Sudan Cafe & Khairat Injera Bakery
Mark Antonation

The designation "Middle Eastern" is a vague and shifting notion that doesn't exactly encapsulate the spectrum of cuisine cooked from Morocco to Pakistan, from Turkey to eastern Africa. So forgive us if Sudan Cafe doesn't fit neatly into standard notions of where the Middle East begins and ends; you'll understand once you try the kitchen's spice-laden ful — soft-cooked beans served as breakfast with eggs or at lunch on a crusty baguette — or Egyptian-style koshari, a hearty dish of lentils, rice and pasta topped with tomato sauce and onions fried to a crispy dark brown. While the dishes seem new and different, they have familiar flavors and spices, including cumin and garlic; you'll also find lamb and falafel on the menu. But you'll also be reminded of Ethiopian cooking if you order molokhia, a slippery green soup made with jute leaves and served with housemade injera flatbread. Herbed coffee and sweet mint tea are a great finish to a warm and filling meal at this friendly cafe; just leave your map at home.

Readers' Choice: Jerusalem

Cafe Marmotte
Mark Antonation

If the charming dining room of Cafe Marmotte doesn't win you over from the moment you walk in, the creations of chef/co-owner Mark Reggiannini will. The menu is French to the core but displays originality in execution. For example, the French onion soup isn't the standard brown broth topped with soggy toast, but is presented as a light and frothy purée with a single deep-fried square of Gruyère floating on top. Coq au vin is stained deep burgundy from its red-wine bath and sits atop bacon mashed potatoes that somehow remain light and airy. Duck — as breast and confit of leg — comes with tart kumquat jam and berry agrodulce, both of which cut right through the rich duck fat. For a special night out, Marmotte's wine list goes deep, but you can also go cheap if you grab a stool at the four-seater bar; there you'll find coq au vin and a glass of wine for $25 nightly. A great deal? Mais oui!

Readers' Choice: Bistro Vendôme

Il Posto
Mark Manger

When Andrea Frizzi moved Il Posto from its cubby on East 17th Avenue to a sleek bi-level cube in RiNo, we held our breath: Would the new address be a good home for this restaurant's semi-chaotic charm? We needn't have worried. Il Posto 2.0 presents some of the team's best cooking yet, from new meditations on its always-stellar risotti to a masterful pappardelle with pork ragu to a showy and delicious beef tallow candle (impossible at the old address, says Frizzi, because there just wasn't enough space to make candles). And despite its more grown-up vibe, this space is infused with the old Il Posto magic: Frizzi bobs around frenetically kissing the cheeks of friends and strangers alike, wine from an expertly curated list pours freely and easily, and the energy of the kitchen spills out from an open window beneath a sign that suggests sending the cooks a six-pack...of Jack Daniel's. As a bonus, Il Posto now has one of the best tables in Denver, a second-level corner seat that looks out on the Denver skyline. Trying to impress someone? Request it.

Readers' Choice: Gaetano's

Lechuga's Italian Restaurant & Lounge
Courtesy of Lechuga's

They don't make them like they used to — but Lechuga's marches on anyway, an old-school Italian joint where you can order pasta by the bucket and square pizzas (with green-chile strips, like a true Denverite!). Lechuga's is one of the last red-sauce joints left on Denver's Northside, in a section once known as "Little Italy." Newcomers to Denver, please understand that "canoli" means something different here; Lechuga's signature dish isn't a dessert, but rather your choice of a meatball, sausage or sausage-and-jalapeño combo wrapped in dough with a little bit of cheese in the mix, baked and then smothered, if that's how you like it. Make it a meal with the famous "spanoli" plate — two mini canolis and a side of spaghetti. With a $4.95 all-you-can-eat Tuesday night spaghetti special and lunch deals every weekday, Lechuga's is a tasty reminder that here in the Mile High City, we like our Italian food greasy and cheap, served up hot in a place that feels suspended in time.

Readers' Choice: Gaetano's

Best German/Eastern European Restaurant

Rhein Haus

Rhein Haus
Brandon Marshall

Seattle import Rhein Haus took over the former Old Chicago space in LoDo in late 2015, adding a second floor, beautiful Teutonic bars in dark, ornate woods and indoor bocce for those who can't sit down with their stein of German lager. But you should sit down, whether at the bar or a booth, for a full-on meal of northern European specialties, including a handful of housemade sausages, cheesy spaetzle or the intimidating Schweinschaxe. No, that's not the name of your towering, blond-braided waitress; it's an oven-roasted pork shank the size of your head that even the most robust Gunters and Gretels will have a tough time finishing.

