Following your nose is a sound strategy for finding a good meal in Mile High, but since it's also a good way to find a decent dispensary, local editor Lee Breslouer is freeing up your olfactory powers to focus on more important things by highlighting the best eats around.
Favorite Restaurant: Years before LoHi was overrun with hip, original restaurant concepts, Root Down planted its flag there, transforming a former gas station into a design marvel, plating outrageously delicious "globally influenced seasonal cuisine", and sporting unparalleled views of the Denver skyline. Dining there is more magical than David Blaine doing card tricks.
Best Fine Dining: A huge hit since the second it opened its doors in 2010, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro was previously nominated by the James Beard peeps for Best New Restaurant in part because of their tremendous soup dumplings, which are tiny marvels of dumpling ingenuity.
Best Late-Night Eats: From 10p-close every night of the week, always-bustling comfort food spot Steuben's offers starving patrons a cheeseburger, fries, and a can of either PBR, Olympia, or Coors Banquet for just $7 total.
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Best Cheap Eats: Federal Blvd is a hub for affordable world cuisine, and Ba Le's 15 kinds of banh mi (pork, chicken, umm... sardine) all check in at just around $5.
Best Sandwich: A short walk from downtown, Justin Brunson's Masterpiece Deli is a hopping lunch spot, and once you shovel the 12hr Braised Beef Brisket w/ taleggio fondue & red wine gastrique in your mouth, you'll understand why. Their reuben also draws raves.
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Best Chinese: Lao Wang Noodle House is another Federal staple and another Mile High spot with top-notch dumplings. Fun fact: the husband and wife team who own and operate LWNH have a son who opened Caution: Brewing, and his beer (especially the Lao Wang Lager) pairs nicely with much of the menu.
Best Italian: Technically, the best Italian is that guy Chef Boyardee. But the best Italian restaurant in Mile High can be found at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, where you can enjoy certified authentic Neapolitan pies a hop, skip, and a jump away from Coors Field. Satisfaction is also guaranteed at Osteria Marco on Larimer Sq. Surprisingly, there is no law requiring Italian restaurants here to be named after guys named Marc.
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Best Mexican: Their al pastor tacos and four signature salsas are two (or five, technically) reasons that people keep coming back to Los Carboncitos.
Best Food Truck: A truck so successful it's been spun off into two popular restos, Pinche Tacos attracts lines whenever they hit the streets for their pork belly, asada, and lengua street tacos.
Best Dish: For me, ramen is the most comforting, satisfying dish on the planet, and Uncle knocks that sucker out of the park. Get their Chashu Ramen, a generous bowl of noodles, melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly, bean sprouts, peas, and an egg.
Best Burger: Many believe The Cherry Cricket, a local institution, has a top burger, and they're not necessarily wrong. But just South of Denver, Crave Real Burgers has inventive meatwiches that were winners at the Denver Burger Battle.
Best for Partying: Root Down's nearby Highland sister resto, Linger, has a bustling upstairs bar scene, and the roofdeck offers sweeping skyline views and superior cocktails.
Most Gut-busting Dish: Jack-n-Grill offers their famed 7lb breakfast burrito for just 22 bones, but for a super rich, delicious dairy bomb, nothing beats Gather's grilled cheese mac 'n cheese.
Best for Work: Big shots love Barolo Grill's Italian eats and ambience. If an expense account is involved, work out that credit card on the chef's five-course tasting menu.
Most Romantic: A low-lit, cozy Wash Park space owned by two lovebirds (he's the chef, she's in the front of house), Bittersweet serves up dishes using mostly produce they grow themselves in two on-site gardens.
Best Lunch: The 16th St location of Illegal Pete's in LoDo is packed mid-day with office workers picking from an assembly line of ingredients that'll be rolled into Mission-style burritos.
Best Brunch: Mile High has a slew of restos catering to the brunch crowd. Jelly U is great for those out near DU, and Snooze is closer to downtown.
Best Wings: Elway's is known for their steak, but their happy hour is also worth a look, including delectable bar wings slathered in smokey BBQ or buffalo sauce. For something a little more casual, Vine St Pub's wings enormous, tasty bird parts are easily washed down by any number of brews.
Best Donuts: Ok, so they're not donuts per se, but Glaze offers an unparalleled cake difficult to find outside of Japan that's shaped like a huge donut. It totally counts.
Weirdest Food: Buckhorn Exchange is the city's oldest resto (since 1893, back when it was impossible to get a 4G LTE signal here), and not only do they have the aforementioned Rocky Mountain oysters, there's also ostrich, yak, and fried alligator tails.
Photo by Adam Larkey Photography