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.

Hacienda Colorado

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!

Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato

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.

India's Restaurant
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.

DiFranco's

When it comes to Italian cuisine, simplicity, craftsmanship and unassailable ingredients are what count — and DiFranco's, an unassuming, low-key joint that started as an Italian deli, embraces all of those attributes. It serves a lovely selection of house-made pastas, including a terrific tagliolini carbonara specked with pancetta and haloed with a yolky egg, as well as a textbook-perfect Bolognese textured with chewy pappardelle pasta. The subs, stacked on fresh-baked bread layered with fresh mozzarella, super-high-quality Italian meats and vegetables just plucked from the earth, are equally transcendent, and even the salads deserve your attention. And don't even think about waltzing out the door without trying the meatballs, cannoli or ricotta cookies.

Land of Sushi

Revered for its innovative and stunningly composed raw fish and rolls served (if you ask) with freshly grated wasabi, Land of Sushi — whose unfortunate name belies everything that lifts this restaurant to sea stardom — is also a spectacular restaurant for traditional Japanese-intensive cuisine. Besides sushi, the kitchen turns out everything from udon and soba noodle dishes to Japanese hot pots, grilled fish plated with sculptured Asian vegetables and draped with sauces that sing like songbirds, and even lamb carpaccio, lightly seared in hot sesame oil and drizzled with a sauce of citrusy yuzu and soy. At a Japanese restaurant, you expect the delicate slivers of raw fish to be treated with care, but Land of Sushi extends that same respect to everything else on the plate.

Oak at Fourteenth
Danielle Lirette

There's no reason that OAK at Fourteenth's plate of antioxidant-rich greens should be so much better than the rest. The dressing is nothing to crow about — just lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. The add-ons aren't any flashier — a dusting of parmesan, thin slices of apple, some candied almonds for crunch. But as with movies on the big screen, it's not the words themselves, but the delivery that counts. And this kale salad, like Clark Gable's "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," will long stay etched in our memory.

Shin Sa Dong Restaurant

Transparent strip-mall exteriors, bare interiors and stoic service mark most of the area's Korean restaurants — but not Shin Sa Dong. This swank shrine to Korean grill-your-own barbecue as well as banchan, the miniature bowls of Korean side dishes that include kimchi and jelly noodle salad and all sorts of other curiosities, is modern and elegant, with dark woods, melodic fountains and waterfalls, stone-cemented walls and hardwoods. But swanky aesthetics don't amount to much — you're not here to eat the walls of stone — if the food doesn't follow suit. Luckily, it does. Boiled oxen-head soup; sweet-potato noodles bobbing in a cold beef broth; steak tartare with toasted sesame, Asian pears and pine nuts; Korean sausage soup; bibimbap and bulgogi — those are the real stars of the show, and worth their weight in won.

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

There's hardly an hour of the day (or night) that Virgilio's Pizzeria & Wine Bar doesn't pimp happy hour. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, plus 9 p.m. to close Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. to close on Friday and Saturday, this suburban Italian joint pours $4 glasses of bubbles and red and white vino, along with premium well drinks for $3.50. And then there's the 20 percent off every single bottle of premium and reserve wines, of which there are numerous Italian winners. And that's not all: Twenty-ounce sangrias are just $5, and draft pints and bottles ring in between $2.50 and $4.75. But don't drink your entire dinner: The garlic knots and pizzas at Virgilio's are legendary.

Interstate Kitchen & Bar
Mark Manger

Interstate is modeled after an old-time roadhouse, right in the heart of the city, and there's no better place to pull over for a late-night happy hour. Interstate's runs from midnight to 1:30 a.m., with offerings that include deviled eggs ($1 each); fried chicken livers, a pulled-pork slider or the legendary lap dog ($2 each); and bacon corn, fried pickles or a mini-green salad ($3 each). The equally economical liquid assets count a "cooler of cold ones," with five cans (barkeep's choice) for $9, Genny Cream Ale on tap for $2, and a whiskey shooter for $3 among them. When the clock strikes twelve, we brake for Interstate.

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