Best Restaurant on the 16th Street Mall 2018 | Zoe Ma Ma | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Restaurant on the 16th Street Mall

Zoe Ma Ma

Proprietor Edwin Zoe can thank his mother for Zoe Ma Ma's success: Zoe persuaded her to run the kitchen at his original Boulder restaurant, where she built a menu with recipes from her native Taiwan and Zoe's father's native Shandong. The resulting items include a heady Taiwanese beef noodle soup, one of that country's most famous and revered dishes; zha jiang mian, or chewy noodles topped with stewed pork and a generous tuft of julienned carrots and cucumbers; and the CPR, a five-spice-laced stew of chicken and potatoes served over rice. The dishes were such a hit in Boulder that Zoe opened a second Zoe Ma Ma by Union Station, which quickly became a hit among office warriors looking for a unique, quick lunch. Keep an eye out for the special lion's-head meatballs, served only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Readers' Choice: Citizen Rail

Maureen Witten

Move over, Colonel: There's a new KFC in town. Angry Chicken brought Korean fried chicken to Havana Street at the end of 2017, making the spicy, crackly bird more accessible than ever in metro Denver. And definitely more delicious. With a swank dining room, well-stocked bar (fried chicken is bar food, after all) and roster of sauces from buttery to incendiary, Angry Chicken is the reason so many poultry lovers are crossing the road. And if sticky sauces and juicy chicken aren't enough of a draw, the rice-flour batter that makes the coating so crispy is also gluten-free, so the whole family can indulge without worry. Don't get angry; get chicken.

Readers' Choice: Katsu Ramen

To the Wind may be one of Denver's tiniest eateries, but Royce Oliveira and Leanne Adamson continue to impress with creative dishes and achingly good desserts. After four years, the diminutive dining room — which feels more like someone's home kitchen than a restaurant — is still full of folks looking for seasonal treats and flavorful combinations augmented by labor-intensive technique, whether it's a past dish like bison-tongue pastrami or tender octopus with a hint of char or slow-cooked pork shoulder (or maybe even a crispy treatment of the same animal's ears). Fruit-filled tarts, rich cakes and creamy custards are a must, so throw caution to the wind and spring for dessert.

Readers' Choice: Sassafras American Eatery

Best Restaurant With No Prices on Colfax Avenue


Mark Antonation

Soup, pizzas, cookies and the occasional chalkboard special: These things are the marks of a good cafe. You'll find all of those and more at SAME, which stands for "So All May Eat." This spot isn't just a good cafe; it's a good deed in action. The food here doesn't come with a price tag, unless you want it to. Pay a fair price, pay what you can afford, or exchange your meal for some manual labor in the kitchen; the crew just wants to make sure you get a square meal. SAME opened in 2006 as Denver's first nonprofit restaurant, and it continues to be a model around the country for places that want to serve people in need of healthy, locally grown food with a side of dignity.

Molly Martin

Viet's has long been a staple in the Far East Center, but since moving one door down from its original home to spacious and well-appointed new digs, the Vietnamese restaurant has been elevated from a neighborhood joint to destination dining. Simple dishes such as pho and chao (rice porridge with a choice of toppings) still stand out, but the real draws are the group entrees, including hot pots loaded with fresh greens and savory meats, appetizer platters with make-your-own spring rolls, and the impressive bo bay mon (seven-course beef), mounded platters of meaty greatest hits. For a quick smoothie or banh mi, hit V Express, which sprang up in the space next door after Viet's moved.

Readers' Choice: New Saigon

Best Outdoor Restaurant on Federal Boulevard

Tacos Marlene

Mark Antonation

Watch for a gathering crowd and smoke rising at at the corner of South Federal Boulevard and West Exposition Avenue: That's the site of Tacos Marlene, a spot that cooks up some of the best street food in town. Take your place in line and peruse the display of bootleg DVDs for sale before placing your order; carne asada, lengua or pastor are good bets, but the adventurous shouldn't miss the tacos de tripa — not spongy tripe, but beef small intestine diced into manageable, delicate pieces cooked to order. You'll be asked if you want them crispy or soft; we recommend crispy for beginners and soft for a wonderful (but more difficult) texture that's almost like broad egg noodles. Eat up as you enjoy the lowriders cruising the boulevard on a weekend night.

Villagran opened last spring as the brick-and-mortar version of popular west-side food truck Villa Real, serving a more upscale version of its original street-food menu. Thankfully, some of the food-truck favorites made the leap to dining-room status; one of those was the suegra, which takes its name from the Spanish word for mother-in-law. There are many explanations for how the quesadilla-like construction got its name; most involve descriptions that sound mean when applied to your spouse's mom, but delicious when applied to food. At Villagran, two housemade corn tortillas are glued together with molten white cheese loaded with onion, cilantro and a choice of shredded beef, carne asada or carne al pastor. The lightly crisped handmade tortillas are what elevate the suegras above run-of-the-mill Mexican fare — and make you wonder why mothers-in-law have gotten such a bad rap for so long.

Best Restaurant at Denver International Airport

Root Down

Once a bleak landscape of sad takeout and fast food, Denver International Airport is offering increasingly tasty options for travelers. One airport restaurant is even a destination in its own right: Root Down, which beckons visitors to Concourse C, even if their gates are elsewhere. That's thanks in large part to inventive cocktails and a menu of bright farm-to-table American fare inspired by the offerings at the original Root Down. It helps, too, that Root Down is a sure bet for gluten-free diners and vegetarians, who'll have no trouble finding a pre-flight meal on this menu. And, like all Justin Cucci ventures, Root Down is also a pleasant place to sit: The decor here takes inspiration from the glamorous age of air travel, and elements coalesce into a soothing lounge. Give yourself enough time to enjoy your meal; after that, your flight will be a breeze.

Readers' Choice: Root Down

Mark Antonation

Many restaurants offer tempting gluten-free menus, but celiac sufferers and other diners who can't eat gluten still worry about cross-contamination, lack of staff training or kitchen slip-ups. At Just Be Kitchen, though, there's no wheat, barley or rye in the house, nor are there bottled sauces or other condiments that often contain hidden gluten. The restaurant is entirely gluten-free (and grain-free, too), which means you can order anything on the menu without concern. Roasted veggies, pork green chile and a bone-broth bar add comforting warmth, while lighter fare such as grainless granola and beautifully composed salads make for a guilt-free lunch choice. Don't miss the bullet coffee, rich with butter, for a morning pick-me-up that will keep you fueled all day.

Readers' Choice: Just Be Kitchen

We held our collective breath when Pizzeria Locale expanded out of state, moving beyond Colorado into Kansas, Missouri and Ohio. What would expansion do to one of our homegrown faves? Turns out there was no need to worry: The only thing that expansion has done is put more people in reach of these dynamite, reasonably priced pies. Pizzas come in red or white, with toppings you expect on Neapolitan pies (basil, prosciutto) and some that you don't (barbecue chicken). Whichever you choose, you'll love every bite, thanks to dough that gets its complexity from a 24-hour cold fermentation, then goes into a very hot oven. Bubbled and puffy on the edges, with a pleasant chew and just enough char, these pizzas are everything you want from Neapolitan pie, minus the typical high price tag. Round out your meal with butterscotch budino, then go home happy.

Readers' Choice: Illegal Pete's

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