Kaos Pizzeria

Life would be pleasant indeed if you had a pizza oven in your own back yard — complete with a skilled pie baker, of course, because nobody wants to get hot and sweaty when patio drinks beckon. The next best thing is Kaos Pizzeria, where you can relax among friends, surrounded by flowers, trees and the delicate aroma of potted basil. Kaos is built into a vintage Victorian on Old South Pearl Street, with a tiny dining room inside, but the best seats are on the expansive patio, which wraps around the side and back yard of what was once someone's cozy home. The sunlight is always dappled and the beers are always cold in this neighborhood spot. And the pizza comes with crisp, charred edges wafting with the aroma of wood coals — just right for a summer night.

Avanti Food & Beverage
Danielle Lirette

Avanti Food & Beverage, which opened in Highland last year, is certainly a cool concept: seven shipping containers turned into professional kitchens and crammed under one roof, where they serve an international variety of street eats to hungry customers. It might look like little more than a boozy food court inside, but head upstairs on a sunny day for a rooftop patio with stunning views of downtown, the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding LoHi neighborhood. What better way to enjoy arepas, pizza, Japanese noodle bowls or farm-to-table fare than while sitting on a cushy lounge chair built from repurposed shipping pallets? Or grab a beer and a bleacher seat facing Coors Field and pretend that you're hanging out in the Rockpile, only with far better food and a winning team — Avanti's team of skilled bartenders, that is.

Readers' choice: Linger
Sub-Culture
Courtesy of Sub-Culture

Regardless of whether you have a dog, the patio at Subculture — a Capitol Hill sub shop famous for its seemingly endless variety of well-made sandwiches, including many vegan and vegetarian options as well as gluten-free breads — is a wonderful place to kick back and people-watch. But the fact that dogs are allowed on the spacious patio, which features fencing around the picnic tables that's perfect for attaching a leash down low, makes this a great go-to spot when you and the canine are out for a stroll. Water bowls are kept full, and staffers have been known to come out to pet pooches and slip them some meat scraps.

Readers' choice: Denver Beer Co.
To the Wind Bistro

Our 2015 pick in this category, To the Wind has spent the past year doing nothing but getting better. The tiny, casual, dinner-only eatery — named after the expression "three sheets to the wind" — offers a cheerful place on East Colfax to unwind and experience the innovative and appealing dishes cooked by owner Royce Oliveira. Along with his wife, pastry chef/owner Leanne Adamson, Oliveira breathes new life into old favorites. The menu changes daily (though the expansive beer list does not): One night you might swoon over melt-in-your-mouth veal sweetbreads with a ricotta pancake and demi-glace enriched with parmesan, and, on another visit, crispy-skinned buttermilk chicken served with wedges of tempura-batter fried green tomatoes. Whatever you start with, though, something from the also-rotating roster of Adamson's delectable desserts is a must — especially if the ganache-slicked stout chocolate cake is an option.

Readers' choice: Sassafras

Over the course of a year, chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma's take on a Southeast Asian market stall on South Broadway has trotted out a range of traditional Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian dishes that burst with exotic flavors without ever becoming intimidating. Grab a seat at the bar and dive into Thai coconut curry, steaming pho or potent stir-fries from searing-hot woks just a few feet away. Standout dishes in the past twelve months have ranged from a playful bacon-egg-and-cheese ramen to Indonesian octopus laksa to bao-mi buns, a clever mashup of Chinese and Vietnamese sandwiches. You're always in for something fun from the ever-shifting menu.

Readers' choice: Beatrice & Woodsley

Best Restaurant on West 32nd Avenue

Solitaire

Solitaire

Only something special could have filled the void left when Highland's Garden Café departed after twenty years, and the stylish Solitaire is exactly that. Chef/owner Mark Ferguson — who chose the name to honor his great-great-grandfather's brand of canned goods sold in Denver in the early 1900s — and his business partner and wife, Andrea Faulisi Ferguson, have created a sumptuous retreat of a restaurant, remodeling the conjoined Victorian houses to enhance the intimate spaces, adding a cozy, enclosed wraparound porch and installing a fire pit in the lushed-up gardens. The food is just as richly conceived, and while the menu of reasonably priced small plates changes with the seasons, combinations such as crispy quail with waffles paired with fruit, wasabi mayo and black caviar on ahi tartare, and lamb shank atop a feta-garbanzo mash make for some heady eating on a street that is no stranger to inventive fare. As a simultaneously sophisticated destination restaurant and affordable low-key neighborhood eatery, Solitaire is singular, indeed.

