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Even as it faces staffing shortages, pandemic protocols, and supply chain disruptions, Denver’s dining scene remains dynamic, deep, and downright delicious. Here’s your guide to the most delectable meals in the Mile High City.
Yakitori at Uncle
It’s always grilling season at Uncle’s Speer location, where chef-owner Tommy Lee and sous chef Sean May offer a tightly curated menu of yakitori (Japanese-style skewered chicken, pictured above). Choose from nearly a dozen poultry preparations—for which May butchers up to 20 whole birds per week—including meatballs with cured egg yolk, dirty-rice-stuffed wings, and green-miso-cloaked breast. The lineup is available for dinner Monday through Thursday, making it a finger-licking cure to your weeknight blues. Starting at $4 per stick
Vegetarian Dishes For Any Kind of Foodie
Even if you eat meat, trading in your go-to animal-protein-centric dishes for these standout vegetarian renditions is a choice you’ll feel good about.
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If you’re craving… A bacon- crumble-topped baked potato
Order the… Loaded elote baked potato
At… The Easy Vegan pop-up at the City Park and South Pearl Street farmers’ markets
Because… This hollowed-out spud—stacked with fire-roasted Hatch chiles, garlic whipped potatoes, charred corn, Tajín aïoli, and other toppings—is an elevated, improved version of the cafeteria staple, even without the meat. $12
If you’re craving… Al pastor tacos
Order the… Fried cauliflower tacos
At… So Radish in Arvada
Because… A nutty cilantro-cashew crema, slices of avocado, and pickled red onion add pizzazz to nuggets of golden cauliflower, a winning alternative to traditional street tacos loaded with pig. $14
If you’re craving… Corned beef hash
Order the… Vegetable hash
At… Sullivan Scrap Kitchen in City Park West
Because… Crispy potatoes and a medley of in-season goodies like Hazel Dell mushrooms and eggplant offer a nourishing base for two eggs cooked your way. Get it during weekend brunch at the zero-waste restaurant. $13
If you’re craving… Wings
Order the… Seitan wings
At… Fire On the Mountain in Washington Park West and West Highland
Because… A selection of 15 tongue-tingling sauces, including spicy peanut and raspberry habanero, punches up vegan wings made with crunchy, house-made seitan (a wheat-based protein). Starting at $10 for six
If you’re craving… Chicken tibs
Order the… Veggie Delight
At… Konjo Ethiopian Food’s Edgewater Public Market stall and food truck
Because… Three slow-cooked vegan dishes—choose among miser (red lentils), gomen with dinich (spinach and potatoes), tikel gomen (cabbage, carrots, and potatoes), and kik (yellow split peas)—come with sheets of injera for scooping. $13
Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken
LoDo and City Park
In 2021, Mono Mono opened two locations in Denver, introducing a roster of nearly a dozen Korean crispy chicken dishes. Its audibly crunchy wings are fried in two stages at lower temperatures, allowing the fat to render from the skin to achieve a light, crackly crust. Ask for them doused in the restaurant’s Hot & Spicy sauce. Starting at $11 for six
When you’re throwing a few back at Pony Up, it’s almost impossible not to order one of the five stellar French dips, but the bar’s take on Japanese fried chicken is inspiring patrons to adopt a new go-to. The meaty strips of boneless thigh meat are flavored with hints of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce and coated in a flaky, durable crust that remains crisp—even through a third round. $12
Welton Street Cafe
The Dickersons have served Southern and Caribbean fare—including some of the juiciest, crunchiest fried chicken in town—at this beloved Five Points institution for 22 years. The bone-in pieces are generously rubbed with a family-recipe seasoning mixture before they’re dredged in flour and fried until golden brown. If choosing just two of the 15 sides seems daunting, take our advice: Get the collard greens. $23
Denverites are lucky to live in a haven of handheld meals. Let us guide you to the one that will satisfy your cravings.
