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FOOD & DRINK

part 4 of 4

Best Dessert Fondue
La Bonne Soupe
Writer Square

The word fondue is French for melted, which doesn't even begin to describe what La Bonne Soupe does to good-quality Swiss chocolate once it starts adding the Cognac and honey. The rich, sweet brew arrives in a big pewter crock suspended over a flame and surrounded by sliced bananas, strawberries and cubes of the restaurant's incredible lemon poppyseed cake. Dip it all in there--watch out for your tie--and get a glimpse of nirvana. Now think about that fondue set you received for a wedding present twenty years ago. Getting any ideas?

Best Chocolate Cake
Rocky Mountain Diner
800 18th St.

If you eat your cake first and save the frosting for last, you'll have a lot to look forward to after dinner at the Diner. Adorned with walnuts and presented as more of a slab than a slice, the five-layer offering made on the Rocky Mountain Diner's premises can easily feed two--and best of all, it's topped off with a two-inch-thick coat of butter-cream frosting sure to strike mortal fear into calorie-counters. Not to worry. At a mere $2.95 per serving, you'll have plenty left over for your Weight Watchers dues.

Best Brownies
Racine's
850 Bannock St.

Racine's takes an everyday indulgence and moves it to a higher plane. Using such ingredients as white chocolate and raspberries, coconut and cream or peanut butter and chocolate chips, the in-house bakery pumps out five or six kinds of brownies daily. When the kids feel neglected or you've been bad and need to make amends, stop by Racine's and pick up a few big blocks of bliss. All is quickly forgiven.

Best Carrot Cake
Star Market Deli
2357 E. Evans Ave.

What's up, Doc? If carrots make you smarter, the cook here must have eaten a whole truckload, because for twenty years the Star Market has been baking the moistest carrot cake around. Head straight for the back deli bin, where you'll find fat squares of it for a buck. Leave it in your fridge or out on the counter for a week--it'll still taste fresh.

Best Cheesecake
Romano's Cheesecake
1842 S. Parker Rd.

Smile and say cheese. That's what you'll do at Romano's, where the town's creamiest, densest, lightest, fluffiest, cheesiest cheesecake is made. Although we keep coming back for the Bailey's Irish Cream and Black Forest models, the plain is anything but. Randy and Linda Romano usually have about ten types available by the slice for those mild cravings, and whole cakes of five or six flavors; they'll also bake to order (call the day before) from a far more extensive list.

Best Desserts
Pour La France!
730 S. University Blvd.
1001 Pearl St., Boulder

This bistro serves an internationally inspired menu noted for its emphasis on light fare with sauces made from vinaigrettes instead of butter and cream. But Pour La France! also boasts quite a dessert selection for which no ingredient is too rich or sinful. No fewer than twelve ways to blow your diet are made fresh daily, with such tempting titles as brownie cheesecake, lemon Charlotte, chocolate truffle cake and kiwi tart. The kitchen also puts out a heavenly baklava cheesecake and plenty of pastries filled with all sorts of mousses. Readers' choice: Strings

Best Dessert
Chocolate Truffle
Zenith American Grill
1750 Lawrence St.

Executive chef Kevin Taylor has proven his talents time and time again on everything from soups to appetizers to entrees. With dessert, though, he shows that his mastery of complex combinations is second to none. The warm chocolate goo housed inside delicate sheaves of phyllo and served with pistachio custard sauce makes for the kind of stomach sensations normally only associated with love at first sight. This dessert takes fifteen minutes to come out of the kitchen, but you can prepare yourself by jogging around the parking garage.

Best Chips and Salsa
Las Brisas
6787 S. Clinton St., Englewood

Although Las Brisas' chips are the standard just-fried, corn-tortilla type, the salsa makes this duo something special. Always fresh, the pureed-to-chunky combination of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, scallions, a touch of garlic and (not too much) cilantro is a dipping delight.

Best Red Chile
Curtis Park Creamery
908 30th Ave.

Given the neighborhood, your senses are already tingling before you step inside the Creamery, a tiny combination market/kitchen at the edge of Curtis Park. Now add to the rush with an order of the chile--over a taco, a homemade tamale or just on its own. A tastebud-singeing blend of chiles, onions, garlic and assorted other spices, its mere memory has us still seeing red.

Readers' choice: Benny's Cantina

Best Green Chile
Mexico City Lounge
2115 Larimer St.

More like a stew than a sauce, Mexico City's verde is a quivering mass of green chiles (blessedly mild on the jalapenos), tons of pork and extra onions and garlic. What it isn't: filled with cilantro, cumin or grease, the terrible trio that can bring down an otherwise good bowl of green. There are those who would prefer more heat, but this flavor can't be beat.

