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part 2 of 5 Best Hot-and-Sour Soup Thai Hiep Restaurant 333 S. Federal Blvd. 2690 E. County Line Rd., Highlands Ranch Thai Hiep combines the best of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines on its impressive menu. Regardless of your choice of entree, though, the best way to start a meal here...
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part 2 of 5
Best Hot-and-Sour Soup
Thai Hiep Restaurant
333 S. Federal Blvd.
2690 E. County Line Rd., Highlands Ranch

Thai Hiep combines the best of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines on its impressive menu. Regardless of your choice of entree, though, the best way to start a meal here is with the hot-and-sour soup. It comes steaming hot, full of tofu and vegetables, well-spiced and sophisticated with a hint of sesame oil to tempt the tastebuds. Good luck remembering to save room for the rest of your meal.

Best Alternative to Mom's Chicken Soup
Golden Tempura Bowl
406 E. Colfax Ave.

Fermented soybean paste and strips of fresh gingerroot may not sound like the most common cure for a common cold--but mixed together in the Golden Tempura Bowl's "flu-killer" miso-ginger soup, they're bound to make you feel better, if not do in the pesky bug altogether. Don't wait to try it until you're feeling lousy, though; soup this good deserves your complete attention.

Best Salad
Coos Bay Bistro
2076 S. University Blvd.

When your salad days start running together--a plate of limp lettuce decorated with a pale tomato wedge and a slice of cucumber can only sustain you so long--head for Coos Bay, where the Multnomah Falls spinach salad could turn other offerings green with envy. Each slightly wilted spinach leaf is gently coated with a warm pancetta dressing and then tossed with caramelized onions, roasted red bell peppers and soft pillows of goat cheese. Trust us, you'll have no trouble finishing these vegetables.

Best Greek Salad
Pete's Gyros Place
2819 E. Colfax Ave.

Pete's salad is Greek to us--a pile of lettuce topped with hot Greek peppers, green peppers, kalamatas, feta, tomatoes and cucumbers, then drizzled with Pete's house dressing, a spicy vinegar-and-oil deal choking with fresh herbs. And that's only the tip of the iceberg of good eating you'll find here. The truly hungry will want to add some meat to their salads--a choice of minced lamb, chicken or souvlaki, Pete's lemony version of marinated, grilled lamb.

Best Caesar Salad
266 S. Downing St.

Forget all the arguments. What matters isn't what's in a Caesar but what it tastes like--and Dante's Caesar salad tastes great. All the important parts--fresh, crisp romaine, parmesan and pureed anchovies--are here in abundance, and the assembly is top-notch. Although Dante's doesn't toss it tableside, each salad is made to order in the kitchen and coated with just the right amount of dressing. The croutons, though, are the real toppers, coated with clarified butter, garlic, parsley and white pepper, and lightly toasted so you won't break any teeth. After all, it would be a shame to incur dental damage before you could render unto Caesar--and he's due plenty after this salad.

Readers' choice: Cafe Franco

Best Salad Dressing
Seoul Food
701 E. 6th Ave.

Sesame is the key to Seoul Food's exquisite, tangy dressing. Served over a plate of fresh and exotic-looking greens, this irresistible Asian vinaigrette begs to be savored before, during and after the main course.

Best Vegetarian Menu
Masala's International Creekside Cafe
2111 30th St., Boulder

With consumption of meat at an all-time high, many restaurants are afraid to go all the way vegetarian. Not Masala's. It takes the bull by the horns and tosses him out on his ear. You won't miss him, though. This cheerful restaurant serves no flesh (no fish or foul, either, for those vegetarian wannabes who would like to start slow--say, with a nice grilled turkey sausage) and no meat by-products. But the menu, which spans the globe, is much more than lentils and tofu: For starters, Masala's offers seasoned, grilled eggplant steak, asparagus crepes, pasta primavera and other preparations so sophisticated you'll never miss the meat. And in one of the few dishes where you will encounter lentils--the veggie burger--they're done right, with wild rice to help the texture and plenty of garlic, cumin and curry powder to add good taste to the lowly legumes. Masala's doesn't just meat our expectations--it surpasses them. And in the process, it cows all competitors.

