Best Vegan Pizza 2016 | Pie Hole | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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

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

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
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.

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
Molly Martin

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

El Trompito's Denver taquerias offer a wide range of the standards found at most Front Range taco shops, but to experience the house specialties, you must sample the slow-braised meats, which balance deep, cooked-down flavors with toothsome texture. Not to be missed is the barbacoa de borrego, shredded lamb so juicy you'll have to hold your elbows high to keep your wrists clean. But the beef cabeza, lengua and barbacoa are standouts, too, as are the tacos toñitas, stewed meat and veggies on a corn tortilla. Of course, a good taqueria is not complete without a salsa bar — and El Trompito doesn't disappoint, with tubs of chile blends ranging from tongue-warming to face-melting.

Readers' choice: Pinche Tacos
Danielle Lirette

For more than sixty years, La Popular has been defining Den-Mex, with thick green chile, smothered burrito torpedoes, and — most important — perfect tamales that somehow manage to be simultaneously fluffy and dense inside their corn-husk wrappers. Choose either red chile with moderate heat or green chile to please peppier palates, but don't be content with just two or three served à la carte; tamales this good should be ordered by the dozen. Mix and match for a colorful combo and grab a tub of green chile while you're there. In fact, make it a banquet, with housemade tortilla chips, salsa and fruit-filled empanadas for dessert. La Popular still assembles one of Denver's cheapest — and most satisfying — moveable feasts.

Readers' choice: Tamale Kitchen
Danielle Lirette

The third time's a charm for Adelitas. We've been fans of the house margarita — a generous pour of Cimarron tequila mixed with fresh-squeezed lime juice, agave syrup and triple sec — since our first sip, shortly after the casual Colorado cantina opened on South Broadway. Over the past three years, we've forced ourselves to swallow house margs all over town — some syrupy-sweet, some sickeningly sour — and have yet to find one as good as the marg at Adelitas. At $5, it's a bargain — and the bargain gets even better during the two daily happy hours (from 3 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close), when the margs are $4. And on Monday nights, the deal gets better yet: House margs are two-for-one.

Readers' choice: Rio Grande
Molly Martin

Happy-hour lovers can stop bar-hopping and doing endless Yelp searches for the best happy hours throughout the city, because the best all-day happy hour lives at Historians Ale House. The daylong happy hour repeats Monday through Friday and includes $2.50 select drafts, $3 wells and house wines for $4. Wash down the booze with $6 appetizers throughout the day, or pause for the $5.95 cheeseburger and soda/beer lunch special in the middle of it. Historians bartenders know better than to overserve you, and it's unlikely you'd be able to withstand the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. happy hour even if they didn't cut you off. But if you happen to have a weekday off, make the most of it with a handful of beers and a few baskets of pizza sliders.

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