Best Food Cart 2014 | Little Man on Wheels | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Danielle Lirette

The giant milk can that houses Little Man Ice Cream has become a landmark in LoHi, attracting long lines of ice cream fans on even the coldest days. But in the warmer months, Little Man now takes it to the streets with Little Man on Wheels, a custom bike cart that peddles a half-dozen of the creamery's most popular flavors — in scoop, cone or sandwich form — on the 16th Street Mall. The cart will even pedal its way to private events. And you never need to feel bad about indulging in this good stuff: Under the Scoop for Scoop program, for every scoop of ice cream purchased, Little Man donates a scoop of rice or beans to a needy community somewhere in the world.

The arepas from the Quiero Arepas food truck (fittingly, the name translates to "I want arepas") are Venezuela's perfect street-food solution: compact and portable, with just the right dose of sloppy fun. Traditional arepas fall somewhere between the pupusa and the gordita on the continuum of stuffed masa pockets: griddled and split disks of tender and fluffy dough with a lightly crisped — but never chewy — outer layer. Quiero turns out a slightly oversized version with a choice of traditional and modernized fillings. The Havana may stray too far from the classic Cuban sandwich for Miami purists, but if you can set aside preconceptions, it's a deeply satisfying combination of roasted pork, ham and Swiss cheese. For a pure Venezuelan fix, the Pabellon includes juicy stewed beef, black beans and fried plantain glued together with a thin layer of mozzarella. With over a dozen combos to choose from, including a few vegetarian and vegan options, you'll be thinking "Yo quiero arepas" long after the last bite is gone.

Emilio's, a small greasy spoon perched on a much-trafficked corner of Colfax, specializes in no-frills Mexican fare for cheap -- or, in the case of its housemade chips and salsa, free. Servers deliver a basket of the thick, crunchy, salty tortilla triangles to every table, plunking it down alongside tomato salsa tinged with spice. Only the first basket comes free, but that's okay: You're going to want to save room for a plate of potato tacos, huevos rancheros or other food specials. And with $1.75 margaritas Thursday through Saturday nights, you can count on a dinner that's not only wonderfully greasy, but a wonderful bargain, to boot.

Another round of applause for Jonesy's EatBar, please. The fresh-cut fries that have won so many fans at Jonesy's are thinner than your little finger, deep-fried to the perfect combo of soft-yet-crisp. They're addictive on their own, but sinfully good when swathed with one of the smart topping choices, including Thai ginger and Buffalo options, green chile, and bacon and cheese. The cozy neighborhood hangout bills its fries as "world-famous," and unlike most bar brags, this one's absolutely accurate. As the accolades keep coming in, give Jonesy's a hand — and order another round of fries. (They're thoughtfully available in double orders.)

From the shabby-chic decor to the peeling couture posters on the outer brick wall, Z Cuisine captures the ambience of another time and place. Despite its location in uber-hip LoHi, Z maintains a low-key charm and old-world pace, even when packed to the rafters. This could be because owner Patrick DuPays places as much emphasis on his bar program as on his seasonal menu of traditional French cuisine shot through with playful modern touches. An absinthe-based cocktail whets the appetite for buttery Hudson Valley foie gras, a can't-miss favorite to linger over while deciphering the curly handwriting on the specials board. Standards like the salade gourmande — layered with various pork and duck tidbits — may appeal more to the offal lover than to the dieting nibbler, while hearty peasant dishes like cassoulet with duck confit and housemade andouille satisfy the soul as well as the appetite. DuPays's neighborhood masterpiece perfectly accentuates the subtle commonalities between the Denver and Parisian lifestyles: quality without pretension, gracious service that never approaches stuffiness, and a gusto for life that embraces new experiences and familiar treasures.

There are some who insist that fried chicken is best when eaten out of a bucket while picnicking in the park. But our bucket list takes another approach: We park our butts at Lucky Pie, order a beer from the wicked-good tap selection, and thank the poultry gods for blessing us with such a soul-satisfying bird. True, Lucky Pie is best known for its pizzas — and they're excellent — but the fried chicken is clucking awesome. Chef Joe Troupe dry-rubs the birds with garlic, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper and a smidge of sugar, submerges their body parts in buttermilk and then drags the flesh through seasoned flour before plunging it into the fryer. The payoff is incredible fried chicken, the tender meat cloaked in a bronzed crust that adheres flawlessly to the flesh, leaving nothing on the plate — and everything in your mouth.

At this lovely restaurant, chef Brett Shaheen turns out Italian-inspired dishes that deserve standing ovations (his pappardelle with venison and chicken-liver mousse is remarkable), and he'll bring your clapping to a roar with his crimson-hued lamb chops plated with a mushroom turnover. But it's the effervescent presence of front-of-the-house veteran and general manager Gary Keller that resonates throughout the lively dining room. Keller — whose combined decades of running the floor at Panzano, Palace Arms, and the shuttered Cafe Giovanni, Cliff Young's and Highland's Garden Cafe have made him the city's most consummate professional and committed caretaker — graciously touches every table, educating guests about his new stunner of a wine list, cheeses from around the globe and the anatomy of Shaheen's plates. He makes every guest feel like royalty, but there's no pretense to his performance — just effortless smiles and big-hearted hugs or handshakes that make you feel like you're the star of the show. Well played, sir.

To true custard lovers, ice cream always seems like a poor relation, doing its best to keep up appearances. The stuff lacks the creaminess, the rich texture, the sheer yolkiness of a good custard. And the custard churned out by Cloud 9 is the real deal, offered in just two flavors — vanilla and chocolate. If you must have frou-frou, Cloud 9 also offers a variety of candy and fruit toppings, as well as shakes and sundaes. Just don't ask for Rocky Road; this is serious dessert.

Best German/Eastern European Restaurant


Once upon a time in Poland, there was a man named Lester and a woman named Maria. They fell in love, married and frequented a hotel in Krakow called Cracovia. And then, a move across the world and a quarter-century later — the fall of 2008, to be exact — Lester and Mari Rodzen opened a restaurant in Westminster, a fine-dining Polish restaurant that reminded them of their time in Krakow. They named it Cracovia, and filled the menu with authentic dishes with names like vicious tongue-twisters, all cooked by Maria with lots of love. This is a real hidden gem — although "hidden" doesn't begin to describe Cracovia's location; "buried" is more like it. But for a true taste of Eastern European cuisine, Cracovia is worth the search.

Kristin Pazulski

In 2008, Panzano chef Elise Wiggins discovered that she was wheat-intolerant, a diagnosis that could have caused her kitchen career to stagnate. But Wiggins, one of Denver's most innovative and progressive chefs, embraced the challenge, altering her diet, experimenting with gluten-free recipes and slowly integrating no-wheat dishes into her menu while educating her kitchen crew and service staff along the way. Today Panzano has four gluten-free menus — breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner — and no matter which board you pull from, you'll find plenty of hits, including Wiggins's gluten-free flatbread, buns, muffins, pizza crust and focaccia. Still, the star of her gluten-free lineup is the fried Brussels sprouts, the crisped leaves and heads bathed in an apple-cider reduction and sprinkled with pistachios and matchsticks of Granny Smith apples. If there's a goddess of gluten-free, it's definitely Wiggins.

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