ChoLon Modern Asian

Many Denverites think of the 16th Street Mall as little more than a destination where tourists grab Colorado T-shirts and overpriced beers. But the mall is also home turf for office workers and a growing number of downtown residents. For those folks, and for the rest of us looking for something special to top off a night on the town, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro shines as a beacon of culinary excellence amid the fast-casuals and street-food kiosks. Chef/owner Lon Symensma's clever brand of Asian cuisine is a form of entertainment in itself, from the classic ChoLon French onion soup dumplings and kaya toast with egg cloud to newer explorations that go deep into Southeast Asian cooking, like a beautiful Burmese fermented tea-leaf salad. Symensma takes us on a journey he's made many times himself, showing us the street-hawker eats and the extravagant hotel dinners of his favorite cities. Not content to rest on his laurels, the chef keeps improving both the menu and the setting, with posh new seating for guests, better sound control in the always-packed dining room, and an evolving parade of dishes that show the kitchen at its most creative.

Readers' Choice: ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro

Potager
Lindsey Bartlett

There's an unwritten maxim when it comes to outdoor dining: The better the patio, the worse the restaurant. After all, if you can pack the patio and keep the drinks flowing, who needs good food? But Potager's half-sunny, half-shaded patio flips that old saw on its end: It's an integral part of the dining experience. The word "potager" is French for "kitchen garden," so a seat on chef/owner Teri Rippeto's hidden patio means you're surrounded by herbs and vegetables that will make it onto your plate. Potager turns twenty this year, marking two decades of serving wonderful creations inspired by what's growing right outside the back door. With such longevity in Capitol Hill, Potager's every dish carries the terroir of the neighborhood.

Readers' Choice: Colterra Food & Wine

Fire
Danielle Lirette

The ART is filled with fabulous artwork, but nothing beats the views from the fourth-floor Fire Terrace, an extension of the Fire restaurant and lounge. The hotel crowd is usually glittery enough, but at dusk this rooftop patio is bathed in golden light reflected off the History Colorado Center across the street. The patio boasts high-tops, a fire pit and posh cabana seating more suited to a swank beach resort than a downtown hotel, but the entertainment is definitely urban, as are the incredible glimpses you get up and down Broadway. Come for the social hour, which stretches from 3 to 6 p.m. and includes surprisingly good deals for the setting, and stay for twilight and beyond, when taillights twinkle and the scene turns magical.

Readers' Choice: Linger

Racines
Courtesy Racines

The thirty-plus-year-old Racines is everyone's go-to restaurant, and when we say everyone, we're including man's best friend. Dogs are definitely welcome at this Denver institution, which reserves the most prime spot on the two-level patio for pets that want to enjoy the sunshine while their guardians enjoy a hearty meal. There's even a separate entrance from the sidewalk into the pet-friendly area, and if you want to give your pooch a bit of your breakfast sandwich or a morsel from that mountain of nachos, no one's going to stop you.

Readers' Choice: Denver Beer Co.

Bread Bar
Courtesy of Bread Bar

A decade ago, you might have been forgiven for blowing through the stretch of I-70 between Denver and the Eisenhower tunnel. But now you have good reason to slow your roll and exit the highway, and not just for a reprieve from weekend traffic. At the Silver Plume turnoff, make a beeline to the Bread Bar, a charming cocktail haven that's built into a former bakery and takes its inspiration from the tiny mining town it calls home. Bread Bar's owners enlisted the help of the crew at Denver's Way Back for drinks; their libations incorporate mountain flavors into classics and broadcast Colorado history via their names. On sunny days and during the warm months, take your drink out to Bread Bar's patio, a dog-friendly oasis infused with the vibe of this town; at night, keep a lookout for live music and pop-up food. This bar is only open Friday through Sunday — but you're a weekend warrior anyway, aren't you?

Elway's DIA

Cutting it close is the way to go when traveling by air; time wasted while wedged into an uncomfortable airport chair is time you'll never get back — unless you choose to while away your extra travel time at Elway's. If it's your first day on vacation, you won't mind splurging on steak and eggs, a Colorado whiskey or a $19 burrito — the latter worth every penny because it's stuffed with enough chicken-fried steak to easily feed two adults. Business travelers will feel at ease surrounded by dark wood and other suits and ties, and an expense account means you can spring for that twenty-ounce prime rib dinner. With surroundings so swank and food so good, you might choose to miss your plane.

Readers' Choice: Root Down

Tamales by La Casita
La Casita Facebook

You forgot to grab a hostess gift for the friends who'll be housing you on your vacation! Not to worry: Head to the C Concourse and Tamales by La Casita, where you can order great homemade tamales — the "Mile High traditional" version made by the Sandoval family for more than forty years — packaged for travel. Calm your nerves over the near-miss with a few beers and some solid Mexican food, then grab your to-go bag, a perfect taste of Colorado for your hosts. Carry on!

Mizu Izakaya
Lindsey Bartlett

What's an izakaya? In short, it's a Japanese pub with food intended to go with drinks. But to experience for yourself how the izakaya concept translates to the hip LoHi neighborhood, head over to Mizu Izakaya, which opened at the end of 2016 in a corner space that had once seemed doomed and now is booming. Yes, Mizu offers sushi, but that's not the focal point of the menu. Instead, think Japanese tapas and order from the binchotan menu — skewers and other small bites cooked over oak charcoal at high heat. Black cod, pork belly and marinated eel are a good start; then try something fried, like frog-leg karaage or whole quail doused in guajillo teriyaki. There's so much to choose from you'll need several trips to sample your way through, with sake, Colorado craft beers or food-friendly house cocktails to wash it all down. Don't say cheers, say kanpai!

Readers' Choice: Sushi Den

Sushi Ronin
Danielle Lirette

Sushi chef Corey Baker garnered such a reputation for his omakase feasts, customers sought him out at Sushi Den and Sushi Sasa — Denver's sushi pioneers — when they wanted a customized slate of fish. Omakase, then, is what you should order at Sushi Ronin, where you'll find Baker today; the chef's choice menu gives you a little taste of everything this restaurant does. And you should order it at the sushi bar, where Baker will tailor his picks specifically to you. He'll pass you such exotic specimens as Spanish mackerel and monkfish liver (basically the foie gras of the sea) if he thinks you'll like them, and add flourishes to his nigiri based on what you tell him about your own palate. If omakase is not quite your speed, Ronin is still worth a stop: The restaurant offers cuts of fish not available at many other places, and deals with them respectfully, making each bite a true pleasure.

Readers' Choice: Sushi Den

Tofu House
Mark Antonation

Don't let the fact that Tofu House is a franchise put you off: This string of restaurants stretches to central Seoul, where multiple locations of a restaurant are an indicator of excellence. True to its name, the restaurant specializes in tofu, a custardy version of which is tucked into a dozen or so stews, mixing with oyster and clam plus mushrooms, kimchi, pork or Spam. The classic version blends the bean curd with shellfish in a spicy broth (add an egg if you'd like); the power move here is to order it as part of a combination so that you can also sample some of Tofu House's barbecued bulgogi, spicy pork or squid. Combination meals are built for a group, and they include a small collection of barchan — the kimchi here is exceptional — plus a small fried fish, which you can order bone-in or bone-out. Spoon your soup over japgokbap (Korean multigrain rice), and pair your meal with a bottle of makgeolli, a semi-sweet, tart, fizzy rice wine that goes nicely with spicy food. When you inevitably return to Tofu House, consider also exploring the heady oxtail soup or the cauldrons filled with rice, meat, kimchi and seaweed; they may not get marquee billing, but they're superb offerings nonetheless.

Readers' Choice: Dae Gee

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