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.

Williams & Graham

What's old is new again at Williams & Graham, the sexy, stylish speakeasy that Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon opened in late 2011 in a circa-1906 building in LoHi. This was our Best New Bar two years ago, and since then, it's only gotten better — and the lines longer. Step across a threshold concealed by a miniature bookstore and you're in a 1920s-themed world filled with plush leather, dark woods and quirky artifacts from the age of Prohibition. But the best accessory is Kenyon's comprehensive cocktail and spirits list, which includes inventive, contemporary twists on the classics as well as completely new concoctions. Cheers.

Devil's Food Cookery
Cassandra Kotnik

Nothing beats a hot crepe slathered in Nutella — unless it's a crepe slathered in Nutella at Devil's Food, the Washington Park eatery that feels like a home away from home. But with graters on the wall and '60s-style appliances in the dining room, the home it feels like is your great-grandmother's, not yours — though your great-grandma never made crepes like these. Chef de cuisine Brian Crow uses the pancake-like shells as symbols of the season. In summer, he fills them with brandied peaches, marcona almonds and white-chocolate sauce. In winter he showcases citrus, bringing a pop of brightness to cold, snowy mornings with blood-orange segments, mascarpone and semi-sweet-chocolate sauce. With only one variety on the breakfast menu, you don't have the choice you'll find at more traditional creperies — but choice is overrated when the crepes are this good.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
Scott Lentz
Chef Jorel Pierce is a guy who thinks -- and cooks -- way outside the box, so the dan-dan noodles at Euclid Hall are predictably unpredictable. This version focuses on largesse from a suckling Yorkshire pig, which Pierce breaks down in the basement kitchen of his culinary domain. The result is crumbles of pork, char siu edged with an arch of seasoned fat, and pork loin, all floating in a salty, musky, pork-intensive broth swamped with udon noodles and fragrant with the scent of Szechuan peppers and housemade oyster sauce. To this Pierce adds a fistful of scallions and peanuts, pairing the dish with a little bowl of housemade hot sauce that gives it a shock of heat. The swine shines.
Patxi's Pizza

No matter how you toss it, smear it, top it, slice it or spin it, pizza is like religion: The arguments about which style is the most blessed are a world without end. But when it comes to deep-dish pizza, the gospel of Patxi's rings loud and clear. The San Francisco-rooted piehole palace, which came to Denver in late 2012 and now has three metro locations — in Englewood, Cherry Creek and Uptown — cooks up real deep-dish, Chicago-inspired "stuffed" pizzas topped with everything from spinach to Denver's own Polidori sausage, as well as a generous mantle of whole-milk mozzarella and a second sheet of dough paved with an herb-studded sauce. The hefty, hunky pizzas require a knife, a fork and a pile of napkins, but you'll be singing their praises until your next "I'm a bona fide glutton" confession.

Spuntino
Danielle Lirette

Spuntino has metamorphosed more times than a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. But one aspect of this neighborhood Italian spot, now owned by powerhouse food couple Yasmin Lozada-Hissom and John Broening, has always had its wings: dessert. Lozada-Hissom, a five-time James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalist, guarantees a spectacular end to your meal with sweets inspired as much by Italian classics as by childhood favorites. Gelato, made in-house daily, remains a standby, whether by itself or paired with a "melted" cookie made from Valhrona chocolate. But the more crafted plates really shine, showcasing flavors only someone with her vision could put together in such a harmonious, never ostentatious, way: orange olive-oil torta with fennel, fig and pistachio; chocolate, sea salt and caramel tart with brown butter-bay leaf gelato. And while her desserts are sweet — they are dessert, after all — they're not over the top, so sugar isn't the first and last thing you taste.

Pizzeria Locale
Mark Antonation

Two bucks doesn't buy much these days — maybe half a cupcake or a Hershey bar. But at Denver's Pizzeria Locale, a fast-casual version of the Boulder pizza temple, all it takes is two George Washingtons to end your meal of pizza mais, pork meatballs and arugula salad on a sweet note. The pudding-like budino comes in a plastic cup slightly larger than a shot glass, with a rich butterscotch flavor that's deep, never burnt, and without any trendy bacon bits to sully the pleasure of caramelized sugar. Whipped cream, caramel and chocolate ganache provide the proverbial cherry on top. With pizza prices nearly as low as that of the dessert, you can order budino for everybody. Heck, you could even pay it forward and buy one for everybody in the house and still go home with money to spare.

Star Kitchen
Lauren Monitz

It doesn't matter what time you show up at Star Kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday, because the clock is always stuck on "full and frenetic." Above the rising decibel of deliberating diners, you're marshaled — and sometimes jostled — to your table by a hurried host or hostess. And then the fun really begins, with effusive cart-pushers pimping baskets of pork shumai, chicken feet, dainty dumplings bursting with shrimp and chives, sweet barbecued pork buns, salt-and-pepper squid and egg-custard tarts. Just when you've stretched your belly to the point of no return, another trolley rolls by, tempting you with one more basket of rice-noodle wraps, a platter of Chinese broccoli, sesame balls. It would be easy to stay here all day — but that would be depriving another party in the impatient crowd of its chance to enjoy this moveable feast.

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