A spoonful of relief, a bowl of love, a slice of solace: Sometimes we want more than just flavor in our food. Here, Denver's favorite spots for culinary consolation.
It may not be medically proven, but a feel-good meal is sure to be balm for the soul. Bonus: All four of these dishes can be ordered to go so you can dine in the dark, on the couch, a box of Kleenex within reach.
Tuck into Highland Pacific's homey shrimp and grits, a dish that chef Ed Kammerer gussies up with a golden-crusted grit cake and shrimp poached in a just-spicy-enough Creole sauce. The best part: This entrée, though rich, is judiciously portioned so afterward you won't curse yourself for indulging. 3934 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-6644, www.highlandpacific.net
When Rioja chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski first created this chocolate-peanut-butter dessert she herself was smarting from a relationship gone bad. In the years since, Jasinski has fine-tuned the recipe so that it mingles cozy chocolate cheesecake, peanut-butter sponge cake, caramelized bananas, and banana-caramel sauce into one heavenly torte. 1413 Larimer St., 303-820-2282, www.riojadenver.com
So what if flavored mashers are somewhat passé—the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery's white cheddar mashed spuds remain some of the best comfort food we know. Buttery, dense, and flavored with cheese— why bother with a main course? 1735 19th St., 303-296-0800, www.rockbottomrestaurants-inc.com
A couple bites into Parallel 17's coconut-ginger-encrusted calamari and you might find yourself a bit happier. Maybe it's the zing of lightly battered citrus slices, jalapeño rings, squid, and sweet chile sauce. Or it could be the frosty ale and P17's jumping vibe that's at work on your spirits. 1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988, www.parallel17.com
It's no secret that the Front Range is a health-minded wonderland overrun with endurance athletes and exercise junkies. But at the end of a hard run (or hike, or ride, or race) sometimes we shun the Power Bar in favor of a fat-laden reward.
So it might not meet a trainer's ideal balance of fat, protein, and carbs, but Racines Restaurant's prime rib French dip sandwich has gotta be close. Choose the crusty ciabatta bread over the Kaiser roll, and find that this sandwich comes stuffed with thinly sliced prime rib and served au jus. What the heck, eat the whole thing and redeem yourself by ordering a side of fruit. 650 Sherman St., 303-595-0418, www.racinesrestaurant.com
If you like sweet potato pie or sweet potato fries, don't miss Snooze's sweet "patata" pancakes. These fluffy flapjacks will derail any exercise regimen with the promise of bourbon-pecan-caramel glaze and a dollop of cozy ginger butter (of course you can pour on the maple syrup too). 2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700, www.snoozedenver.com
On your way out of the gym, stop by the Denver Athletic Club's cafe for a homemade blueberry muffin. Consider this carbo loading at its best: The top and outside crust are browned just enough to caramelize the dough and seal in the flavor, and the sweet crumb inside comes jammed with blueberries. Bakers whip up these goodies each day. 1325 Glenarm Place, 303-534-1211, www.denverathleticclub.com
Skip the long wait (your legs are tired enough from this morning's ride) and seat yourself at Potager's bar. Order the salt-cod fritter. Part French brandade—a purée of fish, olive oil, garlic, milk, and cream—and part crab cake, chef Teri Rippeto's rendition comes crisped to a golden brown with a velvety cod mixture inside. The briney tapanade of chopped olives, capers, and anchovies adds just enough oomph to satisfy your salt craving. 1109 Ogden St., 303-832-5788
There are times when an inspiring menu gets the best of you, and during those moments we say go big or go home.