Best Vegetarian Dishes in a Food Court
Falafel King
Tabor Center Food Court
Republic Plaza Food Court

Here's the falafel truth: Man cannot live on bread alone. Fortunately, Falafel King offers infinite variations on the boring veggie sandwich, including falafel, hummus, tabouleh and baba ghanoush. You can fill a pita with the meatless entree--or just opt for it straight up. Either way, owners Avner and Amnon Gilady provide a welcome lunchtime alternative.

Best Vegetarian Cafeteria
Porter Memorial Hospital
2525 S. Downing St.

When you're stuck in a hospital--either as a patient or as a visitor--your meatless options usually begin and end at grilled cheese. Not so at Porter's cafeteria: Here you can pick from an entirely meatless and caffeine-free list offering everything from cashew casseroles to veggie taco bars to cottage-cheese loaf. To your health.

Best Vegetable Headquarters
Garramone's Farm Market
10351 W. 44th Ave., Wheat Ridge

Garramone's can salve your gardening fever with a bounteous greenhouse of plants, herbs and flowers, including such specialties as purple seed potatoes and a fine array of yellow-tomato seedlings. But if your thumb's not green, don't worry. Come back later in the season for your pick of vine-ripened yellow tomatoes and a host of other vegetables in this westside market's spacious grocery store. Look for other specialty items, too, such as sparkling juices and hard-to-find muffin mixes, plus dried beans galore. And don't forget to come back in the fall to get your green chiles roasted.

Best Organic Baby Food
Earth's Best
The jarred fare produced by Boulder-based Earth's Best and sold by Alfalfa's and other local grocers looks practically good enough for adults to eat. It's grown without pesticides or petro-fertilizers, and it comes darn close to pleasing the quickly maturing palates of food-on-the-face diners.

Best Vitamin C Injection
1028 S. Gaylord St.

Gaylord's offers the sort of OJ overkill we applaud. The juice comes in the form of the restaurant's Balboa French Toast: two slices of thick bread stuffed with orange zesty cream cheese, topped with mandarin oranges and draped in a Suzette sauce of sugary, fresh-squeezed orange juice. So what if the dish puts the squeeze on your fat-and-calorie intake? It's a swell way to start the day.

Best Pancake Sandwich
Reese Coffee House
1435 Curtis St.

Reese's brings together the best things about breakfast--pork, eggs and hotcakes--and combines them in one humongous sandwich. Two buttermilk pancakes hold together a scramble of eggs and minced ham, over which you can pour as much syrup as you dare. Not that they're necessary, but toast and hash browns come with. The diner-style scenery is easy on morning eyes, and the waitresses are as gum-snappin' perky as you please.

Best Breakfast
Fratelli's Italian Restaurant
1200 E. Hampden Ave., Englewood

If you're gonna take on more than a cup of coffee and a cigarette, you might as well do it up right: a huge breakfast with all the fixin's. Although Fratelli's offers the now-mandatory heart-healthy choices, we recommend skipping over that section of the menu and instead eating to your heart's content from one of the snazzy skillet breakfasts. Served daily, these super-sized meals come sizzling to the table. The rumbled eggs with pork scrapple--a Pennsylvania Dutch dish of pig scraps mixed with cornmeal, fried like mush and topped by brown sugar-baked apple slices--is a real eye-opener, but there's also top-round hash, huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy with eggs. For the griddle of your dreams, go for the stack of three pancakes made from buckwheat and potato flours and wheat germ. No matter which breakfast you choose, plan to spend the early part of the morning back in bed unless you drink lots of coffee--no problem here, since Fratelli's blends its own home brew. Be sure to ask for one of the high-backed booths so you don't have to be nice to anyone but yourself.

