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Dining in Denver

Latin American Mexican American Regional American Asian / Pac Rim
Italian Eclectic Seafood Steaks / Chops Japanese Vegetarian

Latin American

Zengo
Tel: 720/904-0965
1610 Little Raven St

With a menu that runs the gamut from dim sum and sushi to empanadas and ceviche, Zengo -- Japanese for "give and take" -- is the standout eatery in the booming Riverfront area just west of LoDo. Under the guidance of Chef Richard Sandoval (who also owns restaurants in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, as well as Tamayo in Denver), the restaurant is a favorite of the young and hip, and just the place to see and be seen. The colorful contemporary decor matches the lively social scene and the vibrant dishes. Entrees are often Latin-Asian fusions, such as wok-seared salmon with Peruvian corn, or the unagi sushi roll, with barbecued eel and chile serrano.

Cuisine Type: Latin American
Hours: Sun-Thurs 5-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm. Bar open later
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $16-$30 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DISC, MC, V
 

Mexican

Casa Bonita
Tel: 303/232-5115
6715 W. Colfax Ave

A west Denver landmark, Casa Bonita is more of a theme park than a restaurant. A pink Spanish cathedral-type bell tower greets visitors, who discover nonstop action inside: divers plummeting into a pool below a 30-foot waterfall, puppet shows, a video arcade, "Black Bart's Cave," and strolling mariachi bands. The 52,000-square-foot restaurant is said to be the largest restaurant in the Western Hemisphere. There's standard Mexican fare -- enchiladas, tacos, and fajitas -- along with country-fried steak and fried chicken dinners. Although the food is average at best, many plates are all-you-can-eat, and patrons need only raise a miniature flag to get another round of tacos. Meals include hot sopaipillas (deep-fried sweet dough), served with honey.

Cuisine Type: Mexican
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
Reservations: Reservations not accepted
Price: Main courses $7-$13; children's meals around $3
Credit Cards: DISC, MC, V
 

Jack-n-Grill
Tel: 303/964-9544
2524 N. Federal Blvd

"WE ARE NOT FAST FOOD," reads a sign at Jack-N-Grill, and it's spot on: This is clearly a restaurant that takes its time, and its food is worth the wait. Named for Jack Martinez and his ever-present grill, the food reflects Jack's father's motto: "Comida sin chile, no es comida," or "A meal without chile is not a meal." Not surprisingly, just about everything at Jack-N-Grill has chiles in it, roasted by the Martinez family onsite. Both the green and the red chili are top-notch, as are the Mexican dishes and the fresh homemade salsa. Also popular: Frito pies and calabasitas, bowls with squash, zucchini, corn, green chiles, and onions. Don't expect Jack to add any chile-free dishes to the menu.
"What's the use?" he says.

Cuisine Type: Mexican
Hours: Mon-Thurs 7am-9pm; Fri-Sat 7am-10pm; Sun 7am-9pm
Price: Plates $5-$12, a la carte dishes $2-$5
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
 

Lola
Tel: 720/570-8686
1575 Boulder St

Moving from south Denver to the hip Highlands neighborhood in 2006 quadrupled this popular eatery's floor space, and it still fills to the rafters. It's easy to see why: Lola has oodles of pizzazz, in terms of both its art and airy design -- complete with a killer patio with an indoor/outdoor bar and great city views -- and the savory dishes on its menu. Start off with some guacamole, prepared fresh tableside, before moving on to a bowl of caldo, a succulent seafood stew, or grouper crusted with Brazil nuts. Served Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm, the brunch favorite is chicken-fried steak smothered in chorizo gravy. Lola's margaritas and caipirinhas, sweet Brazilian cocktails with entire quartered limes, are also hard to beat.

Cuisine Type: Mexican
Hours: Mon-Fri 4-10pm; Sat 10am-11pm; Sun 10am-9pm
Price: Main courses $15-$23
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V

 

American Regional

Buckhorn Exchange
Tel: 303/534-9505
1000 Osage St

In the same rickety premises where it was established in 1893, this landmark restaurant displays its Colorado Liquor License No. 1 above the 140-year-old bar in the upstairs saloon. On the first level , the densely decorated dining room, dominated by a daunting menagerie of taxidermy, will alarm vegetarians, but meat lovers will not be disappointed one bit. The Buckhorn's game dishes (slow-roasted buffalo prime rib, lean and served medium rare, elk, pheasant, and quail) are the best in the city. The beefsteaks, ranging from 8-ounce tenderloins to 64-ounce table steaks for five, are also quite good. With fried alligator tail, Rocky Mountain oysters, and smoked buffalo sausage among the options, the appetizers will surely broaden one's palate. Our recommendation: rattlesnake, served in cream cheese-chipotle dip with tricolor tortilla chips. For dessert, try a slab of hot Dutch apple pie -- if you have room. Lunch is lighter and more affordable, with an assortment of charbroiled meat entrees, sandwiches, and hearty homemade soups. A mile southwest of the State Capitol, the Buckhorn has its own light-rail stop, making it a fun and easy trip from downtown.

