Osaka Ramen
Katie Knoch

What makes a great bowl of ramen? At chef Jeff Osaka's underground noodle lair, you'll find out. Bouncy noodles, complex and steamy broth, properly cooked meats and a good balance of toppings that don't clash or overtake your tastebuds — that's what Osaka brings to Denver's ramen game. Spicy miso and tonkotsu pack a punch, while the more delicate chicken and shoyu work well when you don't want something quite as rich. There's even a vegetarian ramen made with Thai green-coconut curry broth. And lest you forget, every bowl comes with a soft egg cooked to just the right yolky texture. Slurp away: There's always another big pot simmering on the stove.

Readers' Choice: Uncle

Ototo

For top-notch service, dedication to excellence and continuous innovation, the Kizaki brothers still set the standard for Denver restaurants, Japanese or otherwise. Where else can you nibble on a charcoal-grilled fish head, eat a skewer-full of chicken oysters (the plump little cutlets from the chicken's back) in pungent kizami wasabi sauce, or sample a bowl of burdock root batons, all while pouring cups of some of Japan's most revered sakes? If you let it sweep you away, Ototo is as much of an experience as a restaurant, one of those rare places where removing yourself from the clamor of the full dining room and immersing yourself in food and drink turns dining out into pure magic.

Readers' Choice: Domo

Southern cooking isn't all fried chicken and biscuits — but if that's what you're craving, chef Kyle Foster and his team have what you need. Don't stop with obvious choices, though, since Julep bills itself as the home of "sophisticated Southern." The kitchen surprises with uncommon Southern ingredients like benne seeds, Carolina Gold rice, sorghum syrup and pork and oyster sausage while turning other familiar ingredients into delightful finds, whether rutabaga tart tatin (you'll never want the sweet apple version again), a black-eyed pea and peanut dip, or chicken tail skewers. The menu changes regularly, though you're likely to find your favorites month after month. After all, Julep knows how to butter your biscuit.

Readers' Choice: Lucile's Creole Cafe

Q House
Mark Antonation

While the fooderati discuss notions of what Chinese cuisine in America should be, chef Christopher Lin and his partners, Jen Mattioni and Jonathan Pinto, ignore the chatter and just turn out great cooking, cocktails and service in a clamorous environment that grabs its style more from its Colfax Avenue surrounds than the takeout joints of our childhood memories. Lin draws from his family's culinary traditions and uses bold flavors to jolt you awake while still appealing to comforting memories. Familiar road signs like the General Tso's sauce that bathes custardy eggplant, or fried chicken made more addictive with the numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns and toasted red chiles guide you down a path that soon becomes a thrill ride of pig ear and tofu salad, head-on salt-and-pepper shrimp (go ahead and eat the crunchy shells!) and beef tongue with tripe.

Readers' Choice: Hop Alley

Star Kitchen
Lauren Monitz

If you think size matters when it comes to choosing your next dim sum outing, think again. Star Kitchen is the smallest of Denver's dim sum palaces, but it's also the best, as much for the sheer variety of bite-sized specialties that wheel on laden carts through the dining room as for the craftsmanship of each of those bites. Delicate masako pork shiu mai with pleats seemingly executed by a seamstress, translucent har gow with impossibly thin skins, and summer-green cilantro dumplings are just the start. Fried turnip cakes, succulent chicken feet, taro balls in crispy coats and steamed pork buns fluffy as cotton will help get you to your goal of waddling out the door full and content. Custard tarts, sesame balls and mango pudding add a touch of sweetness, and larger dishes of chow fun or yee-fu noodles are just right for sharing with friends. Dine a la cart!

Readers' Choice: Star Kitchen

Gaby's German Eatery
Mark Antonation

Step inside the dining room of this tiny, quaint Lakewood eatery and you'll feel as if you're in small-town Germany, where family cooks turn out humble, hearty plates sided with a little conversation. Gaby Berben has been peddling her homestyle cooking for years at Denver festivals and special events, but last year she settled into a small kitchen with just a few seats, where you can enjoy sauerbraten, spätzle and cabbage rolls, among other traditional German dishes. Stop in for the daily special (Thursday is chef's surprise!), but be sure to start with soup (like Gaby's own carrot-coconut-ginger) and save room for dessert from a rotating selection of pastries.

Readers' Choice: Rhein Haus

Best Central/South American Restaurant

Quiero Arepas

Quiero Arepas
Danielle Lirette

If it weren't for Igor and Beckie Panasewicz, Denver would barely know what Venezuelan arepas are, much less how good they can be when made right. From their small squad of food trucks to one of the anchor eateries at Avanti Food & Beverage, Igor and Beckie have captured our attention with tasty cornmeal cakes grilled and bursting with fresh and bold flavors. The single-minded focus of Quiero Arepas results in just a handful — a serious handful — of options, from the bulging Pabellon, filled with shredded pork, black beans, avocado, cheese and fried plantain, to more demure but still filling numbers, some of them vegetarian and all of them gluten-free. We're delighted that the national street food of Venezuela will soon have a brick-and-mortar home on Old South Pearl.

Readers' Choice: Leña

Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant and Grocery
Lori Midson

Many of Denver's Ethiopian restaurants are clustered along East Colfax Avenue and down Havana Street, offering long menus and combination platters of vegetable stews and slow-cooked meats heaped atop broad sourdough pancakes called injera. Big dining rooms with stages and room for dancing are common, since many eateries serve as celebration halls for the city's Ethiopian community. Megenagna, tucked into a shopping strip just off Havana, has a slightly different approach, with its concise menu and cozy cafe ambience. But those are also the restaurant's strengths, allowing the kitchen to display mastery of a few specific dishes while guests receive personalized service. The minced beef dish called kitfo is a house specialty and comes in several different forms — even a meatless style prepared with chopped, seasoned collard greens and soft housemade cheese. Relax with a rich cappuccino after a meal before wandering through the attached market for spices, dried beans and other products to take home. Megenagna is an intimate way to experience Ethiopian hospitality.

Readers' Choice: Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant

Safta
Danielle Lirette

Safta is proof that Middle Eastern restaurants can rise above their strip-mall homes and draw tourists and locals alike looking to spend big money in swanky, modern surroundings. Chef/owner Alon Shaya, coming off a James Beard Award for his work in New Orleans, interprets the Israeli cuisine of his youth for a Denver audience hungry for superlatives in Mediterranean cooking: the fluffiest pita (baked in a wood-fired oven), the creamiest hummus and the crunchiest falafel. "Safta" means grandmother, so the fact that you're smothered in comfort food at this restaurant in the Source Hotel is no surprise — but Shaya also has a way with chef-ier creations built on sea bass, short ribs and lamb shanks, to name a few. Come during the day and fill up on baked goods at the walk-up counter; it's just like stealing warm cookies from Grandma's kitchen table.

Readers' Choice: Jerusalem

Tiffin's India Cafe
Mark Antonation

Rather than running you through the standard rainbow of Indian curries, Tiffin's focuses on the best street-food favorites of South India: paper-thin dosa rolled around generous scoops of masala; doughnut-shaped vada in spicy sauce; stark-white idli dumplings; and fat samosas bulging with vegetable fillings. The stewed vegetarian dishes are amazing — lentils, chickpeas, eggplant and okra, for example — so Tiffin's is a great stop for a light lunch. But meat lovers will also find plenty to love; the lamb biryani and korma are both noteworthy. If you're a Boulder native, you need only follow your nose — and Denver residents shouldn't hesitate to make the drive up, since Indian specialties this good are few and far between.

Readers' Choice: Little India

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