The BOD squad: Giving birth--which I am supposed to do in about a month--can't be more strenous than trying to choose between the thousands of food and drink possibilities for Westword's annual Best of Denver issue, which hit the streets last week.

At the very least, it can't involve as much food. (It is, however, almost as profile-expanding as pregnancy). In the course of a seven-week period, my husband and I visited nearly 200 establishments--and that was just the final push after almost seven months of taste-testing. A typical day started at 10 a.m. with cinnamon rolls, then a breakfast burrito, a milkshake, a soft-shell crab, two different green chiles, dessert, a sandwich, three places' hot dogs and an espresso. Then we had lunch. The afternoon usually followed the same pattern, and the days invariably ended with the same meal: Pepto-Bismol. Our car started to smell like a restaurant dumpster; we threw leftovers in the backseat, and by the end of one of those 95-degree days, well, I'm sure you can imagine. The biggest headache: recommendations from readers and friends that must have been meant for the Worst of Denver.

Throughout the experience, several things struck me (fortunately, one was not my very patient husband, who, after the umpteenth time I forgot to call ahead for a restaurant's hours only to have us arrive three minutes after it closed, took over that task). One is that metro Denver is filled with good people trying very hard to put out a quality product. Another is that there are just too damn many Italian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants around here that serve mediocre food. I had a particularly difficult time nailing down a Best Chinese Restaurant. Most of the popular ones are hit-and-miss--I've had good meals at them, and I've had just as many bad meals. Once I got away from the well known, I found that every five-block neighborhood has at least two Chinese places, and a lot of them are cheap chop suey houses. And the ratio of taco barns and red-sauce joints is about the same. How do they stay in business? And why do diners settle for what they serve?

Particularly when there are some real finds out there. I nearly forgave every mediocre Italian meal I'd suffered through when I came upon Cafe Jordana at 11068 West Jewell Avenue, a real contender for Best Italian until it was edged out by Carmine's on Penn. Much more than just a red-sauce retread, Cafe Jordana is what smart eaters in Italy seek out for themselves: well-priced trattorias that know how to cook, not gouge their customers. The restaurant makes its own sauces and pastas fresh, mixing the best of the old and new worlds (they even have a selection of buffalo-filled dishes for the Denver in you). Also in Lakewood, the Golden Plate is an absurdly located (9880 West Girton Avenue) but wonderful Chinese establishment whose jellyfish dish seems to be just the tip of the stir-fry--I'm looking forward to several more visits to really delve into its extensive (and intriguing) menu.

In the meantime, it's back to the Stairmaster.