Masalaa

India has been perfecting vegetarian cuisine for hundreds of years, to the point that even diehard carnivores can luxuriate in rich lentil stews, zingy rice plates perfumed with spices and giant, crispy dosas stuffed with everything from stewed potatoes to Indo-Chinese Szechuan noodles — all of which can be found on Masalaa's meat-free menu. And going well beyond the standard curries found in nearly every Indian eatery in town, Masalaa draws from the culinary traditions of South India as well as the beachfront food stalls of Mumbai, making for a fun street-food journey. Despite its age, Masalaa shows no signs of growing tired, proving that good cooking makes good food — even if meat's not in the mix.

Readers' choice: Little India
Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant and Grocery
Lori Midson

Megenagna is an Ethiopian market, coffeehouse and restaurant all in one, with cozy, palm-sheltered tables where guests enjoy platters of spongy injera bread (made at Megenagna's bakery just down the street) mounded with deeply spiced lentil and vegetable stews. House blends of berbere and mitmita chile powders give a variety of kitfos (raw or cooked ground beef mixed with seasoned clarified butter) a blast of heat, followed by a mélange of exotic spices. What makes this Aurora gem stand out from Denver's other excellent Ethiopian restaurants is the liberal use of those spices: Each bite is alive with a heavy dose of the flavors of Megenagna's homeland.

Readers' choice: Queen of Sheba
Sahara Restaurant

Morocco isn't technically within the geographical region we call the Middle East, but there's a culinary continuum that links the food of northwest Africa with the Levant and points farther east. That continuum encompasses hummus, baba ghanouj, falafel and pita stuffed with grilled meats, all of which Sahara Restaurant on East Arapahoe Road handles with aplomb (the kitchen, after all, represents Lebanese fare, too). But for something special, the Moroccan tajines (served on Friday and Saturday nights only) and couscous dishes can't be beat. Make it lamb for a true taste of the Mediterranean, with bone-in lamb shank over saffron rice or roasted in a clay tajine with dried fruits. For more variety, try the mashwi combination, with beef, chicken and kafta kabobs along with shaved gyros all piled onto one platter. Beneath tented tapestries in the glow of flickering candlelight, you'll forget for a night that you're in a suburban strip mall.

Readers' choice: Jerusalem
Mizuna
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

Golden Europe
Mark Manger

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
Spuntino
Danielle Lirette

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
Marco's Coal Fired
Mark Antonation

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
Sliceworks
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
Blue Pan Pizza
Paul Joyner

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.

Crush Pizza + Tap
Mark Antonation

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

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