Baur's Restaurant and Listening Lounge

Baur's excels at seafood, owing to chef/owner Dory Ford's connection to Monterey Bay, where his restaurant and catering kingdom began. But the downtown eatery's charcuterie program proves that the kitchen really knows how to grind. A rustic and earthy rabbit cassoulet shines thanks to housemade lamb sausage that holds up beautifully in the slow-cooked dish. For an unadulterated array of pure sausage goodness, the charcuterie menu (itself a butcher's bounty of terrines, pâtés and mousses) offers zingy Italian, rich boudin noir, street-style currywurst and lamb merguez scented like a warm breeze from Morocco. Each choice yields a toothsome blend of just the right ratio of fat to lean and a pleasing pop from the casing.

Readers' choice: Biker Jim's
Rebel Restaurant
Mark Antonation

Rebel Restaurant's iconoclastic style, with metal anthems rattling the glassware inside the DIY-decorated former dive bar, extends to a menu of ever-changing, offal-heavy creations, from tripe poutine to revamped shit on a shingle. While those dishes often rotate out, chef/owners Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko make sure that customers can always get some head — roasted cow, pig or lamb head, that is. Accompaniments change with the season, but the skulls are always slow-cooked so that tender chunks of meat, bathed in a marinade or glaze, pull easily from the bone, ready to be scooped up with housemade flatbread and paired with pickled vegetables, dips and other sides. While the restaurant's environs are far from sexy — unless you have a thing for warehouses, train yards, truck traffic and factories — inside Rebel is a miniature pleasure palace where you can indulge in this most carnal of delights.

Cafe Marmotte
Mark Antonation

On occasion, chef /owner Mark Reggiannini's menu at Cafe Marmotte may stray from tradition — as with a light and airy French onion soup that gracefully shoves aside the heavy, cheese-capped original. But his coq au vin captures the soul of France. Bacon-studded whipped potatoes form a solid base to support braised, bone-in chicken and red cabbage, both deeply imbued with the herbal essence of the accompanying wine-red sauce; pearl onions balance on top as a playful crown for a seriously delicious dish. Cafe Marmotte may be a newcomer in the neighborhood, but with chicken this good, Reggiannini has something to be cocky about.

Rebel Restaurant
Mark Antonation

Given the resurgence of the mid-century-modern aesthetic, you might think that everything old is cool again. Not so, of course: Some recipes are better left in the past (jiggly Jello-O salad, we're talking to you). Fortunately, when the crew at Rebel Restaurant dipped into the archives, they chose a much better dish to resurrect: shit on a shingle. In appearance, the dish looks much the same as the original — creamed beef slathered over bread. But that's where the similarities end. In lieu of jarred, heavily salted chipped beef, the kitchen subs beef heart for a deeply beefy, far-less-salty smother, and swaps white bread for brioche. For a bit of 21st-century bling, the dish is garnished with — we kid you not — sparkly gold leaf.

The Corner Bar
Britt Chester

Not content to offer just excellent regular french fries — which are medium-thick, crunchy and golden, and sport a sprinkling of sea salt — the Corner Bar in the Hotel Boulderado also sends out spot-on sweet-potato fries that are soft inside, crispy outside, and not greasy or soggy. It also does terrific truffle fries, which come dusted with Manchego cheese and a nice shake of sea salt, plus a side of truffle-scented aioli. The twenty-year-old bar space was recently renovated and looks so very vintage, with an antique bar back topped by a moose head and other trappings from the hotel's circa 1909 history; the decor makes a lovely backdrop for snacking on fries, possibly accompanied by one of the bar's well-made cocktails.

Readers' choice: Park Burger
Bierstadt Lagerhaus
Bierstadt Lagerhaus

When the Rackhouse Pub finally reopened in its new location in RiNo at the end of 2015, we cheered. Not only did that mean C Squared Ciders on tap, but it also marked the return of the best mac and cheese in town. Not surprisingly for an eatery that sports a huge red sign that reads "Beer," an amber lager is one of the keys to this version's success. Of course, ample amounts of Brie, cream cheese, Gorgonzola, parmesan and half-and-half don't hurt, either, nor does the thin layer of golden-browned panko breadcrumbs that help hold the dish's penne pasta together in rich clumps. The resulting gooey goodness, served to overflowing in a long-handled one-cup measuring cup, comes four ways under the banner of "Mac Attack": the original (aka O.G.); topped with the weekly veggie or meat selection; or topped with even more cheese. We'll have one of each, please.

Readers' choice: Steuben's
Cho77
Courtesy Cho77

The humble chicken wing, once a castoff from the kitchen or, at most, a paltry poultry scrap destined for the stock pot, now commands attention on nearly every starter menu in town. Standard flappers doused in Buffalo sauce predominate, but you can also anoint your chin in barbecue, teriyaki, chipotle or any number of other sauces from tame to terrifying. But one bite of Cho77's grilled wings in Vietnamese caramel sauce will convince you that the other contenders are just playing chicken. Pungent fish sauce, Asian spices, burnt sugar and just a touch of heat come together in a sticky sauce lacquered on thickly over juicy, chewy wings. There's no polite way to polish these off, so just go for it — not that you'll be able to slow yourself down — and worry about cleanup later.

Readers' choice: Fire on the Mountain
Cart-Driver
Michael Emery Hecker

Tucked into a 640-square-foot shipping container, Cart-Driver's space may be small, but the flavors it delivers are anything but. If you're a fan of pâtés and terrines, the chicken liver is a must. A sensuous spread as smooth as peanut butter and just as rich, the nutty, spreadable side — listed under the "etc." portion of the pizza-based menu — is good to the last drop (and leaves us jonesing for more). Creamy and decadent, it's an ideal way to treat yourself.

Catfish at CoraFaye's on East Colfax Avenue.
Mark Antonation
Catfish at CoraFaye's on East Colfax Avenue.

It's listed under "Everyday Plates" at the casual CoraFaye's Cafe, but the Southern-style fried chicken is anything but routine. The chicken parts that come out of the tiny kitchen are prepared simply, with a light dusting of flour and a hefty dose of black pepper, then fried until the crispy skin — not greasy, but tasting faintly of the frying oil — holds in remarkably moist and tender white or dark meat. You can have it your way here: one piece, three pieces, wing, leg or thigh, or add a few bucks to get a miraculously juicy breast. Have the chicken on its own or paired with the daily sides — maybe the long-cooked collard greens or the dense, cheese-laden mac and cheese. Wash it all down with Kool-Aid from a big metal pitcher — sweet tea is an obvious option, too — and give thanks for owner Priscilla Smith's mom, Cora, who handed down the recipe.

Readers' choice: White Fence Farm
Russell's Smokehouse
Joni Schrantz

God gave the pig fifteen of 'em, but sometimes you only want one. Russell's Smokehouse is the classiest barbecue pit in town, with craft cocktails, grilled naan and bone marrow alongside smoked pulled pork. But it's also the kind of place that will gladly serve you a single rib at happy hour, your choice of baby back ($1), pork or beef ($2 each). No mother of humanity will spring from these ribs, but Russell's treats each one with care, smoked strong with a crispy, spicy rub. Nabbing just a few also lets you experiment with Russell's sauces, from a safety-orange mustard/vinegar barnburner to the thick Kansas City standard. Grab your fraction of a rack from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, but don't come begging for a handful of soda.

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