Cuisine Type: American Regional
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-2pm; Mon-Thurs 5:30-9pm; Fri-Sat 5-10pm; Sun 5-9pm. Bar open all day
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Transportation: Light-rail: Osage
Price: Main courses $8-$16 lunch, $18-$44 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V


The Fort

Tel: 303/697-4771
19192 Colo. 8

There are several reasons to drive 18 miles southwest (and 800 ft. up) from downtown to The Fort in Denver's foothills. First: the atmosphere. The building was hand-constructed of adobe bricks in 1962 as a full-scale reproduction of Bent's Fort, Colorado's first fur-trading post. The equally authentic interior boasts striking views of Denver's city lights. Second: the continuing vision of late owner Sam Arnold, the gregarious master chef who was known to open champagne bottles with a tomahawk. Third: The Fort's impeccable, gracious service, which might just be the best in town.
The fourth and best reason to go is the food. The Fort built its reputation on high-quality, low-cholesterol buffalo, of which it claims to serve the largest variety and greatest quantity of any restaurant in the world. There's steak, roast marrow, tongue, and even "bison eggs" -- hard-boiled quail eggs wrapped in buffalo sausage. Our pick is the game plate, with elk chop, teriyaki-style quail, and buffalo filet, served with a salad (and extraordinary homemade dressings), rice, and vegetables. Other house specialties include Rocky Mountain Oysters and elk medallions with wild-huckleberry sauce. Die-hards can get good ol' beefsteak.

Cuisine Type: American Regional
Hours: Mon-Fri 5:30-9:30pm; Sat 5-9:30pm; Sun 5-9pm. Call for special holiday hours
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $20-$46
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V


Wynkoop Brewing Company

Tel: 303/297-2700
1634 18th St

Denver's biggest and best brewpub took on an even more esteemed significance in 2003 when owner John Hickenlooper took office as the mayor of Denver. Occupying a renovated warehouse across from Union Station and close to Coors Field, the Wynkoop is one of the country's model microbreweries, and even served as a catalyst for the rebirth of surrounding LoDo. The menu offers pub fare, sandwiches, soups, and salads, plus dinners of steak, Denver-cut elk medallions, and buffalo steak -- not to mention a nice variety of beers on tap.

Cuisine Type: American Regional
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-midnight; Sun 11am-10pm. Bar open later
Reservations: Reservations required for large parties
Price: Main courses $8-$20
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V

 

American

Duffy's Shamrock
Tel: 303/534-4935
1635 Court Place

This traditional Irish bar and restaurant with fast, cheerful service has been thriving since the late 1950s. Drink specialties include Irish coffees and imported Irish beers, but the food is mostly American. Daily specials may include prime rib, fried Louisiana prawns, low-carb plates, or grilled liver and onions. Sandwiches, on practically every kind of bread imaginable, include corned beef, Reuben, roast beef with gravy, and BLT.

Cuisine Type: American
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-1:30am; Sat 7:30am-1:30am
Price: Main courses $2-$6 breakfast, $5-$9 lunch, $5-$11 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V
 

Paramount Cafe
Tel: 303/893-2000
519 16th St

Housed in the restored lobby of Denver's historic Paramount Theatre on the 16th Street Mall, this bar and grill is popular, lively, and a bit noisy. A plethora of televisions, a poolroom with five tables plus satellite trivia games, and a year-round patio on the mall makes this a good choice for people-watching. The menu features exotic subs, excellent burgers, large salads, and some Tex-Mex fare.

