Best Cooking Classes 2017 | Stir Cooking School | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

So you dig all things retro, and like those '50s magazine ads, you like to putter in the kitchen with a cocktail glass in hand. Stir Cooking School is the perfect setting in which to learn a new recipe, get a lesson from a professional chef or delve into an exotic cuisine — all while sipping beer, wine or mixed drinks from the school's full bar. Family cooking nights are fun, too, if you want to bring the kids, or you can pit your culinary chops against your date on Iron Chef nights, complete with a secret ingredient (and hints from the experts to make sure dinner comes out right). Tie on your apron and grab a martini for a classic, and classy, cooking class.

Readers' Choice: Cook Street School

Kyle Mendenhall spent nearly a decade helming the burners at the Kitchen, expanding the restaurant's farm-to-table mission from one dining room in Boulder to cities across the country. "And then that came to an end," he says, which sent the chef into a spiral of self-reflection. He decided to home in on what was important to him, then look for an opportunity that would allow him to check those boxes. He was in the midst of pulling together his own restaurant concept when the team at Arcana came knocking, and they eventually wooed him into accepting the executive-chef position there. Working with Arcana's desire to redefine what it means to be an American restaurant, Mendenhall organized his approach to food around heritage, seasonality, regionality, relationships and preservation. That winning combination has pushed the chef to a new creative level. Arcana's dinner menu is built around strange and underutilized local ingredients (salanova roots and leek powder), imaginative constructions (masa dumplings dressed like tamales and potatoes with cod roe) and arresting precision in execution (one of the best lamb T-bones we've ever had). The kitchen cans produce, bakes its own bread and makes pastrami in-house, and it supports local farmers by creating dishes (radish tarts, recently) out of whatever its providers have as surplus. Still, Arcana is not pretentious — it's a humble celebration of the finest ingredients Colorado offers, a down-to-earth presentation of a new way to think about food. Above all, it's a reflection of a very talented chef.

When twelve shuttered a few years ago and Jeff Osaka went off to pursue casual ventures (Osaka Ramen, Sushi-Rama, Denver Central Market), we weren't sure he'd ever make a return to fine dining. Thank goodness he did, because 12@MADISON offers something this town — well, every town — needs more of. Tucked in the heart of Congress Park, 12@MADISON is that rare blend of impeccable and approachable, making it the perfect neighborhood restaurant. With a menu of small plates clustered in categories — soup/salad, vegetables, pastas, seafood, lighter proteins, heavier meats, etc. — there are a hundred ways to craft a meal, all of them affordable, all of them delicious. One night, you might start with grilled rainbow carrots with labneh and dukkah, a fragrant Egyptian spice blend, before sharing a bowl of curried quinoa congee and short rib raviolo in brodo. Another night, the hamachi with grapefruit and oranges catches your eye, followed by five-spice skirt steak with tatsoi. Menus change with the seasons, so even if these delights are no longer available, whatever you happen to find surely will be, with flavors that are global without being trendy, smart without being pretentious, and seasonal in all the right ways. Wisely structured desserts and a solid bar program — think gin over ice cubes made of beet juice — mean that this neighborhood gem won't stay a secret for long.

Readers' Choice: Avelina

Molly Martin

It's not often that you find the perfect balance of juicy, spicy and salty in a chicken dish, but that's exactly what chef Paul Reilly has created with his pollo allo diavolo. Inspired by a classic recipe from the Lazio region in Italy, each chile-infused, pasture-raised bird is marinated for 24 to 48 hours and then cooked on the restaurant's wood fire grill over Colorado white oak. Don't chicken out: For $21 at lunch or dinner, you can grab a plate (with sides) and renew your love of poultry.

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