the first Tuesday of every month, Daniel Asher, the kitchen magician at Root Down and a certified raw-foods chef, sets out to prove that a plant-based diet is anything but banal or boring, and he succeeds beautifully, turning out vibrant raw vegan dishes, all of which are organically sourced. His hummus is a showstopper, his squash pasta a mind-altering experience — the cashew cream sauce an impossibly perfect substitute for dairy — and the way he treats and prepares his vegetables is nothing short of miraculous. It's cooking steeped in consciousness, but it's also cooking that even a carnivore would crave.

First dates can be make it/break it propositions — and there are rules for getting it right, including minding your manners, wearing the right shoes, forgoing the offensive cologne, covering your private parts with clean underwear and making sure that your socks match. Beyond those, you don't want to be too frugal, nor do you want to come across as one of those flashy types who tosses money around like it's raining gold coins. So it's also important to find the correct place for a first-date outing: a place that has an appropriate energy level, atmospheric tunes, flattering lighting, an exceptionally good menu that accommodates both weird eaters and bona fide gastronauts, down-the-middle prices and plenty of liquid assets. Jonesy's EatBar fulfills all of these requirements, and it scores even higher on the first-date barometer because it's right next door to the Horseshoe Lounge, where, if things go smoothly, you and your date can get down and dirty. And even if the date completely sucks, Jonesy's is the kind of place that you'll want to return to with friends.

During football season, the outgoing owners of the Orange Crunch food cart pay homage to the Denver Broncos — hence the cart's name — by garbing themselves in home-team gear colored bright blue and even brighter orange, which happens to be the same hue as their fantastic Filipino empanadas, deep-fried half-moon crescents made with rice flour and stuffed with everything from shredded green papaya and mung beans to bison, bacon or (gulp) alligator. And those greaseless marvels are just the beginning of the food-fueled touchdowns that continue with Filipino egg rolls; crackling pork belly straddling a mound of rice; and fried "nanners," pastry-wrapped bananas caramelized in brown sugar and dusted with powdered sugar. Score!

While other food trucks hustle burgers, pizza and ice cream — not that there's anything wrong with those — Pink Tank, which is indeed the hue of a ballerina's tutu, is where you go for the F-Bomb, a hefty hot dog weighted with thick strips of bacon, scrambled eggs and cheddar mounted on French toast fairy-dusted with powdered sugar and glossed with maple syrup infused with caramel. The truck is an unapologetic shrine to swine, with bacon appearing here, there and everywhere — including on its own, in a mountainous heap of glory. Just get that and a glass of lemonade (pink, obviously), and you'll be in hog heaven.

Hunter Stevens

Zócalo, which got its start just off Broadway in Capitol Hill, added a sibling on South Broadway last year — which means there are now two places where you can get Denver's best free chips and salsa. The basket of fresh, salty chips arrives at your table a second after you sit down — accompanied by an incredible salsa that tastes almost meaty, thanks to the roasted tomatoes and chiles that form its base. It's thick, deeply flavored and delicious. You could make a meal of the chips and salsa, but don't make that mistake: There are many other things to try at Zócalo, including great grilled meats and the most decadent chile-cheese fries imaginable — topped with jalapeño slices and bacon.

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