If you’re craving seafood… Pirate Alley’s shrimp po’ boy
Kyle and Katy Foster (the husband-and-wife team behind now-closed Julep) make several iterations of the classic Louisiana sandwich at Pirate Alley, a takeout-only, lunchtime pop-up at Stir Cooking School. The version with lightly battered fried shrimp, sweet remoulade, shredded lettuce, and pickled green tomatoes on a Vinh Xuong Bakery baguette offers a taste of NOLA in the heart of Highland. $14
If you’re craving something fried… Open’s Toru katsu sandwich
At Open—a walk-up kitchen inside Congress Park’s Goose-town Tavern—this behemoth features a hefty panko-breaded and fried pork cutlet, sliced cabbage, luscious katsu sauce, and spicy Japanese mustard snuggled between two slices of Broomfield’s Enchanted Oven shokupan. Owner Jake Riederer tapped Matsuhisa chef Toru Watanabe to submit the recipe for Open’s menu, which sports a rotating roster of sandwiches from six to eight local culinary pros. $15
If you’re craving Mexican flavors… BØH’s Piada torta
Lurking in the Dairy Block alleyway at the Free Market entrance is counter-service taqueria BØH, where chef de cuisine Michael Diaz de Leon piles cochinita pibil—moist, achiote-pepper-rubbed pork—inside a squishy torta pocket made from locally hand-milled Dry Storage flour and baked in a hearth oven on-site. A tangle of tangy xnipec pickled onions and a smear of zesty salsa aguacate (avocado and tomatillo salsa) add oomph to the lunchtime feast. $12
If you’re craving slow-smoked goodness… Pho King Rapidos’ pho banh mi
For this food truck’s mash-up of two iconic Vietnamese dishes, owners Long Nguyen and Shauna Seaman smoke up to 70 pounds of brisket per week. The thinly sliced, star-anise-scented meat is presented on a French baguette dressed with pickled red onion, sliced jalapeños, Thai basil, cilantro, English cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin-and-Sriracha-spiced barbecue sauce. $15
If you’re craving all the meat… Elita Specialty Kitchen’s Cubano
Inside Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace, chef-owner Raquela Serber decks out her masterpiece with citrus- and garlic-tinged mojo pork, smoky ham, Swiss cheese, hibiscus-pickled onions, and kosher pickles, all set inside a bolillo roll from nearby Mercado Azteca & Deli. The sandwich is seared a la plancha with butter for a heavenly, afternoon-nap-inducing meal. $13
Breakfast and Brunch
No matter what you’re doing later, give your Saturday or Sunday morning the decadent start it deserves.
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Before you: Go to the Broncos game
Get the: Buddy Mary at Baba & Pop’s Handmade Pierogi in Aurora
This joint’s Sunday brunch lineup stars rib-sticking offerings (think: pierogi and kielbasa Benedicts). But the most indulgent item lives on the drink menu: The Buddy Mary is studded with a parade of skewered accoutrements, including fried chicken kebabs, potato and cheese pierogi, kielbasa sausage, pickled veggies, and cheese curds. Weighing in at 50 ounces, it’s the pregame cocktail of champions. $48
Before you: Head up the hill to hike
Get the: Breakfast sandwich at Chicken Rebel in Highland or Westminster
Since debuting in Denver as a food truck four years ago, this cult favorite has expanded its chicken sandwich empire into two brick-and-mortar outposts. To give her gargantuan classic fried chicken breast stacker a brunch hour makeover, chef-owner Lydie Lovett adds a fried egg and two thick slices of bacon. Bonus: The Westminster location has a drive-thru, so you can pick up a delicious distraction from I-70 traffic without leaving your car. $12
Before you: Shop for clothes with Mom
Get the: Bombolinis at Annette in Aurora
Biting into one of chef-owner Caroline Glover’s bombolinis is a brunch lover’s dream come true—but only if you don’t sleep in, since the sourdough Italian doughnuts, available exclusively on Sunday mornings, often sell out quickly. This fall, look for flavors like pear cream with cinnamon sugar and raspberry cream with lemon sugar—sustenance that will keep you smiling no matter what feedback Mom has for you. $4 each
Before you: Catch up on your inbox
Get the: Ajarski at House of Bread in south Denver
South Parker Road gained a destination for Armenian, Georgian, and other international morning fare when House of Bread arrived in November 2020. One of the family-owned bakery’s most popular dishes is the ajarski, a hearty baked-to-order meal of two eggs nestled in an oval-shaped bread boat with a layer of melty mozzarella and feta. To stimulate your brain cells, pair the knife-and-fork affair with a cup of potent, unfiltered Armenian coffee. Starting at $11
Before you: Binge Netflix all day
Get the: Biscuits and gravy at American Elm in West Highland
Chef Brent Turnipseede’s bevy of killer weekend brunch specialties includes a glorious platter of giant brown butter biscuits blanketed with rich, black-pepper-flecked gravy. And, just to ensure you don’t leave the couch for the rest of the day, the dish is served with a side of smashed tots, which are best consumed “Elm style”; that is, coated in smoked cheddar, pickled Fresno peppers, sliced scallions, and bacon bits. $14
Korean-Style Corn Dogs
Korean Cornflake Dog, Giner Pig, Sunnyside
Chef-owner Natascha Hess excels at playful Pan-Asian eats, and her fried dinner on a stick—a Nathan’s hot dog wrapped in yeasted dough, rolled in panko and cornflakes, dusted with sugar, and fancied up with a combination of ketchup, mustard, sliced scallions, and black and white sesame seeds—is no exception. $10
Cheese Dog, Mukja Food Truck
This mobile eatery’s bestseller consists of a baton of gooey fried cheese dusted with sugar and garnished with spicy ketchup and homemade honey mustard. You can also get it topped with crumbled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and nacho cheese or with mayo, Parmesan, and Tajín. Both are delectable options. Starting at $4
Tokyo Crunch Dawg, Mama’s Noodle Cafe, Greenwood Village
Mama’s Noodle Cafe’s proximity to Cherry Creek High School inspired chef-owner Thuan La to invent this portable, takeout-friendly snack. To satisfy teenage appetites, he enshrines Hebrew National beef franks in thin rice flour batter and rice bits and showers them with various toppings, like the Tokyo’s sweet unagi tare (eel sauce), Kewpie mayo, and garlicky seasoning. $6
Pozole at La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal
A guide to enjoying La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal’s divine stew.
