Denver's five best offbeat neighborhood restaurants

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Some of the most interesting restaurants in the area aren't the hot spots that just opened or the fine-dining mainstays. Rather, they're the quirky eateries nestled into neighborhoods where crowds of regulars gather for good food and better entertainment, places that engage not just the palates of diners but also their souls.

The city is home to some excellent offbeat neighborhood restaurants. Here are five favorites:

5. Fuel Cafe When Bob Blair opened Fuel Cafe in 2008, he took a gamble, moving into a former Yellow Cab dispatch center in the Taxi development in RiNo -- which was then really the middle of nowhere. The gamble paid off. Fuel's loosely Mediterranean menu is uncompromising in its use of organic ingredients, and the kitchen commands a following of nearby residents as well as people willing to travel miles to reach this edgy, urban space and breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes that are simple, but somehow push the envelope, too. 4. Frank's Kitchen When Frank and Dina Berta abandoned careers in construction and restaurant journalism, respectively, to open Frank's Kitchen in the Whittier neighborhood in mid-2011, they had one goal: to become an integral part of the community. It didn't take them long to succeed: This tiny corner spot, painted orange and sparsely decorated save for a vintage Coca-Cola menu board, feels like it could have been here forever. The pair has built a crowd of regulars, who come in for chit chat and an ever-evolving eclectic menu that spans banh mi, spaghetti and meatballs, jerk chicken and even a Chicago dog. 3. Mercury Cafe After trying on several locations in its first decade, the vibrant, colorful Mercury Cafe settled on the edge of downtown more than two decades ago, where it's been a gathering spot for a huge cross-section of Denver's artists, musicians, hippies and politicos. You're likely to spot anyone in the eclectic crowd, which packs the place for all manner of entertainment, from poetry slams to high tea, from live jazz to dance lessons. Besides creating and sustaining many communities, owner Marilyn Megenity also uses the Merc to promote world-friendly living, keeping her practices clean and green, and building the menu from her own urban farm. 2. Oblio's Besides good Colorado-style pizza and killer sangria, this heavily knickknacked, old-school pizzeria in Park Hill offers an eating challenge: "28 inches of pure madness. Two people, one hour, no upchucking." To top it off, owners Tommy and Suzanne Gilhooly drive street-legal golf carts to and from work -- and occasionally give diners a ride, too. 1. Tom's Home Cookin' From the outside, this restaurant in the heart of Five Points looks a little like a fast-food joint. Inside, it's a shrine of wall-to-wall, down-home kitsch. But get in line -- and there will be a line -- and order fried catfish, chicken, a slop of Southern sides and peach cobbler, which will be ladled up and handed to you on the finest Styrofoam. Tom's is only open on weekdays from 11 a.m. until the food runs out, so it's worth getting here early for some of the best soul food in town. And for the love of god, don't miss the mac and cheese or fried chicken, which nabbed a spot on our 100 Favorite Dishes in Denver list.

There are many joints in this city worthy of recognition, but specific honorable mentions go to Cafe Europa and, of course, Westerkamp's.

Have your own favorite? Tell us about it below.

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