Old Major

For most people, it's the last bite that leaves the most memorable impression — and at Old Major, that's certain to mean a happy ending: a sugar rush from a small taste of Verona chocolate, a vanilla-poached pear, a spoonful of figgy pudding, a slice of a nectarine tart, a two-bite lemongrass macaron. Nadine Donovan, the pastry chef at Old Major, creates utterly preposterous strokes of genius that make those Food Network blowhards look like rank amateurs. Donovan's desserts — whether faultless French macarons, maple-bacon custard with candied bacon and bourbon-soaked caramel corn, or crazy-good fried apple pie with sour-cream ice cream and crumbles of salted toffee — are a sugar-stalker's delight. Precede any of her confection sensations with chef Justin Brunson's braised octopus or charcuterie plate — all of it cured in-house — and you have the makings of a completely unforgettable evening that ends on a real high.

Pho Le
When it comes to pho, the difference between the best and all the rest may seem like splitting noodles. But what makes Pho Le stand out is slightly sweet but intoxicatingly perfumed broth. What the broth lacks in restraint it makes up for in the pure and genuine flavors of savory beef and a spice blend that gives star anise top billing without becoming cloying. Add to that tender slices of rare steak that melt like Andes mints on the tongue, toothsome shreds of brisket, unctuous tendon that can convert even the most squeamish, and, on the side, two distinctive housemade chile sauces and piles of the freshest herbs, and this noodle soup will bowl you over. For those who want to go further than pho, there's a complementary menu of regional specialties.

In the realm of desserts, pie is about as humble as it gets. There are no towers made of pie, like bakers craft out of macarons, none of those shocking flavor combinations — wasabi, curry — that come scooped on a cone. So it's not surprising that the best pie in town comes not from a high-end bakery hawking elaborate delicacies, but from bang!, a homey restaurant that's been churning out plates of fried chicken, meatloaf and mashed potatoes for more than seventeen years. The coconut cream pie is filled with as much down-home goodness as the entrees, with a hand-crimped crust and a thick layer of custard amped up with shredded coconut for a more intense flavor. Topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted coconut, the pie deserves the spotlight that's long been given to the gingerbread, another of co-owner Cissy Olderman's creations.

Best Place to Drink a Latte or a Beer While Getting Your Bike Repaired

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Denver Bicycle Cafe
Bike culture, beer culture and coffee culture go hand in hand in hand, so the polyamorous Denver Bicycle Cafe is a marriage made in fixed-gear, locally roasted, craft-brewed heaven. The Bicycle Cafe is a full-service bike shop connected to a space that's a cozy coffeehouse in the mornings and turns into a craft-beer bar after 5 p.m (but you can get a brew before then). The expansive hangout is perfect for working on your laptop or chatting while you get an axle fixed, and there's also a killer patio for summer hangouts.

Best Place to Drink a Latte or a Beer While Playing Trivia

Rooster and Moon Coffee Pub

Rooster & Moon Coffee Pub
By day, Rooster and Moon is a bustling workspace for laptop freelancers, serving up lattes, fresh salads, grilled sandwiches and delicious banana pudding to its headphone-wearing customers. But at night, the coffee shop becomes a boisterous hangout that hosts events like art openings and the wildly popular Thursday-night Geeks Who Drink trivia. Sip a latte (or cocktail -- the space has a full bar) while you show off your pop-culture prowess.

Best Place to Drink Up, Get a Haircut and Buy a Cigar

Las Palmas Wine Bar

Clay Carlton is on a roll. The Denver native, who opened his first barber shop in Winter Park 38 years ago, today is a master cigar-roller (he studied under a Cuban master for six months) and proprietor not just of Palma Cigars, but of Bar Las Palmas Wine Bar, offering cigars, coffee, wine, haircuts and lots of character to the Ballpark neighborhood. In order to attract more customers of the female persuasion, Carlton has cut back on the hair-cutting — there's just one barber chair now, in the back — and expanded his roster of Colorado wines. But the real draw remains the cigars, with a walk-in humidor filled with hard-to-find, reasonably priced stogies from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Denver native Montgomery Knott spent many years in New York perfecting the Monkey Town experience, during which guests dined on fine food and paired wines inside a video-installation cube. Now he's back in his home town, testing a touring version of his visual/gastronomic spectacle in a RiNo warehouse for a three-month run that ends June 1 before he takes off for similar short-term spells in other cities. Turns out we're very lucky guinea pigs: Monkey Town 4 is a vivid evening of impeccably conceived and prepared dishes from trendy local chefs paired with perfect wines, while fascinating sounds and visuals unfold all around you. The people-watching is fantastic (and unavoidable, since you're all sitting around the perimeter of the cube), and for added experimentation, there's the option of a weed-stuffed appetizer that's not advertised on the menu.

La California Panaderia
In Mexico, posole is a celebratory dish served on Christmas Eve and on birthdays, at weddings and during festivals, on Mexican independence Day and Day of the Dead. But at La California Panaderia, a diminutive shack on Morrison Road, eating posole is an everyday ritual. Regulars crown the lone table and tattered counter seats overlooking the small kitchen; the place is silent save for slurps and the occasional thud of a sharp knife. With each order, a huge bowl of the soup is slid across the countertop and delivered with a nod of acknowledgement. The posole is dyed a ferocious red from the chiles, crowded with hominy and slabs of pork so tender you can cut the meat with a swipe of the spoon; radish slices and specks of onions and cilantro float on the surface. You can doctor your bowl with lime halves and the housemade, deep-fried corn-tostada shells delivered with the soup, along with Mexican oregano, chile flakes and a small container of terrific salsa that burns with fire.
Nectar House

Nectar House, a sly little restaurant nestled inside Kindness Yoga, is an organic nosher's paradise that features a simple menu of enticing superfood salads, smoothies and creamy desserts. The "Rawben" Sandwich — a very loose take on a Reuben — is the signature entree, piling avocado, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and more on raw onion bread. But the spot's selection of non-alcoholic, handcrafted elixirs are the real draw; popular items include the "Shaktini," an effervescent herbal refreshment, and kombucha infused with a choice of energetic tonics and highlighted by the flavors of goji berries and fresh-squeezed juice. After yoga class, seat yourself at the cafe's bar or sneak off to the "nook," a pillow-laden hideaway, to enjoy a one-of-a-kind beverage or some veggie-friendly, feel-good food.

Twelve Restaurant
Mark Manger

Although it's all too easy to spend a fortune on good food, you don't have to at twelve. Chef-owner Jeff Osaka's Monday-through-Wednesday prix fixe menu, which changes monthly, is the bargain board to beat. Osaka, who's renowned as the benevolent Denver chef-ambassador who just keeps on giving, fully extends that generosity to his guests, presenting them with the unusual luxury of choosing any starter, main dish and dessert from his full menu, all for the price of just $38 per person. On the March menu, for example, you could choose gnocchi with wild mushrooms, puffed rice, smoked egg and Parmesan to start, followed by steelhead trout with guanciale and mustard caviar, and to finish, a trio of chocolate desserts. But no matter what you order, every dish at twelve unleashes countless captivating flavors.

Best Of Denver®

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