Local 46

Whether you're looking for a patio where you can relax by a fire or one where you can work up a sweat throwing around bocce balls, Local 46's biergarten is the best place to play. The 2,900-square-foot patio, which this popular bar opened in 2013, is like going to visit that best friend who has the Cribs-style setup. It's cozy despite its size, and the gravel underfoot invokes a school playground or a huge campground. There are woody nooks where you can lounge by fire pits, a ping-pong table, cornhole games and, yes, a bocce-ball court. And you can order both food and drinks at the outdoor bar. If you're lucky enough to get a seat at the community picnic tables, order the Gutter Special: Your beers will be delivered to an ice-filled metal gutter splicing through the table.

Domo

Domo is more than just a restaurant. It's a museum, an experience in Japanese culture, built to look like a country house with a traditional Nippon Kan aikido dojo on the side and a garden out back. And what a garden: This is an ideal urban oasis, with wood-stump tables alongside a winding path beside overhanging trees, ponds and a little bridge. Walking to the back of the garden, you find shrines to Buddha and a fertility god. It's a perfect place to wait for your table and contemplate Domo owner Gaku Homma's altruistic efforts around the world: His nonprofit Aikido Humanitarian Active Network supports orphanages, medical facilities, schools and other programs in thirty countries, including the Denver Rescue Mission here at home. Domo, indeed.

Readers' choice: Linger

Ignite Kitchen + Cocktails
Courtesy Ignite

A great rooftop bar doesn't require a great view of the mountains. At Ignite, you do glimpse the mountains (until taller buildings go up in the Platte Valley) and see some of the city skyline, but the real draw is the space itself: It's half-enclosed, half open-air, ready for any season. In cold weather, the patio is open on weekends, and come Rockies opening day, it's back in action whenever Ignite is open, with fans and misters to keep patrons cool, plus a cover to prevent the sun from pounding on mimosa-soaked heads. And no matter the air's temperature, thoughts of Ignite's fiery food selections, including wood-fired pizza and thick slices of Man Candy sweet and spicy bacon, will keep you warm.

Readers' choice: Linger

Denver Beer Co.

You don't have to have a pup in tow to enjoy Denver Beer Co.'s pooch-friendly patio. No matter when you visit this Platte Street brewery, you'll find dogs lounging under picnic tables and bar stools, waiting for a stranger to give a good scratch. If you bring your own pup, you can supply him or her with treats from behind the bar: Brew Bones' Pale Tails, made from grains left over after Denver Beer Co. and other local craft breweries make their pale ales. Five treats will cost you $3 — and they're alcohol-free! If you don't have a dog but are jonesing for company, you're bound to find some puppy love at Denver Beer Co.

Readers' choice: Denver Beer Co.

Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery

In a sector dominated by wraps, bowls and burritos, Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery feels more fine-dining than fast-casual, with tables and booths crafted of wide-plank barn wood and reclaimed fences, batched cocktails and a globally inspired menu of entrees, salads and sandwiches. Drawing on years of high-end kitchen experience, chef-owner Clint Wangsnes is a master at menu design, putting out such tempting plates as pork tenderloin with yuzu-cherry chutney, sirloin with potato-pumpkin-mushroom hash, and 72-hour slow-cooked onion bliss, a French onion soup that deserves every drop of its name. If it weren't for the menu hung on a brightly lit board and the line you stand in to place your order, you might even forget you're in a fast-casual spot, since plates are delivered and cleared by staff.

Readers' choice: Illegal Pete's

Salt & Grinder

Restaurateur Frank Bonanno has built his reputation on singular dishes — like the lobster macaroni and cheese at his flagship eatery, Mizuna — and fine-dining experiences that strike a balance of fun and elegance. But beneath the chef's coat beats the heart of a New Jersey kid raised on Taylor pork roll and meatball subs. So it's not surprising that when he decided to open his own sandwich shop, Bonanno hit the mark with East Coast classics piled high onto soft rolls from Grateful Bread. Housemade sausage and rare-cooked roast beef highlight a menu that also features pitch-perfect egg salad, Luca marinara and fresh burrata. While many of the ingredients aren't fancy — grinders are adorned with thin tomato slices and iceberg lettuce — the combination of simplicity and a few key bursts of flavor and originality makes each sandwich an exercise in nostalgia and comfort.

Readers' choice: Snarf's

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

The Noshery

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.

North County
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

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