Tamales by La Casita

Tamales by La Casita makes just two kinds of tamales: one stuffed with piquant red chile and pork, the other filled with heat-sown green chile with cheese. But that's all the restaurant needs to offer: The husk-wrapped masa pockets have been a hit since the tamale joint opened back in the 1970s. You can sit in the no-frills cafe and order a tamale or six (they're offered by the half-dozen); if you do, have them smothered "Christmas" style, with both red and green chile. But many La Casita patrons prefer to buy their tamales wholesale and by the dozen; during the holidays, standing in the hour-long line with half the neighborhood to pick up a batch is a rite of passage. Bonus: La Casita has an outpost at Denver International Airport, so you can buy a bag to take to your next destination as a taste of Denver.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

La Fogata
Mark Antonation

When is your green chile not green? When you're in Denver, where the Southwestern staple comes in shades of tan, brown and even orange, depending on the ingredients. Den-Mex green chile is often thickened with a roux of flour and oil, which can deepen the color if the flour is left to brown a little. That's how it's done at La Fogata, opened by Danette Calhoun back in 1990. The thick, warming gravy also leans just slightly into the orange color palette, the better to match swirls of shredded cheese that meld into the sauce atop burritos, rellenos and enormous Mexican hamburgers. But don't let the muted color fool you; this green chile still glows a little with a heat that slowly builds until you find yourself reaching for another cerveza.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

Nuggs Ice Cream Parlor
Danielle Lirette

When brothers Chris and Nick O'Sullivan decided to open Nuggs Ice Cream — the sweet offshoot of their popular mini-chain, Brothers BBQ — they wanted to do things right. So they took an ice cream-making class prior to opening their spot in east Denver and committed to making their ice cream by hand as needed, so that it always tastes fresh. Flavors at this passion project range from the more standard to the very creative — like Pablo's Danger Monkey, made with coffee from local roaster and purveyor Pablo's. And Nuggs lets you sample so you're sure to be satisfied with your choice.

Readers' Choice: Little Man Ice Cream

High Point Creamery
Lori Midson

Much of the buzz around High Point Creamery's refined and inventive ice cream flavors surrounds its seasonal innovations: It's hard to say no to a scoop of cozy toasted honey in the winter or a refreshing bite of cucumber-lime sorbet in hot summer months. But it's a mistake to ignore the shop's core offerings, even if they look and sound a little more classic — because then you'd miss out on the Salty Dog Chocolate. This addictive and voluptuously textured confection marries a nuanced semi-sweet chocolate to a tantalizing hit of salt, resulting in a well-balanced scoop that's catnip for both sweets fanatics and dessert doubters who prefer a savory edge on their sugar.

Have your coffee and eat it, too, with an affogato, Italian for "drowned." What could be better than delicious gelato from Gelato Boy drowned in a double shot of espresso from Dandy Lion? Nothing, really — at least when you want to get your caffeine jolt in the sweetest possible way (that is, in a creamy, delicious beverage/dessert). We suggest drinking the coffee while it's hot, then eating the remaining gelato at your leisure, to avoid brain freeze and savor the flavor. Our favorite is the sesame vanilla bean, which acts as the fanciest creamer imaginable. If that's too rich for your morning cup, Dandy Lion owner Duc Huynh also makes some of the finest iced Vietnamese coffee in town.

Acova
Danielle Lirette

Forget kids' menus that offer things like "chicken fingers" and "butter pasta." At Acova (which opened in the old home of Patsy's last year), the younger set can order "Whatever" and "I don't care." The "Whatever" is actually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and "I don't care" is pasta with red sauce. There's also the "I don't know" option (fried or grilled chicken fingers) and "I'm not hungry" (cheeseburger). Most of the kids' entrees come with a side such as regular or sweet-potato fries, fruit, vegetables or homemade chips. And if your little ones decide they don't want to eat what they've ordered, know that $2 from each kids' meal goes to charity, so you can at least feel good about that.

Readers' Choice: Chuy's Tex-Mex

Punch Bowl Social

Dining with kids is often a chore, but at the two Denver locations of Punch Bowl Social, it's actually fun. Between the bowling, board games, karaoke and arcade, there's so much to do that your children might just forget that they're there to eat. But eat they should, because the food at this homegrown chain isn't just pleasing to adults; it's tasty for young palates, too. The kids' menu includes chicken tacos, hummus with celery and potato chips, and pepperoni and mozzarella flatbread, and the regular menu has a lot of kid-friendly options, too.

Root Down

So much of the food at Root Down (Justin Cucci's popular LoHi eatery that just marked its tenth birthday) is gluten-free that the offerings marked GF on the menu seem to almost outnumber those that aren't, making it easy to avoid gluten and putting those who need or want to at ease. GF options range from diver scallops with brown butter and quinoa, to three-chili chicken with vegetables, to a delicious carrot Thai red-curry soup. There are even a number of desserts on the gluten-free roster, which changes regularly but usually includes things like tiramisu rice pudding, fruit cobbler and chocolate truffles.

Readers' Choice: Whole Sol Blend Bar

Azitra
Mark Manger

Not only does Azitra have a dedicated vegan menu, but this unassuming spot also has one of the top-rated wine selections in the state. First-course options include fried chickpea-battered veggies, potato samosas, a seasoned pulled jackfruit on naan wedges, and customer favorite gobhi Manchurian, cauliflower florets in a flavorful tomato glaze. The menu lists seventeen completely vegan traditional entrees, among them tofu makhni, eggplant bhartha and vegetable korma, all served with basmati rice. Azitra has also perfected dairy-free recipes for naan and garlic naan, and offers rotating sorbets, ice creams and a vegan dessert of the day to wrap up your meal.

Readers' Choice: Watercourse Foods

Watercourse Foods
Danielle Lirette

Watercourse takes the guesswork out of vegan eating by offering an entirely meat- and dairy-free menu that completely bursts the stereotype of what the uninformed think plant-based food is all about. At breakfast, go for the loaded breakfast burrito stuffed with tempeh chorizo and covered in green chile or country gravy, or the Big Rig, a platter of country-fried seitan, scrambled tofu and a biscuit smothered in gravy. The comfort food continues at dinner with farfalle Alfredo, mac and cheese with bacon, nachos topped with cauliflower chorizo and cheddar cheese sauce, and the crowd-pleasing seitan buffalo wings with blue cheese.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of