El Tejado's potato tacos
Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos

Complimentary chips and salsa, once a hallmark of many Mexican restaurants in Denver, are getting harder and harder to find. But at El Tejado, they arrive at your table before you can even ask. The flavorful chips are made fresh every day in the kitchen; they have an ideal crunch and don't sag before delivering a load of the tangy salsa. Since you're already a couple of bucks to the good, go ahead and order one of El Tejado's four special salsas or even a side of green chile — the hot is a killer.

Dos Santos Taqueria de Mexico
Danielle Lirette

We are absolute suckers for a good Tommy's margarita, so named for the San Francisco restaurant that made famous the blend of tequila, lime and simple syrup. It's sweeter than your triple-sec-spiked version, but it sure does go down easily. And so does Dos Santos, which serves a Tommy's house margarita that had us — hook, lime and sinker — from first sip. To its simple blend of citrus and agave, Dos Santos adds high-quality Arette tequila, a complex and verdant spirit, then presents the drink simply in a jar with a wedge of lime and a bit of salt. Get it for a paltry $5 on Taco Tuesday, when several of the restaurant's excellent tacos are only $2 apiece, and enjoy it on the patio.

Readers' Choice: Rio Grande Mexican

Adelitas Cocina y Cantina
Danielle Lirette

Brian Rossi's love affair with agave spirits has been developing for more than a decade, and since he launched Adelitas four years ago, Denver drinkers have been the direct beneficiary of his obsession. Rossi set out to highlight small, independent producers making high-quality tequila, and he amassed a sizable collection of such bottlings that continues to grow. After a trip to Oaxaca turned him on to the charms of the educational experience offered by mezcalerias, he opened Palenque directly behind his flagship, expanding his Mexican spirits offerings to encapsulate mezcal and other agave-based libations. This gives you, the discerning imbiber, an opportunity to taste dozens of rare finds, discovering whether you prefer smoky notes in a mezcal; verdant, smooth tequila; or another agave spirit entirely, such as raicilla. You'll have to bar-hop to take it all in, but you'll stay on the same city lot — and Palenque's cozy environs present a nice contrast to the slightly wilder Adelitas. More of a cocktail drinker? No problem. Both joints offer a list of drinks that nicely showcase their wares, including the excellent house margarita at Adelitas.

Best Bloody Mary Deal
The Hornet

Because the weekend is just not long enough for Denver's favorite meal, the Hornet extended its brunch to include Friday, too. That means from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday, you can buy yourself a pass at the Bloody Mary bar for just $2, and get a glass with ice and the house vodka, to which you add Bloody Mary mix (spicy or not), along with assorted sauces, seasonings and veggies. And in case this Bloody leaves you hungry, the Hornet has plenty of brunch deals, too.

Gaetano's Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik

We've got an offer you can't refuse. The Bloody Mary bar at Gaetano's — a seventy-plus-year-old restaurant in northwest Denver started by the Mob-connected Smaldone family, then acquired by the Wynkoop Brewing group and finally by independent owner Ron Robinson — is a real liquid asset in this city. The $8-meal-in-a-glass starts with your choice from three vodkas (including one pickled by the Gaetano's bar), and then you add whatever you want from 75 sauces (hot or not), along with meaty items (succulent shrimp, jerky, housemade sugary bacon) and vegetables. Weekend bartender Cailyn Smith is in charge of this bountiful bar feature, and it's reason to raise a glass not just to a single Bloody Mary bar, but Gaetano's long history.

Readers' Choice: Gaetano's

The Overland

Denver musician Nathaniel Rateliff teamed up with a couple of his bandmembers and the owners of the hi-dive to take over the former Bushwacker's Saloon and unveil it as the Overland in the summer of 2016. But don't go here because you're a fan of the Night Sweats; the team has created a bona fide Broadway watering hole, worthy of a stop for late-night whiskeys after a long shift, beers with friends at happy hour or a solid plate of grub (don't miss the poblano hush puppies) in an unpretentious setting. While not exactly a dive, the Overland feels lived-in and low-key, with just enough dining-room space for those who want to get a little rowdy without disturbing the regulars at the low-slung bar. That bar is a wonder in and of itself, with a sunken floor so that bartenders greet you at eye level rather than looking over your head for the next customer. Grab a stool and a drink and soak in the atmosphere without worrying about obscure cocktail ingredients or a head-spinning array of fancy beers. Sure, there are fancier saloons in town, but the Overland is where you'll want to go day in and day out, when everything else in Denver feels too fancy by half.

Readers' Choice: Palenque

Finn's Manor
Courtesy Finn's Manor Facebook

"The list isn't accurate," a bartender says apologetically, as she hands over the thick binder that comprises the spirits collection at Finn's Manor. "Let me know what you like, and I'll help you find something good." The reason you can't work from the list, she explains, is because owner and "Voice of Whisky" Robert Sickler continues to add bottles to the shelf without updating the paperwork — there are now more than 160 to choose from. Still, evidence of Sickler's obsessive curation can be found in that binder, which includes both big-name distillers and small craft shops and contains detailed tasting notes for every spirit listed. The lot runs deepest in Scotch, with several expressions from well-known regions like the Highlands as well as less-explored areas like the Lowlands. But there are plenty of other spirits to choose from here, including all-American bourbon, a broad store of Irish whiskeys, dozens of ryes, and international whiskeys from Japan, France and India. And since Finn's prices its pours reasonably, you can afford to taste a flight.

The Thunderbird Imperial Lounge

There's something about this new Highland eatery that makes you feel like you've been here before, perhaps years ago, long before restaurateur Jesse Morreale opened the laid-back lounge. That's partly because of the 1950s American theme he's used in the space, which gives it a well-worn aura and a comfortable vibe. But the Thunderbird also feels old-school because of its menu, a list of comforting favorites you might find in a classic diner: sloppy Joes, deviled eggs, turkey burgers and tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. These dishes are flavored by more than nostalgia, though; they're just plain good.

Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar)

Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We've lost many of this city's celebrated saloons over the past few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar, thanks to the neon outside — something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. For more than a century, this spot has held down the corner of Champa and 20th streets, serving drinks nineteen hours a day to an assortment of regulars, would-be Great American Novelists, hipsters, transients and rockers (during the Eisenhower era, it reportedly served something else in the game room, then a whorehouse); today the entertainment focuses more on the jukebox, live-music acts and endless inebriated conversations. The drinks are stiff, the bathrooms awful, and the atmosphere beyond compare. Leave the credit cards at home; this place is strictly cash and carry on.

Lakeview Lounge
Scott Lentz

For more than forty years, tipplers have gathered at the Lakeview Lounge on the last day of Daylight Saving Time to toast the sun as it rises over Sloan's Lake. From the well-worn bar, they have a great view of Denver — and just how much Denver is changing. Cranes now mark the downtown skyline to the east; to the south, development is exploding around the former St. Anthony Hospital. We have seen the future, and it's enough to drive us to drink. Fortunately, the Lakeview is there to serve.

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