Readers' choice: Highland Tap & Burger
Columbine Steak House & Lounge
Mark Antonation

Flames dance in the front window at Columbine Steak House, backlighting silhouetted customers who wait in line for no-frills steaks and burgers. From the street, it has all the appearance of a primitive fire dance, one that's been happening every night since 1961, when the Columbine first lit up its grill on Federal Boulevard. And even after all these years, the spartan dining room and divey adjoining lounge are packed nightly with carnivores cutting into enormous T-bones, juicy New York strips and bargain-priced filets. Pay for a steak and you also get Texas toast, a baked potato buried in butter and sour cream and an unadorned bowl of iceberg — but for a couple bucks more, you can surf-and-turf it with breaded shrimp sold in singles. A seat at the bar is a workingman's dream: a fat steak and a mug of beer in front of the big game, with change left over from a twenty.

Readers' choice: New Saigon
Seoul BBQ & Sushi
Mark Manger

Sure, grilling your own marinated pork or beef is a big draw at this top-notch Korean barbecue, and you certainly can't go wrong with the kalbi, bulgogi or thin pork-belly slices that sizzle and pop at the center of your table while you sample your way through the numerous saucers of banchan (appetizers) that come with every meal. But if you're not in the mood to cook, let the kitchen do the work for you with funky kimchi pancakes, a four-alarm plate of snails in a fire-engine red sauce, or bubbling soups served in miniature stone cauldrons. Seoul BBQ is Havana Street's number-one stop for lovers of both bold seasonings and robust, warming fare. Start with a cold beer and work your way through a banquet that's equal parts backyard cookout and whirlwind street-food tour.

Readers' choice: Sam's No. 3

Best Restaurant on the Pearl Street Mall

Japango

Japango

Cheerful, bright and comfortably modern, Japango is one of the most inviting Japanese joints around, partly because the fifteen-year-old eatery has been on the Pearl Street Mall long enough to get it right. The staff could not be more accommodating (for instance, if you have a food allergy, no one makes you feel like a criminal), and if you're not a sushi fan, the eatery has a large enough selection of non-fish foods (including a beautifully grilled eight-ounce filet served with yuzu asparagus and a toothsome teriyaki chicken) that a variety of palates feel welcome. The sushi is always expertly carved and presented, and our favorite of the tapas-style appetizers here is the miso-marinated black cod, one lushly textured and intensely flavored snack. Also, Japango is all about the bargain. Tuesdays are all-you-can-eat sushi for $29.95 from 5 to 10 p.m., while lunchtime finds discounted nigiri and sashimi as well as an $8.50 bento box, and two happy hours —  from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and from 10 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday  — offer deep discounts on hand rolls, sushi rolls (including specialty ones) and sake. In addition, the restaurant hosts a DJ on those weekend nights, which just adds to the fun. Domo, Japango.

Readers' choice: Oak at Fourteenth
Nocturne
Jon Solomon

Nicole and Scott Mattson opened Nocturne last year, adding an elegant destination supper club to the mix of fun and funky bars and eateries in River North. While the restaurant's creative cuisine, featuring tasting menus inspired by specific jazz tracks, stands out as some of the best food in the neighborhood, the service is what elevates Nocturne above the competition. You'll see both Nicole and Scott working the floor to ensure that guests get just what they need, whether it's a simple smile of welcome or a wine suggestion from Scott, who's also the house sommelier. The Mattsons' grace and charm flows down to the rest of the staff, who see to it that every piece of silverware is properly in place, that meals are paced appropriately, and that drink orders from the bar — itself a model of efficiency and energy — come promptly. Nocturne is a return to the Jazz Age in both ambience and old-school customer service.

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