Jozi's Kitchen and Shebeen

South African cuisine is such a rarity in Denver that the names of the dishes cause nothing but looks of bewilderment. Jozi's started out as a semi-permanent food shack (called a shebeen in Johannesburg's townships) at TheBigWonderful, serving delicious, homey food influenced by waves of South African settlers — Dutch, British, Indian — as well as indigenous traditions. Now on the streets in a bright-red mobile kitchen, Jozi's introduces Denver to bunny chow (beef or vegetarian curry ladled into a hollowed-out bread loaf), borewors and pap (farm-style sausage served over polenta-like cornmeal), and spiced kebabs called sosatie sided with saffron rice. The names may be hard to pronounce, but every bite reads as simply delicious.

Readers' choice: Steuben's
Il Porcellino Salumi
Mark Antonation

Denver's first full-service salumeria, with everything from pâté to pig-stamped chocolates made in-house, opened in Berkeley last fall with a deli case full of pork products and plenty of slow-agers curing in the back. But before you load up with salami, coppa, chorizo, country ham and other expertly made meats to go, hang out for a while with a sandwich so good you may never want to leave. There are several to choose from, and they're all stuffed with Il Porcellino's housemade meats. Perhaps the best is called simply the Bacon, with layers of thin-sliced bacon (cooked soft, not crunchy), tomato, apple butter and a heady fondue made from Italian cacio pecora cheese, all swaddled between slices of jalapeño-cheddar bread from the Grateful Bread Company. For a more traditional grinder, order the Hoggie, piled thick with coppa cotta, ham and Genoa salami cotta. Go ahead: You have our permission to pig out.

Readers' choice: Snarf's

Sugar rushes come in many forms, but the high quality of the goods popping out of Shauna Lott's oven push this bakery over the top. Lott has been making pies since she was five years old, and you can taste that experience in all of the creations peddled under the moniker Long I Pie. For years she sold her infamous salted-honey lavender pie and a decadent bourbon-chocolate pecan pie online and out of a 1966 Airstream trailer named Stella. Now you can find Lott delivering sweets through Temple Bakery, the storefront and bake shop she started with Eden Myles (of Black Sheep Bagels and Five Points Pizza) in Curtis Park. While you should definitely go for the seasonal and year-round pies, sweets such as the chocolate-laden monster cookies are worth a try, too.

Readers' choice: Wooden Spoon
2400 Curtis St.
thelongipie.com
Babettes Pizza & Pane
Mark Antonation

The buttery goodness of the croissants and the tangy chewiness of the bread at Babette's Artisan Bread make this bakery rise above the rest. Owners Steve and Catherine Scott opened their spot inside the Source in the fall of 2013, and since then it has become a must-stop for RiNo residents and visitors alike. What makes the bread here so good? For starters, Steve has seventeen years of experience in the industry. And he and his wife stay true to a classic French style of baking, which is evident in the dark, almost burnt-looking coloring of the loaves, which comes from a special caramelizing technique introduced in France over 200 years ago. They also use King Arthur T65 flour, ferment with low amounts of levain, hand-knead and keep the dough at a high hydration level. All of these details add up to a superior product.

Readers' choice: Grateful Bread Company
Brider
Danielle Lirette

You say potato, I say po-tah-to. Or in the case of Brider, the mod fast-casual from all-stars Steven Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton, you say Bride-r, and I say Bree-day. But whether you pronounce the restaurant's name the English or the French way — "brider" means to truss in French — all you'll really want to say is "Yum." Longtime fans of the duo's highly acclaimed full-service ventures (Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn) will recognize elements that run like swoon-worthy motifs across their menus. Yes, that means the meatballs we know and love, this time snuggled on ciabatta in the best meatball sandwich you'll ever eat, plus the signature kale-apple salad and Dayton's cocktails on tap. But it also means a deep roster of hearty, seasonal salads like roasted carrots with cumin, chickpeas and pomegranate seeds; sandwiches like porchetta with kimchi; and dinnertime plates featuring rotisserie meats that tilt American, Korean, Middle Eastern or Indian, depending on the sides. This isn't a poor man's Acorn; it's exquisite (fan)fare for the common man, dished up three times a day.

Readers' choice: Illegal Pete's
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.

303-862-9394
theroyalburger.com
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.

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