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Pozolerias may not be ubiquitous in Denver, but neither were taquerias 10 years ago, when chef Jose Avila brought Machete Tequila & Tacos to town. His latest venture, which opened in Ballpark in June, is an homage to the mom-and-pop shops across his hometown of Mexico City that specialize in the meat-and-hominy-studded broth. (Avila even offers a two-for-the-price-of-one deal on Thursdays, a common practice in the City of Palaces.) “Most pozole in Denver restaurants come out of a can,” Avila says. “I don’t blame them; it’s not what they do. But we want to do it the way it should be done.” That means importing dry heirloom Oaxacan corn and nixtamalizing it (boiling it with lime sodium and rinsing off the firm with water, Avila says, “over and over and over”). Then, the large kernels must be peeled by hand, one at a time, before they’re ready to cook overnight in the broth, which doesn’t leave the stove until it hits your bowl. $17 —Jessica LaRusso
Step one: Choose your caldo. The blanco is “just a straight up good broth, no secrets,” Avila says. The rojo gets its smoky flavor from dried chiles, including guajillos and pumas, and the verde is bright and fresh, with pepitas and pablano peppers.
Step two: Select shredded Alamosa-source chicken or cabeza de credo (pig’s head) from hogs raised on Avila’s Wellington farm. Their bones help give the caldo its rich flavor.
Step three: When your meals arrives, in the mix in the tangle of lettuce, cabbage, radish, and onions on top (you can also add avocado and chicharrons) or leave it floating, which provides a delightful crunch. “There are no rules,” Avila says.
Step four: Use the provided handled plastic juicer to sprinkle the dish with fresh lime juice and amp up the heat level with a squeeze of hot sauce.
Step five: Scoop up your first bites with the accompanying crunchy tostada, which is hardened on the flattop grill instead of being fried in oil. When that’s gone, turn to your spoon- until you need to bring the bowl to your lips to slurp up the last drops.
Know Your Noodle
A primer on today’s tastiest Italian, Japanese, and Chinese carbs—and where in the Mile High City to find them.
Anolini \ ah-no-lee-nee
Form: A crescent- or circular-shaped ravioli (filled pasta) with ruffled edges
Source: At Restaurant Olivia in Washington Park, chef Ty Leon’s anolini changes with the seasons. This fall, he’s stuffing half-dollar-size rounds of pasta with earthy squash and serving them in a sage butter and huckleberry-compote-sweetened sauce with pieces of king crab. $25
Capellini \ kah-peh-lee-nee
Form: Threads of pasta that are slightly thicker than angel hair
Source: To make the aglio e olio at Highland’s Spuntino, chef Cindhura Reddy and chef de cuisine Austin Nickel hand-roll tresses of capellini, which are tossed in a sauce built from Reddy’s South Indian spice-preserved garlic, Corto olive oil, garlic-cilantro breadcrumbs, and a 63-degree poached egg. $23
Dao Xiao Mian \ dow-show-mee-en
Form: Wide, flat rice noodles peeled from a slab of dough using a knife
Source: Ask for the Chinese menu at Blue Ocean, off East Belleview Avenue in south Denver, to find the no-frills restaurant’s dao xiao mian, listed as “knife-shaved noodles.” The soft, melt-in-your-mouth shards are made fresh and simmered in a gently spiced, chicken-soup-like broth with bits of pork, tomato, and cabbage. $14
Lamian \ la-mee-en
Form: Noodles fashioned by twisting, stretching, and folding wheat flour dough into thin or wide strands
Source: On food truck Yuan Wonton’s rotating menu, chef-owner Penelope Wong recently debuted a wide-belted lamian dish. The best part? Each single-serving plate comprises one chewy, painstakingly pulled-to-order noodle slicked with spicy sesame sauce. $8
Mixian \ mix-see-en
Form: A slippery, spaghettilike rice noodle
Source: Ten Seconds Yunnan Rice Noodles on South Havana Street in Aurora specializes in mixian rice noodle soup from China’s Yunnan province. Get the Original, a stone bowl of pork broth accompanied by a side of noodles and other add-ins—slices of ham, wood ear mushrooms, minced pork—for dunking and slurping. $13
Pappardelle \ pah-pahr-del-eh
Form: A long, extra-wide pasta with rippled ends
Source: Everything on chef Cody Cheetham’s handmade pasta menu at LoDo’s Tavernetta is excellent—but this fall, his pappardelle is our order of choice. The noodles are enameled with a wild mushroom ragu and taleggio fonduta (an Italian-style fondue).
