Best Spots for a Romantic Dinner: Rioja, 1431 Larimer Sq., Denver (tel. 303/820-2282), is a quiet, slick, and dimly lit vehicle for chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski’s inspired dishes.
Frasca, 1738 Pearl St., Boulder (tel. 303/442-6966), has impeccable service and peerless cuisine, drawn exclusively from the culinary traditions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a subalpine region in northeastern Italy.
The Broadmoor’s snazzy Summit, Lake Circle, at Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs (tel. 800/634-7711; www.broadmoor.com), is at once slick and romantic, with contemporary metalwork and a glassed-in, rotating turret behind the bar. The visual spectacle is aesthetically matched by the fare, which is innovative and adventurous.
Best Spots for a Celebration: Owned by retired Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, Elway’s, 2500 E. 1st Ave., Denver (tel. 303/399-5353), is a model of “New West” design, with a menu that melds swank and comfortable. The crowd is lively, and you might bump into Elway himself. See p. ###.
Colorado Springs locals splurge on a night out at the Cliff House Dining Room, Cliff House Inn, 306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs (tel. 719/785-2415). It offers an elegant Victorian atmosphere, superlative service, and innovative variations on old favorites, such as smoked-bacon-scented petite prime-rib roast, with vegetables and potato purée.
Best Decor: Occupying the same premises as when it opened in 1893, the Buckhorn Exchange, 1000 Osage St., Denver (tel. 303/534-9505), still has a magnificent 19th-century hand-carved oak bar in the upstairs Victorian parlor and saloon. The downstairs features an amazing collection of taxidermy, a menagerie that includes everything from leopard to buffalo.
In a converted Victorian, the Tibetan/Nepalese Sherpa’s, 825 Walnut St., Boulder (tel. 303/440-7151), has no shortage of Himalayan relics, photos, and art to look at, especially in the cozy bar that doubles as a library.
Best Values: There is perhaps no better value-oriented restaurant than the nonprofit SAME Cafe, 2023 E. Colfax Ave., Denver (tel. 720/530-6853), where there is no cash register: Customers pay donations of their own choosing for a healthy lunch. The socially conscious proprietors are committed to alleviating hunger and promoting healthy eating for all.
It can be a little rowdy, but you'll have trouble breaking the bank on the creative burgers and sandwiches at Denver's Paramount Cafe, 519 16th St. (tel. 303/893-2000).
You’ll get fine food at reasonable prices in a casual atmosphere at the Corner Bar in the Hotel Boulderado, 2115 13th St., Boulder (tel. 303/442-4560).
Best for Kids: More a theme park than a restaurant, Casa Bonita, in the JCRS Shopping Center, 6715 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood, west of Denver (tel. 303/232-5115), has practically nonstop action, with divers plummeting into a pool beside a 30-foot waterfall, puppet shows, a video arcade, and a fun house. Yes, there’s food, too: tacos and other standard Mexican fare, country-fried steak, and fried chicken, served cafeteria-style.
There’s something about trains that brings out the kid in all of us. Giuseppe’s Old Depot Restaurant, 10 S. Sierra Madre St., Colorado Springs (tel. 719/635-3111), has one parked outside the door and plenty more rolling by just outside the large windows.
Best Burgers & Beer: Smack-dab on the pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall, Paramount Cafe, 519 16th St., Denver (tel. 303/893-2000), offers juicy burgers matched only by the people-watching patio.
The slider wars in Denver have heated up: Root Down, 1600 W. 33rd Ave. (tel. 303/993-4200), and Jonesy's Eat Bar, 1970 Pennsylvania St. (tel. 303/863-7473), serve sliders made from everything from falafel to duck confit.
Best People-Watching: With outdoor seating just 2 blocks from home plate of Coors Field in downtown Denver, Wynkoop Brewing Company, 1634 18th St. (tel. 303/297-2700), is the place to sit and watch the world stroll by.
Sitting inside or outside, you’ll get a great view of the Pearl Street Mall at 14th Street Bar & Grill, 1400 Pearl St., Boulder (tel. 303/444-5854). You’ll see all kinds of people passing by--students and families, old and young, and even street entertainers, from musicians to mimes. See p. ###.
Best View: Perched on the side of a mountain above Boulder, with a wall of windows framing the city below and plains beyond, Flagstaff House Restaurant, 1138 Flagstaff Rd. (tel. 303/442-4640), offers extraordinary views, especially as the sun sets or the city gradually disappears in a swirling snowstorm.