Cuisine Type: American
Hours: Daily 11am-1am. Bar open later
Price: Main courses $6-$10
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V
 

Strings
Tel: 303/831-7310
1700 Humboldt St

Open for 20 years in Denver's Uptown neighborhood, Strings attracts a hip crowd of loyal locals, as well as visiting celebrities who contribute to a wall of autographed photos. Popular and typically crowded, the restaurant welcomes guests in T-shirts as well as tuxedos; it's especially busy during the before- and after-theater hours. The menu focuses on "New American" cuisine, creative noodle dishes, and fresh seafood -- such as cashew-crusted sea bass with saffron couscous and vanilla bean butter. Lunch and dinner specials change weekly to match the season and the mood of the chef. Strings has an outdoor patio for summer dining.

Cuisine Type: American
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5-11pm; Sun 5-9pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $11-$18 lunch, $14-$30 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DISC, MC, V



Asian/Pac Rim

T-Wa Inn
Tel: 303/922-2378
555 S. Federal Blvd

Denver's oldest Vietnamese restaurant is still the best. With simple, pleasant decor and relics from the Far East on display, it looks the part, but the food is what makes it work. Everything is excellent, but we especially like the succulent shrimp, the perfect pork tenderloin, and the attention to authentic Vietnamese flavors. T-Wa also serves several spicy Thai dishes, as well as Asian beers and a whole rainbow of neon-colored specialty drinks.

Cuisine Type: Asian/Pac Rim
Hours: Sun-Thurs 11am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
Price: Most main courses $6-$13
Credit Cards: AE, DISC, MC, V



Italian

Panzano
Tel: 303/296-3525
909 17th St

The Hotel Monaco's resident eatery is one of the best Italian restaurants in town. Served in a densely decorated dining room with a busy open kitchen, the menu changes every 3 months, but you'll likely find the signature buridda, a Genovese seafood stew with mussels, calamari, and shrimp in a savory lobster broth; gamberi alla carbonara, shrimp fettuccine served with pancetta cream sauce and fried egg; and an array of pastas prepared fresh in-house daily. There are also innovative variations on steak, seafood, soups, and salads, which change according to available ingredients: In the summer, for example, a sweet corn soup appears on the menu. For dessert, don't pass on the tiramisu, which manages to be heavenly and sinful at once. With lighter, similar fare (including killer salads), lunch attracts power meetings.

Cuisine Type: Italian
Hours: Mon-Fri 7-10am and 11am-2:30pm; Mon-Thurs 5-10pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm; Sun 4:30-9:30pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $6-$12 breakfast, $9-$23 lunch, $16-$30 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V
 

The Palm
Tel: 303/825-7256
1672 Lawrence St

Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi opened the first Palm restaurant in New York City in 1926. It originally specialized in cuisine from their hometown of Parma, Italy, but whenever a customer requested steak, Ganzi ran to a nearby butcher shop, bought a steak, and cooked it to order. This eventually led to The Palm's having its own meat wholesale company to ensure the quality of its steaks. The current third-generation owners introduced seafood to the menu and expanded the business by opening a dozen more restaurants across the country. Most famous for its prime cuts of beef and live Nova Scotia lobsters, The Palm celebrates tradition, with some of Ganzi's original Italian dishes still popular (and cheaper) menu items. The dining room is plastered with caricatures of local celebrities; customers are seated at either booths or tables.

Cuisine Type: Italian
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5-11pm; Sun 5-10pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $8.50-$18 lunch, $17-$40 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V



Eclectic

Appaloosa Grill
Tel: 720/932-1700
535 16th St.

The employee-owned Appaloosa features an eclectic menu, merging Asian, Southwestern, and bar grub. The ribs are a good bet, as are the tamales, and the all-natural Highland Heritage steaks, originating in the Rockies. The lunch menu includes salads, sandwiches, and assorted lighter entrees. With a casual, semi-intimate atmosphere and a handsome antique bar, this is a good place for dinner to morph into a night on the town. There is live musical entertainment nightly.

Cuisine Type: Eclectic
Hours: Daily 11am-1am. Bar open later
Price: Main courses $7-$10 lunch, $9-$25 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DISC, MC, V



Seafood

McCormick's Fish House & Bar
Tel: 303/825-1107
1659 Wazee St

In lower downtown's historic Oxford Hotel, McCormick's maintains a late-19th-century feel with stained-glass windows, oak booths, and a fine polished-wood bar. Come here for the best seafood in town -- it's flown in daily, and might include Alaskan salmon and halibut, mussels from Florida, lobsters from Maine, Hawaiian mahimahi, red rockfish from Oregon, and trout from Idaho. The menu also offers pasta, chicken, and a full line of prime beef. Across the hall, the Corner Bar's happy hour (served 3-6pm every day and 10pm-midnight on Fri and Sat) is legendary, featuring $1.95 crab cakes, cheeseburgers, and steamed mussels. There's another McCormick's in the Denver Tech Center (8100 E. Union Ave., tel. 720/200-9339).

