Best French Restaurant 2014 | Z Cuisine Parisian Bistrot | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

"Then all day long until sunset we sat dining on a bounty of meat and fine wine, and then we went to sleep on the beach." That quote from the Odyssey tops the web page of Axios Estiatorio, and you might be tempted to take a nice, long nap after a meal here, too. There's more to Greek dining than gyros, and veteran restaurateur Telly Topakas decided it was time to give Denver a more upscale Greek restaurant when he opened Axios three years ago. Much of the food is based on family recipes of classic dishes; there's an impressive list of Greek wines to pair with them. But Axios does more than celebrate Greek cuisine: It also celebrates Greek culture, in a space as seductive as those sirens that almost ruined Odysseus.

Molly Martin

"For truly amazing flavors, El Taco de México is a must," wrote Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern, shortly after he and his film crew touched down in the Mile High City. El Taco de México is "Denver's quintessential taqueria," he said, pronouncing that it serves the "best menudo and tacos in the city." And after decades of plopping our butts on the canary-yellow stools overlooking the kitchen, we're not going to disagree. But he missed our favorite dish here: The superlative — and spicy — green chile continues to outshine all the competition. The stoic women who spoon it over everything from burritos to eggs never crack a smile — but we do after taking just one bite of the incredibly flavorful, peppery brew. No matter where you're coming from, you'll find a home at El Taco de México.

Burgers are like pizza: Everyone has a favorite style. Some people go old-style, with beef, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Others veer toward the more-is-better camp, with truffles, pork belly and crispy chicken skin. Humboldt's burger falls in between — not too simple, but not over the top...and all good. Made with grass-fed Colorado beef, the patty is studded with bacon so that you get bacon in every bite, a good alternative to those messy bacon strips that slide around and slip out of a bun. Topped with Tillamook cheddar and onion jam, and sandwiched between puffs of buttery brioche, the burger is smoky, sweet and satisfying, making it a great non-fishy choice at this seafood-savvy restaurant.

Bartenders in Denver are hauling out special ice machines and hand-carving ice cubes to keep their fancy concoctions cold. Lucky, then, that Crave likes to warm things up. In addition to a board of traditional cocktails with a few twists, Crave offers a selection of steaming hot hooch to go with the sweet stuff being made in the kitchen. A Toasty Apple Cider with Myers's Dark Rum and housemade spiced cider seems almost wholesome, while the Irish coffee with locally roasted Method drip java and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg may be the best in the city. Crave makes getting buzzed on caffeine and liquored up at the same time seem downright classy.

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