The Royal
Westword

In the past few years, kids' menus have seen a shift right along with our society's obsession with the culinary arts. While you can find plenty of restaurants offering a bevy of fried fare for dinner, some establishments really up the ante and create a list of good-for-you food that kids will actually eat. The Royal in Berkeley is one such place, and although burgers are the focus of husband-and-wife team Josh Epps and Christina Smith's year-old eatery, the owners recognize that sometimes you need more than just a patty and fries. That's why children can pick from a veggie burger, turkey burger or chicken fingers, as well as the American classic. Sides include sweet-potato fries, edamame, a salad and french fries, and tots can get a soda, milk or lemonade to drink. All that for $7.50, though if you want to splurge for Junior, opt for dessert in the form of a Pink Cow, a beverage made with strawberry soda and vanilla ice cream. With choices like these, dining out is fun for all ages.

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Steuben's Uptown
Cassandra Kotnik

Teetering mounds of audacious ingredients may capture the attention of some burger thrill-seekers, but a mastery of the basics is still required. Steuben's forgoes fanciful fabrications and instead sticks with regional tradition in its green-chile cheeseburger. A juicy six-ounce patty gets crowned with good old American cheese and a mound of pure diced chiles that glow with the warm desert heat of the Southwest. A cushy challah bun and the standard trappings (lettuce, onion, tomato — you've known the drill since you were old enough to grip a burger with two hands) help bring it all together, flooding your mind with the memories of every great burger you've ever had. Trends come and go, but perfect execution wins every time.

Readers' choice: Cherry Cricket
Watercourse Foods
Danielle Lirette

Watercourse is a veteran when it comes to veggie food, but the restaurant has seen some noticeable changes in the past year. Celebrating a full year as a vegan restaurant, welcoming new owners and perking up the menu and decor, Watercourse is better than ever, and so is the veggie burger. What makes it so great is a new recipe that gives it a firm, toothsome texture from seitan along with a multitude of ingredients and flavors that add depth and pizzazz — from garlic and onion to beet and walnut. A topping of roasted mushrooms adds a final umami touch.

Readers' choice: Park Burger

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

Even though Biker Jim's has only graced Larimer Street for a short five years, it seems as if Denver wouldn't be Denver without owner Jim Pittenger's outlandish arsenal of tube steaks topped with his signature Coke-braised onions. What started out as a simple cart on the 16th Street Mall ballooned into a citywide obsession — for sausages of Alaskan reindeer, wild boar and duck (just to name a few), grilled just right and topped just the way we like them, with a choice of seven different killer combos as well as a lengthy create-your-own roster. Such is Biker Jim's reputation for weirdness that when he added the BAT (bacon, avocado and tomato) dog to the menu, concerned citizens called in, thinking there was actual bat in the grind. But even if you prefer your proteins on the traditional end of the spectrum, the all-American dogs here are a ballpark-style home run.

Readers' choice: Biker Jim's
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

At first glance, Biker Jim's menu appears to be a vegan's worst nightmare. Featuring meats like reindeer, boar and rattlesnake, it doesn't appear to cater to the more compassionate consumer. However, tucked among all that exotic carnage is the vegan dog, which can be served either "herby" or "spicy" (gotta go with spicy). The dog does not try to mimic its menu mates, nor is it "meaty"-tasting, but rather crisp and lightly fried. To make your vegan experience that much more satisfying, order a mountain of fries or chips (both housemade) and get a side of Biker Jim's excellent charred tahini cauliflower or "biker" baked beans — all vegan. With a full condiment bar that includes spears of dill pickles, the eatery delivers a full and hearty meal that provides true vegans with plenty of energy to hold their own against the carnivores.

Baur's Restaurant and Listening Lounge

Baur's excels at seafood, owing to chef/owner Dory Ford's connection to Monterey Bay, where his restaurant and catering kingdom began. But the downtown eatery's charcuterie program proves that the kitchen really knows how to grind. A rustic and earthy rabbit cassoulet shines thanks to housemade lamb sausage that holds up beautifully in the slow-cooked dish. For an unadulterated array of pure sausage goodness, the charcuterie menu (itself a butcher's bounty of terrines, pâtés and mousses) offers zingy Italian, rich boudin noir, street-style currywurst and lamb merguez scented like a warm breeze from Morocco. Each choice yields a toothsome blend of just the right ratio of fat to lean and a pleasing pop from the casing.

Readers' choice: Biker Jim's
Rebel Restaurant
Mark Antonation

Rebel Restaurant's iconoclastic style, with metal anthems rattling the glassware inside the DIY-decorated former dive bar, extends to a menu of ever-changing, offal-heavy creations, from tripe poutine to revamped shit on a shingle. While those dishes often rotate out, chef/owners Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko make sure that customers can always get some head — roasted cow, pig or lamb head, that is. Accompaniments change with the season, but the skulls are always slow-cooked so that tender chunks of meat, bathed in a marinade or glaze, pull easily from the bone, ready to be scooped up with housemade flatbread and paired with pickled vegetables, dips and other sides. While the restaurant's environs are far from sexy — unless you have a thing for warehouses, train yards, truck traffic and factories — inside Rebel is a miniature pleasure palace where you can indulge in this most carnal of delights.

Cafe Marmotte
Mark Antonation

On occasion, chef /owner Mark Reggiannini's menu at Cafe Marmotte may stray from tradition — as with a light and airy French onion soup that gracefully shoves aside the heavy, cheese-capped original. But his coq au vin captures the soul of France. Bacon-studded whipped potatoes form a solid base to support braised, bone-in chicken and red cabbage, both deeply imbued with the herbal essence of the accompanying wine-red sauce; pearl onions balance on top as a playful crown for a seriously delicious dish. Cafe Marmotte may be a newcomer in the neighborhood, but with chicken this good, Reggiannini has something to be cocky about.

Rebel Restaurant
Mark Antonation

Given the resurgence of the mid-century-modern aesthetic, you might think that everything old is cool again. Not so, of course: Some recipes are better left in the past (jiggly Jello-O salad, we're talking to you). Fortunately, when the crew at Rebel Restaurant dipped into the archives, they chose a much better dish to resurrect: shit on a shingle. In appearance, the dish looks much the same as the original — creamed beef slathered over bread. But that's where the similarities end. In lieu of jarred, heavily salted chipped beef, the kitchen subs beef heart for a deeply beefy, far-less-salty smother, and swaps white bread for brioche. For a bit of 21st-century bling, the dish is garnished with — we kid you not — sparkly gold leaf.

The Corner Bar
Britt Chester

Not content to offer just excellent regular french fries — which are medium-thick, crunchy and golden, and sport a sprinkling of sea salt — the Corner Bar in the Hotel Boulderado also sends out spot-on sweet-potato fries that are soft inside, crispy outside, and not greasy or soggy. It also does terrific truffle fries, which come dusted with Manchego cheese and a nice shake of sea salt, plus a side of truffle-scented aioli. The twenty-year-old bar space was recently renovated and looks so very vintage, with an antique bar back topped by a moose head and other trappings from the hotel's circa 1909 history; the decor makes a lovely backdrop for snacking on fries, possibly accompanied by one of the bar's well-made cocktails.

Readers' choice: Park Burger

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