Best 99-Cent Breakfast
Chef Zorba's Cuisine
2630 E. 12th Ave.

Don't think a buck goes far these days? Think again. For just 99 cents, Chef Zorba's will start you out with biscuits smothered in peppery cream gravy, or two pancakes smothered in syrup. Or try our favorite: two eggs with toast and wonderful hash browns that are soft on the inside and have a hard, buttery shell. If you feel like splurging, though, it would be a tragedy not to try one of the great Greek omelettes. Zorba's is always filled with regulars--a good sign--and the staff is far too friendly to be crabby, I'm-not-a-morning-person types.

Readers' choice: McDonald's

Best Brunch With Kids
Grand Slam Sports Cafe
810 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood

There's no excuse for failing to take the family to Grand Slam's brunch this Sunday. First of all, it's $6.95 per adult for a buffet that includes eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, several salads, fresh fruit, desserts and roast beef. Second, kids under twelve eat free, and the waitstaff doesn't roll its eyes when your crumb-cruncher turns saltines into snow around the high chair. Third, there's an elaborate diaper-changing station in the bathroom. Fourth, the food is really good. And fifth--who wants to cook, anyway?

Best Children's Menu
Paul's Place
Three metro locations

Two of Paul's places are located right in the middle of shopping centers (one in Cherry Creek, the other at Southgate), which makes them perfect Places to take the kiddies when they start that annoying "I'm hungry" chant while you're looking for a Fabio-shaped ashtray for Aunt Mabel. The children's menu boasts sixteen choices, all under $4, from PB&J to SpaghettiOs, with even a vegetarian Sloppy Joe for the socially conscious youth. Each entree comes with French fries or applesauce, a small soda and a trip to the sundae bar, and everyone under twelve gets a free toy. If only they offered babysitting, too. How about it, Paul?

Readers' choice: McDonald's

Best Brunch Without Kids
Tuscany in the Loews Giorgio Hotel
4150 E. Mississippi Ave., Glendale

It's romantic, it's soothing, it's a massive food orgy of a buffet--it's just the thing you need after a weekend of softball games and lawn maintenance. Drop the kids off at Grandma's and let them make do with pancakes while you savor omelettes made your way, or puffy Belgian waffles sprinkled with raspberries and whipped cream, or huge poppyseed muffins, or a whole smoked salmon with blinis. Or all four...and more. This is one of the few brunch spots that doesn't let the eggs Benedict languish in the chafing pan until the hollandaise turns into an oil slick, and the bacon is as crisp as the answer you gave to the kiddies about why you didn't take them to brunch with you. Champagne takes the edge off and sets the tone for your meal. Most important, no one around you is arguing about who burps the loudest. The really romantic will want to start this thing the night before, upstairs in one of the hotel's swank rooms.

Best Brunch Buffet
Boulder Broker
555 30th St., Boulder

For just $14.95, you can afford to go for Broker. This is the best Sunday brunch deal around: a bottomless champagne glass and two rooms filled with food, including the infamous Broker peel-and-eat shrimp. In one area you'll find chafing dishes filled with frequently replenished entrees, each hailing from a different country--pasta with homemade noodles and marinara, sweet Korean grilled beef, Hawaiian-style fish. In another area there's the usual overabundance of salad fixings and several soups, along with a wheel of Brie as big as a tire. Consume it all in the Boulder Broker's hunting lodge of a dining room. And don't worry about saving room for dessert--the kitchen is smart enough to slice its pastries, pies and cakes into tiny tasting portions that make sense after such stomach abuse.

Readers' choice: Simm's Landing

Best Light Lunch
Botticelli Paninoteca
1110 17th St.

