Best House Margarita 2023 | La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin

Now a two-time James Beard Award nominee, chef Jose Avila opened La Diabla in 2021 with a focus on pozole and mezcal. Besides hosting a killer happy hour, Tuesday street taco deals and two-for-one pozole on Thursdays, this eatery is also slinging some of the best agave spirit-based drinks in town. Its house margarita is simple perfection, made with only agave syrup, citrus and tequila (you can also sub in mezcal for a smoky note). At $6 each during happy hour, it's tempting to spend an entire afternoon knocking back these libations.

Courtesy Santo Boulder Facebook page

It's rare that something as ubiquitous as chips and salsa ignites excitement, but chef Hosea Rosenberg's ode to his northern New Mexican roots, Santo, serves a version that's like no other. The eatery gets blue-corn tortillas from a Denver-based company called Garcia's and fries them in-house to make the chips, which gives the finished product a teal-like hue. Paired with Santo's salsas, which come in a trio of options — including sweet smoked pineapple, tomatillo-based verde and salsa Mexicana made with roasted tomatoes — this starter is no afterthought.

Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos

Order this dish and you may not be the most popular person at this longtime Mexican joint with a huge menu, but you'll be so pleased with the Higado Encebollado ($14.95) that you can afford to lose a few friends. Here a big slab of liver is fried with not just onions, but jalapeños, which cut nicely through the iron-rich meat when chopped up and served alongside beans and rice. Mix in some sense-searing green chile, and you've got an indulgent meal that just has to be good for you.

Taco House is a Colorado institution that has specialized in old-school Tex-Mex since 1958. Its three remaining locations, in Denver, Littleton and Lakewood, haven't changed their recipes for six decades, so the appeal is partly nostalgia-based. But Taco House is also a straight-up good deal, where a good meal can still be had for just a few bucks. Our favorite: two cheese enchiladas, which ring up at $4.80. At that price, you can afford to splurge, so add a lettuce-and-cheese topping for $1.50 or a blanket of red or green chile for just $1.25.


In 2022, chef Caroline Glover took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mountain for her six-year-old Stanley Marketplace eatery. While dinner at Annette can get pricey, depending on how many of the shareable plates you pick, its happy hour is designed to offer indulgence on a budget. Available from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (yes, you can get these deals on weekends, too) and all day on Tuesday, the specials include $25 bottles of wine, $10 classic cocktails — including a stellar martini — and food deals like $1 off oysters, excellent egg salad on toast for $10, and the real star: steak frites with grilled onion butter, peas and pickled shallots for $26. That makes us very happy, indeed.

Molly Martin

Drink gritty, not pretty. Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. That makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar, thanks to the neon sign outside — something to celebrate, if perhaps with a penicillin chaser. For more than a century, this spot has held down the corner of Champa and 21st streets, serving drinks to an assortment of regulars, would-be great American novelists, hipsters, transients and rockers (during the Eisenhower era, it reportedly served something else in the game room, then a whorehouse); today the entertainment focuses more on endless inebriated conversations, though the illicit live music could make a fully licensed comeback. The drinks are stiff, the bathrooms awful, and the atmosphere beyond compare. Leave the credit cards at home; this place is strictly cash and carry on.

Scott Lentz

For close to fifty years, tipplers have gathered at the Lakeview Lounge on the last day of Daylight Saving Time to toast the sun as it rises over Sloan's Lake shortly after the place opens at 7 a.m. From the well-worn bar, they have a great view of Denver — and just how much Denver is changing. Cranes mark the downtown skyline to the east; development is exploding to the south. We have seen the future, and it's enough to drive us to drink. Fortunately, the Lakeview is there to serve.

Sunday Vinyl

When it comes to hospitality and wine, no one does it better than master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and the team at Frasca Hospitality Group. Inspired by the tradition of European wine bars, Sunday Vinyl offers accessible vino for all, from casual sippers to true aficionados. Sure, you can splurge on pricey bottles here, but you can also enjoy an $8 glass during happy hour; the knowledgeable and friendly staff will help guide you to new flavor profiles without the slightest hint of condescension. As reflected in the name, the chic eatery also has an extensive vinyl collection, along with an impressive sound system; both are best experienced every Wednesday, aka Flight Night, when Sunday Vinyl presents a curated wine list paired with great tunes. The food is a draw in itself, and new chef David Zboray is set to debut an even more expansive and approachable menu this year.

Talnua Distillery/Instagram

Meagan and Patrick Miller were inspired to open what became America's first single pot whiskey distillery, Talnua in Arvada, while on their honeymoon in Ireland. At the distillery's tasting room, spirits are highlighted in a collection of reimagined takes on the classic Old Fashioned, with such options as the Elvis, in which whiskey is infused with plantains and peanut butter that has been fat-washed with bacon; the Wasabi Tsunami, made with wasabi popcorn-infused gin; and the Lemon Espress Old Fashioned, which combines Hunter Bay Moose Drool coffee and lemon oleo.

Courtesy Golden Moon

When Stephen Gould and Karen Knight launched Golden Moon Distillery in early 2008, the husband-and-wife team started small. Fast-forward fifteen years, and the pair has expanded its spirit offerings and added a speakeasy in downtown Golden that works as both a trendy bar and a tasting room for the distillery's vast portfolio. Many of the spirits are made using historical recipes and techniques, thanks to Gould's collection of rare books on distillation and concoctions, some dating back to the 1500s. Taste the dedication by sipping drams of REDUX Absinthe, Amer dit Picon and Ex Gratia Génépi. The lineup of whiskeys is just as delightful, and Golden Moon's gin is one of the best in its category.

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