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

Cracovia

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.

Panzano
Linnea Covington

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.

Axios Estiatorio

"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.

El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook

"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.

Humboldt  Kitchen + Bar
Humboldt

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.

Crave

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.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

In 2005, a former repo man plunked down a hot-dog cart on the 16th Street Mall, an area that had seen plenty of hot-dog carts before. But its owner, Jim Pittenger, definitely wasn't a typical wiener-slinger, and these weren't typical wieners. Biker Jim, as he's now known locally and nationally — thanks to all those Food Network shows on which he's appeared — was doing something outlandishly different: He was vending wild-game sausages (wild boar, rattlesnake, elk and reindeer), and if that wasn't enough to raise eyebrows, he was also festooning his franks with onions marinated in coke and cream cheese that he shot out of a caulking gun. Pittenger is that guy who teaches old dogs new tricks, and now that you can enjoy his gourmet tube steaks in a brick-and-mortar location, you'll often find us scratching at the door.

China Jade, which boasts a stellar Chinese menu, also harbors a "secret" hot-pot menu -- and it might be the greatest culinary discovery of our year. Pots are delivered to the tabletop burner filled with your choice of three bases: original (mellow and non-threatening), spicy (crimson red and bobbing with numbing peppercorns and blistering-hot dried chiles), or "yin-yang," with the mellow base on one side and the crazy-hot base on the other. From there, you pick from an add-ins roster of raw meats, including pork belly, pork intestines, fatty beef and lamb shoulder; seafood such as sea cucumber, head-on shrimp and surf clams; vegetables ranging from snow-pea tips and seaweed knots to spinach, baby bok choy, enoki mushrooms and radishes; pudgy pork dumplings; and several kinds of noodles. Once your selection arrives, you dip and drop the ingredients into the communal pot. The experience is wonderfully interactive, particularly when you're with a gaggle of unapologetic slurpers.
Adelitas Cocina y Cantina
Danielle Lirette
Brian Rossi, who's managed Mexican restaurants across town, finally opened one of his own last year: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina. The colorful, casual spot specializes in traditional fare, with a focus on dishes from Michoacán. But you'll want to start with an order of the fresh, housemade chips, which comes with three salsas -- one of them an avocado crema and another an amazing tomatillo -- and the incredible house margarita. A few margs later, you may never make it to dinner. Made with Agavales tequila, fresh lime juice and a lot of care by the friendly bartenders, these margs are a real bargain at just $5. And on Margarita Mondays the bargain is twice as good, since the house margs are two for one all night.

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