Ramen \ rah-men
Form: A variation of lamian that’s often served in a savory meat- or fish-based broth in Japanese cuisine
Source: Chef-owner Takashi Tamai makes fresh noodles every morning at Sunnyside’s Ramen Star. Tuck into a bowl of his shoyu ramen: a vegetarian broth laden with sliced green onions, fermented bamboo shoots, mixed fresh greens, corn, bean sprouts, and a potato pierogi (yes, really). $17
Triangoli \ tree-an-go-lee
Form: A triangular-shaped ravioli with fluted edges
Source: At Benzina in South Park Hill, executive chef Daniele Bolognini injects delicate triangoli with a celery root and cheese mixture and tops the delicate dumplings with fresh truffles and Grana Padano cheese. $29
Sunday Vinyl Wine Bar, LoDo
Tavernetta’s vinyl-spinning sister excels at bites that complement a good glass of wine, and that repertoire includes a juicy pork patty nestled inside a fluffy potato bun with a handful of thinly shredded lettuce. It’s presented alongside a pile of crispy fries—a simple yet satisfying partner for whatever vintage you’re sipping. $18
Split Lip Chicken at Number 38, RiNo
This former pop-up from Ultreia executive chef Adam Branz and partners David Wright and Jessica Richter found a permanent home at RiNo food hall Number 38 in September. The hot chicken sandwiches are divine, but it’s the Slug Burger we crave. Inspired by the Mississippi classic, Split Lip’s version is built with a fried, bread-crumb-enriched beef patty, an abundance of thinly sliced pickles, and a Thousand Island–esque sauce. $7
Highland Tap & Burger, Multiple locations
The Tap landed on the menu at this respected burger chain in 2020 and quickly gained the affections of French onion soup (and dip) fanatics across the Denver area. The messy, napkin-demanding tour de force is outfitted with a natural beef patty, Swiss cheese, French onion soup aïoli, crispy onion straws, red onion, and lettuce and served with a bowl of warm beef jus. $15
Extravagant Dishes Worth Indulging In
Whether you have a little extra cash or a recent checking account windfall, these dishes are worth the splurge.
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Whole Steamed Lobster at Manzo Lobster and Oyster Bar
To ensure his clawed creatures are the freshest on the Front Range, owner Rich Manzo hired a marine biologist to install a 2,500-gallon live lobster tank inside his restaurant. The market-priced crustaceans are cooked to order in just six minutes using a special steamer that ensures a juicy, never rubbery bang for your buck.
Peking Duck at Ace Eat Serve
Executive chef Thach Tran employs a four-day process to produce this Chinese specialty, including flying in Pekin ducks from Indiana and Long Island (both homes to acclaimed duck-farming communities), dry-aging the birds in a walk-in cooler, and basting them with hot oil to crisp the skin. The presentation is impressive, with the gleaming duck carved tableside and accompanied by mu shu crêpes, sliced scallions and cucumbers, pickled chiles, sesame hoisin, and an apricot chile jam. Bonus: On Tuesday, October 19, Ace Eat Serve will host Ace Peking Duck House, a meal benefiting the Youth Employment Academy. The $100 spread includes one duck with accompanying courses for four people; reserve your spot here.
Charcuterie Board at Blackbelly
The meaty elements on Blackbelly’s Grand Selection platter are crafted in-house under the direction of head butcher Kelly Kawachi. Each board includes four of her creations—such as Calabrian-chile-spiked ’nduja, 12-month-cured pork leg salumi, and pork terrine bejeweled with Hatch chiles and herbs—and four cheeses, all of which are paired with fixings like apple chutney, local honeycomb, and house pickles.
