Best Tacos
Mark Antonation

A grab bag of multiple cooking styles and regional influences seldom works — but that's not the case at La Calle. The little orange casa turns out delicious examples of cochinita pibil from Yucatán, tacos al pastor from Mexico City, and many other grilled, stewed and roasted meats. Our favorites are the Campechano (carnitas with soft pork skin), chivo (shredded goat) and cabeza (rich and fatty beef from the cow's head) tacos, but you can mix and match; just be sure to choose the best salsa from the salsa bar for each taco.

Best Tamales
Mark Antonation

You won't find steamy bags of tamales by the dozen at Kahlo's; instead, the Westwood restaurant serves a large, Oaxacan-style chicken tamal wrapped in banana leaf and napped in mole, or a pair of delicate tamales de elote bursting with the flavor of sweet corn and drizzled with salsa verde and crema fresca. Order them both for a taste of two distinct Mexican regions; the mole's the best in town, too, so you won't be sorry. Chef/owner Noe Bermudez also runs Tarasco's, at 470 South Federal Boulevard, where you can get the same great tamales in a smaller, more casual setting.

Best Sunday-Only Mexican Feast
Mark Antonation

El Borrego Negro isn't your typical hole-in-the-wall taqueria. In fact, it's little more than a hole in the ground. Chef Jose Avila founded the sheep barbacoa operation in late 2020 to bring the taste of real Mexican barbacoa de borrego to Denver. He acquired a flock of sheep that roam a farm in northern Colorado, built a brick-lined oven in the earth behind the RISE Westwood building on Morrison Road, and began sourcing maguey leaves, herbs and heirloom corn for his barbacoa and handmade tortillas. He cooks the whole sheep in the underground oven every Saturday night, along with an out-of-this-world consomé glistening with fat drippings, and serves the shredded meat every Sunday morning out of his X'Tabai Yucateco food trailer, along with nixtamal tortillas, salsas, a quart of the consomé and sides of onion, cilantro and lime. The whole setup feels like one of Denver's best-kept secrets, since there's no phone number, no menu and no website. You just pre-order through Instagram DM, or show up and take your chances — a big risk, because the barbacoa always sells out.

Best Den-Mex
Mark Antonation

While you could be forgiven for assuming that the sense-clearing green chile at La Fiesta could kill almost any virus, who could have predicted that the orange vinyl booths in a vast Safeway-turned-Mexican-food joint could seem so comforting, so safe, during the pandemic? For almost sixty years, this spot on the edge of downtown has been a lunchtime haven for everyone from cops to judges to neighborhood kids seeking big, cheesy plates of Mexican food, Denver style. But this past year, the Herrera family, who've run the Den-Mex eatery from the start, made La Fiesta seem particularly welcoming...and delicious. And thanks for adding Saturday hours!

Los Dos Potrillos Mexican Restaurant

The Ramirez family, which opened the first Los Dos Potrillos in Centennial two decades ago, has always been accommodating. But over the past year, the Ramirezes may have pivoted faster than any other restaurateurs around. When eateries across the state were ordered to cut off in-door dining in March 2020, the family quickly geared up their to-go systems to maximum efficiency, making sure the beers brewed at their Parker brewery were available, as were their big, strong margaritas; pick-up was fast and flawless. And once restaurants could reopen to indoor seating, Los Dos Potrillos pivoted again, adjusting to doing business in three counties in the metro area with different rules, always with a smile...and complete competence.

