Best Mac and Cheese 2015 | West End Tap House | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Mac and cheese is one of those contentious foods: Purists believe the focus should be solely on the noodles and the cheese, while gastronauts like it gussied up with lobster, bacon and all the fixings. The twain can meet at the West End Tap House, whose mac and cheese would satisfy both parties. Here the orecchiette are bathed in a rich and creamy Gruyère-and-white-cheddar blend, then topped with a truffle-herb mix that would make even the most ascetic purist swoon.

Readers' choice: Steuben's

Pastries and sandwiches get top billing at the Noshery, a homespun bakery-cafe where Regis University students talk shop before class and families gather on weekends. But it is the soup of the day that best captures the feel-good nature of the place — and try as we might, we never leave here without at least a cup of the stuff. Mike Alvarez, who overlapped at Whole Foods with owner-pastry chef Andrea Knight, believes in soup the way most cooks don't, having worked for a chef who impressed upon him that "you can always tell a chef by his soup." Just don't get too attached to that bowl of spicy corn chowder, curry chickpea or baked potato. As the soup du jour, what's here today is gone tomorrow — all the more reason to drop by for another bowl, and a lemon-meringue tart to go along with it.

A decade ago, a mom whose two-year-old son suffered from a rare autoimmune disorder started dipping local potatoes in coconut oil and kettle-cooking them in her Crested Butte kitchen to create a healthy snack. The result was spectacular, and in 2012 Megan Reamer and her husband sold their first bags of Jackson's Honest Chips in their local heath-food store. Today you'll find the crunchy, salty and slightly sweet bites of heaven in all 71 Natural Grocers locations and Rocky Mountain-region Whole Foods stores; you can also buy them online. The Reamers' juiciest trade secret lies in their ingredients: non-GMO-certified sweet potatoes, purple potatoes or organic white potatoes processed simply with sea salt and organic coconut oil. Many of the potatoes come from Colorado farms in Hotchkiss and Paonia, and all of the purple ones are still grown in the San Luis Valley.

Danielle Lirette

North County, named for the San Diego region famous for fish tacos and other Baja-style beach eats, opened at the end of 2014 in Lowry, where it offers fresh and satisfying seafood and deeply flavored slow-cooked meats, along with an impressive tequila list and bottled boozy sodas made in-house. But one Southern California specialty stands out on the menu: the comfort-food splurge known as carne asada fries. Typically a late-night indulgence, carne asada fries must be built on a foundation of fabulous fries. North County gets these just right, giving the spuds a crisp golden-brown exterior to hold up against a deluge of toppings: a creamy four-cheese queso; a mound of tender, flame-kissed steak grilled over Japanese charcoal; a simple guacamole that hasn't been overly messed with; and a generous coating of crema and cotija. It's a slurry of bold flavors beyond boring old nachos, and if you're in the know, the kitchen will wrap the whole pile up in a flour tortilla for a secret, off-menu California burrito.

Readers' choice: Park Burger

While the name of this Colfax Avenue shack is a clear indication of its specialty, a couple of dogs share menu space with Über's selection of tasty sausage blends. The best is the Tijuana dog, a nitrate- and preservative-free bison hot dog topped with a messy mix of mango pico de gallo, crema and crumbles of queso fresco. The bison link is lightly smoky and served split down the middle and griddled until the edges crisp. And in homage to the Sonoran hot dog that serves as the inspiration for Über's creation, crispy bacon adds another layer of smokiness and porky flavor. It's a sloppy dog that's thoughtfully served on a baguette-style roll; a standard hot dog bun would disintegrate under the mass of toppings. Still, the fat and meaty dog holds its own as the predominant flavor, with each bite bursting with salty juice.

Readers' choice: Biker Jim's

Jimmy's has the kind of menu that makes you think either "hell, yes" or "hot mess." A little too ambitious for straight-up bar-food fans and with an international streak that could spell disaster, Jimmy's somehow manages to keep it all together and put out clever yet satisfying twists on drinking fare. Chicago is a big influence here, which is readily apparent in the name and ingredients of the Ditka burger. An eight-ounce slab of properly fat-laced and fresh ground chuck comes topped with Jimmy's own Italian beef, adding meaty succulence to the already juicy burger. Pungent provolone and your choice of sweet peppers or hot giardiniera (we recommend the latter) add tang and spice. Despite the meat-on-meat combo, the Ditka burger is not a towering monstrosity but rather an exercise in (relative) restraint. The sandwich comes with a steak knife to make handling easier, and things can get a little drippy, but the bun maintains its integrity for bite after satisfying bite.

Readers' choice: Cherry Cricket

Danielle Lirette

WaterCourse Foods bills itself as "eating the path of least resistance since 1998," but that doesn't mean it takes the easy way out. In fact, last year, owner Dan Landes renewed his commitment to providing good food that's good for you, taking WaterCourse all vegan. But you don't have to sacrifice flavor when you stand up for principles: WaterCourse's burger tastes damn close to meat — not repackaged sawdust, like so many other veggie burgers — and isn't that why you're eating a burger anyway? The kitchen makes its own "sirloin" out of seitan, then puts it on a smooshy bun (gluten-free bread is available, of course) and tops it with classic burger fixin's, including tofu bacon, if you're so inclined. Pleased to not meat you!

Readers' choice: Park Burger

Courtesy Uncle

When a few carrot sticks just won't cut it, head to Uncle for the vegetarian ramen. The savory, veggie-based broth is chock-full of a wide assortment of vegetables and comes topped with a soft-cooked egg (optional); it will fill you up while also fulfilling your daily vegetable intake. Uncle was one of the first local establishments to get on board the ramen train that everyone seems to be riding these days, and it remains one of the best. The space isn't big, but a new patio has cut down on the long waits.

Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

The Plimoth

Danielle Lirette

Technically, the Plimoth's cauliflower turnip gratinée is a side — so you'll want to order several and make a night of it, because this vegetarian dish is as delicious as any of the meatier entrees on the menu at this charming neighborhood spot. Served in a cast-iron skillet and topped with mushrooms, the cauliflower/turnip mix is creamy with cheese and incredibly delicious — and definitely contributes to the wonderful smell always hanging in the air at Plimoth.

Readers' choice: Rioja

Best Vegan Dish in a Non-Vegan Restaurant


When you walk into Zeal, you enter a fresh, clean space whose vibe is immediately rejuvenating. The motto here is "Food for Enthusiasts," and we're quite enthusiastic about the vegetable rainbow curry. This vegan dish is a flavorful blend of seasonal roasted vegetables, sesame seeds, lentil sprouts and coconut curry on a bed of perfectly cooked rice. It's a substantial plate, packed with veggies and just the right level of spice for curry. Complement your meal with one of Zeal's uber-healthy cold-pressed juices to round out the nutritious dining experience.

Readers' choice: Vine Street Pub

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