Best Sushi
Courtesy of Sushi Den

Denver has very few restaurants that have hit 35 years and are still on the upswing, but Sushi Den's commitment to the freshest seafood and the most exacting standards have kept it at the top of its game for years. And the restaurant, owned by brothers Toshi and Yasu Kizaki, continues to innovate by looking to Japan's culinary history as well as its current trends. That's why it seems that there's always something new on the menu — though even those items adhere to a simple and clean aesthetic that lets the ingredients speak for themselves. The best fish from the icy waters surrounding Japan as well as from well-maintained fisheries around the world turn up here daily, making Sushi Den quite a catch for landlocked Colorado.

New bars were few and far between in 2020, given the strict COVID-based rules on serving food (always), closing early (frequently) and drinking at an actual bar (never). But in the Central Park neighborhood, a latecomer named Dirty Laundry made its debut just in time to go full-on takeout with booze, and then somehow managed to hang on through the winter until customers could sit inside. Dirty Laundry isn't fancy, but it has all the things you need for a successful bar: lots of drinks, a little grub and some Wisconsin stuff — because everyone knows Wisconsin bars are the best kind. Connoisseurs will find enough artisan spirits and craft beers to suit their needs, and the cocktails include some eyebrow-raising ingredients. But this is really a simple neighborhood watering hole at heart, so you can nosh on Buffalo chicken dip, cheese curds and soft pretzels while downing $5 pours of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, because, yeah, there's some Michigan stuff here, too.

Best Happy Hour
Danielle Lirette

Señor Bear's dinner menu spans several Latin American countries, and the happy-hour slate does, too — but with entirely different dishes created to inspire smiles and whimsy. Part of what makes the pre-dinner snack and drink specials here such a find is that nothing is just a tossed-off reject from dinner or a filler made from cheap ingredients. The Gordo Crunch is a little miracle inspired by Mexican-American fast food, a soft tortilla layered on a crunchy one and filled with mild chorizo, cheese, lettuce and special sauce. There are also plates of chicharrones, bowls of guacamole, mini servings of oozy queso with toasted chile oil, and even a seafood (for happy hour? Outrageous!) tostada. Drinks come priced for multiple rounds, too, so don't come by car unless someone else is driving.

Best House Margarita
Danielle Lirette

The Tommy's house margarita at Dos Santos gets people in the door, and it keeps those people coming back. One glance around the patio or through the glass doors at all the guests with margs in hand is enough to stop passersby in their tracks. True to an ideal house marg, this one is simple and addictive, made with nothing more than Arette blanco tequila, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. The price is right, and the balance of sweet and tangy is the perfect accompaniment for happy hour bites or tacos all night.

Best Dive Bar
Eric Gruneisen

If there were a love song to the Nob Hill Inn, it would be played on a steel guitar. The song would have some twang to it, and it would be sad and satisfying and honest. But last year, it was almost silenced. The Nob Hill Inn has been a drinker's paradise for more than seventy years — serving everyone from Bob Dylan to politicos who used to make deals over the phone in corner booths — but this classic, down-and-dirty watering hole on Colfax almost dried up entirely during the pandemic. Without a kitchen or passable alternative, the place closed for months while it sold pizza and to-go drinks out of the back door and regulars hosted fundraisers. "We've had hard times before," said John Plessinger, whose father bought the Nob in 1969 and put it in his name. "But nothing like this." Still, Denver's best dive bar survived, and today the Nob Hill Inn is again pouring drinks at its horseshoe-shaped bar.

Best Wine Bar
Mark Antonation

You know you're getting something good when Frasca Food & Wine co-owner Bobby Stuckey opens a wine bar. Not only has Stuckey earned the highest ranking from the Court of Master Sommeliers, but he's also part owner of a winery in Italy. The restaurateur is also an audiophile, and at Sunday Vinyl, his wine bar by Union Station, you can find his love of both wine and vintage records on display. The sound system is as high-end as many of the bottles in the cellar, and there's good food to accompany both, making this a destination on its own and not merely a parking spot for customers awaiting a table at Stuckey's other project, Tavernetta, right next door.

Best Italian Winery in Denver
Courtesy of Attimo

Colorado has its own vineyard and wineries, mostly on the Western Slope, but when Snooze co-founder Jon Schlegel decided to plunge into the world of wine, he looked abroad, and ended up living in Italy to learn the business. As a result, all the wines at his year-old winery in the Ballpark neighborhood start with grapes from the rolling hillsides of Italy. They're crushed there, too, before the liquid is shipped to Denver for resting, blending and aging. So when you enjoy a glass or a bottle at the winery, you're drinking Barolos, Nebbiolos, Barbarescos and other wines made according to Italian tradition and with 100 percent Italian ingredients.

Best Winery for Dog Lovers
Mark Antonation

Chad and Marla Yetka named their urban winery after their first precious pooch, Bigsby the golden retriever. His image can be found — with pipe, top hat and tie — on the winery's bottles, above the bar and on the sign gracing the venerable brick building facing the light rail line in RiNo. Bigsby is long gone, but you can hang out with other pups on the patios at Bigsby's Folly or just bring your own, provided your pet follows in the footsteps of that perfect gentle-dog namesake. The wines, made from California-sourced grapes, are worthy of praise, too. And with a full food menu, Bigsby's is a great destination whether you're just in for a few sips or looking for dinner, drinks and celebrations. RiNo is going to the dogs, and that's a good thing.

Haykin Family Cider
Mark Antonation

Ashmead's Kernel, Dabinett, Porter's Perfection and Ruby Jon. Are these racehorses getting ready for the Kentucky Derby, or canine Best of Show winners? No, they're just a few of the many apple varieties — some of which are grown and harvested in Colorado — that Talia and Daniel Haykin use to make sparkling ciders that rival wine in complexity, aroma and food-friendly balance. You can find Haykin ciders at some of Denver's finest restaurants (a testament to their quality), on liquor store shelves and at the Aurora cidery, making it easy to pair them with your own culinary creations at home.

Laws Whiskey House
Danielle Lirette

Whiskey doesn't get much more Colorado than Laws. The distillery works with specific farmers in the San Luis Valley and on the eastern plains to source corn, rye, wheat and barley for its lineup of spirits. Those heirloom grains give the whiskeys (all Laws makes) a distinct terroir, bolstered by years in oak barrels. Laws was the first distillery in Colorado to produce a "bottled in bond" bourbon, meeting strict criteria for ingredients, age and provenance, and the attention to detail shows in each rich and complex sip.

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