Brider
Danielle Lirette

If you love French dip sandwiches, head to Brider, Steven Redzikowski's casual eatery, right now. For Brider's wagyu French dip, succulent wagyu from 7X Beef is sliced thin and placed between two halves of a ciabatta roll from Grateful Bread, the perfect vehicle to hold the meat, along with mustard, horseradish aioli and melted Gruyère. The sandwich winds up just the right thickness to stand up to a dip in the luscious au jus. This classic and classy lunch is $14, but upgrade your meal for $2 and switch the chips for the daily fresh salad; the crisp greens help cut the richness of this superb sandwich.

Work & Class
Linnea Covington

When you crave macaroni and cheese, you can go for the basic box — or treat yourself to the spectacular version that chef-owner Dana Rodriguez turns out at Work & Class. Her simple yet flavorful take on the dish starts with six-year-aged Wisconsin cheddar, butter, onion, fresh thyme, cream, Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top; sometimes she spikes it with roasted poblanos, chipotle peppers or smoked tomato. But even without those embellishments, a small cast-iron pot of this mac and cheese will soon have you pasta point of no return.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Vital Root
Danielle Lirette

Vital Root isn't so much a vegetarian restaurant as a lifestyle choice. Developed by Justin Cucci's Edible Beats, this breezy, counter-service spot has the same contemporary flair that distinguishes the group's other restaurants, including Linger and Root Down. So instead of meat-free renditions of yesterday's heavy comfort food, you'll find veggie-based versions of all the global dishes you crave. Japanese and Indian bowls with cauliflower rice are especially tempting, as are banh mi tacos and dosas with mint chutney. The kitchen only uses organic oils, unrefined sugars and organic flours (and 99 percent of the menu can be made vegan and gluten-free upon request), making Vital Root the restaurant your body deserves, whether or not you require the restriction-friendly menu.

Readers' Choice: City, O' City

Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

Chef Gabe Wyman's tasty take on the ubiquitous roasted Brussels sprouts utilizes the fermented power of delicious homemade kimchi, coconut and sunchokes. The result is a plate that makes the passé vegetables taste fresh and new, as if they were always meant to get an Asian kick. This seasonal starter comes and goes, but the chef assures us that it's so popular, its return is inevitable.

ChoLon Modern Asian

Perfect for lunch or for rounding out a small-plates-style dinner, the Burmese salad at ChoLon has become an instant classic. A riff on the laphet thoke of Burma and northern Thailand, this hearty salad combines kale, romaine, cabbage, oranges and beets in a clever marriage of two worlds. Shaved, candied ginger, green Thai chiles, fish sauce and fermented tea-leaf vinaigrette evoke Southeast Asia, the corner of the world that chef-owner Lon Symensma knows so well. But the so-called trail mix feels just like home, with toasted coconut, dried mung beans, candied peanuts, black and white sesame seeds and pepitas. These goodies are presented on a clear tray that's tipped tableside by the server, giving the salad the textural contrast we've come to expect — and love — from Symensma.

Linger
Mark Manger

Take a trip across the continents without worrying about getting hit with a dose of gluten, whether from an inadvertent splash of soy sauce or careless cross-contamination. Since it opened in 2011, Linger has made a point of serving those with dietary restrictions and preferences — so gluten-free options are clearly marked on the menu, and the kitchen staff is trained in getting it right. The menu changes regularly, but there are generally more than fifteen options that are either gluten-free by nature or can be made so upon request. And because small plates are the name of the game here, you can have variety without anxiety, from Indian masala dosa made with rice and lentil flour to cricket and cassava-flour empanadas — because crickets are gluten-free!

Readers' Choice: Adelitas

Black Eye Coffee

You either love or loathe these bathrooms — which is appropriate, since the restaurant that houses them has two identities: Black Eye (the coffee shop) and White Lies (the cocktail/dinner spot). We happen to love them, and we know we're not alone; the art-filled restrooms are commemorated in many photos on Instagram. The women's houses two stunning neon-art pieces, both existentially melancholy; our favorite proclaims: "Forever is Composed of Nows." Every detail in these rooms, from the classic white-and-black tiles to the books on tape read to you softly as you sit on the toilet (thanks, Christopher Walken!) is inspired by Poet's Row, the aged apartment complex to the north. We think that we shall never see/A prettier place in Denver to pee.

Best Farmers' Market
Courtesy of Mile High Fungi

As if the magnificent Union Station wasn't already one of Denver's most appealing destinations, now every Saturday from June through October, the Union Station Farmers' Market brings together local growers and restaurants to sell their fresh produce, regionally produced cheeses, homemade gelato, dried beans and pasta, baked goods and much, much more. The event is organized by the behemoth Boulder Farmers' Market, but we find that good things come in smaller packages, too. Among the forty or so vendors, you'll find popular options such as Fruition Farms & Dairy, Black Cat Farms, Fior di Latte, Haystack Mountain Cheese and Mile High Fungi. There's always a chef demo from a local restaurant, using ingredients from the market and handing out samples right there. Don't come hungry unless you're prepared to buy, though, because the smells of just-baked pastries alone will do you in.

Readers' Choice: South Pearl Street

Stir Cooking School

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.

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