Sweet Action Ice Cream
Danielle Lirette

All those Americans who say that vanilla is their favorite flavor clearly haven't licked a cone from Sweet Action Ice Cream. This shop continues to impress us with its ever-changing roster of vegan and non-vegan offerings, which are inventive but not so over the top that they seem like concoctions devised by cooking-show contestants looking to one-up each other. Here, flavors range from hazelnut brownie and lemon ricotta to almond cardamom and the ever-popular salted butterscotch, all but guaranteeing you'll go through several plastic tasting spoons (patiently handed out by friendly staff) before deciding what you want. Even if you're not a vegan, make sure to sample the non-dairy ice creams; made with soy and coconut milk, they're just as smooth and tempting as the other picks. As if it weren't hard enough to decide what scoop/s you want, the oversized ice cream sandwiches in the freezer complicate matters further. Our favorite: vegan peanut-butter cookies stuffed with vegan chocolate ice cream.

Session Kitchen

Most of us think of ice as, well, ice, but if you're a bartender — especially a drink-slinger who belongs to the professorial cocktail brotherhood — ice is the most crucial part of a drink, if for no other reason than it comprises most of what's in your cocktail. The bartenders at Session Kitchen understand the physics of ice, and to prove it, they invested in the Rolls Royce of icemakers: a Clinebell, which makes 300-pound blocks of translucent, crystalline, pure ice, which they then sculpt into various shapes (spears, for example) to use in assorted cocktails. But what really separates Session Kitchen's ice program from other contenders is the seasonal ice cubes that change on a whim and have included blood orange, ginger beer and pressed apple. Drop one of those spherical cubes into a glass of whiskey, and every sip you take tastes completely different from the last because of the way the ice melts. Unorthodox? Probably. Clever? Definitely.

Khazana
All photos by Lori Midson

The best time to visit Khazana is not for lunch, when the buffet at this off-the-eaten-path Lone Tree Indian restaurant looks all too familiar. But if you come for dinner, you'll find delicate, bronze-tinged dosas paved with a beguiling mix of curried potatoes and onions; Indo-Chinese dishes like cauliflower slicked with infernal chiles; intensely spiced curries served in shiny, V-shaped copper vessels; and Indian street-style chicken with scrambled eggs, tomatoes and boom-boom spices — tastes that manage to be both refined and bracing. The animated menu phrases that accompany the dishes — "Are you crazy??? Every Table's got to have one," exclaims the ode to the chicken-wing lollipops — might seem like overkill, except that every single dish here is absolutely killer.

Luca
Scott Lentz

As chef-restaurateur Frank Bonanno's dominance over Denver's dining scene continues to grow — he's got a sultry cocktail bar, nine restaurants and another one on the way — Luca D'Italia, his captivating Italian standout, continues to be a showplace of imagination and excellence. From the charismatic and doting servers to the perfectly composed, house-cured salumi plates; from the inviting dining room with its soft lighting to the sigh-inducing housemade pastas, pig-tastic porchetta and luscious desserts; from the innovative cocktails and richly expansive wine list to the two tasting menus, both worth the splurge — a meal here will make you feel like you've hit the SuperEnalotto. We're lucky to have Luca.

Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington

Years ago, eating raw fish in this country seemed like something you'd do to haze the unsuspecting sorority girl from Iowa who'd never traveled beyond the cornfield. Now sushi-centric restaurants dot every curb and corner, but the best Japanese restaurants go way beyond the raw and the rolled. And Sushi Sasa chef/owner Wayne Conwell and his crew have all the right moves with which to capture the glory of Japanese cooking. While the sushi is unassailable, the menu reels you in with striking salads composed of sesame-salt-studded, pan-fried baby spinach slicked in a blue-cheese tofu dressing; pork belly porridge paired with Tokyo turnips; deep-fried Japanese beef skewers; an orgy of ramen bowls; and fragrant Japanese curries. And if you really want a climactic experience, the oysters dabbed with foie gras are the epitome of sexual healing.

Dae Gee
Danielle Lirette

Denver may not have an official Koreatown, but it has a large Korean population — and an impressive number of places where you can sample cabbage kimchi, zucchini-studded pancakes and sizzling bibimbap. Most of the metro area's Korean restaurants are in Aurora, but when we're jonesing for a fix, we head to Arvada's Dae Gee. The name translates to "pig out," and that's precisely what you'll do as you dive into unlimited cook-your-own barbecue, dropping meats into the hot skillets that center the tables, then pulling out the caramelized flesh and lubricating it with hot chile sauce squeezed from a squirt bottle, then wrapping the meat with other condiments in leafy lettuce wraps. As at most Korean restaurants, a parade of banchan — small bowls of sides — precedes the meal, and truth be told, they're a meal in themselves.

The guy at the bar, a local chef, admits he's on the wagon, but he's definitely not on a diet: "This is the third time in a week that I've had the pork burger here; it's bomb!" he gushes. That pig-intensive burger — and yes, it's "bomb" — is part of the stellar happy-hour lineup at Old Major, the hip Highland restaurant whose bar turns into happy-hour central every day between 3 and 6 p.m., giving revelers a solid three hours to eat, drink and be merry. A fistful of cocktails — really good cocktails — are priced at $5; Infinite Monkey Theorem wines by the glass are a mere $6; and all draft beers, including a farmhouse ale and a sour, are $2 off the regular pour price. But chef Justin Brunson and his crew know that even lushes require comestibles, so they created a wonderful lineup of seasonally appropriate edibles: steamed mussels bobbing in a pool of Thai-inspired green curry; pork-fat French fries; a housemade charcuterie plate; that pork burger crowned with a fried egg; and pastry chef Nadine Donovan's unassailable pretzel rolls paired with flavored butter. Hungry yet?

Opal Restaurant & Lounge

If you're looking for a quiet place for a nightcap and a quick bite, Opal is not for you. By midnight, this place is likely to be hopping with club kids, night owls and the hungry hordes who realized that they forgot to eat dinner hours earlier. But between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., during Opal's late-night happy hour, they can enjoy the same happy-hour deal offered every day from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.: two-for-one sushi, hand rolls and hot sake, as well as $2.50 22-ounce bottles of Kirin and $4 premium martinis. The $1.50 Corona deal offered during the afternoon doesn't hold at night, but the bargain oysters could help ensure that the night concludes with a very happy ending.

Hops & Pie
Mark Manger

It sounds easy: Throw cooked elbow noodles into a pot with sharp cheddar, peas, smoked ham hock, bacon, breadcrumbs and a few carefully selected spices, and — voilà! — the perfect mac and cheese. But if it were that easy, then everyone would be copying Hops & Pie, whose owners, Drew and Leah Watson, have taken one of the simplest comfort foods and turned it into a dish that you'll crave enough to order alongside your pizza and beer.

Damascus Grill

Although Damascus Grill has been in its Littleton location for a decade, the depth of its menu has not changed in that time. Too many Middle Eastern restaurants are content to serve a greatest-hits menu of hummus, falafel and kabobs. But this institution pushes past popularity to reveal a deeper, more authentic roster, with dishes including okra stew with lamb, tomato and pomegranate sauce; lamb baked with tomatoes, dried lemon and seven spices; and vegetarian offerings such as mujadara (cracked wheat with lentils) and hummus mutabbal with whole, not puréed, chickpeas. Breads are made in-house, and you can branch out from pita with the mana-ish, a cheeseless Mediterranean pizza topped with sesame seeds and spices. Don't miss the baba ghanouj, a smoky roasted-eggplant dip with walnuts and pomegranate sauce mixed in with the standard sesame sauce, garlic and lemon — it deserves a best in show.

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