River North Brewery

Day after day, beer after beer, River North Brewery, which opened a few blocks east of Coors Field in 2012, continues to kill it with its Belgian-styled beer and barrel-aging program. Owned by Matt and Jessica Hess, the brewery serves a regular lineup that includes a Belgian-style wit, a Belgian IPA and a quadrupel — which is a high-alcohol beer that many breweries haven't even attempted, let alone perfected. But the barrel-aging program is what really sets River North apart, producing everything from a quad to a stout, a saison to a golden ale, aged in everything from rum to whiskey to Scotch to wine barrels. We can't wait to see what's on tap this year.

Many Colorado brewpubs — places that make their own beer as well as their own food — have elevated their beers to Rocky Mountain levels over the past few years, and some of them are trying to match those mountains when it comes to their menus. But BRU handbuilt ales & eats has a bit of a head start, since it was created by Ian Clark, a professionally trained chef who happens to love homebrewing as well. His dining room is laid out in a way that highlights both the beer — a fermentation room is front and center — and the food, prepared in an open kitchen complete with a wood-fired oven. And since Clark designed both, he's blended them together for a contemporary brewpub that's a real reason to toast.

First, let us shower accolades on chef Richard Glover's decadent cinnamon-apple French toast: a plate of thick, eggy slices of gold-tinged brioche splayed with caramelized cinnamon-dusted apples, real whipped cream and a fistful of nuts. Then there are the eggs Benedict, mounted with thin, salty sheets of prosciutto topped with a cascading river of cranberry Hollandaise sauce. And a wild-Colorado-mushroom omelette with roasted red peppers and goat cheese. No matter what you order at Fooducopia, an engaging weekday and weekend brunch spot in Washington Park that also doubles as a market emphasizing local ingredients (that's where he gets those apples), you'll marvel and swoon between bites. And now that Fooducopia has a liquor license, mimosas and bloody Marys just add to the welcoming wake-up call.

Esoteric, intriguing and fanciful wines were definitely on Aileen Reilly's mind when she and her chef brother, Paul Reilly, opened Beast + Bottle, a rusticated farmhouse restaurant in Uptown where the alluring atmosphere, food that highlights innovative ingredients and flavor combinations, and a beautifully curated wine roster have made it one of the year's smash successes. The mostly European by-the-bottle tour, smartly categorized by price and wisely composed of wines that you won't see on every other list in town, is bolstered by an equally captivating menu that gives oenophiles nearly twenty by-the-pour choices spanning bubbles, pinks, whites and reds, all of which are available by the glass, pot or litro. And Beast + Bottle servers are all well versed in pointing guests to Aileen's selections, which pair wonderfully with Paul's food.

Acapulco Tacos y Pupusas
Danielle Lirette
The owners of Tacos Acapulco are from Mexico and El Salvador, and their tiny spot -- just four counter seats and a window where you order -- offers food from both countries. The burritos and tacos are fine, but you can find Mexican dishes anywhere. The real standouts are the authentic Salvadoran pupusas: two rounds of masa sandwiching meat, cheese, beans or loroco, a Central American flower bud, cooked on the flat-top long enough that the outside gets crispy and golden and cheese oozes out the sides; they're served with a pickled-cabbage coleslaw called curtido and watery tomato salsa. You'll want to try every variety -- even if you have to eat them in your car.
Cebiche

The battle of the dueling Cebiche restaurants ended last year, with the LoHi location coming out the winner — in more ways than one. This low-key restaurant picks up where El Chalan, the longtime occupant of the space, left off, carrying on the tradition of serving classic, comforting Peruvian dishes. But it's also upped its emphasis on ceviche, offering versions that feature octopus, scallops, shrimp or all of the above, every specimen impeccably fresh. Grab a seat on the patio on a sunny day for a transporting experience.

Black Pearl

Black Pearl's kitchen, now in the hands of accomplished chef Samir Mohammad, is better than ever, in part because of its ambitious in-house charcuterie program, which makes use of every scrap, piece and part of whatever beast Mohammad is butchering during his weekly animal breakdown sessions. The incredible selections are dictated only by the size of your appetite, but we highly suggest splurging on the whole board: Alsatian duck sausage; an eye-rollingly sultry duck pâté dusted with duck-fat salt crystals and crushed pink peppercorns; slices of duck prosciutto and duck pastrami; triangles of head cheese; a salty Barolo-cured beef bresaola; and crisp pops of duck chicharrones. All of the meats are served on wooden slabs made from reclaimed wine boxes and embellished with heavenly frills, including a trio of housemade mustards, a mound of spicy giardiniera, baked apple chips and fragments of walnut brittle.

Texas Roadhouse

The muscled truckers, old-timers and twenty-somethings who flock to Red Rooster know that this modest cafe has something to crow about: ridiculously cheap steaks. The all-around winner is a cooked-to-temp fourteen-ounce T-bone, roughly the size of a St. Bernard's face, which rings in at $13.95. And that's just the warmup: That plate also includes two eggs; your choice of regular toast, pancakes, a housemade biscuit with gravy or Texas toast; and a freakishly large mound of golden hash browns. A Greek owner cuts the steer in-house, and he clearly believes in super abundance — and super deals.

Barolo Grill
Mark Antonation

Although Barolo Grill has always been synonymous with owner and front-of-house face Blair Taylor, even he would admit that the talent behind the sublime food at this elegantly rustic sanctum of northern Italian cuisine is sous-turned-superhero chef Darrel Truett. Despite his low profile, Truett is the high priest of high standards, turning out powerhouse, passionately composed and impeccably prepared dishes, offered à la carte and on an inventive chef's tasting menu ($85). He treats the fastidiously sourced ingredients with the same appreciative respect he does his kitchen staff, and it shows. Savvy Denver diners have always embraced Barolo Grill, and you can taste the mutual crush in every bite of Truett's infallible food.

Candela Latin Kitchen

Matt Selby has always been a brilliant chef, and by chef, we mean a guy whose fervent passion for cooking is all-consuming. He is, first and foremost, a cook, knocking his tattooed knuckles against scalding pots and pans, shrugging at the long-lasting scars. He's happiest on the line, touching ingredients and creating adventurous flavor combinations. After leaving his long-tenured post at Vesta Dipping Grill for an aborted relationship with Corner House, he's now hit his super-hot stride at Central Bistro & Bar, turning out vibrant, bright, top-notch dishes. (His spring lamb with fresh chickpeas and robiola fondue will make you bleat with rhapsody.) Welcome back.

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