Mario's Ocean Club
Mark Antonation

Your boss isn't footing the bill and it's not your birthday, but, damn it, you want a well-made bowl of chowder and a meal reminiscent of last summer's New England vacation. Last year, Mario's Ocean Club took over where the Chowder Room left off in the same space, serving inexpensive but satisfying shrimp, oysters, calamari and fish fillets, as well as a long roster of "Sea-wiches." Mario's offers all American-catch seafood, so you know that everything came from the nearest waters possible. That and a bill that won't send you into shock make for a pretty good deal in a landlocked state.

Jax Fish House
Jax Fish House

Jax Fish House has been dealing in volume since founder Dave Query shucked his first oyster at his Boulder original in 1994. Under executive chef Sheila Lucero, the oyster program has continued to exceed expectations of freshness and quality by bringing in responsibly harvested bivalves from the coasts' top producers. At any of Jax's locations (which stretch from Fort Collins to Glendale, with one slated for Denver International Airport), you can suck down oysters by the dozen knowing that they come from the cleanest waters and best oyster farms in British Columbia, Washington, Prince Edward Islands, Maine and other maritime locales. Jax's dedication to the homely but delicious mollusk can also be seen in the restaurant's oyster club and annual Hi-West Oyster Fest. And that's no shell game.

jaxfishhouse.com

Readers' Choice: Angelo's Taverna

Ohana Island Kitchen
Laura Shunk

Louie and Regan Colburn launched a Hawaiian lunch stop serving poke from a window on the side of the Truffle Table in 2016. Before long, word got out, and the Colburns moved to a bigger spot around the corner to accommodate their new fans. Louie is from Hawaii, and the pride he takes in serving top-notch poke is evident. Rather than a few random bits of fish smothered in sticky sauces and toppings, Ohana's poke is a generous mound of ruby tuna dressed just right to let the flavor of the fish shine. Ginger, sesame and soy come through in the original recipe, or you can go kick it up with a spicy-mayo dressing bejeweled with masago (bright-orange fish roe). "Ohana" is Hawaiian for family, and you'll want to join the Colburns' family of poke customers.

Readers' Choice: Turtle Boat

Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington

Amid the many new Japanese joints in town, it's easy to forget an old favorite. Wayne Conwell opened Sushi Sasa in 2005, catching the attention of every sushi lover in the city. Fourteen years later, his attention to detail — the things that turn simplicity into elegance in Japanese cuisine — is still evident, in sushi rice that's just the right amount of sticky while maintaining the integrity of each grain; in delicate cuts of fish carved from fillets to bring out the best texture of each; and in preparations that let the seafood speak for itself rather than drowning out the subtle flavors. Explore the full menu or order omakase (chef's choice) to discover pickled and fermented elements, off-menu seafood and artful presentations.

Readers' Choice: Sushi Den

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

Julep
Danielle Lirette

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

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