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Best Of 2021


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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Ramen
Ramen Star
Mark Antonation

Takashi Tamai is more than a ramen chef; he's an artist who works with noodles and broth. Before opening his own spot two years ago, the chef/owner of Ramen Star invested in an elaborate machine that he uses to make fresh noodles daily. Those noodles go into tonkotsu, miso, shoyu, kimchi and veggie broths, all of which come with housemade toppings such as chashu pork, soy-marinated eggs and crisped dumplings labeled "potato pierogi" on the menu. Once you've spooned up every bite, you'll want to tip the bowl to your lips to get every last drop.

4044 Tejon St., Denver, 80211
Best Breakfast
Eat! Food & Drink
Eat! Food & Drink

This Broomfield breakfast joint's name doubles as a command — and you'll want to oblige once you make the difficult decision of what to order. Upside-down pineapple pancakes, fresh-baked apple fritters and monster cinnamon rolls beckon from the sweet side, while country-fried steak (with traditional gravy or Colorado green chile), loaded scrambles and biscuits that Eat! Food & Drink calls "shockingly good" (we wholeheartedly agree) call out on the savory side. A whole roster of Bloody Mary variations as well as other classic and creative breakfast drinks make a weekend visit a must, though it works for a fast weekday breakfast, too. Go!

520 Zang St., Broomfield, 80021
Best Brunch
The Bindery Critics' Pick
The Bindery
Danielle Lirette

Brunch rises far above a simple weekend breakfast. The relaxed and (ideally) decadent meal is a chance to sample both sweet and savory delights while alternating between coffee and cocktails. And there's no better place to enjoy a definitive brunch than the open, airy dining room or breezy patio at the Bindery, chef Linda Hampsten Fox's LoHi eatery, where each dish is conceived almost as a poem and the menu reads like an autobiography of the chef's journey through childhood memories and international destinations. Taste your way through Polish family meals, the hillsides of Italy and coastal Mexico while remaining grounded in Colorado ingredients and hospitality.

1817 Central St., Denver, 80211
Best Bottomless Brunch Deal
The Lobby
Mark Antonation

There's no need to wait for the weekends to enjoy a bottomless brunch deal, and no reason to enjoy it in a less-than-ideal setting. The Lobby, which occupies the circa 1891 Paris Hotel on the edge of downtown, offers "endlessly refreshing" bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys from open until 3 p.m. on weekdays, and on Saturdays and Sundays until two hours after your reservation (wise people at the Lobby). Bottomless OJ mimosas are $16 and bottomless kombucha mimosas are $18, as are bottomless Bloodies...and after a couple hours drinking at the Lobby, your possibilities seem endless. Particularly if you shell out an extra $4 and snag one last 22-ounce refill to go.

2191 Arapahoe St., Denver, 80205
Best Diner
Pete's Kitchen
Danielle Lirette

The pancake-flipping neon chef above Pete's Kitchen has been a beacon on East Colfax for decades, welcoming customers into the bustling diner owned by the Contos family since 1988 — and bearing the name of patriarch Pete Contos. Whether you're stopping for a gyros omelet, a burrito smothered in green chile or just a burger and fries, you'll get the same consistent and satisfying grub day in and day out. The namesake of the diner passed away in 2019, but his spirit lives on, watching over Pete's Kitchen, the family members who run the spot, and the people of Contos's Colfax kingdom.

1962 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80206
Best Diner Makeover
McCoy's Restaurant
Mark Antonation

Chef Robert Holloway purchased McCoy's in 2007, at which point the restaurant had already been open for nineteen years. And another thirteen years passed before Holloway decided that the all-night diner needed a major overhaul. So he closed the place down to renovate the kitchen and dining room and reopened in spring 2020, just weeks before COVID restrictions shut things down again. But the eatery was looking spiffy, and Holloway was able to show off the renovations to new customers — although at limited capacity and reduced hours — as restrictions eased. McCoy's still isn't back to 24/7 service, but even the current hours are a blessing for the diner's many regulars.