Readers' Choice: Rhein Haus

Antojitos Colombianos
Antojitos Colombianos Facebook

The tiny Antojitos Colombianos isn't polished or glamorous, but the service is genuine and friendly, and the cheery dining room rings with laughter and the sound of forks hitting plates. Antojitos, the "little desires" of Latin American street food, are the specialty here, from crunchy empanadas to fat arepas to unusual aborrajados oozing hot cheese and guava paste from their deep-fried plantain shells. Go early for pandebonos, perfectly spherical yuca-flour buns with a cheesy surprise inside; return at lunch for a platter of bandeja paisa, loaded with beans, rice, chicharrones, steak, sausage and plantain, that will hold off hunger for the rest of the day. But as soon as a new day dawns, you'll crave another round of these little desires.

Readers' Choice: Cafe Brazil

North County
Danielle Lirette

While the debate rages on between which is better — New Mexico green chile made with pepper pods from Hatch or the Colorado equivalent cooked with Pueblo's finest — North County quietly stirs up batches of flawless verde in its Lowry kitchen. Thick, pea-green and threaded through with long-simmered pork, the stew packs a slow burn and an avalanche of green-chile flavor. Eat it plain or order it as a side for your carne asada fries, which...just order the carne asada fries! Chef/proprietor Sterling Robinson serves a similarly spicy green chile at north Denver's Billy's Inn if you can't make it out to Lowry, but then you'd be missing out on a house-bottled cocktail to cool your tongue. The results are in: North County, representing Southern California and Baja, Mexico, takes the prize over both New Mexico and Colorado.

Readers' Choice: Santiago's

Kahlo's
Mark Antonation

Chef/owner Noe Bermudez grew up watching his mom, a professional chef, cook in restaurants in his home town of Uruapan, Michoacán. Much of the food at Kahlo's, as well as at Bermudez's first restaurant, Tarasco's, is meatless simply because of tradition — but he's also a proponent of healthy eating, as evidenced by his restaurants' long lists of fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Bermudez's green chile is just one of his vegetarian wonders; the spicy, tangy sauce livens up burritos, a meatless chimichanga or enchiladas with full-frontal chile flavor barely dressed with hints of garlic, onion and other seasonings. The green chile is much the same at both locations, but we love going green inside the bright, sunny and spacious Kahlo's — a nourishing and nurturing spot for residents of the Westwood neighborhood.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas

Carnitas California
Carnitas California Facebook

Trust a taqueria with "carnitas" in its name to turn out the town's top tacos. But carnitas are where you begin at Carnitas California, which moved from its longtime home on Morrison Road to a bright new spot on Santa Fe Drive in the summer of 2016. Here, pork is slow-simmered in its own fat and juices in massive pots until the meat nearly falls apart. A quick sear on the griddle crisps the edges, but the pork is otherwise lightly seasoned; a colorful array of house salsas add the proper blast of heat and acidity. Dive deep into traditional carnitas with a mixed plate of the juicy pork, plus buche (stomach) and cueritos (soft-cooked pork skin), or choose from other equally impressive meats, from tangy cochinita pibil to beefy birria and barbacoa. The northbound-only stretch of Santa Fe that Carnitas California calls home means there's only one way to go for the best tacos in town.

Readers' Choice: Tacos Tequila Whiskey

Best Restaurant With a View of a Car Wash

Garibaldi

Garibaldi Mexican Bistro
Mark Antonation

While cruising Broadway through downtown Englewood, be sure to stop for tacos, a tank of gas and a car wash — all under one roof. Garibaldi shares a building with a Conoco service station; the little cantina is wedged between the gas station's convenience store and automated car wash. A window in the dining room even looks directly onto the whirling brushes and showers of suds as cars make their way through, so you'll be entertained while you enjoy lunch or dinner. Of course, we wouldn't send you to a taqueria if it wasn't top-notch; despite the scintillating setting, the food is still the main attraction here. Daily specials — lamb barbacoa, quesadillas with huitlacoche and squash blossoms — are worth investigating (check ahead on Garibaldi's Facebook page), or sample the unique quekas, which come in somewhere between an oversized taco and a corn-tortilla quesadilla. The thick, semi-crunchy shell enfolds layers of cheese and your choice of carnitas, chorizo, carne al pastor or the house specialty, suadero. Other hard-to-find regional dishes include pambazos (smothered tortas), nopales rellenos (stuffed cactus leaves) and mixiote (slow-cooked lamb). Fill 'er up!

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