Best Taqueria 2013 | La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Mark Antonation

If you're in search of the city's most transcendent taqueria — the one that makes you raise your fist to the heavens, having just discovered enlightenment on a plate — then the entrance to La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas is our pearly gate. Taquerias are an omnipresent fixture on Denver's food landscape, and a religious experience for many of us. Especially this one, where the tacos — more than twenty versions are offered — come in both common and unexpected forms. You can wrap your jaws around tacos al pastor pelted with charred pineapple; steamed tacos stuffed with tongue; tacos de cazuela slapped with slow-roasted pork; and fried tacos filled with cheek meat and thrust in a cazo pan. A smashing salsa bar is the ultimate benediction.

The halal cart parked at the gas station on the corner of Colfax and Josephine is like a bite of the Big Apple spit out in Denver. The cart offers burgers, fries, gyros and corn on the cob, but the big rice plates are the real deal. Try chicken and lamb piled high on a bed of salty rice and bag salad that's then liberally topped with addictive if nondescript red and white sauces. Most full meals (soda included) cost less than six bucks. Food trucks might be all the rage, but this cart is street-smart.

The hours — or lack of them — are maddening at Thai Street Food, which, despite whatever the posted schedule may read, is sometimes open when it's meant to be and sometimes not. In other words, dial the digits first. But once you've pushed your way through the front door slapped with signs, glowing reviews, notices of holiday and vacation closures and other paper paraphernalia, a brilliant culinary odyssey through Thailand is your reward. Euphoric curries, lashed with chiles and pungent spices, are mind-altering, while the green-papaya salad, tart with citrus and salty with dried shrimp, is among the best salads in the city. Tom yum, its broth a pitch-perfect balance of hot and sour, swishes with seafood, and the noodle dishes, particularly the noodle jelly salad studded with pork, bright with fresh herbs and flamed with red chiles that make your stomach quake like a coin-operated waterbed, are magical. If only there was a liquor license.

We love sweet, fruit-thickened jams, and we especially love what they do to a buttered baguette at breakfast. But raspberries, apricots and figs don't have anything on kaya, the coconut jam served at Makan Malaysian Cafe. Made with eggs, coconut milk, sugar and floral pandan essence, the jam is cooked for more than an hour over a double-boiler until it is thick enough to spread. And spread it you will, in a thick, custardy layer over pieces of white toast, giving just the right accent to your soft-boiled egg in the traditional Malaysian breakfast of kaya toast, sold here on weekends only. Hint: It's probably not very good with peanut butter.

Molly Martin

Biker Jim's seems like the last place you should be able to get a vegan meal — let alone a damn good vegan meal. The spot is best known for its array of sausages crafted with exotic meat, ranging from rattlesnake to reindeer. Don't let its reputation fool you, though, because Biker Jim's serves a spicy vegan dog, a plant-based dog doppelgänger with a perfect balance of herbs and spices and a rich, meaty texture. The fixings bar has plenty of vegan options, too, and there are several dairy-free sides at Biker Jim's that you can order to supplement your dog.

The offerings at Vegan Van keep getting better as the all-plant-based food truck keeps rolling. Owner and operator Amie Arias has been incorporating local products in her shifting seasonal menu, and she's meticulous about updating the van's online calendar and Twitter feed, so fans always know what's on the roster — and where to get the goodies. You'll usually find Vegan Van parked outside a microbrewery, Nooch Vegan Market or Sweet Action Ice Cream at dinnertime, making it easy for vegans on the go to grab some guilt-free grub.

Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine

Mark Manger

The menu at Tarasco's has a dizzying number of award-worthy dishes; in the past, it's won accolades for its mole and posole. This year, though, what caught our attention was a small item under soups: a traditional Michoacán bean soup called sopa Tarasca that has fresh tortilla strips stirred in and (if you like) queso fresca and crema adorning the top for extra flavor. Without the cheese and crema, it's a fully vegan dish — and, frankly, you don't need those toppings. Order the soup as a side to accompany the grilled cactus, or even one of the meat-laden dishes on the menu (and there are plenty of those). But if you want to make a meal of it, a single bowl of this should fill you up nicely — and we guarantee you'll crave it year-round, soup season or not.

Danielle Lirette

Let's face it: There isn't much for non-meat-eaters on the menu at Sam's No. 3. Not at the oldest one in Aurora, not at the downtown one, which opened a decade ago right where the first Sam's stood in the '20s, and not at the new spot in Glendale. And perhaps that's as it should be, considering that no matter what its location, Sam's has been catering to meat-lovers for close to a century, and certainly long before "vegetarian" or "vegan" were common words in the restaurant lexicon. But Sam's does appreciate herbivores, and proves it with a thick, spicy veggie green chile — a green so tasty that a bowl makes a satisfying meal. But it also works well in a supporting role: smothering huevos rancheros or topping a breakfast burrito. However you enjoy it — and you will — Sam's shows that you don't need pork in the mix to make a great green chile.

Danielle Lirette

In some cities, naming a restaurant the best vegetarian eatery is faint praise, but in Denver — which is blessed with vegetarian and vegan options at almost every turn, plus a handful of all-herbivore restaurants — it's an honor. And WaterCourse Foods is deserving of that honor once again, partially because of its consistently delicious regular menu and partially because of the imaginative offerings that chef Rachel Kesley whips up throughout the year in seasonal multi-course blowouts paired with wine. The interior is accommodating and welcoming for both couples on anniversary dates and families out for a bite to eat; there's a coffee bar with decadent baked goods (not to mention a decent tea selection); and the wine and beer selections are lovingly chosen. WaterCourse is a venue that pays attention to all aspects of dining, above and beyond what's sent out of the kitchen on a plate — and plant-based eaters of all stripes can appreciate that.

Park Burger makes the (veggie) burger to beat in this city. All four locations stock the same patty, which uses egg to bind together rice, barley and other grains that give it a meaty texture without trying to imitate beef (always a mistake). The result is smashed on a grill and served up toasted golden-brown on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and special sauce. It's tasty enough to work with no more than that, but you can also get creative with your burger, adding a slice of cheese, a fried egg, guacamole, jalapeños or anything else from the add-on menu. (Don't forget Park Burger's crispy, made-to-order fries, too.) The result is a messy delight that falls apart as you eat it — no meat required.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of