Like your coffee with a side of activism? Whittier Cafe is a one-stop shop for both. More than just a natural gathering place, it hosts community-centric events aimed at getting everyone involved, hosting open mics, talks by politicians, a local-authors' book fair, movie viewings and sponsored discussions centered on building inclusivity. The cafe's bathroom walls are covered with signs from previous protests, keeping up the conversation. Whittier's investment in the community goes beyond dollars and cents to common sense, and for that, we're grateful.

TeaLee's Tea House and Bookstore
Krista Kafer

For two years, the space now inhabited by TeaLee's in Five Points sat empty, closed to the public while owners Rise Jones and Louis Freeman lived in limbo. Early in 2018, they received the go-ahead to open, and their teahouse — named after Jones's grandmother — was welcomed with open arms...and mouths. The menu boasts 52 varieties of loose-leaf teas from around the world, as well as tea-infused cocktails; TeaLee's offers an afternoon high tea, too (reservations required). And if you want to linger, TeaLee's is also a bookstore, with tomes available for both perusal and purchase. That speaks volumes about this spot's role as a community gathering place.

Readers' Choice: Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

The Bindery
Danielle Lirette

No other brunch in town is as much a reflection of its chef's underlying philosophy as Linda Hampsten Fox's thoughtful and inspiring weekend creations at the Bindery. Her ability to combine multiple disparate ingredients from Mexico, the Mediterranean and the U.S. seems nearly effortless, but years of cooking abroad, combined with the gusto inherited from her food-loving Polish-American family, inform each bite. You'll wish you were wearing white linen pajamas as you start breakfast with a croissant and brûléed grapefruit or berries with beignets. But there's heartier stuff here, too, whether a rare Dutch baby (even better than a pancake), a three-egg omelet with kielbasa and lemon-poppyseed goat cheese, or "hunter's eggs" served over angel-hair pasta. Dishes change with the seasons, but the menu always reads like a series of culinary haiku.

Readers' Choice: Snooze

Quality Italian
Mark Antonation

The bottom line: When you're going for bottomless drinks, quality counts. At Quality Italian's brunch (which runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays), the "Endless Bloody Marys and Bellinis" deal will set you back just $15 — a true bargain given the quality of the ingredients. Forget mimosas made with reconstituted OJ and Cook's: Quality Italian will roll out its "signature bellini cart," with Pasqua sparkling wine as well as all the items required to make the seasonal flavors (currently grapefruit and pomegranate, cucumber lime and classic white peach). The Bloodys start with Smirnoff and come in classic, dry-aged or Maria Capri styles. (The latter is made with heirloom cherry tomatoes and white balsamic and tastes like a Caprese martini.) And you don't have to commit to one as you sip your way through brunch; you can mix and match. Bottoms up!

Readers' Choice: The Lobby

Gaetano's Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik

Old-school Italian joints are an endangered species in this town, particularly on the rapidly gentrifying Northside. But Gaetano's is a survivor. Under current owner Ron Robinson, this legendary eatery — it once belonged to the Smaldones, a famous Mob family — has become a neighborhood hangout, a popular destination for people who want a solid Italian meal flavored with history and decades of red sauce. Or maybe just a really good Bloody Mary. Gaetano's Bloody Mary bar boasts a spread that includes spicy infused vodka, three tomato blends, dozens of hot sauces and seasoning mixes, as well as pickled vegetables, cheese, shrimp, jerky, bacon and everything else you need to make a meal in a glass. A three-time winner, Gaetano's remains an offer we still can't refuse.

Readers' Choice: The Hornet

Chook Charcoal Chicken
Mark Antonation

Alex Seidel and Adam Schlegel created Chook with one goal: to provide quality food that won't break the bank and is easy to grab on the way home. The focus is on chicken, specifically Australian-style charcoal-broiled birds that can be ordered in whole, half or quarter sizes, with sauces ranging from piri-piri to chimichurri and gravy. There are sides, too: mashed Colorado potatoes with shallot butter, Hawaiian sweet rolls made by Seidel's Fudmill Bakery, celery-apple slaw and more. With so many options, fast food from Chook never gets old, and it's always delicious.

Readers' Choice: Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery

Best Chicken-Pizza-Crepes-Ramen-Poke-Sandwich-Pasta-Seafood Restaurant

Denver Milk Market

Denver Milk Market
Danielle Lirette

Food halls are turning up faster than spring potholes around Denver, and all of them offer something unique. But only one, Denver Milk Market, is the brainchild of a single, tireless chef: Frank Bonanno. Every bite of fried chicken, every slurp of soup, every stacked sandwich comes from the mind of one of the city's most prolific restaurateurs. Many of the meats at deli counter S & G are made according to Bonanno's specifications; the fish counter, Albina by the Sea, is named after his grandmother; and the pizzeria, Bonanno Brothers, honors his two sons. Walk a circle around the cavernous — but likely crowded — space once to peruse the menu before picking exactly what you want for lunch or dinner, whether it's bao buns, a fresh salad or just a scoop of gelato. This Milk Market is the cream of the crop.

The advantage that food trucks have over full-fledged restaurants is their ability to explore untapped creative territory in street-food form. Chef Blaine Baggao is a former New Mexico resident whose family hails from the Philippines, and he puts his background to fine use on his food truck's menu. New Mexico-style green chile punched up with smoked pork carnitas struts its stuff atop fries, in breakfast burritos and on tacos; the chicken adobo, slow cooked in vinegar and soy sauce, is a Filipino recipe from Baggao's grandmother; and roasty carne adobada comes straight from the Land of Enchantment. Recent collaborative dinners with chef Penelope Wong have extended Adobo's brand of fusion into pan-Asian dumplings in fried and steamed format, further proving the versatility of Baggao's culinary heritage.

720-480-5898

adobodenver.com

Readers' Choice: Radical Sasquatch Dumpling Company

Brandon Becker has been around the block, cooking in a number of kitchens around Denver. But now, along with partner John Lugovich, he's got his own kitchen on wheels, so that he can bring his food to your favorite brewery or a special event where guests will find something a little more serious than simple street food. Becker offers a different menu of world cuisine each month or so, giving customers a taste of Moroccan or Venezuelan, Japanese or German; recent collaborations with chef Samantha New of Éclat Culinary have treated Cirque fans to a whole new range of flavors. Bring your own white tablecloths and candles to go with the gourmet grub.

720-833-8122

cirquekitchen.com

Jason McGovern loves pizza, and when the opportunity came up to rebrand his Denver Deep Dish and add pies that differed from the Chicago versions he grew up with, he gladly embraced the Sicilian style. Unlike the buttery, thick crust of his other popular option, the Sicilian's crust is fluffy —dense, but light — and comes loaded with just enough toppings to satisfy cravings without weighing it down. McGovern spent a lot of time researching before coming up with a formula he considers spot-on — and we're the happy recipients.

Readers' Choice: Blue Pan Pizza

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