What makes Pinche Taqueria the Best New Restaurant

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About three hundred restaurants opened in the metro area in 2011, and many of them were very good restaurants indeed. There's no question that the bar has been raised in Denver -- and things are only going to get better from here.

But as we considered the contenders for the Best New Restaurant award in this year's Best of Denver, we were looking for a restaurant that was more than just a sum of its parts. And so we honed in on places that not only had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish -- and then accomplished it -- but also really added something to this city. We looked for restaurants that kept us coming back for more, no matter how many times we've been there before. Because those are the places that feed our souls as well as our bellies.

Many restaurants -- featuring all types of cuisine, at many different price points -- fit that bill. But the place that did it better than any of the others was Pinche Taqueria.

I knew Pinche was great the first time I sat down there for dinner. Up to that point, I'd mostly thought of it as a clever extension of owner Kevin Morrison's beloved food truck. I liked the tacos, I liked the margaritas and I could envision many scenarios that would bring me back. In short, I knew I loved the place -- I just didn't know how much.

Even after my review of Pinche Taqueria was published -- which meant I didn't have to eat there -- I found myself returning again and again to Pinche, braving the sometimes hours-long wait for a table. I sent everyone I knew who was coming to town to Pinche -- and insisted that my local friends go there immediately, before they ate anywhere else. Whether I was looking for a brunch location, a spot for tequila shots, a pre-show bite off Colfax or a place to meet up with friends when the meal was the only occasion, Pinche was always at the top of my list.

Why? Pinche hits on many levels. The food -- a simple list of gringified tacos, a couple of appetizers and the best churros I've ever had -- is fantastic. The vibe and service -- cheeky and fun but gracious -- is exactly what it should be for the concept. (The name is so cheeky that it's not on the sign outside.) And the tequila- and whiskey-focused drinks list does just what it should, too: It heightens the whole experience, it gives aficionados something to geek out about, and it never becomes overbearing, unapproachable or pretentious.

Pinche is also quintessentially Denver: Morrison is a long-time fixture of the dining scene, and he's turning out Denverized Mexican food, which is one of the culinary highlights of our fair city. He's just doing it in a completely different way than the typical green chile-centric joints, and doing it well.

Pinche is not trying to be everything to everyone -- in fact, you could almost argue that it's not trying to be anything other than absolutely true to itself -- and that's exactly what makes it so appealing. And that's what makes it, by a long shot, Denver's Best New Restaurant.

We'll post an updated list of the Best New Restaurant finalists later today.

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