Best French Restaurant 2016 | Mizuna | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Joni Schrantz

Restaurateur Frank Bonanno's first foray into the restaurant business, now going on twelve years , doesn't come across as overtly French; this is not your standard polished-brass bistro with crocks of onion soup or cassoulet. Instead, Bonanno's inspiration is the cutting-edge cuisine of modern Paris, tempered with just enough Gallic charm to ground the menu for traditionalists, who will still find escargot, sweetbreads and côte de bœuf to warm their Francophile hearts. But the French have always prided themselves on culinary innovation, which Mizuna displays with subtle savoir faire, in an appetizer that lets you speak the words "foie gras" three times (pan-roasted and infused into ice cream and maple syrup), and in entrees that incorporate international ingredients — like hoisin broth over dry-aged duck breast — and modernist technique, as with the salsa verde espuma that accompanies a cut of white sturgeon. Also unerringly French is Mizuna's dedication to great wines to accompany great food, with a breathtaking cellar overseen by sommelier Kelly Wooldridge.

Readers' choice: Bistro Vendôme

Best German/Eastern European Restaurant

Golden Europe

When it comes to dining on schnitzel, sausage and sauerkraut, a modern setting is somehow a distraction. What's called for is old-world decor and the bucolic trappings of rural Bavaria, Austria or the Czech Republic. Golden Europe delivers, with raft-sized cutlets of chicken, pork or veal awash in lakes of sauce and surrounded by mountains of mashed potatoes — all in a quaint dining room peppered with cuckoo clocks and other Teutonic trinkets. Squeeze into a booth and order beer by the liter to wash down homestyle cooking from liver-dumpling soup to the half roasted duck, all served with good cheer by the Palla family, who have kept the place running for more than twenty years. Prost!

Readers' choice: Euclid Hall

The best Italian restaurants offer many of the same things that any excellent restaurant does — gracious and efficient service, the highest-quality ingredients, well-cooked and presented food — with one crucial exception: They also have to serve the best Italian food, right? Spuntino, a charming and cozy eatery in Highland, does just that, combining old favorites and new ideas in that quintessentially Italian way. Owners Cindhura Reddy (the chef) and her husband, Elliott Strathmann (the general manager), bought the restaurant in 2014 after spending some time as employees; they nail down the classics, such as butternut squash risotto with crispy prosciutto and goat-cheese-filled agnolotti (all of their pastas are homemade), while also offering unexpected and updated takes on other old favorites, including a gussied-up tartare pairing Colorado elk with preserved lemon, ginger and garlic, and a house-smoked lamb sausage sweetened on the side with cranberries. The small but cozy space also manages to feature a remarkable roster of wines, including an "Off-List List," a selection of hard-to-find bottles in a wide price range, all recommended by the staff. Speaking of which, the service here is welcoming and knowledgable, which makes the experience all the more eccellènte.

Readers' choice: Osteria Marco
Molly Martin

Much like politics, the road to great pizza is long and fraught with controversy, a lot of dueling options and the quest for quality. At Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana in LoDo, there's no debate about the restaurant's ability to continually churn out superb wood-fired pies. This comes after seven-plus years in the business, the majority of those under the name Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza. Owners Mark and Kristy Dym changed the name late last year, but while that got tweaked along with the space and the menu, the goods have remained excellent. Each pie is cooked in a legitimate Italian pizza oven and sold under a regional designation, be it Sicily, Tuscany, Campania or one of the many pizza-filled New York City neighborhoods. While the pies remain thin and chewy, the heavier-sounding toppings — such as roasted zucchini, lemoncello chicken and artichoke — never seem to weigh the slice down, which helps make this the best Neapolitan pizza in the area.

Readers' choice: Hops & Pie
Mark Antonation

To make a New York-style pizza, you need to hand-toss the dough, which the staff does with gusto at this two-location pie joint. Then the dough gets stretched into a large circle, just right for holding a layer of spiced tomato sauce, fresh cheese and whatever toppings you might desire. At SliceWorks, they get this — not surprising, given that owner Lou Scileppi hails from Long Island and grew up in the restaurant world. The result is a thin-crust pizza that can either hold its massive triangle or crisp nicely in half when folded, arguably the proper way to eat New York-style pizza. You can get traditional toppings like Italian sausage and pepperoni, as well some of the classic combinations found on the East Coast, including margherita, white spinach and clam. There are also have a few unique creations, such as jalapeño popper, Buffalo chicken and, in true Colorado fashion, a pizza singing with green chile.

