Best Dinner Under $10 2014 | Gallo di Nero | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The building that today houses Gallo di Nero has swallowed up plenty of restaurants, including Fired Up, which suffered an electrical fire last year. But Gallo di Nero rose from the ashes, and at happy hour, this comfortable yet classy restaurant offers a smoking deal: small-plate versions of many of the entrees on its evening menu, most under $10, and many big enough to serve as a meal in themselves. If you want to stuff your face with cheap nachos, this is not the place for you. But we guarantee that after a bargain taste of chef Darren Pusateri's ambitious, inventive Italian offerings, you'll be back for more.

Scott Lentz

At the break of dawn on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, a hearty crew of regulars gather at the Lakeview Lounge — it opens at 7 a.m. — and toast as the sun rises over Sheridan Boulevard, Sloan's Lake and the Denver skyline. It's a time-honored tradition at a weathered dive that time otherwise forgot. While construction gets under way on the old St. Anthony's project, the Lakeview continues with bar business as usual, serving stiff Bloody Marys early in the morning and mystery shots in brown paper bags late into the night. The bar stools have each worn their own set of holes deep into the linoleum; the water closet is a real hellhole. But no matter how dim the lighting, this is a classic dive where the outlook is always sunny.

A proper dosa — the wafer-thin, honey-hued, crackly crepe made from finely ground rice and black lentils that's a staple in Southern India — overhangs the plate by several inches. At Chai & Chai, an off-the-beaten-path sleeper in Aurora that doles out both Indian and Arabic dishes, the dosa spans two feet, possibly three, for a sight that's almost as impressive as the taste. Roll up the dosa and load it from a bowl of mildly spiced curried potatoes and a trio of chutneys: a red-chile version that breathes fire; a pale, mellow coconut sauce; and a mint chutney that pops with acidity. One dosa easily feeds two — but you may be too selfish to share, particularly since these epic delights are only available Thursday through Sunday.

Good things come in all colors of boxes — not just pink ones with hissing snakes and skeletons — and for proof, look no further than Donut Maker, a family-owned shop in Greenwood Village, where doughnuts are still a breakfast food, not a midnight snack. Owner Maureen Ship keeps up with the competition, offering doughnuts topped with Cocoa Pebbles, Oreos, Nutella and even maple bacon. But the classics are what you crave here: tender, hand-cut raised doughnuts; cake doughnuts dusted while hot with cinnamon and sugar; and the old-fashioned, which relies on very cold water and a longer dunk in slightly cooler oil for its irresistibly crackly nubs. Chocoholics should note that chocolate-cake doughnuts are only made on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the shop's busiest days. But even on busy days, you won't have to queue in the cold; when she's not in the shop, Ship has calls routed to her so that she can text your order to the person at the counter, who will have your doughnuts boxed and ready when you arrive.

Sunday brunch is a relaxed, homey meal, which is why the best brunch spots are usually places you can walk to, kids in the stroller, dogs on a leash. But when you have a hankering for the town's best eggs Benedict, you'll need to jump in the car or hop on a bike, because Comida Cantina in the Source isn't within walking distance of much. Still, these eggs are worth the effort. The kitchen puts its Mexican stamp on the iconic dish, smothering two poached eggs, slices of Tender Belly spiral-cut ham and buttermilk biscuits under a smooth, tart Hollandaise the color of Cheez Whiz, courtesy of the chorizo drippings that lie at the sauce's foundation. Paired with greens tossed with citrus segments to counter all the richness, the plate proves that Comida is about much more than just tacos and tequila.

Maureen Witten

Ethiopian feasts are social events, a great excuse to corral a large group — friends, lovers, even adversaries — to share all the homey comfort food that's loaded on tables usually too small for all this largesse. At Nile Ethiopian, a moodily lit, spice-scented restaurant with plenty of groups, diners don't waste any time tearing off a piece of floppy injera — the Ethiopian vessel on which everything is served — and scooping up gently spiced lamb tibs, raw minced kitfo tartare and chicken wot, a mellow stew of lemon-smooched chicken, ginger, garlic and red peppers. Your best bet is to go with one (or both) of the combination meat/vegetarian trays, which journey through the exotic Ethiopian culinary lexicon.

Best Excuse to Eat Dessert for Breakfast

The Universal

Mark Antonation

Some people were born with a sweet tooth. These are the folks who make their coffee so light and sweet it's ready for the churn and who think fruit is acceptable for dessert only if it's blended with sugar and topped with whipped cream. If this describes you, forget the Frosted Flakes and head to the Universal. Better known for its grits of the day and cornbread rancheros, this popular (read: always crowded) breakfast-and-lunch eatery also delivers a socially acceptable a.m. sugar fix in the form of custard toast. Similar to French toast, the dish soaks an eggy brioche in custard; after a stint on the griddle, it comes out pillowy on the inside and ever-so-crisp on the outside. Topped with apple compote and dusted with powdered sugar, it's as fun to eat as a hot fudge sundae.

Time and again, when we're in search of a restaurant that's simultaneously innovative, enlightening and maddeningly good, we find ourselves at TAG, Troy Guard's high-caliber flagship restaurant in Larimer Square, where the menu is an indulgent poem to all things pleasurable and often very expensive. You can order off the menu (if you do, the miso black cod is a head-turner, as is the kangaroo when it's available), but if you really, really want to prove that your pocketbook is as showy as Guard's cutting-edge cooking, entrust your appetite to his whimsical omakase menu, which is offered in three price ranges: $55, $75, $95 (and upwards if you've got your own bank vault). Advance notice of 24 hours is recommended — and you'll want to reserve seats at the chef's counter to witness all the action — but the gustatory odyssey you'll experience is nothing short of sublime.

Joni Schrantz

Macaroni and cheese, once a comfort-food staple of every Sunday supper (not to mention the elementary-school cafeteria), isn't what it used to be. And thanks to chef Frank Bonanno, who makes no apologies for food steeped in indulgence, the slightly chewy, sauce-soaked elbow macaroni and cheese at Mizuna is definitely not your grandmother's version — unless, that is, your nana favors poached sweet lobster meat in place of Oscar Meyer ham and silky mascarpone over Velveeta. The immodestly rich recipe, which originated with Thomas Keller, is completely hedonistic. Every chef, every cook, every kid and every home-kitchen tongs-twirler has his or her own version of macaroni and cheese, but Bonanno's orchestration, finished with a lusty swirl of lobster oil, is so sensual — so wonderfully immoral — that it makes your heart race just thinking about it.

Courtesy Ace Eat Serve
The number-one requirement for a first-date restaurant is noise, because nothing turns a first date into a last date faster than awkward silences. That’s why Ace is such a no-brainer for couples in the making: As night falls, noise is a given, whether you’re at the bar, in the far-from-intimate dining room, or playing ping-pong on the patio. And if you don’t want to risk making a fool of yourself by picking up a paddle, you can bond with your date while laughing at the folks who do. (Those little white balls are always flying everywhere.) Even Ace’s menu is on your side, with plates that lend themselves to sharing. If things are going well, you can always brush fingers when you reach for your short-rib bao with kimchi and he reaches for his seared tuna with scallions. And if they’re not -- and the only action you’re likely to see is at the ping-pong table -- at least you’ll have had a good meal.

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