Botticelli does the merende, little bites of food that fill you so slowly you'll be able to go back to your desk and work until dinner without needing a nap. For $7 you get a platter of greens, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, olives, meats and cheeses, all in portions perfect for grazing--and sharing. If you just finished that big project and your appetite requires something more involved, Botticelli's well-priced panini sandwiches fit the bill. Grab a grappa and take a long lunch--you've earned it.

Best Lunch Box
2019 Market St.

Although this Nisei American Legion post now finds itself in the midst of the ballpark district, you won't find a single hot dog on the menu. Instead, Mori serves up fabulous sushi and noodle bowls, along with the best little bento lunch assortment in town. Mix and match your meal from offerings including delicately cooked salmon, sashimi, teriyaki and tempura, all packed alongside the proper accompaniments in a tidy lunchbox. No matter what happens at nearby Coors Field, your lunch is guaranteed to be a hit.

Best Business Lunch
The Augusta at the Westin Hotel
Tabor Center

When you're all dressed up with no place to go that seems worthy, try the Augusta. This smartly decorated dining room in the Westin Hotel has a better view of the city than most corner offices, and the atmosphere is all hushed bargaining and discreet buyouts. But the real reason to do lunch here is the cooking of Roland Ulber, a Swiss transplant who has made the menu his own. For $10, the express lunch--guaranteed at your table within fifteen minutes of ordering--has the look of expense-account dining. Ulber puts out such official-appearing tempters as lamb medallions on a bed of mixed greens with pine nuts and a honey-rosemary vinaigrette, or chicken sauteed with olive oil, garlic and prosciutto over egg-tomato linguini; and each lunch comes with a choice of the rich-but-light shrimp bisque or an easy-on-the-garlic Caesar salad. What a deal!

Readers' choice: Ocean Fresh Grill

Best Appetizer List
Le Gourmand
1401 17th St.

If anyone knows how to start dinner off right, it's the French. Le Gourmand proves it with its array of moderately priced, oh-so-tempting starters that are the right size for revving up the stomach's engine without flooding it. While some restaurants treat appetizers like an afterthought, Le Gourmand serves dishes that are as rich and complicated as the entrees. The scallops sauteed with juniper berries in gin and lemon cream are magnifique, as is the lobster ravioli with asparagus and greens, and those afraid of adult food will find their inner child satisfied by an order of sweet potatoes frites, a better type of French fry. But the real test for a French appetizer is the escargot, and Le Gourmand doesn't disappoint--their snails are drenched in a Roquefort garlic butter.

Best Complimentary Hors D'Oeuvre
Briarwood Inn
1630 8th St., Golden

The Briarwood Inn, with its elegantly warm dining area, unobtrusive but impeccable service and prix fixe menu, is reminiscent of the days when you actually got something for your money. And at Briarwood, you get even more--a lazy Susan filled with peeled Gulf shrimp and cocktail sauce, a mousseline of spinach and water chestnuts, wine-and-port cheddar cheese and crackers, pate of duck and chicken liver, smoked salmon butter and marinated vegetables. And if you still have room left after all that plus a salad, a sorbet and the entree, your meal ends with a platter filled with fresh fruit, toasted coconut bananas and nut-filled brownies. Get with this program.

Best Meal Under $5
Lim's Mongolian BBQ
1530 Blake St.

For cheap eats, we dare you to go out on a Lim. While it's tempting to hit this popular LoDo spot at lunch, don't try to fight the crowds. Instead, stop in for dinner--when the prices and the portions are the same as at noon--and revel in the overpowering aromas of garlic, beef and roasting vegetables. You can order off the menu or create your own meal from a variety of meats and vegetables, sauces such as soy or sweet-and-sour, and an array of spices that includes garlic, red-chile flakes and ginger. No matter how you put things together, it's almost impossible to make your meal total more than five bucks. And it's ready in a matter of minutes, cooked right in front of you on a barbecue plate.

Best (Potential) Food Deal
Beau Jo's Pizza
2700 S. Colorado Blvd.

