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.

Rioja
Scott Lentz

Chef Jennifer Jasinski has had a stellar year, with a starring role on Top Chef Masters and winning a James Beard Award. But long before seats at the chef's counter of the now nearly ten-year-old Rioja became the most coveted spots in town, Jasinski and her staff were ready for prime time, showing their confidence and culinary mastery in front of inquisitive diners eager to witness flames shooting up from burners, steam rising from pasta pots, and the cook-speak banter that enlivens a kitchen. And while Jasinski doesn't spend as much time in her open galley as she used to, space at the counter is still booked days in advance by foodniks eager for an entertaining, and far more intimate, alternative to a traditional table — and a front-row seat at the best show in town.

Chef Liu's Authentic Chinese Cuisine

The good news: Chinese restaurants far outnumber McDonald's in this country. The bad: most of those Chinese joints suck wontons. So discovering a real Chinese kitchen — one that specializes in authentic, intriguing, fearless (and fearsomely hot) dishes — is like unwrapping a fortune cookie with a strip of winning lottery numbers. And with Chef Liu's Chinese Restaurant, you'll hit the jackpot with stunning Szechuan dishes. The Szechuan beef, for example, arrives in a huge basin stained a deep crimson by the oil from too many chiles to count and studded with dozens of peppercorns, enough to numb all moving mouth parts. And yet this soup, bobbing with thin shards of beef and a forest of cilantro leaves, mysteriously releases a magnificent, multi-layered flavor combustion that you feel all the way to your toes. That's just one of the delights at Chef Liu's, where everything from the cumin-crusted lamb to the sesame pockets packaged with chicken and leeks is punctuated by a fortune of bold flavors.

Churchill Bar

Join the club. For a classic cocktail experience, head to a true classic: The Brown Palace, a hotel that isn't much younger than the concept of the cocktail itself. At Churchill Bar, you can drink in the elegant Victorian ambience while drinking up a perfect Rob Roy, a dry martini or a Manhattan made with one of the bar's long list of small-batch bourbons. To round out the experience, the customized humidor has more than sixty cigars — and Churchill Bar has the license that lets you smoke them on site. Enjoy your cocktail and stogie at the bar, or sit in one of those overstuffed club chairs and experience how the other 1 percent lives.

Weathervane Cafe
Kristin Pazulski

Stepping into the Weathervane Cafe is like walking into a quiet living room — with a coffee bar in it, and a vintage clothing store operating out of the upstairs bedrooms. The coffee shop is small but charming, with antique knickknacks and paintings placed just so, and what sounds like an AM radio rumbling faintly in the background. On Sundays there are special deliveries of doughnuts from Glazed and Confused, but the rest of the week there's plenty to savor, from vegan scones and made-from-scratch soups to seasonal specialty coffee and tea delights. And if your cup of joe gives you the shopping jones, the Weathervane just welcomed Beehive Vintage — which specializes in men's and women's attire from the '40s, '50s and '60s — into a recently vacated upstairs spot.

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