Readers' choice: Fat Sully's
Molly Martin

Detroit has seen its share of troubles lately, but here's a bit of good news for the Motor City: It spawned one kick-ass style of pie. And here's even better news: You don't have to hop on a plane to get it. At Blue Pan Pizza, Detroit transplant Jeff Smokevitch geeks out over details like hydration levels and dough proofing, resulting in a pizza that defines the category. Baked in a pan for a deep crust, with sauce ladled over, not under, the cheese, and addictively crisp edges thanks to a blend of caramelized cheeses (including the oh-so-authentic brick), the result will make you question why New York-style pizza ever became the American default.

What was once nothing more than a takeout window at the back of the Bar Car on Colorado Boulevard became a full-fledged restaurant a year ago. While sandwiches, wings and other bar food can be had, the specialty is Chicago-style pizza built on a buttery, tender crust with high sides to contain the mountain of toppings. Unlike many of the Windy City's notorious pies, those at Denver Deep Dish aren't overblown, soupy messes, but rather well-balanced constructions that layer sauce, cheese and toppings in harmony so that the tomato doesn't dominate. Traditional ingredients like spicy Polidori sausage, spinach and mushrooms share space with Southwestern concoctions like the 505, kicked up with green chiles, chicken and Mark Schlereth's Stinkin' Good green-chile sauce. Lunch and dinner aren't the only options for Chicago-style goodness, either: Weekend brunch includes an outstanding egg pie loaded with roasted potatoes, salsas and breakfast meats.

Readers' choice: Patxi's Pizza
Danielle Lirette

There's a common misconception, usually among non-vegans, that vegan food is tasteless and dull. The Munchy Mango Pie at the Baker neighborhood's Pie Hole blows that theory completely out of the water — and chances are you'll need water after sinking your teeth into this spicy, animal-free pie. With a base of tangy Thai peanut sauce, the pie also features mango, green onions and sugar-roasted jalapeños, which supply the pie's real kick. Pie Hole has other vegan options, as well, including a Vegan Delight and "sticks" (breadsticks). Pie Hole's vegan options succeed where so many others fail because no cheese substitute — which often comes off as overly processed in taste — is used. Instead, the flavor is supplemented with tasty sauces like the Thai peanut and a special vegan roux sauce. With a multitude of options for non-vegans, a 2 a.m. closing time (3 a.m. on weekends), and several local-beer options, Pie Hole has something for everyone with an affinity for tasty, "undull" pizza.

Hops & Pie

When you start putting taco filling, fried chicken and mashed potatoes on pizza, things are bound to get a little crazy. Since opening the place over five years ago, Hops & Pie owner Drew Watson has gotten very creative when coming up with the Slice of the Day. Luckily, the skilled chef manages to find the balance of all-out weird and darn good pizza. "I try and take things that I love to eat and figure out a way to put it on a pizza," says Watson. "I try and save the crazy stuff for Fridays and Saturdays, when people come in for hours and try all the different beers with the pizza." Recent special slices have included chicken pot pie and street taco with queso fresco, jalapeños, ground beef seasoned with garlic, cumin and onion and, just before serving, a pile of shredded lettuce and chipotle crema. You won't find the same pie on the menu two days in a row, but some favorites do reappear.

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Maria Empanada

Courtesy Maria Empanada

We have dreams filled entirely with the savory little Argentinean pastries from Maria Empanada, and then we wake up and make a beeline for the sunny corner cafe on South Broadway. The dream becomes a blissful reality with a strong espresso and a basket filled with delicate baked pillows bulging with spiced beef, cheesy corn, mild shredded chicken or ham and cheese, each with its own shape as a visual code for the contents within. An afternoon daydream leads to a return trip for wedge-shaped tartas and Spanish-style tortillas (masonry-like constructions of thin-sliced potato) and an accompanying pinguino of malbec — and, yes, that's an adorable penguin-shaped pitcher of wine. Maybe it's a dream after all, populated with edible pastry clouds and fat penguins that keep your wine glass filled. If you're wearing pants, it's not a dream — it's simply a South American slice of heaven in Denver.

Readers' choice: Cuba Cuba

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