When your city is one of the sunniest in the country, it's no wonder that restaurant patios are filled with diners soaking up the rays — even in the doldrums of winter. For a real oasis of outdoor tranquility, stop by Sassafras, a lovingly restored, porch-wrapped Victorian that offers breakfast and lunch daily. The stone-cobbled courtyard is filled with mature trees that sway with the breeze, pots of all sizes planted with rainbow-hued blooms, and shade-yielding umbrellas over tables and rustic wooden benches. It's an idyllic setting for feasting on the kitchen's delicious Southern-style dishes, which taste even better with the sun on your shoulders.

Fuel Cafe

The most notable wine lists are crafted by serious grape geeks who determinedly seek diversity, deftly compiling syllabi that feature both esoteric and safe choices and offer value in every price range. When Bob Blair, chef and owner of Fuel Cafe, introduced his vino roster in 2008 — the year Fuel opened — it was short, crisp, and perfectly fine, but over the years, that scroll has grown into an unbelievably impressive and fascinating global selection, stamped with beautifully chosen bottles that represent a swell of grape types: riesling and gewürztraminer, muscadet and malbec, syrah and pinot noir, carménère and carignan, and gamay — and that's the abbreviated version. For a restaurant that excels in the kitchen, it's only fitting that there should be a wine list to match. Fuel uncorks funky but approachable surprises and delights from interesting producers — and nothing is poured with pretense or contempt.

The Bagel Deli & Restaurant
Courtesy The Bagel Deli Facebook
Many places claim ownership of the Reuben, New York's prized gut bomb, but in Denver, no one does it better than the Bagel Deli, an iconic joint owned by Rhoda Weiner and husband Joe Kaplan. Their Reuben, a grilled, full-figured sandwich stuffed with melted Swiss and hand-sliced corned beef that's flabbed with just the right amount of fat, is pure dazzle, and while the corned beef alone is worth the price, even the tangy sauerkraut, drained so that the seeded rye holding it in doesn't become soggy, is noteworthy. The sandwich's mile-high size makes it entirely too lofty to shove into your mouth, which means that you'll need to eat it sideways, or with a knife and fork. And even then, you'll waddle out with leftovers for a midnight snack.
Ale House
Mark Manger

It's 5 p.m. on a Friday — or any day, really. Or any time. You need a beer or a glass of wine or a cocktail, a nice view, maybe a bite to eat and a dose of Colorado sunshine. There's no better spot to find all of the above than the breathtaking rooftop patio at Ale House at Amato's, which even has outdoor fires for chilly days. It may take a while to stake out a seat, but it will come complete with a view of the Central Platte Valley, the downtown Denver skyline and the mountains beyond — and since Amato's fronts I-25, the deck will never lose that view, unlike so many other rooftop spots in this rapidly infilling city. Located on the edge of LoHi, Amato's will keep your spirits up. Way up.

With a name like Scratch Burrito, you'd expect to find bulging, tortilla-wrapped creations when you walk through the door. And with a name like Clay Markwell — formerly of TAG — in the kitchen, you'd expect them to be good. What you wouldn't expect, though, is for a salad to be one of the big draws. Made with chopped napa cabbage, quinoa, roasted corn, black beans and avocado and tossed in a zesty chile-lime vinaigrette, Markwell's Scratch salad is a refreshing alternative to ho-hum mixed greens. Loaded with plenty of grains and beans, it's light but full of protein, so it won't weigh you down, like one of Scratch's globally inspired burritos. Unless, of course, you pair it with a few local beers from the Happy Tap.

Siete Salsas

The salsa bar at the accurately named 7 Salsas is so impressive, you'll be tempted to come here with plastic bags stuffed in your pockets, just so you can sneak out some of the good stuff. The killer street tacos, burritos, sopas, tortas and other south-of-the-border dishes that emerge from the kitchen are fine on their own, but you won't be able to resist slathering them with the splendid salsas that include a lush, bright-green marriage of acidic tomatillos, avocado and blazing jalapeños, and a deeply smoky, bittersweet, brick-red salsa that benefits from toasted chiles de arbol. The impeccably maintained salsa bar also includes plastic bins of fresh-cut radishes, glistening cilantro leaves, onions and pickled vegetables, and if you happen to load up your plate with more than you can eat, leave the plastic in your pants: 7 Salsas even provides little to-go containers.

Las Tortas
Courtesy Las Tortas Denver Facebook

At Las Tortas, the only thing louder than the thumping of the music is the sizzling from the griddle, so you'll need to lean closer to the person across the table and shout just to be heard. But once your sandwiches come, there's no time for talking, much less shouting, because food this good — and this messy — demands to be eaten quickly. Put down your suiza (chicken, ham and cheese) or norteña (steak, Milanesa, cheese) and you risk losing all the other toppings — refried beans, mayonnaise, onions, tomatoes, avocado and chipotle sauce — pressed between the bread. Don't miss the tortas ahogadas, a Guadalajaran specialty with griddle-crisped chunks of carnitas spilling out of baguette-like bolillos. Soften the crust with a smother of spicy, vinegary tomato sauce, and you'll wonder why you ever ate turkey with avocado.

Jax Fish House
Jax Fish House

When chef-restaurateur Dave Query opened the first Jax Fish House in a weathered brick building in downtown Boulder two decades ago, he managed to turn at least a few bohemian veg heads into fish heads. Now, with four locations in Colorado — Boulder, LoDo, Glendale and Fort Collins — he's got the attention of the meatheads, too, baiting just about everyone who saunters inside any one of his rollicking, ocean-themed fish houses with a show-stopping shrine to sustainably fished and environmentally responsible seafood. Whether it's raw oysters on the half shell, clams, peel-and-eat shrimp, king crab legs or Dungeness crab, steamed mussels floating in a Thai broth, crawfish, caviar or sea-trout roe, the offerings at Jax are enough to make you think Query's harboring his own secret dock in this landlocked state, complete with mystical mermaids.

Cafe Brazil
Summer Powell
For years, Cafe Brazil has been the go-to spot for Denverites looking for a taste of South America. Unlike most of the Brazilian restaurants in this country, it isn't a churrascaria, but rather a proper Brazilian restaurant that offers all the greatest hits of a canon that spans several countries. The space is casual and often crowded, the service friendly, and the food stands as a good survey of all the influences (Spanish, Italian, French and indigenous) that have made South American cuisine one of the most interesting ethnic culinary diversions to come along. Bonus points for the rum bar.
Los Chingones

Chef Troy Guard expanded his empire this year with Los Chingones, and the pig-ear nachos served here could land you in hog heaven. The kitchen braises the porcine lobes until the chewiness is gone, then fries them and crumbles them over a mess of ingredients that could send an elephant running for a Lipitor prescription: A bed of fresh tortilla chips is loaded with bean dip, queso fundido, pickled jalapeños, spicy chorizo, crema and, of course, ears to create a Mexican mayhem of spicy, salty and sweet flavors that you won't find anywhere else.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of