Black Eye Coffee

We've hardly ever thought of a bathroom stop as a memorable experience — but then we made a visit to the unisex loos at Black Eye Cap Hill. Along with glowing neon signs that read "Forever is composed of nows" and "I dwell in possibility," the rooms entertain visitors with poetry on tape. How many times has the calm cadence of Walt Whitman's verse eased your nerves while you're relieving yourself? Located at the start of Poet's Row, Black Eye has taken up the theme, with poetry-oriented cocktails on its menu. Why not have it playing in the restrooms, too?

 
Photo by Johnny Molfetta
 

Denver goes crazy for a good patio, no matter where or what season it is. But a good patio — one that gets a lot of sun, has enough seating and is quiet — can sometimes be hard to find in a busy city. Escape to the land of people who don't work and drink coffee all day in Cherry Creek North, and you'll discover the relaxing patio at Aviano. There's not a lot of traffic noise here, and a giant tree provides lovely shade warmer weather. Bonus: A giant garage door opens to the outside, so when it's nice out, you can still catch a breeze without the UV damage.

Bistro Vendome
Bistro Vendome

As you walk along the southeast side of Larimer Square, head through the archway that reads "Kettle Arcade." At the far end of the vaulted passageway you'll find Bistro Vendôme, whose secluded, often sunny little patio seems airlifted directly from the streets of Paris. A seat at a wrought-iron cafe table with an aperitif in hand and the noonday sun shining off the brick walls of turn-of-the-last-century buildings provides an instant escape from the pressures of everyday life; it's also a lovely spot for a romantic summer evening. All your favorites from that memorable French vacation are available on Bistro Vendôme's menu, too: escargot, crepes, bouillabaisse and duck confit. But since you're still in Denver, no one will make fun of you for testing out your rusty high-school French — so let your "Oui!" and "D'accord!" echo off the courtyard walls as you call for another round.

Readers' choice: Avanti Food & Beverage
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

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