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

Uber Sausage

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 Urban Bar & Grill

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

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