4855 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80221
Best Diner With a Walk-Up Window
Chef Zorba's
Chef Zorba's

For more than fifty years, Chef Zorba's has served satisfying Greek and American diner food in Congress Park, offering good value to customers who sometimes come in daily. In 2020, owner Karen LuKanic closed up shop for a few days and remodeled, reopening in the fall with a new walk-up window off the front patio for customers who wanted to enjoy their favorites in the comfort of their own homes. So now you can pre-order the gyro wraps and melts, the avgolemono (chicken, lemon and rice soup), and the breakfast-all-day selections, then pick them up while enjoying the fresh air of the tree-lined neighborhood.

2626 E. 12th Ave., Denver, 80206
Best Permanent Pop-Up
Misfit Snackbar (Inside Middleman)
Misfit Snackbar

Chef Bo Porytko took over the kitchen at Middleman in late 2019 to bolster the cocktail menu with a few "snacks." But leave it to this chef — who was previously half of Rebel Restaurant — to turn bar snacks into a wide and wild array of unique and tempting creations fit for a multi-course tasting dinner. And when Porytko's not cooking up things like andouille Scotch eggs with crawfish étouffée or burnt leek chawanmushi with crab salad, he's bringing in his chef friends for pop-ups at his pop-up. The inspiration for the dishes comes from typical bar-room popcorn, chips and dip, burgers and chicken sandwiches (all reimagained, of course), but there are also Korean, Japanese, Italian, French and even Ukrainian touches in both small and large plates. Snacks will never be the same again.

3401 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80204
Best Doughnuts
Wake & Bake
Mark Antonation

What better way to repurpose a former Winchell's building than by turning it into...another doughnut shop? Veteran doughnut baker Juan Lopez bought the Winchell's franchise in 2019 with the understanding that he'd be converting it into an independent bakery the next year. In July 2020, he officially launched Wake & Bake with his own recipes, turning out a variety of classic, workingman's doughnuts morning, noon and night. You'll find a few nods to modern trends (some Oreo crumbles here, some bacon there), but old favorites like the buttermilk bars, raised maple doughnuts and cinnamon crumb cake doughnuts are so good, they taste like a revelation.

1301 S. Broadway, Denver, 80210
Best Pandemic Doughnuts
Pandemic Donuts
Tori Buehner

Maybe naming your doughnut business after a worldwide airborne disease is a little irreverent, but Pandemic Donuts was born of the difficult times created by COVID-19 and the ensuing restaurant restrictions. Gabrielle Henning and Michael Milton were laid off from their restaurant-industry jobs when the pandemic hit in March 2020, so they turned to doughnuts cooked up in their cottage-industry kitchen to make ends meet. And the doughnuts, so light and airy that you can eat several, were so good that the two couldn't keep up with demand. Now they have their own brick-and-mortar bakery inside Queen City Collective Coffee in Five Points, and the doughnuts are flying out the door. This business is ready to keep rolling after the pandemic finally ends.

2962 Welton St., Denver, 80205
Best Mochi Doughnut Shop
Third Culture Bakery
Mark Antonation

Mochi is a traditional Japanese paste made from pounded rice or rice flour. You can eat it plain or as a wrapper around a sweet center — or you can visit Third Culture and try the toothsome mochi muffins and doughnuts sold by co-owners Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu. All of the shop's flavors are made from scratch using fresh ingredients such as black sesame seeds, lychee, mango, matcha green tea and purple ube yams. Don't leave without an iced matcha latte to complete the collision of Japanese and Southeast Asian tastes and cultures.

9935 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora, 80010
Best New Coffeehouse
Cabrona Coffee
Courtesy of Cabrona Coffee

During the pandemic, Monica Villalobos had to shift gears on her plans to open a standalone coffeehouse, and instead launched Cabrona Coffee inside Cultura Craft Chocolate, joining the RISE Westwood collective and providing distinctive Mexican drinks alongside the chocolate being made by Damaris Ronkanen. In addition to the standard lineup of cappuccinos, lattes and other espresso drinks, Cabrona offers café de olla, Mexican coffee steeped with cinnamon, piloncillo sugar and other spices to create a warming, comforting drink perfect for sun-drenched Colorado mornings. Villalobos also makes her own horchata from scratch as well as Mexican cocoa, cajeta lattes and a sweet and nutty mazapan latte created with De La Rosa mazapan, a childhood favorite of many Westwood residents.

3742 Morrison Rd., Denver, 80219

Best Ramen: Ramen Star

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