Your fat friend Will is in from out of town, and you're sick of his belly-aching about never getting enough to eat in Denver. Shut him up at Beau Jo's Pizza. Here's the deal: If you and Will can swallow Beau Jo's fifteen-pound pizza in an hour or less, you get a $100 prize, plus the pizza and two T-shirts for free. If not, you pay the full price of $49.50. The deal is off on weekends, and management requests that you call ahead if you're going to bite at their offer. "It's such a huge pizza that it just crams the pizza ovens up totally," explains a spokesman at the University Hills Beau Jo's.

Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal
900 E. 11th Ave.
5910 S. University Blvd., Littleton

At Alfalfa's, the pasta-bilities are endless on Saturdays (the Capitol Hill store) and Sundays (Littleton only). For $3.99 you get all-you-can-eat pasta, with either a vegetarian marinara or a beef-filled marinara featuring natural Coleman meat. The type of noodle varies--one week it might be spinach fettuccine, the other, tomato cappellini--but the quality is always good. And rolls, baguettes or, if you're really lucky, fresh-baked buttery garlic bread is included in the deal. Make it a family affair--kids under five eat free.

Readers' choice: Healthy Habits

Best Place for Dinner After 10 p.m.
Pasquini's Pizzeria & Blu Luna Room
1310 S. Broadway

Take fantastic pizzas, great subs, funky decor, live music and service with a smile, add kitchen hours that stretch to 11 p.m. during the week and 12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and what do you have? Denver's best late-night dinner. For that matter, a Pasquini's meal is a welcome break any time of the day. All types come in at all hours, from the theater, a round of bar-hopping, concerts (including sets in the Blu Luna Room upstairs)--you name it. Why go to bed when you can have one of Pasquini's magnificent homemade Italian meatball sandwiches instead?

Readers' choice: Chives

Best Place for a Post-Meal Stogie
Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th St.

Whether or not you've just eaten at one of the Brown Palace's lovely restaurants, neither in the area sectioned off in the lobby--four tables to the side--nor in the Ship Tavern will anyone make a stink if you light up a cigar. In fact, they'll make the experience even more pleasurable. In a show created by Palace Arms manager Rouchi (who prefers to use only his last name), a helpful staffer will rub the tip of the cigar with cognac--that takes away the bitterness of the initial puffs, according to Rouchi--and then light it with a piece of cedar, a wood that doesn't impart its own flavors. And all of this is done with the kind of drama befitting such elegant surroundings. You'd better bring a Davidoff for this one.

Best Bagels
Finster Brother's Bagel Bakery & Cafe
5709 E. Colfax Ave.
8100 S. Quebec St., Englewood

The brothers Finster were doing so well at their East Colfax shop that they spawned a sibling, a second store down south at Quebec and County Line. Both places offer the same excellent bagels: fat, flavorful, funky and fresh, with that perfect balance of chewy to doughy. The "everything" bagel is still our favorite, especially in those early-morning, brain-dead hours; packed with onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and salt, it's sure to get a rise out of you.

Best Bagel Spreads
The Bagel Nook
7175 W. Jefferson Ave., Lakewood
6480 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada

Bagel Nook offers the now-usual roster of bagel flavors--blueberry, onion, cinnamon--but when it comes to cream cheese, this bagelry spreads it on thick. Take your pick of ingredients, from strawberries to wildberries, garlic to garden vegetables--including onion, bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes, to name a few. Made on the premises, these toppings turn the ordinary wheel into a meal.

Best Bagel With a Bite
Moe's Broadway Bagels
2650 Broadway, Boulder
3075 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder

We first tried this bagel late in the day, long after our tastebuds had awakened. We liked it then, but we love it now that we've discovered that Moe's Jalapeno Bagel is a real eye-opener early in the morning. Lightly toasted and smeared with cream cheese--or, for the true pepper popper, jalapeno jelly--this blows a breakfast burrito away. It's spicy and filling, but with no ugly after-effects. This is one hot number.