Readers' choice: Chubby's

Best Gringo Green Chile
Mr. Steak's Firegrill
7685 E. Arapahoe Rd., Englewood

Just because you don't crave heat is no reason to strike up the bland. Try Mr. Steak's Firegrill green instead. It's a sophisticated, soupy mixture of red and green chile peppers, tomatoes, a beef-stock base and the right balance of spices, with a particularly welcome hint of cumin. And while you're at this rodeo of a restaurant, you can also rustle up a top-quality steak.

Best Sinus-Clearing Green Chile
La Cueva
9742 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora

People who love this green chile also think it would be fun to douse a sword in starter fluid, set it aflame and then swallow it. We're talking hot, the kind of heat that raises your blood pressure and gives you that all-over just-came-from-the-gym sheen. The cumulative heat is so great, in fact, that we've held contests to see if someone can actually finish a whole bowl. But La Cueva doesn't completely sacrifice good taste. Under all the chile, there's actually an underlying layer of garlic and cumin. Trust us.

Best Soft Chile Relleno
RosaLinda Mexican Cafe
2005 W. 33rd Ave.

Of all the Aguirre family's exceptional dishes, we keep coming back for the chile rellenos. A monster-size chile is stuffed with Muenster cheese, coated with an eggy batter, quickly cooked and then smothered in potent green chile. Spoon on some salsa if you really want to feel the burn.

Readers' choice: Juanita's

Best Crispy Chile Relleno
La Fiesta Supper Club
2340 Champa St.

La Fiesta has become a lunchtime institution for all manner of downtown workers, and a plate of the crispy chile rellenos are the main reason why. Two egg-roll-like packages of batter and chile filled with molten yellow cheese, they're best doused with a hot, gravy-like green chile. All right, order the red--or at least a half-and-half combo--if you must, but Denver's movers and shakers will be watching.

Readers' choice: Benny's Cantina

Best Gringo Chile Relleno
Campus Lounge
701 S. University Blvd.

The Campus Lounge wraps a wonton shell around green chile-pepper strips and Monterey Jack, throws it in the deep fryer, blankets the deal with fiery green chile and more cheese, then broils the whole darn mess. The result: the perfect fuel for an all-nighter. Spring for a side of cooling guacamole and wash it down with Campus's only draft beer, the ultimate in gringo: Coors.

Best Soft Tacos
Chipotle Mexican Grill
1644 E. Evans Ave.

Judging from the lines alone, Chipotle is the taco the town. If you love burritos but don't want all the starch, this stylish storefront packs up a mean soft taco. A flour tortilla is rolled around the succulent marinated meat of your choice, sour cream or cheese and lettuce, then the whole package is salsified with one of three incrementally hot condiments. We recommend the corn salsa--a blend of sweet corn and jalapenos.

Best Taco
Las Palmas Jr.
3939 Federal Blvd.

Don't bother asking for whom the Taco Bell tolls--we know it's not for us. Instead, when we hear great tacos calling, we head to Las Palmas Jr., the tacos-only offspring of Las Palmas a few blocks further north on Federal. In this occasionally alarming authentic spot, you can order everything from chicken to barbecued pork to tender bits of tongue inside your taco. Try them all: At these prices, you can afford it.

Readers' choice: Taco Bell

Best Burrito
El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Dr.
2463 Sheridan Blvd., Edgewater

You can order your burrito smothered, but don't blame us if the person behind the counter shakes his head. Because there's no denying that the best way to enjoy an El Taco burrito is on its own merits. The big, fresh flour tortilla comes filled with flavorful rice and beans and your choice of chorizo, beef or potatoes. We'll allow you the great special sauce, too.

Readers' choice: Chipotle

Best Margarita
Margarita Bay Club
1301 S. Pearl St.

Not only is the Margarita Bay Club a good place to let loose, but it'll give you the proper tool with which to accomplish the task: a mean margarita with just the right proportions of sweet-and-sour to Cuervo.

Readers' choice: Las Brisas

Best Romantic Restaurant
Brittany Hill
9350 Grant St., Thornton

Denver lit up at night never looked as good as it does from Brittany's hilltop vantage point--and the mountains aren't bad, either. Choose from a dining room softly furnished and engineered for intimacy, or sit on the patio with its intoxicating air. Either way, you'll be in the mood for love.

Readers' choice: La Coupole

Best Seafood Restaurant
McCormick's Fish House and Bar
1659 Wazee St.

Face it: Any restaurant brave enough to offer upwards of ten kinds of raw oysters--the best selection in town--has to be confident about its fish purveyor. And not only does McCormick's know what to do with the raw, it's equally adept with the cooked. The menu changes daily to reflect what's fresh; the kitchen deals with two local fish companies and gets the goods from both coasts, and it's particularly careful to order only what's in its customers' price ranges. When you want to stay in the swim, this is the place.

Readers' choice: Fresh Fish Co.

