Blackbelly
Danielle Lirette

Tucked into an east Boulder shopping center in an old building that was once the cafeteria for Ball Aerospace, Blackbelly doesn’t look like much from the outside, but step inside and two features immediately stand out: the gleaming stainless-steel and white-tile butcher shop up front, and the wide-open chef’s counter where Blackbelly mastermind Hosea Rosenberg and his crew ply their trade. Chef’s counters were definitely a trend in 2014, but how many of them feature a celebrity chef who burst onto the scene after a come-from-behind win on Bravo’s Top Chef? Despite his early fame, Rosenberg chose to lie low for several years while building a catering business and Boulder County farmstead that supplies meat and produce for his solid menu packed full of quiet surprises. But now he’s back in the limelight, at least for those lucky enough to snag a seat at the counter, where steak tartare is diced by hand with meticulous and deliberate knife strokes and hangar steaks are seared to a perfect medium-rare. While guests may show up to get cozy with the affable Rosenberg, it quickly becomes clear that the food is the real star.

Readers' choice: Mercantile Dining & Provision

The Village Cork

Every neighborhood needs a welcoming, relaxed, romantic little wine bar like the Village Cork, which was renovated last year but kept its original wine-bar ambience, which has drawn fans for fourteen years. Wine snobbery isn’t on the menu here; instead, the staff is friendly, easygoing and knowledgeable, eager to walk you through a refreshingly off-the-beaten-path wine list. Wine flights focus on region or varietal, and the liquor list is heavy on small-batch, locally produced spirits. The seasonally inspired menu highlights French and American cuisine — mostly organic, and free of added hormones or antibiotics. But it’s the seductive interior, awash with warm, golden light and the clink of glasses touching, that makes the Village Cork a first-date no-brainer. That, and the unbeatable wine offerings, which make everything seem a little more romantic.

Readers’ choice: The Infinite Monkey Theorem

The best happy-hour dishes capture the feeling and intent of a restaurant on one small, cheap plate. That's a tall order for most places, but Old Major rises to the challenge. The lauded Highland restaurant offers a happy-hour bill of fare that evolves and shifts based on the kitchen's whims. The best of the rotating dishes is the sausage plate, a small yet significant taste of Old Major's wonderful ways with meat. Five bucks gets you a sample of a housemade sausage of the day, enough to appreciate its details — the fine grind, the balance of spices. And the presentation alone elevates this dish to art: Thoughtful condiments are daubed with care, and the sausage is plated with a smattering of complementary veggies. This is a refreshingly contemplative snack even in the rush of a happy hour, a reminder of why Old Major still enthralls.

Picking a favorite joint for green chile can often come down to what camp you’re in: Are you a New Mexico Hatch-head, a Den-Mex devotee, or a newcomer caught in the crossfire who’s just looking for a spicy bowl? Since most of the New Mexico versions around town tend to be watered-down shades of verde, Colorado-style is the way to go here. And while better-known chile kitchens attract much of the attention, Señor Burritos (at 12 East First Avenue) quietly turns out top-caliber blue-collar sauce right around the corner from one of the city’s most buzzed-about culinary zones along Broadway. The green chile here has a warm, orange hue magnified by a slick of glistening fat on top – all the better to soak up with a steaming tortilla. The chile is thickened just enough to make it rib-sticking (or burrito-sticking, if you opt for a smothered breakfast bomb) without becoming gravy-like glop. Bits of green chiles and tomato bob in the broth, and chunks of pork too big to fit on the spoon lay mostly submerged like meaty icebergs. The pork is so tender that all you’ll need is that spoon to break the pieces apart into more manageable bites. It’s a spicy stew but not painfully so, which means that by the spoonful or atop a fat breakfast burrito, you’ll be able to taste the deep flavor from the first to the last bite. Readers' choice: Santiago's

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