Leven Deli Co.
Mark Antonation

If the pastrami is good, the rest of the sandwich is sure to follow. And at Leven Deli, chef Luke Hendricks makes pastrami from scratch, starting with whole beef brisket that's cured for more than ten days before being smoked. The result is tender, flavorful meat that stacks into sandwiches so tasty you don't need much else to make you happy. Rye bread forms the base of the straight-up pastrami sandwich; a little pickled cabbage, Jarlsberg, house sauce and mustard combine in Leven's Reuben. If you're craving something lighter, this Golden Triangle deli serves a savory salmon-salad sandwich, a summery sub stuffed with tomatoes and burrata, and a housemade sourdough flatbread stuffed with mashed-chickpea salad. Unlike at old-school delis, you won't find twenty different sandwiches here, but what's offered is done right, making Leven a truly special specialist.

Readers' Choice: Stack Subs

Pony Up
Mark Antonation

Chef Sheamus Feeley knows how to make a solid French dip, a specialty at this LoDo spot. While Pony Up offers many versions of the classic sandwich — even a pho style — we go for a more traditional option. Dubbed the Alameda Street Classic, it comprises shaved beef, rosemary and mayonnaise on springy French bread, and is served with a cup of velvety beef jus so good you could easily sip it like soup rather than use it as a dip.

Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que
Danielle Lirette

The smokehouse competition has gotten fierce in Denver in recent years, with a whole new truckload of pit masters bringing their distinct styles to town. But none stands out quite so much as Coy and Rachael Webb's four-year-old joint, where the meats seldom last beyond lunchtime. The reason is Roaming Buffalo's dedication to Colorado meats and cooking traditions combined with Coy's Texas upbringing. Locally raised lamb shanks and bison ribs and sausage are among the daily selections, but there's almost always something special coming from the smoker, so frequent stops are encouraged. And just when we think we've had our fill, the Webbs roll out something new, like mouthwatering brisket tamales just right for dunking in the eatery's Ragin Buffalo barbecue sauce. Just follow the smoke signals to south Denver.

Readers' Choice: Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que

Rolling Smoke Bar-B-Que
Danielle Lirette

Oklahoman Terry Walsh brought his brand of 'cue to the streets of Denver in 2014, perfuming the air with slow-cooked pork shoulder and other meats for three years before settling in at Stanley Marketplace, where two enormous outdoor smokers give a hint of the flavors awaiting at the walk-up counter inside. In spring 2018, Rolling Smoke became a duo, with a second outpost in Centennial. Whichever one you choose, be ready to stuff yourself with sliced brisket, burnt ends, pork spare ribs, turkey or hot links. Since the mark of any great barbecue is a stupid-big sandwich, you'll want to fast for a day or two before clamping your jaws around El Jefe, a monster layered with slaw, beans and three kinds of meat.

Smok
Linnea Covington

Yes, this RiNo hotspot is known for its really good barbecue, but it also serves some mean deviled eggs. To make the classic dish, chef Bill Espiricueta whips creamy egg yolks with puréed pickles, imparting a tangy green and slightly salty essence. Each batch gets piped into egg-white cups to order, so the appetizer never comes out rubbery and always tastes fresh. A slice of pickled jalapeño on top adds crunchy heat to each bite, making the best even better.

GQue Championship BBQ
GQue Championship BBQ

When you love barbecue as much as Kansas City native Jason Ganahl does, it's only natural to surround yourself with the stuff. After winning numerous competitions around the country with his meats, Ganahl went on to open not one, but two barbecue joints. Good as his barbecue is, it's his dry-rubbed chicken wings that really fly. Each batch gets slow-smoked over hickory logs until the flesh is smoky and juicy; a last-minute dip in the fryer gives the wings a crispy skin, as well.

Readers' Choice: Fire on the Mountain

Welton Street Cafe
Mark Antonation

If sweet tea isn't on the menu, you probably aren't getting the city's best fried chicken. Luckily for diners, the Dickerson family's Five Points spot has both. While you sip on that tea, choose from thighs, legs, wings and breasts, all coated and seasoned with a secret shake. The Welton Street Cafe is a no-frills place (unless you count the lacy curtains covering windows looking out onto Welton Street), and no one will blink an eye if you polish off half a bird by yourself; in fact, it's encouraged. Sides of collards, beans, fried okra and mashed potatoes add even more Southern goodness to the picnic-style spread.

Readers' Choice: The Post Brewing Co.

The Budlong Hot Chicken
Linnea Covington

When someone spends as much time researching the proper way to do things as the Budlong Hot Chicken owner and chef Jared Leonard did, you know the result is going to be good. The Chicago transplant studied Nashville-style hot chicken across the South, starting with Prince's in Nashville (where the style originated), then testing recipes until he perfected his version. He launched Budlong last year, serving spicy bone-in chicken and sandwiches from a food truck parked outside various breweries and events. But now you can get that chicken from a brick-and-mortar spot in Zeppelin Station; fans can also find the bird at AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q, Leonard's Texas-style barbecue joint in the Overland neighborhood.

Royal Rooster
Mark Antonation

Despite the many toppings, techniques and trends in the burger world, there are really only two kinds of hamburgers: the quick, greasy and compact style that can be eaten in a few bites, and the big, sloppy monstrosity that you can't put down even if you wanted to, because it would simply implode. Beef boss Justin Brunson somehow manages to marry the two in a wobbly tower of twin four-ounce patties and squishy potato bun glued together by layers of American cheese and his own special sauce. There's a secret to how the chef maintains the soft, juicy texture of a half-pound patty in two smaller rounds (okay, we'll squeal: He deep-fries them!). Originally available at Royal Rooster's lunch incarnation at Old Major, the chef's LoHi restaurant, Brunson's "double-double" can now be tracked down at the new Royal Rooster inside Broadway Market.

Readers' Choice: Park Burger

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
Summer Powell

The workhorse hot dog becomes far more than just a cookout, ballgame and kids' party requirement in the hands of Jim Pittenger, who built his tube-steak empire from a single pushcart to a nationally renowned brand from 2005 to the present day. Folks flock from all over for a taste of what Ludo Lefebvre, Andrew Zimmern and even the late, great Anthony Bourdain praised on their TV shows. What they all loved were the wild-game dogs topped with Biker Jim's signature cream cheese and Coca-Cola onions, or any number of other over-the-top combos. Not one to take it easy, Pittenger is always experimenting with new ideas and adding to his menu. Case in point: the fried pickled onions that add crunch and tang to the Drunken Pirate. Late nights in the Ballpark neighborhood are best with a Biker Jim's hot dog in hand.

Readers' Choice: Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

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