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
Cho77
Courtesy Cho77

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.

Not content to reside in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Highland, hipster haven Berkeley is finally coming into its own, with dozens of new restaurants to feed the dog-walking locals and increasing numbers of eaters from around the city who have made it a dining destination. Long the core of this northwest Denver neighborhood, Tennyson Street not only survived an interminable and frustrating multi-year streetscaping project that forced many businesses to close, but also managed to come back with vigor, adding more than a dozen new eateries in a six-block section. From the early morning to the wee hours, a vast variety of cuisines can be had at both originals and outposts: biscuits and gravy or pizza at Atomic Cowboy; butchered-in-house meats at casual chophouse Block & Larder; coffee with cats at the Denver Cat Company; elaborately topped burgers at the Royal; superb sushi at Okinawa. And that's just on Tennyson. Elsewhere — along Lowell Boulevard, on West 38th Avenue — spots such as Brazen Neighborhood Eatery, Bacon Social House and Ragin' Hog BBQ also offer well-above-average fare. And more are coming: The eagerly anticipated second location of Biju's Little Curry Shop should open any minute. In Berkeley these days, the only problem is deciding where to go.

Readers' choice: RiNo
Desmond Bar & Grill
Danielle Lirette

What neighborhood wouldn't want a Sean Kelly restaurant as its local spot? Lucky Park Hill is home to chef Kelly's latest offering, a spacious and inviting neighborhood eatery that feels like it's been here all along — especially welcome in an area seriously lacking in food options. Park Hill resident Kelly — long ago the opening chef for Barolo Grill, followed by stints at his own Aubergine Cafe, Clair de Lune, Somethin' Else and LoHi SteakBar — has always been particularly adept at Mediterranean fare, and at Desmond he takes longtime favorites from the region and turns them up a notch: hummus made tangy and aromatic with the Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar; rich, mustardy potted salmon balanced by peppery radishes; soft-centered falafel broken into pieces and tossed in a tahini-drizzled salad. The shared plates can be paired with an interesting wine from the short but globally inspired list — nearly all of the bottles are available by the glass — and are served in a dining room of dark woods and exposed brick. In other words, it sports the Kelly decor hallmarks of simple, warm and comfortable, reflecting a slight reworking of the former tenant (the short-lived Table Top tap room) in a residential plaza space, complete with a delightful fireplace and nearly twenty craft beers on draft. What really makes this an ideal neighborhood joint, though, is that diners looking for more standard fare — a cheeseburger with fried potatoes, say, or Buffalo-style chicken wings — get the best possible versions, made from well-sourced ingredients. So, folks in other 'hoods, eat your hearts out — or head to Park Hill.

Readers' choice: Bar Dough
Solitaire

Some people have a way of talking that makes you feel like you're the only one in the room. Mark Ferguson, chef/owner at Solitaire, cooks this way. Everything about his sprawling restaurant makes you feel special, from the garden-side setting that offers some of the most romantic tables in town to the menu that he so masterfully crafts. Plates come together confidently, gracefully, thoughtfully — with an eye to presentation that reflects Ferguson's twenty years with Wolfgang Puck. Ferguson is far from the only chef in town who's attuned to seasonality, but his dishes are refreshingly original, so full of cleverly united ingredients that you'll find yourself nodding in appreciation, even for foods you heretofore might not have liked. Octopus, for example, dotted with chorizo, roasted grapes and black garlic, or bread pudding with figs, maple syrup and foie gras. Never content to rest on his laurels, Ferguson is always trying new things, experimenting with a dash of hazelnut pistou here, a dab of Chinese black-bean sauce there — and as a result, Solitaire's menu changes like the wind. In some restaurants, you'd be annoyed to find that the dish you relished last time has been replaced. Here, however, you're pleased — no, delighted — to go in whatever culinary direction Ferguson takes you.

Readers' choice: Troy Guard

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