Best Vegan Dish in a Non-Vegan Restaurant

Zeal

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

City, O' City
Hunter Stevens

City, O' City isn't just a restaurant, it's a community. There are classes and programs upstairs, gatherings in the bar and out on the patio, entertaining reading in the bathrooms. You'll see everyone from adventurous suburban teens to hipsters covered in tattoos to seniors just getting out of their yoga classes passing through. And they often stop to eat the delicious food — because all of the activity isn't just in the front of the house at City, O' City; since the restaurants expansion two years ago, the kitchen has worked hard on its all-vegetarian menu, and the choices can be overwhelming. You can't go wrong with the Buffalo seitan wings, the udon-noodle bowl or the Breakfast All Day sandwich.

Readers' choice: City, O' City

Olive & Finch Eatery & Bakery
Danielle Lirette

While Mary Nguyen is primarily known for her Asian and French fusions at P17 and Olive & Finch, one of her menu standouts is not a dish, but a sauce. At Olive & Finch, the chimichurri that comes on the D.F. (a beautiful mess of eggs, pulled pork, green chile and cheese) and the Nico sandwich, her version of a Spanish cheesesteak, features the perfect blend of graininess and heat, and is so good we could put it on just about anything. Made in-house from parsley, red-pepper flakes, garlic, lemon juice, red-wine vinegar and neutral-flavored oil, it sounds like a simple recipe — but the result is anything but. Quite possibly what Dr. Seuss was preaching about in Green Eggs and Ham, this magical sauce spruces up everything it comes into contact with, from proteins to potatoes.

Wayne's Smoke Shack
Courtesy Wayne's Smoke Shack - True Texas BBQ Facebook

Texas doesn't get much love from Coloradans, but the barbecue at Wayne's Smoke Shack in Superior could change that. Owner and pit master Wayne Shelnutt brings the flavors and techniques of Texas Hill Country — the post-oak-and-brisket holy land with Austin at its center — to Denver's north suburbs, where Lone Star State expats and Front Range natives alike line up for a taste of juicy beef with the coffee-black bark and deep, smoky flavor that can only come from time, patience and love. Pork lovers have plenty to be thankful for, too; Wayne's ribs and pork shoulder sing with the same slow-cooked and savory alchemy that arises when fat and dry rub combine with smoke to coax magic from meat. Lunch is your best bet; by dinner, the best might already be gone.

Readers' choice: Moe's Original Bar-B-Que

Acorn
Mark Antonation

The best meatball in town doesn't come on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese. Rather, it comes in a cast-iron skillet, which is delivered by the servers at Acorn with the warning to be careful, this is hot. What they should warn you about instead is how you'll want to eat your weight in these suckers. Tender as butter, they're served over rich, coarse-ground grits with melted burrata and just enough tomato sauce to hold each bite together. If you were at any other restaurant, we'd encourage you to throw caution to the wind and eat course after course of the stuff. But this is Acorn, owned by powerhouse duo Bryan Dayton and Steven Redzikowski, with Amos Watts manning the day-to-day kitchen operations — so there's plenty more deliciousness to come.

Beast + Bottle

Beast is in the name of this bright and lively eatery, and beast is what you'll get — in almost every form but beef. Chef/co-owner Paul Reilly has earned a reputation for whole-animal butchery and top-caliber dishes based on pork, lamb, poultry and seafood, but you won't see any steaks on the menu. That's because while Reilly is dedicated to bringing in whole animals, a side of beef is simply too big to fit in the tiny kitchen. Instead, look for lamb and pork roasts and braises on the big-plates menu, with more difficult cuts of the same animals transformed into charcuterie — terrines, sausages and cured cuts — on the small-plates side. Seasonal fish and fowl are also lovingly handled, so you'll find crudos, clams, guinea hens or sturgeon, depending on the time of year and what strikes the kitchen's fancy. And for plant-based diners, there's plenty to choose from, too, with all-veggie creations in both appetizer and entree sizes. With so much variety packed into such a small menu, even the most die-hard beef lovers will barely notice the missing moo.

Guard and Grace
Danielle Lirette

We wouldn't steer you wrong: It takes balls — bull's balls — to open a modern steakhouse in this cowtown. And when Troy Guard's Guard and Grace debuted in a stunning first-floor space in a renovated downtown high-rise, it clearly had cojones to spare. Although Guard had to work hard at first to fix early problems, today Guard and Grace is as good as any cow palace Denver has seen, with a smart menu that gives plenty of attention to the main event (grass-fed filet mignon, oak-fired prime rib, spanking-fresh salmon, Colorado rack of lamb) while also turning out sides that are far from standard steakhouse glop. The setting is lovely, the service attentive, and Guard is definitely a man on the moo.

Readers' choice: Capital Grille

Vesta
Mark Antonation

It's no surprise that Vesta has a way with grilled meats, but even skeptical steak lovers will be impressed with the kitchen's mastery of tenderloin. Rather than trying to reinvent steakhouse fare for the small-plates set, Vesta proudly presents a platter of meat and potatoes, sided with nothing more than seasonal flourishes and your choice of sauces. The steak itself is a dark beauty, sporting stripes from the grill and a light crust of simple seasonings. The kitchen gets the temperature just right, too, especially if your preference is medium-rare, letting the steak sauce itself with savory juices. But while purists might skip the sides of sauce, that's where Vesta shows off its playful side (and lives up to its name), with aiolis, emulsions and gastriques guaranteed to bring out the best in the beef. And since you call the shots, you can go with a light touch or a heavy hand when it comes to dunking each bite.

Colt & Gray

If you're going to cure meats for two restaurants, you might as well build your own curing facility — which is exactly what Colt & Gray owner-executive chef Nelson Perkins did when he decided to expand Colt & Gray. His cured-meat program had started simply, with a duck prosciutto and a country pâté on Colt & Gray's opening menu, but it soon grew to take over the massive space beneath the restaurant. He gave the facility its own name — Viande (French for "meat") — and tasked sous-chef Kyle Foster with butchering a pig and a lamb every week, turning every bit into bacon, coppa, speck and more, including the rarely seen cicciola and porchetta di testa. Viande's humidity-controlled chambers operate at a constant 42 degrees (slightly lower than at other facilities), which doubles the time it takes to cure — but also doubles the depth of flavor and puts a nice finish on dried sausages.

Olive & Finch Eatery & Bakery
Danielle Lirette

Chef/restaurateur Mary Nguyen came to prominence with her elegant interpretations of Vietnamese cuisine, but her love of European cafe culture prompted her to open Olive & Finch, an all-day market serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a casual, bustling atmosphere that encourages lingering and neighborly exchanges. The overall menu board is delicious and comforting, but it's the Greggers tongue sandwich that has us talking. The finicky cut, which can yield tough results in inexperienced hands, is cooked low and slow before being piled onto a crusty baguette with sweet caramelized onions and red peppers. A smear of tarragon aioli adds bright, herbal notes while a dab of roasted-garlic purée balances the mineral qualities of the tongue with rustic, earthy flavor. A cascade of arugula lends a fresh and bitter bite.

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