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant
Jerusalem Restaurant
1890 E. Evans Ave.

When hunger pangs hit at odd hours, the Jerusalem is our mecca. At any time of the day, this is Denver's best Middle Eastern restaurant; late at night, it's an oasis of good food--flavorful falafel, stuffed grape leaves, baba-ghanouj, tabouleh. And the megasize portions carry only teeny, tiny prices. Pinch us: We must be dreaming.

Readers' choice: Jerusalem

Best Vietnamese Restaurant
New Saigon
630 S. Federal Blvd.

It's not just the intense, professional preparation that goes into all of New Saigon's food, nor is it the incredibly friendly staff, the attentive service or the appealingly low prices that bring us back time after time. No, it's the sheer number of innovative, eye-catching and stomach-satisfying dishes: seven with frogs' legs, nine with squid, five with snails. And not a clunker among them.

Readers' choice: New Saigon

Best Chinese Restaurant
Ming Garden
909 S. Oneida St.

It's not the fanciest, the oldest, the largest or the most innovative, and the chef doesn't pair everything with fruit, but Ming Garden offers what so few Chinese restaurants in Denver can: consistency. Yep, that's right--every time we visit we enjoy the same even cooking, fresh ingredients and smart service we've come to expect. Equally adept at turning out heart-healthy dishes and traditional, MSG-enhanced fare, Ming also has the requisite overwhelmingly large menu, the simple dining room awash with red tones and the charmingly polite staff.

Readers' choice: Imperial

Best Japanese Restaurant
Mori
2019 Market St.

Don't let the American Legion post location fool you--this is a restaurant to be reckoned with. From the Japanese-style pickle appetizer to the green-tea ice cream, Mori offers a culinary tour of Japan (in fact, the lengthy menus feature several dishes named after subway lines). It's going to take some time to eat your way around all the wonderful things Mori serves. So start now.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den

Best Thai Restaurant
Thai Orchid
399 W. Littleton Blvd., Littleton

The phat thai is often a good indicator of a Thai restaurant's finesse, but at Thai Orchid, that's only the tip of the lily pad. Not content to cook the same dishes everyone else is doing, Thai Orchid takes on deep-fried pompano in ginger sauce, stir-fried mussels with basil and chiles, and dried flour cups filled with carrots, corn, bell peppers and chicken. They do the standards well, too, especially the tod mun, a pungent fish cake served with a cucumber-chile sauce.

Readers' choice: Tommy's Oriental

Best French Restaurant
The Normandy
1515 Madison St.

Once on the verge of becoming a haute caricature of itself, the Normandy acted swiftly. Owner Pierre Wolfe hired the youthful, award-winning chef Robert Mancuso, who created a kinder (to the heart) and gentler (on the pocketbook) menu. The beauty of it is that the Normandy didn't do away with all of the old; instead, it supplemented it with the new. So now you find chateaubriand sitting next to rosemary-steamed halibut with beet sauce; veal medallions in a truffle-Cognac sauce compete for attention with roasted quail and venison in a cherry-pear relish. Add a well-rounded wine list from both this country and France and a decor that's romantic but not overblown, and you have a classic French restaurant that's not afraid of the future.

Readers' choice: La Coupole

Best Italian Restaurant
Carmine's on Penn
92 S. Pennsylvania St.

In a city where Italian restaurants are outnumbered only by Chinese joints, it's amazing that Carmine's even got noticed. But it's been more than noticed since it opened a few months ago--it's so popular you can hardly get near the place. Fortunately for those who make it to the head of the line, Carmine's lives up to its billing. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, with a great big outdoor patio, Carmine's is dishing up an ever-changing menu of Italian standards and some of its own creations, all fresh-tasting and consistently good. The real draw, though, is the family-style setup: Each entree contains enough food for at least two people, and with most priced in the mid-teens, that makes for bargain dining. The veal dishes are particularly noteworthy, as are Carmine's fantastic complimentary rolls. Hope you wanted a little bread with your garlic.

Readers' choice: Baci

Best New Restaurant
Zolo Grill
2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder

At first we thought, "Just what we need--another Southwestern restaurant." Then we actually ate at Zolo Grill, and we had to think again. This restaurant is something completely different: innovative, daring and blessedly stingy with the cilantro. The blue-corn chile relleno overflowing with goat cheese and black beans roped us right in, as did the mashed-to-order guacamole and the taco stuffed with red-chile-flecked barbecued duck. The menu is heavy on casual fare at a casual price; most of the entrees and the well-stacked sandwiches can be had for about $8. The wine list features three price categories ($15, $21, $28), each offering a variety of ten or so vintages from the Southwest and points nearby. And the decor is Southwestern cheerful without being coyote cutesy. Zolo gives a real reason to howl.

Readers' choice: Cadillac Ranch

end of part 4

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