Best Portable Taste of South America 2021 | Quiero Arepas | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Danielle Lirette

The arepa is the quintessential Venezuelan street food, a fluffy, corn-flour pocket stuffed with all manner of meats, beans, veggies and sauces. Quiero Arepas makes its arepas big, then wraps them in paper for a filling meal on the go. Lighter appetites should start with La Original, with avocado, plantains and black beans. But our favorite is the Pabellon, a classic in Venezuela made with juicy shredded beef, black beans, plantains and cheese. Other combos come with salmon, ham and cheese, chicken salad and Cuban-style fillings, to name just a few. Quiero Arepas can also be found at Avanti Food & Beverage in Boulder and LoHi.

Courtesy of Baba and Pop's

The homey pierogi got a modern makeover when Jeremy and Katherine Yurek opened their Polish eatery on a revitalized strip of East Colfax Avenue last year. The pierogi and other eats at Baba & Pop's are as comforting and satisfying as Grandma's best, but the ambience of the restaurant is a little hipper. Along with time-honored potato or sauerkraut versions, you'll find pierogi reimagined with chili relleno or pizza-style fillings, and there's even a pierogi poutine with housemade brown gravy. Cabbage rolls, kielbasa and sauerkraut soup further reinforce the Polish offering. At weekend brunch, things are a little less by-the-book, especially if you throw down $48 for the Buddy Mary, a 50-ounce Bloody Mary bristling with skewered fried chicken, sausage, bacon, cheese curds, pickled veggies and charred jalapeños. Baba and Pop would be shocked!

Mark Antonation

Ryan Fletter and Darrel Truett, the owner and chef of Barolo Grill, respectively, take care of their customers. That consideration starts from the moment you step up to the host station; if you've been more than once, you'll likely be greeted by name. Conversation begins almost immediately with your host, your server, your wine guide and often Fletter himself, who stops at every table to make sure diners are comfortable. The dedication continues into the kitchen, where Truett continues to innovate with the seasons rather than resting on Barolo's considerable reputation. The chef proves that Italian cuisine is as fluid and evolving as the wines aging in Fletter's cellar, and surprises await both in the bottle and on the plate.


Denver's neighborhood restaurants have been responsible for the invention of several dishes distinct to this town: the Mexican hamburger, the toro pot — and the Italian canoli. We're not talking about the dessert cannoli spelled with two n's, we're talking about the single-n savory canoli, a bready roll stuffed with Italian sausage or meatballs. Lechuga's, a Northside original, may not have invented the canoli, but it has perfected several variations as a prominent part of its menu. The most Denver of them all is the Little Devil, kicked up with a strip of roasted chile inside its golden-brown wrapper. You can get minis for just a couple of bucks apiece, super-sized versions or the Spanoli plate: two canoli smothered in sauce and sided with spaghetti or fat housemade noodles. The square-cut pizzas, baked pasta dishes and hot meatball sandwiches are also worth a visit. Holy canoli, it's all so good!

Mark Antonation

Fire is at the heart and soul of chef/owner Elise Wiggins's Italian restaurant in Central Park, so you'll get hints of smoke and char in everything from grilled oysters on the appetizer list to the cast-iron skillet pasticcio to mouthwatering steaks. Pizzas and flatbreads are baked in the wood-burning oven, too. From the right seat (which is nearly every seat in the house), you can watch the chefs ply their craft as the flames dance. And in the summer, you'll often see Wiggins and her team cooking up something good on the patio rotisserie.

Scott Lentz

Tucked into a quiet, brick-lined grotto off Larimer Square, Bistro Vendôme checks all the boxes for what French restaurants have come to represent: It feels like a secret you discovered while traveling, it comes complete with gilt window signs and cozy cafe seating, and it offers a menu of instantly recognizable French classics. The fact that all of those classics are well executed is important, too; no French eatery worth its sel de mer could earn its fleurs de lis without being able to turn out pitch-perfect duck confit, steak frites and buttery mussels and escargot every time. And that's exactly what you'll get at Bistro Vendôme.

Best French Restaurant to Pizzeria and Back Again

Brasserie Brixton

Justin Morse

When Brasserie Brixton opened in the Cole neighborhood last summer, it was one of the most exciting French restaurants to come along in quite some time. But as COVID-based restrictions made dining in the restaurant more difficult, founder Justin Morse realized the brasserie's menu wasn't suited for takeout or delivery. So he installed a wood-burning pizza oven and began turning out square pies under the name Le Brix Pizza, and the neighbors loved it. Once springtime arrived, Morse reopened the dining room and relaunched the eclectic French menu that comprises blood-sausage wontons as well as French onion soup, pork-belly gougères and mussels in broth. At Brasserie Brixton, it's great to be French again.

Danielle Lirette

When chef Alon Shaya opened Safta in 2018, he made us rethink hummus and falafel. No longer the stuff of cheap and satisfying college takeout meals, as executed at Safta, these dishes rise to the level they deserve in the canon of world cuisine. Shaya made us not only appreciate the standards, but introduced us to Israeli dishes rarely seen before in Denver. We murmured words like muhammara, lutenitsa and chermoula while appreciating generous drizzles of olive oil and hearth-baked pita so inflated they threatened to float away. Safta continues to impress with an ever-changing and seasonal lineup of small plates and family-sized dishes that somehow all stay grounded in a grandmother's simple style.

Mark Antonation

A refugee from Syria, Mohamad Alnouri came to the U.S. via Egypt a few years back, not knowing a word of English. Today, Alnouri is fluent in English and owns and operates his own restaurant at Mango House that offers the best Syrian food in the metro area. Alnouri whips up delicious hummus, baba ghanouj, falafel and other Levantine cuisine staples, all at excellent prices. And if that doesn't make you smile, Alnouri's sincere grin will.

10180 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora
Courtesy of Izakaya Den

Sushi Den's younger sibling and next-door neighbor rises above Old South Pearl Street with two stories of elegant and modern Japanese dining. In fact, the two eateries share a kitchen; accordingly, the sushi at Izakaya Den is on par with Sushi Den's, but you'll want to take a deeper dive into the menu to experience the true purpose of an izakaya — to tantalize with small plates while you also enjoy sake, Japanese whiskey, cocktails, wine and beer. Scallop risotto, grilled hamachi collar and Korean short ribs are good bets, as is the light sunomono salad plumped up with shrimp and snow crab. There are larger entrees, too, in case you prefer to settle into one plate rather than grazing. But no matter your choice, be sure to ask about the perfect sake to accompany it; the stories behind the bottles are nearly as enjoyable as what's inside.

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