Best Noodle Bar 2016 | Osaka Ramen | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Katie Knoch

Ramen has never been more popular in Denver than it was last year, with restaurateur Jeff Osaka's two tidy noodle taverns — one in RiNo and one in Cherry Creek — leading the charge. No matter which of the two you visit, you'll be greeted by rich, steaming bowls loaded with springy noodles (courtesy of the illustrious Sun Noodle Company) in a variety of traditional styles. Choose from two lighter chicken broths, a meatless version based on Thai green curry, or something a little more porky, like the milky tonkotsu, loaded with so much meaty depth that it's almost like a liquid pork chop. And while ramen is the ringleader here, small plates of sesame green beans, okonomiyaki French fries and mochi doughnuts might stop your slurping long enough for you to sample the non-noodle noshes.

Readers' choice: Uncle
Mark Antonation

Pho joints have mushroomed up across the metro area with a frequency that even the Starbucks corporate crew would find dizzying. But more doesn't necessarily mean better, as many kitchens take shortcuts that result in bland, boring broth. That's not the case at the venerable Pho Duy, which found bigger digs last year next door to its original strip-mall spot. The time and effort required to produce a rich, complex broth are evident in the finished product, and the steady stream of noodle slurpers means that herbs and other accoutrements are always fresh. Whether you choose beefy add-ins like brisket, flank and rare steak or an equally well-rounded meatless, spicy broth bobbing with veggies, one spoonful is enough to convince you that Pho Duy still ladles up the best — pho real.

Readers' choice: Pho 95
Mark Antonation

Everything sizzles, bubbles and pops at this well-appointed Aurora eatery that got its start in 1962 in the So Gong Dong neighborhood of Seoul. Rice is delivered in searing-hot stone bowls, with a crunchy crust perfect for mixing into miniature cauldrons of soups so hot they continue to boil for minutes after the server drops off your order. Soft-tofu soups are the house specialty — from the original 1962 recipe bobbing with oysters and clams to more modern creations thick with everything from beef to fat dumplings to sliced Spam. If grilled meats are more your thing, cast-iron platters shaped like cows come mounded with marinated beef or pork, still cooking as they arrive. And Tofu House's array of banchan appetizers can't be beat, with kimchi, pickled vegetables and salty fish snacks that up the bold and powerful flavors of every dish.

Readers' choice: Dae Gee
Mark Antonation

Two things stand out on Taste of Thailand's culinary résumé: Owners Noy and Rick Farrell maintain a vegetable garden to augment their menu with seasonal produce, and they regularly travel to Noy's home town in Thailand — along with other regions of the country — to scout recipes and bring back ingredients. The results show in bright, fresh bursts of flavor and a well-rounded roster of curries, noodle dishes and rice plates that range from classics like tom yum goong and massaman curry to newer dishes and weekend specials, such as yum mamuang (a spicy shrimp and mango dish served with sticky rice) and khao soi (a northern Thai chicken curry topped with crispy noodles). A move to South Broadway after more than twenty years in a tiny Englewood spot means more space for a new generation of fans of Thai food to find out what makes Taste of Thailand so special.

Readers' choice: Thai Monkey Club

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
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

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
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

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