Best Late-Afternoon Happy Hour 2013 | Virgilio's Pizzeria & Wine Bar | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.

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.

The women on the late shift at the Denver Diner don't take any shit — but they don't dish it, either. Whether you drop in at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday when the place is quiet or 2 a.m. on a Saturday when customers are hanging from the rafters, the staff keeps its cool. The service is consistently efficient and friendly: Orders are taken quickly, customer requests are granted without a fuss, and the coffee is always hot. Plus, it seems that the superwomen of the Denver Diner all have untouchably perfect acrylic nails, and for some reason, it's not offensive that they call everyone "Baby."

Cheap lunches tend to be greasy, and while we love those smothered burritos and cheesy slices of pizza, we also live in the real world, where work, not a nap, follows the mid-day meal. So for a fraction of the grease — not to mention a better balance of protein and carbs to help you power through the day — try the chicken shawarma sandwich at House of Kabob. Full of chopped, marinated chicken — enough to fill two sandwiches — the pita hardly has room for the hummus, lettuce and tomato also folded inside. Priced at $4.95, you'll top out above five when you add the tax, but this lunch is worth a few extra cents.

Joni Schrantz

Macaroni and cheese, once a comfort-food staple of every Sunday supper, isn't what it used to be. The slightly chewy, sauce-soaked elbow macaroni and cheese at Mizuna is definitely not your grandmother's version — unless, that is, your nana favors sweet lobster meat in place of Oscar Meyer ham and silky mascarpone over Velveeta. The immodestly rich recipe, which originated with Thomas Keller, is completely hedonistic, its base of butter, cream and wine a luxurious invitation to submission.

With so many contemporary-cocktail choices out there, you don't want a mixologist messing with your martini — throwing in fruit and chocolate or, God forbid, edging the glass with chile powder. You want your martini as classic as the atmosphere in which it's served. And for that, you want Elway's. Grab a seat at the bar, tell bar manager Ky Belk what you want — and then prepare to be shaken, if not stirred.

Denver has its fair share of places hawking kabobs and baklava. But no one does the little things as well as Phoenician Kabob. Here the dimple in a side of hummus is filled with chickpeas and olive oil that's fruity extra-virgin rather than plain. Falafel is shaped into discs, not spheres, ensuring no soggy middles. And the pita, which so many places treat like a starchy fork to scoop up the main course, is good enough to be the main course. Made in-house in a gas-fired brick oven, the bread puffs in seconds, until it's as chewy yet tender as the edges on a Neapolitan pizza. Speaking of which, if you like white pie, try the zaatar & feta, with a paste of thyme, olive oil and roasted sesame seeds slathered like pesto over a thin round of dough, then topped with tangy feta and baked until the crust browns and air bubbles bulge and pop — a process you can watch through a window into the kitchen.

Spoon? Straw? No matter how you suck them down — and no matter the season — the handmade milkshakes at Sassafras American Eatery, a breakfast/lunch spot that brought new life to Jefferson Park last year, are a connoisseur's crack. There are more than twenty versions, all served in old-timey glass jars with a spoon for support and a straw for those who like to slurp. They're all thick, hand-mixed with rich ice cream, but what really seals the deal are the add-ons: M&M's, gingersnap cookies, salted caramel pretzels and chocolate-dipped bacon, all of which give the shakes texture. For a dip into nostalgia, order the Cap'n Crunch shake and channel your inner cartoon character. The only thing missing is a bobble doll.

Molly Martin

There are rules when it comes to nachos: The chips (corn, of course) need to be sturdy; otherwise, they'll become soggy under the weight of the real reason you ordered nachos in the first place: all that stuff that comes heaped on top. These chips should be baked so that the outer edges emerge golden, and never piled on top of one another. And most important, nachos shouldn't be fancy or tampered with. Save your pork belly, your foraged wild mushrooms, your ahi tuna and whatever other foodstuffs you find tempting for something else — never nachos. There are few places that manage to follow all these rules, but the Pioneer, a watering hole and Mexican joint, does nachos right. The chips — salty, thick and stiff — are arranged in a single layer (this kitchen realizes that an order of nachos isn't meant to emulate Everest), each one smeared with black beans and topped with either grilled chicken or beef, melted asadero cheese (a welcome change from cheddar), scallions, fresh jalapeños, pico de gallo and zigzags of Mexican crema. Every single chip receives the royal treatment, and each bite is better than the last.

The Wooden Table opened in 2011 in Greenwood Village, where it was an immediate standout in a suburban mega-wasteland of fast-food joints and chains. But this restaurant would be a standout anywhere. Jane Knauf and chef Brett Shaheen, a former executive chef at Osteria Marco, are the forces behind the elegantly informal, high-decibel, sociable space that's always buzzing with sophisticated foodophiles, who order off a horizon-enhancing page-turner of a wine list and then dig into beautifully crafted Italian dishes emphasizing house-made pastas, charcuterie and magnificent main dishes, including grilled monkfish floating in a sea-urchin purée. This is the kind of neighborhood restaurant that every neighborhood wishes it had.

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