35 Springer Drive, Littleton 10065 West San Juan Way, Littleton 19340 Cottonwood Drive, Parker
Best Food Truck/Cart
Mark Antonation

You know you're from Denver when...you don't bat an eye at a Vietnamese-Mexican food truck sporting a big blue bear wearing a gold crown at a rakish angle like Biggie Smalls. The blue bear is an iconic symbol of Denver, the word "Rapidos" a familiar one to west-side residents in need of a late-night taco fix: The smell of pho in that part of town is as common as the whiff of Greeley on a brisk winter night before a snow. Combine them all and you have Pho King Rapidos, launched last year by Long Nguyen and Shauna Seaman as a "Vietnamese-ish" food truck turning out killer bun bo Hue and pho, but also mashing up street food in the form of a birria bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew) banh mi — a cheese-encrusted sandwich that comes with broth for dipping and al pastor fries. Nguyen grew up around Federal Boulevard but has worked in fine dining in New York and Denver; the combination of street cred and culinary chops makes Pho King Rapidos a B.I.G. deal.

pkr-denver.com
Best Ice Cream/GelatoShop
Mark Antonation

When Curt Peterson opened Smith + Canon, his ice cream shop at the corner of York and Colfax, in 2019, he had a near-instant hit on his hands, thanks to a small but dazzling array of flavors that hold something for everyone. Purists will enjoy the bold simplicity of the vanilla or chocolate, both made in an eggless base. Grounded blends such as the peanut butter cup, the Foxy Brown (the house specialty, made with cream cheese and cinnamon) and the butter brickle turn up the volume without getting too wild. And then there are unique flavors like Strawbanero (strawberry and habanero), Dew Sabi (honeydew and wasabi) and El Chupacabra (chocolate and chiles), which blow the mind even as they tantalize the tastebuds. Grab a scoop or two — or a tub to take with you — along with the shop's house coffee beans (roasted by Whiskey Barrel Coffee) for a hot and cold combo at home.

Best Sandwich Shop
Mark Antonation

Did chef Tim Dotson invent a new sandwich when he rolled up fillings in springy focaccia and wrapped them tightly in butcher paper? Certainly focaccia sandwiches aren't new, but the Dimeroll, as it's called at Dimestore Delibar, certainly eats like something new, since the fillings form a central core of meaty, saucy goodness, while the outer layer of focaccia adds a texture distinct from standard hoagie buns. The result: craveable creations packed with meatloaf, Italian deli meats, smoked chicken salad or Cubano ingredients (slow-cooked pork, housemade ham, pickles, mustard and cheese) made just a little Hawaiian with the addition of pineapple sauce. More than just a sandwich shop, Dimestore also shakes up some wicked cocktails and even stocks a few groceries and sundries as a neighborhood bodega.

Best Sandwich Shop With a Mission

Open

Best Sandwich Shop With a Mission
Courtesy of Jake Reiderer

What's Open? Once you realize that Open is the name of the sandwich shop inside American Bonded, and once you try the sandwiches, you'll be checking all the time to see if Open is open. Jake Reiderer and chef Jonathan Chavez solicited sandwich recipes from some of Denver's top chefs and put them all on the menu at once, chipping in a dollar of each sandwich sold to food-based nonprofit Project Angel Heart. So you can grab a chicken karaage sandwich by Jeff Osaka of Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama, a cochinita pibil torta from Dana Rodriguez of Super Mega Bien and Work & Class, a meatloaf-and-collard-green number from Tap & Burger's Cliff Blauvelt, or a chile relleno cemita from Chavez himself, among others. Hang out at American Bonded over drinks and sandwiches, or order for takeout or delivery. You'll feel good about it in more ways than one.

Best Sandwich Shop Without a Sandwich Shop

Pirate Alley Po'Boys

Best Sandwich Shop Without a Sandwich Shop
Mark Antonation

Pirate Alley is one of Denver's best-kept sandwich secrets. There's no dining room, no order counter, no sign other than a sidewalk chalkboard. Chef Kyle Foster closed his Southern eatery, Julep, late last year, but he moved the sandwich side of the business into the kitchen of Stir Cooking School, owned by his wife, Katy. The stars are a fried shrimp po'boy and a roast beef debris po'boy, both dressed and messy in classic New Orleans fashion. You can also go Surf & Turf with shrimp and beef, or keep an eye out for seasonal specials like a killer soft-shell crab sandwich. Order online and then pick up the goods at the door in the actual alley behind the cooking school. But don't keep it a secret — tell all your friends, and their friends, too!

3215 Zuni Street (at Stir Cooking School)

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