Saigon Basil

The former owners of Saigon Bowl opened Saigon Basil in Northglenn nearly four years ago, bringing a taste of Federal Boulevard's Little Saigon district to the northern suburb. This is far from just a simple pho joint, however; you'll find a menu as thick as a phone book, each dish dialed in with vibrant Vietnamese herbs, seasonings and ingredients. What the restaurant calls "Everyday Favorites" would be specials at most other places, everything from shrimp wrapped in a thin jacket of marinated beef to rich and satisfying bun bo Hue (pho's burlier cousin) to bun bowls topped with pungent meats. For something truly special, try the lau do bien (a simmering hot pot brimming with seafood) or whole basil-fried fish. And as a measure of the kitchen's skill, don't miss the banh xeo, a crispy egg-and-rice-flour pancake studded with pork and shrimp. Miles may separate Saigon Basil from South Federal Boulevard, but Northglenn can lay claim to a little taste of Little Saigon.

Readers' Choice: New Saigon

Vinh Xuong Bakery
Linnea Covington

If there's one secret to understanding Denver dining, it's that the best food is often hiding out in a nondescript strip mall. Vinh Xuong Bakery II is tucked into one such mall, and the bright and airy coffee shop not only makes some of the best sandwiches around, but is kind on the wallet, too. At lunch, you can grab a grilled pork banh mi on a flaky hunk of French bread, pair it with a Vietnamese iced coffee and a mildly sweet and chewy sesame ball, and come away with change from a ten-buck bill...after tipping. From the baguettes to the cured and pressed deli meats, everything is made in-house, so this steal of a meal is consistently good on every single visit.

Pho 79

You never forget your first love, and Pho 79 was one of our first deep dives into the world of pho. Back then (before years began with a 2), the noodle house was just a hole in the wall with a few booths and wall murals, but over the decades, Pho 79 on South Federal has expanded and gained polish suitable to a veteran in the area's pho game. The quality of the broth remains a constant, though, with subtle beef flavor and warming star anise in the background. Pho fans might argue about the benefits of a light and delicate broth versus a richer, heavier soup; here the pot simmers all day so the pho gets more flavorful as the day goes on. It's packed full, too: Pho 79 doesn't skimp on the meat, so there's always plenty of quality steak, brisket, flank and other cuts. A tip from Pho 79 old-timers: Order a salty limeade with your pho for a curiously refreshing beverage that brings out the best in the broth.

Readers' Choice: Pho 95

US Thai Cafe
Mark Antonation

Head for Edgewater if you like your Thai spicy. US Thai Cafe brings the heat with force and flavor, but it's not just a gimmick. Thai chiles enhance and balance massive amounts of other spices — galangal, lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaf and ginger, to name a few. Curries are thick with the pulverized pulp of said seasonings (get the brick-red massaman if you doubt us), while dressings on papaya salads and larb assert themselves with lime and fish sauce. Of course, you needn't destroy your tastebuds to get a taste of great Thai here; just order lower than usual on the sliding scale of heat. Or go all out — and then go jump in a lake. Sloan's Lake, that is.

Readers' Choice: Taste of Thailand

Ras Kassa's Ethiopian Restaurant
Courtesy Ras Kassa's Ethiopian Restaurant Facebook

For years, Ras Kassa's was the only Ethiopian option for folks in Boulder County — but then the quaint eatery, run by chef Tsehay Hailu, was forced to close in early 2015 because of redevelopment (you can thank the new Google office campus for that). Hailu limped along for more than a year in a temporary location at Boulder's Broker Inn with a takeout-only menu, and while the food was still great, we're glad to see Ras Kassa's settle in at its new permanent home in Lafayette. Customers who've followed Hailu for nearly thirty years can once again enjoy Ethiopian hospitality with honey wine, tangy injera bread and some of the best vegetarian offerings around — no small feat in Boulder County. Meat lovers will also enjoy the spicy kitfo with collard greens, housemade cheese and rich lamb stew. Welcome back, Ras Kassa's.

Readers' Choice: Queen of Sheba

Bawarchi Biryani Point
Mark Antonation

As the name of this restaurant suggests, the specialty at Bawarchi Biryani Point is a rice dish called biryani, the pride of Hyderabad, India. While Bawarchi is part of a large chain of restaurants that stretches throughout the U.S., the company's origins are in Hyderabad, and the aromatic rice served at this Centennial outpost will make you forget for just a moment that you're sitting in a strip-mall eatery somewhere southeast of the Denver Tech Center. Goat and chicken biryani both deserve high praise here, but consider adding an order of dosa — giant, crispy crepes filled with your choices of curries — or a bowl of vegetarian malai kofta loaded with pillowy meatless meatballs. The restaurant is usually packed with homesick Hyderabad natives and Centennial residents who have followed their noses to the cloud of spices wafting out the front door, so be patient if you have to wait for a table — you'll be glad you did.

Readers' Choice: Little India

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

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