Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Mark Antonation

Chefs have been finding more and more creative ways to sell off-cuts of meat, either through the noble guise of nose-to-tail cooking or as an attempt to capture ethnic authenticity. Where chicken is concerned, once the breasts and thighs were gone, most people traditionally called it quits — or at least they did until that clever Buffalo bar owner figured out how to sell those mostly-skin-and-bone wings. But chicken skin, as it turns out, is one of the most flavorful bits of the bird, especially when fried or roasted to a crisp. Skipping past the meat and bones entirely, Pinche's chicken chicharrones present nothing but skin, sliced into bite-sized curls and deep-fried to a mahogany crisp. A post-fryer dusting of seasoning adds chili-powder zip, and a dunk in tart salsa casera balances the fatty nuggets with zesty lime and a face-slap of heat from habanero peppers. The cute appetizer bowl is small and cheap enough for a pre-taco indulgence, and these chicharrones won't fill you up like their heavier pork-rind cousins.

The Post Brewing Co.
Courtesy of The Post Brewing Co.

We knew the beer at the Post Brewing Company would be good, since it's crafted by nationally recognized brewmaster Bryan Selders. But who would've guessed the chicken would be as much of a draw? Jamey Fader, culinary director of Big Red F, admits to getting "geeky on chicken," traveling around the country and coming home with a spreadsheet of variables — brines, flours, etc. — to test recipes by, until he and chef-partner Brett Smith and Big Red F founder Dave Query hit upon the winning combination for the place they opened last year in a former VFW post. The result: chicken that's consistently moist, with a shell that gets its addictiveness from buttermilk, gluten-free seasoned flour, and a resting period that allows the coating to lose moisture so it fries up extra-crisp. This isn't just picnic chicken — i.e., chicken to eat while playing cornhole on the patio and sipping beer.

Readers' choice: Tom's Home Cookin'

Argyll Whisky Beer

Fish and chips isn't the national dish, or even the city's addiction. That might change, however, if every man, woman and child residing at 5,280 feet above sea level could get their hands on the fish and chips at Argyll Whisky Beer. The plate is everything you want from fish and chips: generous pieces of mild, flaky cod; coating that crackles when you take a bite, thanks to a hint of cornstarch in the batter; and thick steak fries. Before you douse those spuds with vinegar, the way the Brits do, take a moment to appreciate their spot-on texture, which comes from the labor-intensive process dreamed up by culinary director John Broening: Potatoes are boiled, dehydrated in the freezer, fried at a low temperature, refrozen, then finally fried to order.

Readers' choice: GB Fish & Chips

In its simplest form, this dish at TAG translates to yellowtail sashimi with Pop Rocks. The combo may sound totally bizarre, but this is just one of those times when you have to trust that chef-owner Troy Guard, a master manipulator of tastebuds and senses, can do no wrong. The dish is a complex mix of flash-seared hamachi, jalapeños, baby tatsoi greens, Japanese ginger, yuzu white soy and, yes, a smattering of Pop Rocks, which create a tingly party on your tongue while somehow not overpowering the subtle flavors of the fish. Hungry for more? Head up Larimer to Guard's Los Chingones, where you can get a drink with Pop Rocks, too.

Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen
Danielle Lirette

Folks are picky about their bagels, and Rosenberg's owner Josh Pollack has gone beyond the call of duty in his attempt to re-create one of New York's most iconic foods, going so far as to replicate New York City water in his Five Points kitchen. But don't get so distracted by the bagels that you forget to order Pollack's cured and preserved fish, either on a sandwich or from the deli case to go. Several different styles of salmon beckon from behind the glass, including smoked Norwegian and Scottish varieties, delicate and almost-translucent gravlax, and heartier kippered salmon. Other East Coast favorites like sable and smoked whitefish are sure to please recent transplants and Denver natives alike, while house-pickled herring features powerful old-world flavors of tangy vinegar, pickling spice and squares of herring that almost melt on the tongue. An array of seafood like this is a true rarity in this town, made even more special by the fact that everything is prepared on site.

While Acorn is primarily known for its elevated small plates, don't overlook the comfort foods here. Shrimp and grits is typically a Southern staple, but the dish is becoming more and more prevalent up north (or at least in the northern Southwest). Acorn has figured out how to give those Southerners a run for their money with a super-creamy bowl of Tabasco sofrito and white-wine grits with succulent laughing shrimp. This haute, homey dish is perfect for getting you through the long Colorado winter.

Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

The best seafood restaurants are often shacks on the beach, with sea breezes blowing in and tables oriented to catch the rosy hues of the setting sun. But we're in Denver, remember? Owners Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasinski used this fact to their advantage, taking our distance from the coasts as a point of liberation and reimagining what a seafood restaurant can be. The result: Stoic & Genuine, which is part Euclid Hall, part Rioja. Inspired by flavors from coastal communities around the globe, the menu skews eclectic, offering scallops with coconut-lemongrass panna cotta, bacon-wrapped cod chowder, and oysters with lychee-sake granitas. Thanks to impeccable sourcing, the seafood couldn't be any fresher even if the ocean, and not Union Station, were beyond the restaurant's octopus-painted walls.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Jax Fish House

The Boulder and LoDo locations of Jax Fish House have been premier destinations for impeccably fresh seafood and well-shucked oysters since they opened in the mid-1990s, but the newest member of the metro-area Jax family, which opened in Glendale's CitySet development in 2013, stepped up the game with more space, a second bar upstairs and a clean, modern vibe that pairs perfectly with raw-bar offerings. Happy-hour oysters for $1.25 a slurp will get you in the door, but peel-and-eat shrimp and delectable crab will keep you in your seat. Splurge items — three types of caviar or heaping seafood platters mounded with both the raw and the cooked — tempt for celebratory occasions, but creative takes on ceviche and tuna sushi make for reasonably priced light bites packed with so much fresh flavor, you'll forget you're in landlocked Denver.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House

Lola has the deck of a great beach bar, the vibe of a great beach bar, the menu of a great beach bar — all that's missing is the beach. After a decade, Lola added the words "Mexican Fish House" to its name last year, renewing its commitment to serving the sort of seafood you might find in Mexico — but with a definite Denver twist. Although you can find plenty of twisted dishes on the regular menu, the freshest takes are the ceviches, which range from Hawaiian marlin to shrimp to California halibut, with a couple of specials usually available. You can try them all in a ceviche flight — a very hot deal at the cold bar.

Sushi Den
Sushi Den

Freshness, variety, creativity and execution: Those are the hallmarks that put Sushi Den at the apex of Denver's sushi scene year after year. From meticulous sourcing that includes regular cold-packed shipments from Japanese waters to precise knife work that highlights the best of every cut, Toshi and Yasu Kizaki's venerable temple of the raw and the cooked just gets better with each passing year. While standards like big-eye tuna and rich salmon are always impeccable, stray from the familiar with aburi (flash-seared) scallops or akamutsu, or zuke (marinated) tuna, which add complexity without detracting from the pure flavors of the fish. Sushi Den marries the modern and the traditional with bursts of flavor from delicately applied hints of blue cheese, truffle, caviar and jalapeño.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

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