Best Sunken Bar
Molly Martin

Inside a building shaped like a castle (no surprise there) is one of the friendliest bars in metro Denver, a sunken square presided over by tattooed staffers and surrounded by captain's chairs, with high-tops and cozy booths circling the action. The vibe is relaxing and unpretentious, as are the patrons. Snag a 20-ounce personalized mug for $20, good for a lifetime of 20-ounce pours for 16-ounce prices (enjoy them at the sunken bar), and settle in for the night. The fare is simple but tasty, with budget food specials such as 75-cent wings every Thursday and buy-one-get-one-half-off burgers (among the best in town) on Tuesdays. With karaoke, bingo, trivia and chatty regulars of all stripes, you'll never be bored when you storm the Castle.

Dew Drop Inn
Molly Martin

Although it only opened in May 2021, the Dew Drop Inn already feels like a longtime neighborhood mainstay. That's because it comes from a team of longtime bar pros — the same women behind such staples as the Horseshoe Tavern and Embassy Tavern, among others. On cold days, the inside is a lively yet cozy respite from the snow; a large patio out front is ideal for summer sipping. Cocktails range from classics to new creations, there are two happy hours daily, and you can get a beer-and-shot combo for $8 anytime. All that is bolstered by the food from Fush, a man who worked at the iconic Falling Rock Tap House for 22 years until it closed. Here he's getting the chance to let his culinary talents shine with big bowls of mussels in spicy red curry, poutine with house-smoked pork, crispy Japanese-style fried chicken and much more.

If you're planning a night of bar- and restaurant-hopping, you don't need to wear your hiking boots for this crawl. Start off at Fish N Beer for happy hour, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and whet your appetite with raw and chargrilled oysters and a beer-and-shot combo — best enjoyed at a counter seat in front of the wood-fired stove. Then head next door to Hop Alley (you'll want to make a reservation) for some of the best Chinese food in the city from Uncle owner Tommy Lee: Don't skip the la zi ji and bone-marrow fried rice. Afterward, full and buzzed off booze and Szechuan peppercorns, saunter across Larimer for late-night drinks at the Embassy Tavern, where you can soak in the success of the night on the back patio.

Misfit Snackbar
Molly Martin

We first got to know chef Bo Porytko's rebellious take on food at Rebel, which shuttered in 2018. But Porytko made a comeback in 2019 when he took over the kitchen at Middleman. Instead of serving up typical bar snacks, though, Misfit pushes the bounds of culinary creativity — and you never know what you're going to find on the menu (except for the signature burger, which is one of the best in town). From a tempura-fried whole head of broccoli that looks more like a turkey leg than a veggie dish to duck and foie gras fried dumplings and andouille sausage Scotch eggs, we'll eat whatever Porytko is cooking.

Best Restaurateur
From the Hip Photo

More than a (very talented) chef and (successful, well-liked) business owner, Caroline Glover emerged as an inspirational, honest industry leader over the course of the pandemic. Never shying away from sharing her struggles, fears or wins, Glover took a totally transparent look at the reality of pivoting, from figuring out the logistics of curbside pick-up to building greenhouses on Annette's patio to choosing to cut brunch service in order to improve the quality of life for herself and her staff. Plus, her pastries are the stuff of sweet dreams, her burger on a housemade English muffin is fast becoming one of the city's most iconic foods, and she has a flair for making perfect deviled eggs and pork cutlets.

When restaurateur Delores Tronco returned to Denver from New York City to open the Greenwich, a restaurant inspired by NYC with homages to the city filling the space, she brought along chef Justin Freeman. He, in turn, brought years of cooking experience — and his wife, infant son and sourdough starter, which he held between his knees while he drove to keep it safe. He uses that starter in the dough for the Greenwich's stellar pizzas, which are topped smartly with combos like Colorado lamb meatballs and honey labneh. Then there are the heaping plates of perfectly roasted chicken, and the freshly baked bread, and the elevated takes on simple veggie dishes like creamed spinach with brown-butter hazelnuts and fresh horseradish. This is supremely shareable food that is supremely executed; we hope Freeman keeps cooking it for Denver for a long time to come.

La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal
Molly Martin

We may live in a taco-saturated city, but it's impossible to beat Jose Avila's dedication to traditional Mexican dishes and cooking techniques that are uncommon in Denver. He's a 2022 James Beard Award finalist in the Best Chef, Mountain division for his Sunday-only series, El Borrego Negro, in which he cooks sheep barbacoa Hidalgo-style, in an hoyo (an outdoor pit oven). But you don't have to wait until Sunday to get a taste of Avila's talent thanks to La Diabla, which he opened in June 2021. It's Colorado's first pozoleria, where you can get huge bowls of the soup in four varieties (blanco, negro, verde and rojo). But pozole is just the start. Here you can also find specialties like relleno negro (turkey cooked in a black sauce), costras (meat wrapped in griddled cheese), pambazos (sandwiches dipped in guajillo chile sauce) and much more. And if you see a rotating stack of slowly roasting meat on a trompo outside of the restaurant, you know the first thing you must order.

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