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
Pie Hole
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
Mark Manger

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

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
North County
Danielle Lirette

Given the array of festive drinks at North County — boozy, house-bottled sodas, mojitos and a hundred tequilas — it's easy to chat and drink, and chat and drink, until you discover the hard way that you should've ordered some food. Never fear: That's where North County's mucho macho nachos come in. Unlike most chips-and-cheese plates hawked around town, this gargantuan platter is big enough for the table, with Mexican cheeses, olives, guacamole, jalapeños, pico and black beans lavished on top of and underneath the pile, so that every chip has its share of goodies. Proteins can be added for an additional charge, but even without them, this app more than holds its own.

El Tejado's potato tacos
Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos

New owners took over El Tejado last year, giving the space a facelift that makes it look like something out of The Flintstones. And that's appropriate, because El Tejado's green chile remains rock solid. This is a classic Colorado green chile, gravy-like and studded with pork, sometimes tinged a little more orange than green. While it's good smothering just about anything that comes out of the El Tejado kitchen, it's just as good on its own with a side of tortillas. And if you're feeling particularly brave, order the hot green chile. To create this fiendish concoction, the kitchen doesn't just drop some hot sauce in the kettle. Instead, it concocts a deeply layered, flavorful brew that's downright addictive — that is, if you don't singe your mouth on the first slurp.

Readers' choice: Santiago's
Blackbelly
Danielle Lirette

It might seem odd that an upscale, nose-to-tail dining room known for charcuterie, aged steaks and even housemade hot dogs could also excel at a rustic dish like green chile — especially a meatless version. But chef-owner Hosea Rosenberg is a New Mexico native with a serious Hatch habit, so each year he makes the pilgrimage to green chile hallowed ground and returns to Boulder to roast and peel his haul for a season's worth of breakfast burritos. Rosenberg's recipe is tangy, hot and so redolent of the fire-roasted pods that pork would only be a distraction. But Blackbelly does pork with panache, too, so if you need a little meat in your stew, you can get a bowl of smoked-shoulder posole made from the same great green-chile base. Stop by for a breakfast burrito in the a.m., grab a quart of the green to go at lunch and then head back for some smoky posole come dinner hour.

Readers' choice: Illegal Pete's

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