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.

The Kitchen

Raw bars are washing up all over Denver these days, and while there's no oceanic panorama beyond the toe-to-top windows that rim the perimeter of the Kitchen Denver, a splendid sea of brawny bivalves, Littleneck clams, lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, caviar and smoked mussels glistens behind the glass barrier that shields this raw bar. The oysters, of which there are several varieties, are the dominant mothershuckers of the lineup, and while we prefer them naked, they arrive with lemon wedges, mignonette, cocktail sauce and aioli. Gorgeously presented seafood towers — the largest of which showcases a whole Maine lobster, a dozen oysters, a half-dozen clams, king crab legs and eighteen mussels — showboat specimens from Maine-based diver Ingrid Bengis, who's renowned for netting seafood that seriously tastes like swigs of the ocean. As a bonus, this raw bar also peddles pickled sardines.

Mexican hamburger.
Mark Antonation
Mexican hamburger.

While green chile is an obsession in this town, red chile has its pleasures, too, and there's no red chile more pleasant than the version that La Fiesta has been dishing out for five decades. This red chile has a fire all its own, a complex layering of flavors that speaks of much more than mere chile powder. But, of course, you're not going to eat it on its own. You're going to order it smothering an enchilada filled with gooey, "premium" yellow cheese or drowning the best crispy chile relleno in town. La Fiesta will mark its fiftieth birthday this year; here's to many more...and lots more red chile.

Angelo's Taverna
Courtesy Angelo's Taverna Facebook page

Angelo's, which got new owners and a complete renovation in 2013, may have changed from a pizza joint to a Taverna, adding a swanky oyster bar in the process and many more new menu items, but it still occupies the same spot where Angelo's has been for forty years, in the same neighborhood, with the same distinctive stained-glass windows. And in addition to those oysters — offered fresh and grilled, with some amazing toppings — it still slings pizza, ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and other comforting, traditional Italian dishes, which is saying something in a town that has been losing its red-sauce joints at an alarming clip over the past few years. Twirl your fork through some pasta and marinara and enjoy a little Denver history.

Root Down at DIA

Over the past few years, Denver International Airport has worked hard to make sure that travelers can get a true taste of the city. And their efforts paid off last year when several excellent hometown restaurants opened at DIA. The best of them? Root Down, which not only offers many of the "field-to-fork" menu items that made Justin Cucci's original eatery in LoHi such a hit — including great veggie and lamb burgers — but decor flavored with the same wry, international eye. Don't miss the vintage carry-on cases — packed with accessories from the era — under the glass-topped bar, the collection of globes, and the thoughtful seating for solo diners: little cubbies looking out over the big windows. DIA's Root Down is a soaring achievement.

Falling Rock Tap House

Falling Rock Tap House is decorated with hundreds of beer bottles — but that's not even the most impressive part of its glassware. For years, this craft-beer bucket-list spot has boasted a bottle list that includes rare Belgian specialties, ever-rarer craft-beer delights, and bottles that you can't get anywhere else in Colorado, like the ones that owner Chris Black brewed in conjunction with various breweries in other states. You can also try several vintages of some beers to sample how beer changes as it ages. Pop your top at Falling Rock.

Falling Rock Tap House

And in this corner, and still the heavyweight champion of Colorado...Falling Rock Tap House! Craft-beer bars have proliferated over the past five years, popping up everywhere from Colorado Springs to Boulder to Fort Collins, but Falling Rock remains the king, both in terms of numbers — more than eighty taps — and variety of craft beers available. You'll find the best, the rarest, the oldest, the newest — but no crap on tap — at Falling Rock.

Black Crown Lounge

From the outside, the Black Crown looks like a ridiculously adorable home, and the inside is jaw-droppingly opulent, with extravagant chandeliers, stately sofas draped with shawls and enough antiques to outfit an antique store. There are two smashing outdoor patios — the one in back is ideal for canoodling — as well as a bona fide piano bar that features everything from sexy burlesque and cabaret to solo artists belting out show tunes and standards. The fetching cocktail list is geared toward refined boozing, and the witty, locally driven menu anticipates every imaginable food mood, with truffled pâté, beef Wellington, honey-smoked salmon mousse or a simple cheese plate. The Black Crown rules Broadway with that increasingly rare combination of polished and playful.

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