Best Breads
Daily Bread
1738 Pearl St., Boulder

Take our word for it: You need this dough. While a number of bakers sounded off--loudly--this year about their gourmet, European-style breads, Daily Bread opened quietly and started turning out the real thing. No one else comes close to the soul-lifting loaves you'll find at this Boulder bakery. The key ingredient is time--instead of getting a rise in the usual two to three hours, Daily Bread loafs around for sixteen to eighteen hours, enhancing the fermentation process and improving the flavor of its organic, grain-based product. The end results: pain levain, a dense French-style sourdough; fougasse, an intense Provencal flatbread filled with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and basil; and an ever-changing variety of combination breads, including walnut, olive, raisin, whole wheat, rye and pumpernickel.

Best Table Breads
Tuscany in the Loews Giorgio Hotel
4150 E. Mississippi Ave., Glendale

Some days the Tuscany gets it quality breads from the estimable Bluepoint Bakery, but some days it makes its own--and those are the days to visit. Tuscany's baker truly knows the meaning of the word "rustic," and he molds his breads to match the definition. These hunks are hefty and hearty, filled with air pockets but still sturdy enough to withstand many dippings into Tuscany's potent pesto, a heady concotion heavy on the basil. The waiter is quick to replenish the basket with more bread warm from the oven, and he'll refill the pesto bowl, too. Just don't forget there's a whole meal still to come--and Tuscany's nouvelle Italian food is worth saving space for.

Best Way to Keep the Vampires Away
Carmine's on Penn
92 S. Pennsylvania St.

Garlic can cure almost any ill--including hunger pains. Carmine's garlic rolls appear on the table moments after you sit down, and from then on it's a fight to refrain from finishing off every last one of them. These soft pillows with gently crunchy tops are more like heads of garlic disguised as bread, and the bonus is that you'll be safe from Lestat for days. Carmine's specializes in family-style dining--huge, well-priced portions of homey Italian food--and it's a good thing, because only people you know intimately could get close to you after you've eaten a few of these rolls.

Best Bakery
Paris Bakery
1268 S. Sheridan Blvd.

Paris Bakery knows which side its bread is buttered on. While most bakeries pay more attention to making dough from loaves with fancy names, French baker Rinaldo Suel spreads the wealth of twenty years' experience around on breads, cookies and cakes. The cinnamon rolls, while low in sugar and fat, are rich and sinful, and the peach pie is a real peach. But where Paris takes the cake is with just that. Suel turns his creations into an Indy car, a Thanksgiving turkey, a hamburger, a bunny--all so realistic we have to stop ourselves from reaching into the display case to pinch them and see if we're dreaming.

Best Danish Bakery
Danish Delight
7475 E. Arapahoe Rd., Englewood

Real Danish pastries--the ones Danishes are supposedly modeled after--aren't mere doughnut dough centered by a dollop of cheap jam. Real Danishes are made from a yeast mixture heavy with butter and flavored with vanilla that's then rolled and folded almost like puff pastry so that a light, fluffy texture is reached after baking. Danish Delight makes real Danishes and a whole lot more--Danish butter cookies, macaroons and strudels, for example--but don't leave without a bagful of cheese kringles, cardamom-tinged pastry rings of butter, marzipan, raisins and custard.

Best Children's Corner in an Erotic Bakery
Le Bakery Sensual
300 E. 6th Ave.

You've wanted to stop at Le Bakery Sensual to pick up some breast-shaped cupcakes to take home to the hubby, but the kids are always with you. Not to worry. This bakery--filled with baked goods depicting anatomically correct body parts and cakes topped with couples making whoopee--has a corner set aside near the door with a small table and coloring books, crayons and toys. Keeping the kids occupied is child's play compared to the adult decisions you'll have to make: Will those be the red nipples or the pink?

end of part 2

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