Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome

Classic Francophilia gets a flirtatious modern update at this bewitching, ooh-la-la bistro tucked behind the bustle of Larimer Square. The location is the perfect setting for the inspiring cooking of Dana Rodriguez, a spirited, gifted chef who romances her guests with lovely, unfussy dishes: butter-misted escargot primped with fresh herbs; sublime steak frites; and a phenomenal cassoulet with rabbit sausage, duck leg confit, pork belly, white beans and glossy pearl onions. A fetching wine list, sophisticated cocktails and disarming service that never slacks — not to mention that sensational courtyard patio — just add to the joie de vivre.

While the dish's origins are solidly steeped in the South, cooks far and wide have embraced the indisputable truth: There are few things as delicious as a juicy plate of fried chicken. And Tom's Home Cookin', an iconic soul-food shack in Five Points, is the incontestable bastion of the bird. Plunged in oil until the batter and skin meld into a crunchy, golden exterior that adheres to the tender meat, then punctuated with salt and pepper, the fried chicken here deserves its cultish legion of dedicated diehards, all of whom will stand in line for however long it takes to feed their soul. Just be forewarned: Tom's shutters when the food runs out, and the fried chicken is almost always first to fly the coop.

TAG Burger Bar
Mark Manger

There's something about fried pickles — sometimes called "frickles" — that turns a sour mouth into a Cheshire-cat grin. TAG Burger Bar, which also pounds out bodacious burgers and adult milkshakes that make you quake, had perfected the fried pickle in a way that makes you want to pounce. The thick-cut cucumbers, pickled with coriander seeds, black peppercorns, garlic, sugar, salt, dill and white vinegar, are dredged in flour and breadcrumbs, then take a nose-dive in canola oil, and the results are fried pickle prestige. Pucker-proper on the inside with a crunchy and tawny exterior, they're served in glass jars and paired with a ranch dipping sauce that packs a pinch of heat.

Benihana

Benihana is the Barnum & Bailey Circus of Japanese food, an unabashedly corny and often embarrassing centerfold of eye-rolling wisecracks, theatrics and occasional mishaps from the knife-wielding teppenyaki chefs who elevate (some would say disintegrate) food into an entertainment form. But guess what? The food here is nothing to sneer at, and the fried rice — allegedly a "top secret" recipe — is a dish that deserves a command performance. It's a medley (as best we can tell) of fried eggs, soy sauce, garlic butter, sesame seeds and vegetables, and it arrives at the table long before the chefs toss your beef, chicken or shrimp on the plate — a ploy, we think, to ensure that you order another round. Most people do.

Rooster & Moon Coffee Pub

You won't get cold coffee or the cold shoulder at Rooster & Moon. The staff at this coffee shop/bar will offer a single customer multiple greetings before he even reaches the counter. These baristas know the importance of politeness, and they'll never make you wait to order while they commiserate with each other — or spill a story to you. Instead, they'll listen courteously as you ask which Allegro coffee beverage to try or which sandwich is the best — we recommend the $5 Four Cheese Grilled Cheese — and then give informed, honest recommendations.

Bittersweet
Mark Manger

Olav Peterson, the brilliantly talented chef/grower/gardener/owner of Bittersweet, draws a crowd at his lovely West Washington Park restaurant, an urban oasis hedged with a stunning 600-square-foot organic garden (it doubles as a patio), from which Peterson plucks seasonal foodstuffs. Sure, locavorism started long ago, and sourcing locally is nothing new, but Peterson is his own pioneer, steadfastly dedicated to growing as many of his own ingredients as he possibly can — and the intimate relationship he has with those fruits, herbs and vegetables allows him to change his menu to accommodate the best of the season.

Karl's Deli

Red plastic cafeteria trays and vinyl tablecloths in the colors of the Bavarian flag won't distract from the simple heartland daily specials at Karl's: golden-fried schnitzel and belly-warming goulash sided with creamy potato salad, wine-braised cabbage and maybe a malty German beer or two. Karl's will fill you with alpine goodness to brace you against the worst that Denver winters can muster. Choose from a variety of wursts bursting with juices and flavor; on warmer days, Karl's will build deli sandwiches with familiar Black Forest ham and funkier options like braunschweiger or tongue and blood sausage. No matter what you order for your main course, save room for flaky, butter-rich strudel baked fresh each morning. It's German: You didn't come here to mess around with greens and low-fat salad dressing, so leave the guilt at the door and just enjoy getting stuffed.

The Rosedale
Mark Antonation

Boone's Tavern — a member of the Pour Kids bar group — claims that its green chile is "famous," which may be a stretch, but, whoa, is it destined to become that way! The joint's verde, which is actually green — not red, not orange, not neon, but green — is prepared mild, medium or hot, and the latter is purgatory on steroids, a medium-thick, invigorating blast of blistering jalapeños, cumin and garlic that's peppered and salted and swamped with tender cubes of pork. And Boone's isn't even a Mexican joint: It's an all-over-the-map catch-all of this, that and everything else that just happens to devote a portion of its menu to Mexican staples, including a Pueblo slopper, which is the optimal canvas for that tasty green chile.

Early Bird Restaurant

You might think an extra dose of willpower is necessary to shun fluffy omelets or pancakes with whipped cream in favor of doctor-approved toasted oats. But at Early Bird, a cheerful new breakfast and lunch spot in Westminster, the granola makes it easy to start the day off right. Thick Greek yogurt serves as the foil for sweetened, toasted oats packed with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut, pistachios and pecans. Depending on the season, apples or fresh berries might serve as the proverbial cherry on top. Best of all, a heap of granola is placed in the bowl before the yogurt goes in, then another layer is sprinkled on top, so you're never left without that tasty crunch.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

Just because gourmet hot dogs are popping up all over town doesn't mean that all hot dogs are created equal. And Biker Jim's links remain the wildest, most exotic and delicious pups around. The chubby franks, most of which are sourced from Continental Sausage, are hoisted hot from the grill, split down the center and tucked into a soft bun, then given a fat squirt of cream cheese and festooned with sweet onions caramelized in Coca-Cola. A handful of dogs — rattlesnake and pheasant, Alaskan reindeer, a steak brat prepared Wellington style, a smoked bacon weenie paved with avocado purée and tomato cream cheese, and the elk-cheddar-jalapeño — are always on the menu. And on "What the $#@^% Wednesday," who knows what owner and sausage-slinger Jim Pittenger might come with? The "Jackalope," crowned with blue cheese, fried onions, bacon marmalade and Kewpie mayonnaise, is a good guess. Next up: unicorns.

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