Best Interactive Menu 2022 | The Inventing Room | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

There's ordering from a menu, and then there's interacting with the menu — which is what Ian Kleinman's dessert bar is all about. Inspired by the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory film, the chef has incorporated a slew of science tricks to make ice cream freeze right before your eyes, candy dry out and become light as air, and liquid chocolate transform into edible modern art. All of this happens by using liquid nitrogen, compression and freeze-drying technology and applying the techniques to sugar. Here, a sweet is never just something you pick from a menu; rather, it's a full experience for the senses. Currently the shop is open by reservation only, and dates and times for the Inventing Room's "Sugar Science" demonstrations can be found online.

A great hotel restaurant not only serves guests of the venue, but it becomes a destination for local and visiting diners, as well. Such is the case with chef Paul C. Reilly's latest venture, Apple Blossom, which he runs with his sister, Aileen Reilly, and her wine-expert husband, J.P. Taylor Jr., in the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver. The restaurant is a culmination of chef de cuisine Russ Fox's work at the team's other spot, Coperta, as well as the recently shuttered Beast + Bottle. The food on the Apple Blossom menu is approachable but with an elevated twist, which is reflected in dishes such as the chicken-fried duck livers and handmade pasta laced with uni.

When you're bowling, sometimes French fries and a slice of frozen pizza will have to do. But at Holiday Lanes, a Lakewood bowling alley and billiard room since the '50s, the in-house Elbow Room offers not only the usual suspects, such as mozzarella sticks and onion rings, but also calzones, patty melts, country skillets and even weekend breakfast. Our favorite part of the lineup, however, is the Tex-Mex lineup. Crispy chiles rellenos, hearty green chile and chimichangas the size of Paul Bunyan's forearm are popular enough to bring in hungry visitors who have no intention of hitting pins. With a menu this deep, there's no way you can strike out.

Molly Martin

While green chile may rule in Denver, the Tex-Mex chili reigns supreme at Sam's #3, a local chain of diners with a pages-long menu of Greek, American and Mexican staples. The origins of Sam's date back almost a century, and while the original closed over fifty years ago, the Armatas family opened another downtown eatery on the same block in 2003, with additional outposts in Aurora and Glendale. All of them serve the Tex-Mex chili, a combo of Sam's pork green chile and its red, Coney-style chili, ladled in a cup or bowl over pinto beans, topped with cheese and diced onions, and served with a large, warm flour tortilla. Though green chile purists may bemoan this move, one bite and you'll understand the crossover appeal.

Molly Martin

El Taco de Mexico is a beloved institution that has been serving Mexican eats in Denver for 36 years, a fact that was honored in 2020 when it won a James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award. Much of that success can be attributed to its green chile, which stands out in a city saturated with the stuff. Fans flock here from breakfast through dinner for burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles all smothered in the deeply flavored, dark-greenish-brown-hued chile verde. A carnitas burrito blanketed in it is a must, but you should also get a large side order on its own, served up in a Styrofoam cup with or without pork, to stash away for a fix long after your burrito has been devoured.

Mark Antonation

While the traditional chile relleno is soft, decades ago Denver came up with a unique variation: the egg roll-style relleno. And you'll find the city's best example of that version at La Fiesta, which has perfected it during the sixty years that the Herrera family has run this spot in an old Safeway in Curtis Park. The relleno starts out with an Anaheim pepper stuffed with cheese — not Velveeta, we've been assured — and is then wrapped in a wonton wrapper, dried until the exterior is crisp and the interior molten, and finally smothered with a sense-searing green chile. It's delicious — and unique to this city, according to Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA. "In my travels across the U.S., the only place I've found them is in Denver," he says. "Next to the Mexican hamburger, Den-Mex at its finest." Of course, La Fiesta has a pretty good Mexican hamburger, too. Be aware that hours here are limited to weekday lunches, Fridays until 9 p.m., and Saturday evenings, when the restaurant resurrects its old supper/salsa club feel.

For 25 years, Pochitos has been a staple in Sunnyside. Not only does it make tortillas that are served in dozens of Denver eateries, but it's a destination for tamales. At Christmas, there's often a line out the door with people queueing up for this specialty, but you don't have to wait for the holidays to enjoy them. In fact, the smart move is to buy them by the dozen and keep them frozen for a quick and flavorful snack or meal anytime.

Known to regulars simply as El Tep, this Englewood staple has been serving the neighborhood since 1978. In 2015, the original location closed, with plans to reopen a few blocks farther south. Cravings grew nearly out of control as nearly two years passed before El Tep finally debuted in its new home, in a large space with colorful walls and tables, wooden chairs that bear the restaurant's name and piñatas strung from the ceiling. While it boasts some of the best green chile in town, the true can't-miss option here is the carnitas, served simply on a plate with rice, beans and a tortilla on the side. The slow-cooked pork studded with onions and peppers is crisped before serving, and is an exemplary take on the classic.

Chef Dana Rodriguez has worked magic again with her latest concept, the Mexican street taco joint Cantina Loca. It's a vibrant spot bursting with complex flavors, all packaged in bite-sized entrees and finger foods. Rodriguez, who brought us Work & Class and Super Mega Bien, opened Cantina Loca not only to deliver charcoal-tempura cactus and housemade chorizo tacos to the neighborhood, but also to showcase her fantastic mezcal and tequila. After all, what goes better with a succulent pork carnitas taco than a dram of smoky mezcal? On the less traditional side, don't pass up the doraditos, which are fried tacos stuffed with cheesy potatoes and lemon cabbage salad, then topped with a spicy avocado sauce.

Mark Antonation

The original location of La Fogata was opened by Danette Calhoun on East Evans Avenue back in 1990; a second spot was added in the Denver Tech Center in 2004. Both eateries are staples in their neighborhoods, and regulars are greeted warmly by longtime staff — and the house margarita. Made with a secret blend of juices that give it a pink hue and a more mellow lime flavor than most, this marg is everything a great margarita should be: strong, sippable and the perfect pairing for burritos, Mexican hamburgers and chiles rellenos.

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