Ace Eat Serve
Courtesy Ace Eat Serve

Ace is much more than a bar, of course. Owners Josh and Jen Wolkon took a cavernous, 9,000-square-foot garage next to Steuben's and turned it into a hangout extraordinaire, with an ambitious kitchen that reinterprets Asian food with smart, silly twists; a huge front patio with a couple of ping-pong tables; and a back room with many more. But even without the ping-pong, this space would feel like a party: lights low, music pumping, the decor full of fun touches and, most important, a big, curvy bar that barman Randy Layman has stocked with scorpion bowls, alcoholic shaved ices and clever cocktails. The menu has gone through a few tweaks since the place opened last August — but as a bar, Ace has scored from the start.

See also: A look at the last dozen years of Best New Bar winners

Prost Brewing
Prost Brewing

Eight new breweries opened in Denver in 2012, while at least that many opened in the surrounding counties, making the metro area one of the best tap-room destinations in the country. Prost Brewing combines the best parts of a German bier hall (beautifully made, easy-drinking craft lagers, a copper kettle, long wooden tables, buskery decorations and giant steins) with the comforting familiarity of an Old West saloon (rough floors, a long bar and a mirrored barback). In addition to its own beers, which are brewed by award-winning master Bill Eye, Prost serves beers made by Dad n Dudes and Tivoli Brewing, and hosts various German-style food trucks or catering companies on a regular basis.

Black Eye Coffee Shop

Black Eye Coffee keeps its brews to a sophisticatedly high standard that appeals to a growing crowd of java aficionados, using the handcrafted method of pour-over to personally construct each cup of Sweet Yellow Brazil, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or whichever of the four varieties is on the bi-weekly rotation. While you sip, it's not uncommon to find yourself conversing with one of the three java-Jedi owners of Black Eye on topics ranging from fair-trade beans, to the necessity of roasting beans at elevation for an elevation brew, to why Starbucks just doesn't understand the subtle nuances of a properly executed cup of coffee.

Uncle
Mark Manger

Fifteen years ago, if someone had said the city's best new restaurant was a ramen shop, you might've asked, "What's a ramen shop?" But we're living in a post-Momofuku era, where the virtues of minimalist decor, cloudy broth and curly noodles are commonly extolled, so today most Denver diners would shake their heads knowingly and reply, "I know, isn't Uncle terrific?" Even before you've pushed back from the bustling counter, belly full of steamed buns with avocado and mint, crispy Brussels sprouts, spicy chicken ramen and pear cider, you're contemplating your return to Tommy Lee's breakout hit. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait longer than you'd like: Uncle isn't open for lunch, which might be the only thing we don't like about the place. Lee's idea may not be new, but his execution is superb at Uncle, with consistently excellent service and food.

See also: A look at the last decade of Best New Restaurant winners

The Populist
Courtesy The Populist Facebook page

After opening last November amid a flurry of industry- and hipster-driven buzz, this tiny jewel of a restaurant has settled into a pattern of turning out ridiculously good food to a packed dining room night after night. We were delighted to discover that the Populist's wine program was just as unassuming — and satisfying — as its menu: by-the-glass pours (five white, five red, two bubbly) somehow cost only $4 each, yet showcase marvels like La Spinetta's juicy Il Nero di Casanova sangiovese and the bracingly mineral-driven Laurenz V. grüner veltliner. Bottled selections should thrill both wine geek and novice alike; familiar zinfandel cozies up to esoteric godello without fanfare or frills. The best thing about this small but mighty list? It never seems to take itself too seriously — always remembering that at the end of the day (or meal, as it were), wine is all about having fun.

Uncle
Mark Manger

Say Uncle! Tommy Lee, a 32-year-old Denver native of Chinese descent, didn't have a lot of experience in the restaurant business, but he knew he wanted to open a noodle bar — even though he worried that what he wanted to do was "too obscure." So he listened to customers' ideas — even before they were customers. "In the middle of construction, customers would keep stopping by to check out what kind of place was opening," he recalls. "When I told them a noodle bar, they would ask if I was doing ramen." He wasn't planning to, but ramen was on the roster when Uncle opened last August. He was equally attentive to the other dishes on the menu — as well as impeccable service — in his sleek LoHi spot. And the resulting noodle bar has bowled over not just the neighborhood, but the entire city.

Best Official Snack Food for Colorado

Steuben's

Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik

From turkey legs to Rocky Mountain oysters, Denver is stacked with snack foods — and those who can't get enough of them. But the single best way to feed your snack attack is to stuff your gullet with the porkerific Steubie Snacks from Steuben's and the Steuben's food truck. Chef Brandon Biederman's addictive bites of braised pork shoulder are deep-fried until they crackle, then liberally dusted with powdered sugar. The result could be swine crack — Colorado style.

Root Down

It could have been the stunning cocktail program at Root Down that made us overlook the wine list for years. But that changed last summer, when we spent a magical, wine-soaked evening on the patio falling head over heels in love with its delightfully eclectic vinous selections. What makes Root Down's list so bewitching? First, the variety. Root Down is killing us softly with old- and new-world choices that seem simultaneously familiar and flossy, interesting yet always approachable. Second, (eco)credibility. If you thought only the food here was organic, think again; Root Down's commitment to all things green extends to its wine list, which boasts one of the most respectable groupings of sustainable and biodynamic grape juice in town. Last but not least (to us) is price: The vast majority of wines on offer can be had for less than $50. Need yet another reason to swoon? The list features a handful of food-friendly sakes and half bottles, too.

Snooze
Lauren Monitz

When Snooze opened its first location in 2006 in the Ballpark neighborhood, restaurateurs in Denver — and soon, across the country — woke up and took notice. Today there are four Snoozes in the metro area, with more to come both inside and out of Colorado. With its retro dining room, hipper-than-thou clientele of club kids and big weekend crowds, Snooze can sometimes be a very annoying place to eat. But it can also be a very good place to eat, especially if you crave pancakes. The sweet-potato version is particularly satisfying, but if you're craving sugar, there are many sweet offerings on the table. Make them even sweeter by adding an innovative breakfast cocktail.

Pho Duy
Mark Antonation

Fans of pho will stick up for their favorite joints like a couple of old-timers hashing out the finer points of Ford versus Chevy. When it comes to being the best, though, the tiny details add up to unquestioned excellence. Pho Duy gets those details right: the multi-layered complexity of the long-simmered beef broth, the fresh and artfully sliced rare steak, and the delicate and mild strands of tripe. If the dense fragrance of the spices isn't enough to end the argument, one spoonful will be. Pho Duy's noodle soup doesn't need advocates; it hushes the doubters with the subtlety, balance and integrity that come from years of doing it just so. Stir in your basil, your saw leaf and bean sprouts; add a slice of jalapeño and maybe a squirt of lime. But let the pho speak for itself and you won't need the sriracha or hoisin. It's not about the horsepower; this pho is the finely tuned engine of a master builder.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of