Large picture windows at Charles Court, in the Broadmoor, Lake Circle, Colorado Springs (tel. 719/577-5733), give diners a splendid vista out over the Broadmoor’s lake. One of its sister restaurants, the Penrose Room (tel. 719/577-5773) provides those same breathtaking views, but from a higher elevation.
Best Wine List: With more than 2,000 well-chosen selections, Flagstaff House Restaurant 1138 Flagstaff Rd., Boulder (tel. 303/442-4640), wins this category without question.
The rotating wine turret holds about 400 of the 1,400 bottles on hand at the Summit, Lake Circle, at Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs (tel. 800/634-7711; www.broadmoor.com), inside the Broadmoor.
The Palace Arms, at the Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St., Denver (tel. 303/297-3111), has one of the city’s most widely respected and award-winning wine lists.
Best Desserts: Homemade desserts at the Kitchen, 1039 Pearl St., Boulder (tel. 303/544-5973), include house-made chocolate bars, sticky toffee pudding, and other delectable treats.
With all the fine restaurants that seem to specialize in desserts, the Craftwood Inn, 404 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs (tel. 719/685-9000), stands out, particularly for such delicacies as grilled pineapple with Colorado chèvre ice cream and the way it combines raspberries and chocolate.
While the wine list at Table 6, 609 Corona St., Denver (tel. 303/831-8800), is terrific, the desserts are equally praiseworthy, especially the chocolate and raspberry beignets.
Best Fast Food: For burrito aficionados, the world’s first Chipotle is located near the University of Denver, at 1644 E. Evans Ave. (tel. 303/722-4121).
At Illegal Pete’s, 1447 Pearl St., Boulder (tel. 303/440-3955), you’ll get a similar choice of big burritos, as well as salads, chili, fish, chicken, and vegetarian tacos.
Best Natural Foods: The Mile High City’s vegetarians flock to WaterCourse Foods, 837 E. 17th Ave., Denver (tel. 303/832-7313), for such specialties as meatless tamales and banana-bread French toast.
At the terrific new Black Cat, 1964 13th St., Boulder (tel. 303/444-5500), owner-chef Erik Skokan uses ingredients from his own 10-acre farm in Boulder.
Fresh and healthy are the key words at Adam’s Mountain Cafe, 934 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, outside Colorado Springs (tel. 719/685-1430), which serves interesting dishes with a decidedly Mediterranean flair.
Best Sushi: Ask any Denver resident: The Sushi Den, 1487 S. Pearl St. (tel. 303/777-0826), is the place to go for sushi. Located in south Denver in the charming Old South Pearl Street retail district, the Sushi Den is one of two locations worldwide--the other is in Fukuoka, Japan.
Best Italian Cuisine: Traditional and innovative Italian flavors blissfully meet at Panzano, in Hotel Monaco, 909 17th St., Denver (tel. 303/296-3525). Try the restaurant’s specialty, buridda, a Genovese seafood stew with mussels, calamari, and shrimp in a savory lobster broth.
Best Seafood: McCormick’s Fish House & Bar, in the Oxford Hotel, 1659 Wazee St., Denver (tel. 303/825-1107), flies in fresh seafood daily. Choices often include salmon from Alaska, mussels from Maine and Florida, and yellowfin tuna from Hawaii.
Best Vietnamese Cuisine: The original Vietnamese restaurant in Denver, T-Wa Inn, 555 S. Federal Blvd., Denver (tel. 303/922-2378), is the place to come for genuine Vietnamese cooking. The perfectly cooked and spiced entrees include several vegetarian plates, delicious shrimp and pork loin, and a number of spicy Thai dishes to boot.
Best Continental Cuisine: Bone-in filet mignon with an imaginative wild mushroom and blue-cheese bread pudding at Walter’s Bistro, 146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., Colorado Springs (tel. 719/630-0201), is just one highlight of this chic eatery at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.
Best Mexican Cuisine: Amanda’s Fonda, 3625 W. Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs (tel. 719/227-1975), is the handiwork of a family that has owned Mexican restaurants for five generations. Clearly they’ve honed the art of making remarkable chile dishes in that time: Their chile Colorado and green chile stew are excellent.
Everything at Jack-N-Grill, 2524 N. Federal Blvd., Denver (tel. 303/964-9544), has chilies in it, roasted by the Martinez family on-site. Both the green and red chile stew are top-notch, as are the Mexican dishes and the fresh homemade salsa.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.