Table 6
Cassandra Kotnik

The sign of a great tater tot is when it doesn't need ketchup. And no one does elegant, condiment-free tots better than Table 6, where the humble potato proves once again that it pairs as well with a tie (and a glass of wine) as it does with jeans. Chef Carrie Shores, who took over the kitchen last year from longtime chef Scott Parker, likes to vary what form the long, crisp tots will take. We couldn't get enough of one recent version that featured slivers of fried onions and a dollop of rich French onion spread in a playful nod to that '50s party dip. For those who can never decide between onion rings and French fries, it offered the best of both worlds, a savory version of having your cake and eating it, too.

Thai Diamond Cafe
All photos by Lori Midson

Once you pass through the humble exterior, if the beautifully serene interior of Thai Diamond Cafe doesn't capture your attention, the smashing dishes certainly will. The menu travels all over Thailand, and while there's nothing groundbreaking on the board — no curry, soup or noodle dish that you may not have tried before — the kitchen, manned by a jovial Thai gentleman with an easy smile, does justice to the classics, turning out a warm laab with chicken or pork, chiles and fresh herbs; nuanced (and fiery) curries liberally stocked with meat, seafood or vegetables, including kabocha squash; intensely flavored soups, filled with seafood and aromatic with lemongrass and lime leaves; and noodles — thick and thin, egg and rice — in every guise. You'll see people waving their forks or chopsticks around, urging everyone at the table to try this or that, and if there are leftovers, prepare for a fight.

Thick-crust pizza used to be nearly interchangeable with deep-dish. These days, though, with the resurgence of super-thin crusts ranging from cracker to Neapolitan, it connotes something different, something that Goldilocks would've liked — i.e., not too thick and not too thin. When we have a hankering for this kind of pie, we head to Papou's Pizzeria, where owner Luke Loukopoulos turns out Greek-style pan pizzas. This no-nonsense storefront is elevated by its sparkling-clean vibe, its vintage Italian posters and its pizzas, of course, which boast a golden, rounded edge and a bottom that morphs from crackly to pillowy as you edge closer to the piles of melted mozzarella. Pizzas are cut into squares, not triangles, so everyone will be pleased, from the ones who want all middle (kids, usually) to those like us, who can't get enough of the crisp, buttery crust.

Virgilio's Pizzeria and Wine Bar
Courtesy Virgilio's Pizzeria & Wine Bar Facebook

Thin is in, with new pizza joints that keep crust to a minimum opening every day. But Virgilio's, a behemoth New York-style pizzeria in the suburbs, continues to dispense the area's best thin-crust pies: The crave-worthy, crisp-edged, thin-crusted rounds of dough freckled with brown patches of char deliver a satisfying chew. Slap the red-sauced surface with fennel-scented sausage, red onions and garlic, and you have a purist's pie; top it with blots of feta, artichoke hearts, black olives, spinach and garlic, and you're living the vegetarian dream. A carnivore's pizza bombarded with pepperoni, meatballs, ham, chicken and sausage may lead to a cholesterol spike, but the thin-is-in mantra only goes so far.

Best Upscale Neighborhood Restaurant

Fruition

Fruition
Mark Manger

From the day that tireless chef/restaurateur/farmer/cheese-maker/forager Alex Seidel opened Fruition, diners near and far have sung its well-deserved praises. Seidel, whose kitchen also boasts the insane talent of sous-chef Matt Vawter, serves amazingly transporting food (think house-cured pork-belly carbonara haloed with a yolk-spilling egg; Dungeness crab-stuffed petrale sole with housemade artichoke cappelletti; and coq au vin with black truffles) in informally intimate quarters, with graciously unpretentious service. This is the ultimate neighborhood restaurant — if you consider the entire world your neighborhood.

Best Vegan Dish in a Non-Vegan Restaurant

Sputnik

Sputnik
Trevor Liebler

A traditional Cubano puts an international twist on a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Given the ingredients, it's almost impossible to even imagine veganizing a Cubano. But Sputnik tried — and succeeded — by slow-roasting jackfruit, which carries a sweetness similar to that of roasted pork, then serving it up on Cuban bread with specially spiced mustard, a creamy garlic spread and pickles. The result is a sweet-and-savory sandwich so tasty you won't miss the cheese.

Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

Fruition

Fruition
Mark Manger

You never know exactly what chefs Alex Seidel and Matthew Vawter will be cooking up for the "grazing vegetarian" meal at Fruition. But one thing is certain: This combination appetizer and entree will be one of the best meals you've ever had. Fruition's commitment to the farm-to-table ethic and locally sourced food is a perfect match for vegetarian dining, and the chefs clearly enjoy exercising their creativity on the vegetarian option, offering up dishes you simply can't find anywhere else. The careful preparation is evident when the gorgeous plate is set down in front of you: It's almost too pretty to eat. But this is one masterpiece well worth annihilating.

Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine
Mark Manger

Although many fans of green chile swear by the pork that's a distinctly Denver addition, Tarasco's emphasizes the green in green chile. This excellent Mexican restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Michoacán, with an entire page of the menu devoted to vegetarian fare. And many of those very good dishes — huevos rancheros, a giant relleno burrito — are made even better when smothered with a vegetarian green chile that can quickly turn into an obsession. Tarasco's version is spicy, leaving a definite tingle on your lips and tongue; the layering of flavors is so addictive that you'll never miss the meat — because there's definitely no shortage of heat.

Native Foods Cafe

Native Foods might be a link in a California-based chain, but it's also one of the best things to have happened to vegetarians in Denver all year. Plus, it's one of the most carnivore-friendly plant-based restaurants you'll ever visit, with an emphasis on meat substitutes (seitan, "chicken" and more) that are all made in-house and are some of the most convincing meat substitutes you'll ever taste. Native Foods goes far beyond soups and salads (although those offerings are invariably delicious), serving up a variety of sandwiches, chef's-special plates and desserts that will make you want to return again and again to try everything. And for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, Native Foods puts together vegan-friendly feasts perfect for a celebration.

Park Burger
Cassandra Stiltner

There's not a lot besides burgers and shakes on the menu at your neighborhood Park Burger. But the eateries (a fourth is coming soon) don't need much more than a darn good burger to thrive in this cowtown — especially when that something extra just happens to be the city's best veggie burger. The grain-based patty is made in-house (there's no egg, so it's vegan-friendly, too) and grilled on the flat-top, then served on one of Park Burger's good buns in a paper-lined basket. The kitchen crew will help adjust the specialty burgers to make them vegan-friendly, or you can create your own by adding some of the toppings available on the long list. So long, in fact, that even the most particular plant-based eater should be able to enjoy his own unique version of the best veggie burger in town.

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