Cuisine Type: Seafood
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-2pm; Sun brunch 11am-2pm; Sun-Thurs 5-10pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Lunch and light dishes $6-$12; dinner $12-$24
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V



Steaks/Chops

Denver ChopHouse & Brewery
Tel: 303/296-0800
1735 19th St

A LoDo mainstay since it opened alongside Coors Field in 1995, this is one of the Mile High City's best places for carnivores. Set in the steeped brick-and-wood atmosphere of a restored early-19th- century train depot, the ChopHouse does classic meat and potatoes (not to mention microbrews) as well as anybody in town. Our picks are always juicy steaks, from filet mignon to New York strip, and the other hearty classics, such as huge, cheese-stuffed pork chops and herb-crusted racks of lamb; white cheddar mashers are our side of choice. The restaurant also serves a nice selection of fresh seafood and some less expensive sandwiches and pizzas, and even a few vegetarian items.

Cuisine Type: Steaks/Chops
Hours: Daily from 11am; Sat-Sun brunch 11am-3:30pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended for dinner
Price: Main courses $10-$30
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V
 

Elway's
Tel: 303/399-5353
2500 E. 1st Ave

Owned by retired Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, this popular Cherry Creek eatery -- unlike many celebrity restaurants -- is no flash in the pan. Dim but lively, the restaurant is a model of " New West" design, with a menu that melds swank and comfortable. On the swank side: crab cakes, hand-cut USDA Prime steaks, bone-in swordfish chops, and veggies served a la carte. And the comfy: creamed corn, steak loaf, and a dessert menu that includes Ding Dongs and warm chocolate-chip cookies and cold milk. But it's the little details, such as buttonholes in the napkins, milk bottles full of water, and tiramisu cones, that won us over in the end. Service is smooth and business is brisk, in both the cavernous dining room and the bustling bar. If you're lucky, you might bump into Elway himself here -- he's not just the owner, but a regular too.

Cuisine Type: Steaks/Chops
Hours: Daily 11am-2pm; Mon-Thurs 5-10pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm; Sun 5-9pm
Reservations: Reservations recommended
Price: Main courses $9-$24 lunch and brunch, $19-$40 dinner
Credit Cards: AE, DC, DISC, MC, V

 

Sushi/Japanese

Sushi Den
Tel: 303/777-0826
1487 S. Pearl St

The long-standing Sushi Den not only is the best sushi restaurant in Denver, but is on the short list of the top sushi restaurants in the country. Owned by three Kizaki brothers -- one of whom is based in Japan and sends a daily shipment of ingredients -- the Sushi Den's landlocked location is incidental: This is some of the freshest fish you'll find anywhere. The formidable sushi menu, running the gamut from squid and salmon to smoked trout, is complemented by lunch and dinner menus with a wide variety of Japanese fare and sushi and sashimi combination plates. Located in south Denver in the charming Old South Pearl Street retail district, the Sushi Den is one of two locations worldwide -- its sister restaurant is in Fukuoka, Japan.

Cuisine Type: Sushi/Japanese
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm; Mon-Thurs 4:30-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 4:30pm-midnight; Sun 5-10:30pm
Price: Main courses $8-$13 lunch, $10-$22 dinner; sushi rolls $4-$10
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V



Vegetarian

Govinda's Spiritual Food
Tel: 303/333-5461
1400 N. Cherry St

Attached to -- and operated by -- a Hare Krishna temple, Govinda's is a surprising gem of a restaurant and a godsend to vegetarians and vegans. With a different all-you-can-eat buffet every day, patrons can select from one of the city's best salad bars, great soups, fresh-baked bread, and an array of meatless main dishes, from enchiladas to casseroles to stir-fry dishes, with a good deal of Indian and Middle Eastern fare. The atmosphere is basic, and the seasonal patio is a pleasant, breezy spot for a meal. There are free Sunday dinners in the attached temple at 6pm, if you're on an extremely tight budget.

Cuisine Type: Vegetarian
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm; Mon-Sat 5-8pm
Price: Buffet $5-$8
Credit Cards: MC, V