Best Fried Rice 2013 | Benihana | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Molly Martin

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.

If we want to drink tequila, we're going to drink it straight. But lately, we've been thirsting for that most adult of slurpies: a frozen margarita. Popular in other parts of the country, they're a rarity in Colorado (probably because the heated stares of margarita purists are enough to melt them into syrup) but a specialty at Hacienda Colorado, the "Mountain Mex" chain founded by Tim Schmidt. He's even the namesake of one of his homegrown chain's frozen margs, the Timmer, which has a Grand Marnier floater. But we prefer Hacienda Colorado's frozen house marg, made with nothing more than Margaritaville Gold Tequila and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Cool!

The best ice cream should be rich, creamy and packed with flavor, without being overly sweet or gooey. Glacier, which got its start in Boulder but is slowly spreading along the Front Range, nails it with a dense, unctuous base and flavors so intense you won't even think about adding toppings. Traditionalists and adventurous eaters alike will find something to love in the kid-pleasing Three Nut Rocky Road or the more complex, adult flavors of the Blueberry Zinfandel sorbet or Green Tea White Chocolate gelato.

Courtesy India's Restaurant Facebook

For more than two decades, India's menu has been making people chuckle with descriptions as ornate as its lantern-bedecked space, which lost none of its luster when it moved across Hampden. Pakora curry, for example, is "spiced to perfection," and rajma boasts kidney beans in "delectable" gravy. What's not a laughing matter are metal bowls and plates overflowing with cream sauces and curries so heady with cardamom, cumin and coriander, they deserve every superlative. Make sure to order something from the clay tandoor, a charcoal-fired oven that gives an earthy tinge to meats and roti, and the vaishnav thali, a sampling of vegetarian favorites such as chana masala, saag paneer and almond-flecked korma.

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