Don't bother looking at North Star Restaurant & Brewery Tavern's menu; just ask for a pint of Pic's Pale Ale and an order of sliders (with cheese) and tater tots with ranch. The mini burgers arrive in minutes, sandwiched between buttered buns, dripping with American cheese, and dotted with pickle rings. Add mustard and ketchup at your leisure. The crispy tater tots will take you straight back to childhood—and they're the perfect foil for North Star's homemade ranch dressing. 3200 Tejon St., 303-945-7605, www.thenorthstarbrewery.com
Big Hoss BBQ Steakhouse's Memphis Belle is best eaten at dinner— unless you can assure yourself a nap after lunch. We favor the brisket, but you can order this hearty sand-wich with pork or chicken. Either way, the soft white bun comes toasted and buttered, stacked with tender meat, and topped with tangy coleslaw, all waiting to be washed down with a cold PBR. Order a side of homemade steak fries and dunk them in Big Hoss' spicy sauce. 3961 Tennyson St., 720-866-3061
Just what makes Mezcal's quesadilla traditional so irresistible? For starters, there's no tortilla. Instead the kitchen stuffs masa with a blend of queso fresco, poblano chiles, and spices before frying it up right. The result? Hot and crispy empanada-like appetizers that simply beg you to dig in. Bonus: Douse each bite with Mezcal's tangy tomatillo salsa. 3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-5219
Virgilio's Pizzeria Napoletana's pizza is indulgent on its own, but even more so when you add the homemade mozzarella. By homemade we mean made to order. When the order comes in, the kitchen sets to work stirring together cow's milk curds, boiling water, and salt until the fresh-as-can-be cheese lands on your plate drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, and basil. 7986-B W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, 303-985-2777, www.virgiliospizzeria.com
Forget the Gatorade and ibuprofen; a greasy meal is the only way to recover from a big night out.
Sip sweet tea and dig in to a plate of chicken-n-dumplings at Tom's Home Cookin', and your hangover remedy's in reach. The menu changes daily so call the restaurant's answering machine to ensure the dumplings are on the menu. Another hint: Tom's opens at 11 a.m.; get there early and don't forget this is a cash-only joint. 800 E. 26th Ave., 303-388-8035
After a hard night out, fill the belly with mugs of hot coffee and Mona's corned beef hash. Forget about the usual minced meat and potatoes; chef Paul C. Reilly cuts corned beef into half-inch squares, grills it with home-style potatoes, green peppers, and onions, and tops the dish with two eggs sunny-side up. Keep the healing coming by pouring on the chipotle hollandaise and slathering a side of toast with butter and jam. 2364 15th St., 303-455-4503, www.monasrestaurant.com
Chubby's smothers its pipin' hot French fries with smoldering green chile. Add pork chicharones for a real gut bomb, but either way the slow burn and sheer decadence of the snack clears the cobwebs. Stock up on napkins and eat these fries in a hurry before they get soggy. Of the many locations, we go to the orig on 38th Ave. 1231 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-9311
Waiting for a table at Sam's No. 3 on a weekend morning might add to your headache, but once you're served a Greek omelet, all pain will subside. We consider each hearty bite of egg, gyro meat, feta cheese, tomato, red onion, tzatziki sauce, and pita to be somewhat magical. 1500 Curtis St., 303-534-1927, www.samsno3.com
A bucket of ice cream, a stack of brownies—sugary solutions to life's hang-ups. But we can do better—our short, sweet list of Denver dessert favorites.
Sweet and rich—that's just what we like about tres leches cake. There are several versions of this Latin American dessert, but we like La Sandía's best because the kitchen keeps it traditional by using evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. A slice of this layered dessert tastes like it should: bliss. 8340 E. 49th Ave., Unit 1690 (in the Northfield development), 303-373-9100, www.modernmexican.com/lasandia
The root beer float is such a simple pleasure: fizzy soda, melty vanilla ice cream, delicious foam, and, not least, a fun straw. Our favorite place to order this treat: the box seats at the Pepsi Center. 1000 Chopper Circle, 303-405-8555
We're admittedly head over heals for lemony desserts, but the lemon cake at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House steals the show. Sweet and tart, each forkful of the enormous slice tastes of fluffy cake with just-tangy-enough icing. Think a citrusy sweet can't stand up to a mean porterhouse or filet mignon? Order and believe. 8100 E. Orchard Road, Greenwood Village, 303-796-0100
We can always find an excuse to cozy up with a piece of the Palomino Euro Bistro's pear bread pudding. The spot-on ratio of crispy crust to sweet fruit comes from being baked in the restaurant's superhot brick oven. So decadent is this goodie that it hardly needs the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, but heck, why not. 1515 Arapahoe St., No. 150, 303-534-7800, www.palomino.com
Amanda M. Faison is 5280's food editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.