Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery

.For chef-owner Clint Wangsnes, the aha moment came after his child was born. "There were just no real options for the family...to get good food," he recalls. Fast-forward two and a half years, and his fast-casual spot, Chop Shop, now has two locations and a loyal following of folks who can't get enough of his heaping salads and globally inspired plates. But Wangsnes didn't just set out to feed adults. He's cooking for little ones, too, which is why the kids' menu includes a range of options for picky and slightly more adventurous eaters, all with a healthy bent. Traditionalist tots will enjoy mac and cheese, a cheeseburger or a grilled cheese sandwich. Others will appreciate food that looks more like what the adults are eating, such as grilled chicken, steak or fried tofu, with sides of fresh fruit and mashed potatoes. Milk and apple juice provide a welcome change from sugary, carbonated stuff. Before you know it, your kids will be old enough to appreciate the short ribs with hoisin demi-glace that you're having for dinner. Until then, the kids' menu at Chop Shop is something you — and they — can feel good about.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Best New Coffeehouse
Chelsea Keeney

The best coffeehouses are more than spots to grab coffee or plug into the wi-fi; they serve as community gathering spots, places where people get together and talk about real life. Prodigy is even more than that: It's also a nonprofit workshop where paid youth apprentices looking for a foot up in the employment world are put to work, learning from experience and pre-employment training. That training starts with the fine art of making a better cuppa joe, from the locally roasted Allegro beans forward; Prodigy also instills the tenets of customer service and running a successful, community-driven business. This east-side gathering spot serves coffee with a conscience...and plenty of flavor.

Readers' Choice: Corvus Coffee DTC

If you haven't given much thought to what coffee roasting does to change the flavor of your morning caffeine, we implore you to buy a bag of whole beans at Huckleberry. As you ponder the head-spinning number of varieties, a barista will swoop in to help: Do you like fruit or chocolate? Light or rich? Something unusual or a straightforward cup of joe? You'll eventually home in on something unique, perhaps after hearing a story about the growers behind the beans, and later sip it with newfound appreciation for the nuance possible in coffee's flavor. Mark Mann and Koan Goedman, the masterminds behind this operation, began roasting as a hobby, and as they've grown it into a business, they've continued to up the quality and expand choices. Coffees rotate seasonally here, so there's reason to stop by often — or get a subscription and let the shop send you a new brew every month.

Caffe Sanora

Cross the threshold of Caffe Sanora and the rowdiness of East Colfax fades away. The place is quiet but not library silent, as a chatty mix of business-casual regulars trickle down from the offices above, gaggles of students meet up for a board game, and other characters pop in off the street for a beer or cup of fresh-brewed coffee and stay for the food. The menu at this small-but-mighty operation includes incredible salads with fine cheeses and seasonal berries, thick and creamy soups, bold breakfast items and quiche options. The atmosphere encourages lingering: Large windows let in the sunlight and a mix of couches, tables and a perfect-sized porch ensure ample seating. The service is far from pretentious, a throwback to a time when "What can I get ya?" was the kind of affectionate greeting that could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Pablo's Coffee

In this world of hurry up and wait, personal digital devices have become our steady companions — but not at Pablo's Coffee on Sixth Avenue. While phones are as ubiquitous here as anywhere, this Denver coffee shop's absence of wi-fi means more talking, more laughing and more staring into the eyes of your Tinder date (you know, instead of looking down at the screen where you two first met). Grab a cup of joe at this craft-coffee institution — Pablo's was one of the first indie roasters to stake a claim before the city got hip — and settle into the couch-filled corner living room or take a seat at the small bar top and watch the baristas at work.

Europa Coffee House

Sometimes your ability to get a seat can be the determining factor in which coffee shop you go to. Cafe Europa always seems to have a spot open, whether it's a table for two or a seat on the spacious, sunny patio that can accommodate a big, chatty group. The calm and inviting interior is complemented by music that's just the right volume, making this the perfect spot for studying or gabbing over a latte. If you're pulling an all-day study session, there's a stellar breakfast and lunch menu with plenty of vegetarian options to provide good, healthy brain fuel. One warning: While you'll be able to find a seat in Cafe Europa, snagging a parking spot is tougher.

Sojourners is the quintessential neighborhood coffee shop, a sneaky little spot tucked away in a strip mall in the Virginia Village neighborhood. Sojo's, as it's known by patrons, has walls adorned with local art, plentiful seating options and a true living-room feel that no chain can ever capture. Along with an assortment of specialty lattes and hot tea options, the shop carries local kombucha, baked goods and an assortment of delicious sandwiches — try the West Coaster or the Old Italy — plus paninis, burritos and more. If you're in a hurry, Sojo's isn't the place for you; these baristas take their latte art seriously, crafting beautiful beverages while happily chatting with regulars and newcomers alike. Welcome to the neighborhood.

The Molecule Effect
Danielle Lirette

A beverage that fell from heaven and by some stroke of luck landed in Denver, the Venetian Cream Coffee at the Molecule Effect is so good, it has to be divine in origin. Buttery-smooth and tooth-achingly sweet, this coffee drink comes straight out of a tap like a swirling tan ribbon of liquid dessert. Served over ice, the chilled concoction is too good to set down. But don't chug it; this nectar of the gods is really meant to be savored.

Fish N Beer
Danielle Lirette

Not until Fish N Beer came along did we realize what a rut Denver's seafood restaurants had fallen into. Thanks to chef-partner Aniedra Nichols and chef-owner Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey (aka Pinche Tacos), this sardine-can-sized restaurant will leave you craving things you didn't even know existed. Who could've predicted that we'd fall head over heels for whole grilled fish, tiny bones and all, or that smelt fries, made from slender, cornmeal-crusted fish, could be more addictive than their veggie counterparts? Would anyone have thought that blowfish tails could fry up into a lighter, crisper buffalo wing? Or that sea-based charcuterie — e.g., whipped tuna tonnato, smoked fish spread and soy-glazed salmon collar — could be so delicious that the memory of it will haunt you every time you order the standard stuff again? There's more to this sliver of a restaurant than seafood, including a host of sides that would make any steakhouse proud. Speaking of which, considering that Fish N Beer is a seafood joint, it serves a damn good steak, too.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar

Best Seafood Dish in a Non-Seafood Restaurant

Vesta

Chef Nicholas Kayser took over the kitchen at Vesta last fall, ushering in a new era (and ditching the "dipping grill" descriptor) for the twenty-year-old LoDo restaurant. Among Kayser's new roster of dishes is a lobster cioppino that has its roots in San Francisco's Italian fishing community, but which the chef has accented with a French flourish. Mussels, clams, shrimp and sea bass all swim together in a saffron-tomato broth, lending flavors both bright and earthy. A curled lobster tail joins the pool party, carrying a saffron rouille straight from the coast of Provence. The dish is so evocative of seaside vacations and wharf-front seafood shacks that diners with fond memories of trips from long ago might get a little misty with nostalgia.

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