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1. From Oaxaca With Love
Zocalito Latin Bistro | Central Business District
Local fans of Oaxacan food had reason to celebrate when chef Michael Beary moved his popular Zocalito Latin Bistro from Aspen to the Mile High City in December. Now they (and you) can revel in salsas, rellenos, and moles made with the rare chiles Beary imports from Oaxaca without driving three-and-a-half hours. Zocalito’s new space, which sits at the corner of 18th and Champa streets, is adorned with Mexican folk art sculptures called “alebrijes” and photo murals of Oaxacan street life. In the kitchen, Beary brings the moderately spicy, fruity, and smoky flavors of chilhuacle, chilcostle, pasilla de Oaxaca, and taviche chiles to his cooking. And in addition to tequilas, mezcals, and rums, Zocalito’s bar menu reaches across the Atlantic to highlight Spanish and Portuguese sherries and ports—so you can further your flavor exploration from the heart of downtown Denver.
2. A Denver Institution
Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill | Capitol Hill
No other restaurant in town delivers on the motto “something for everyone” quite like Charlie Brown’s. For you, that something might be the comfy, throwback vibe of the 55-year-old Grant Street spot, with its cabinet of curiosities over the bar, emerald green carpeting, and smoker-friendly covered streetside patio. Or maybe it’s the nightly sing-alongs in the piano lounge, where regulars and tourists (including, at different points in time, Bill Murray, Tony Bennett, and Jack Kerouac) belt out show tunes, pop hits, and, come the holidays, carols. Or it could be the lengthy food menu, which sports everything from pizza and burritos to steak dinners and tender beef tips in whiskey cream sauce. Of course, for those in the know, the very best something at Charlie Brown’s is the invitation to drink free on your birthday.
3. Chinese Street Food
Mr. Hao Grill | Hampden
If you like check-the-box sushi menus and the shareability of tapas-style dining, you’ll love year-old Mr. Hao Grill, near Cherry Creek Reservoir. Rather than a list of Japanese fish or Spanish appetizers, Mr. Hao’s paper menu features a lineup of Chinese street foods divided into categories such as “cold dish” and “skewer.” Of the nearly 20 meat-on-a-stick options (which include chicken gizzards and Chinese sausage), our favorite is the lamb, seasoned with a chile- and cumin-heavy spice blend that offers a hint of Sichuan peppercorn tingle. From there, build out your meal with a vegetable (such as the steamed leeks bathed in a tangy-spicy sauce), something from the seafood section (garlic oysters or scallops served on their own shells), and an order of cold sesame noodles. Bring friends: Like sushi and tapas, Mr. Hao’s fare is best enjoyed with a group.