Hot Stone Wagyu at Corrida
The team at this swanky Spanish steak house will hook you up with thick slices of immaculately marbled, imported Japanese A5 wagyu to cook over hot stones at your table. The spread includes sherry jus with beef cracklings and whipped egg yolk for dipping.
The Sinker at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar
Choose three or four freeloading friends to toast your prosperity and help you devour this iced raw bar platter, stocked with one pound of peel-and-eat shrimp; one pound of king crab; 12 shucked oysters; a shrimp, octopus, and squid salad; Emersum ahi tuna poke; and whitefish roe caviar with house-made potato chips and crème fraîche. (Smaller versions, for $55 and $110, are also available.)
Akwaaba Platter at African Grill & Bar
African Grill & Bar’s akwaaba platter is an edible introduction to the world’s second-largest continent.
On your first visit to Lakewood’s African Grill & Bar—where you’ll likely be greeted by owners Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo or one of their three children—ordering the akwaaba platter is a no-brainer. Akwaaba means “welcome” in the family’s Ghanaian dialect, and like the full menu, the dish’s components span the continent. While you might be tempted to go back again and again for the two-person sampler, broken down below, it’s meant to prompt diners to explore the casual restaurant’s other offerings, from lamb kebabs to palm butter soup to cassava fufu (starchy, comforting dough balls). “Sometimes we have to encourage people to get a different item,” Theodora says. “People get stuck on it.” We understand why. $32 —JL
1. Two chicken drumsticks are roasted and then deep-fried—a simple and traditional preparation, says Theodora, who spent some of her childhood in Nigeria—which results in succulent meat and crackly skin.
2. The unleavened, grilled wheat bread is known as chapati in East Africa.
3. Indian immigrants introduced samosas to East Africa, and the triangular pastry pockets are particularly popular in Kenya. The Osei-Fordwuos stuff their mouthwatering vegetarian versions with cabbage, peas, onions, and warming spices, like cloves.
4. The Osei-Fordwuos pull from the culinary traditions of Ghana, where Sylvester grew up, to prepare their dairy-free cabbage and spinach stews. The curry-esque, veggie-heavy blends get their flavors from chunks of carrot, onion, and ginger.
5. Slow-cooked for seven hours, the tomato-y jollof rice is a West African specialty. (Each country in the region has its own variation, and the “jollof wars” between Ghana and Nigeria are particularly impassioned.) Traditionally, the dish is made with a protein, but to serve their vegetarian customers, the Osei-Fordwuos prepare it without meat.
6. Like everything on the menu, the fried plantains have no added sugar, allowing the bananas’ natural sweetness to shine.
In July, Spencer White, Alexander Figura, and LuLu Clair, the minds behind pasta palace Dio Mio, debuted their highly anticipated Redeemer Pizza in the former Meadowlark Kitchen space. Since then, Denverites have been lining up for New York–style slices and whole pies, including the Diavolo with mozzarella, pepperoncini, pepperoni, soppressata, and pickled chiles. Mental note: The sourdough edging is even better dunked in a side of the homemade ranch.
This South Broadway pizzeria slings beautifully blistered, wood-fired pies with a Colorado twist: Its naturally leavened (i.e., chemical-additive-free) crust is made with locally grown and milled heirloom wheat flours. You can taste the difference through the simplicity of the margherita pizza’s tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, fresh basil, and Grana Padano.
Congress Park and West Highland
Blue Pan’s square, Detroit-style pies have earned scores of accolades, including top honors at international pizza competitions. And rightfully so: The spot’s doughy, crispy-cheese-edged crust accommodates any assortment of toppings. We’re partial to the Brooklyn Bridge, a sauce-coated beauty crowned with brick cheese, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, pecorino, and tidy clumps of creamy ricotta.
Savory Cheesecake at Goed Zuur
Goed Zuur’s general manager and cheese program director dishes about the Five Points restaurant’s cheesecake.
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Rachel Smith may be certified by the American Cheese Society, but she’s not snooty. Case in point: Goed Zuur’s seasonally rotating savory cheesecake. In addition to curating the sour-beer-centric gastropub’s renowned rotating cheese menu, which features products sourced from makers across the world, Smith and her tight-knit team whip up fanciful inventions like this fall’s riff on the American dessert. It sports a base of blackberry-infused Le Delice de Mon Sire brie capped with rabbit rillette (a pâtélike spread), cured lemon peel, and thyme jelly, all set on a Ritz cracker crust. We had questions—and, luckily, Smith had answers. $10
5280: Cheesecake is usually a dessert—why go savory?
Rachel Smith: We like to do creative interpretations of different dishes. There’s a motivation to do something you don’t typically see yet is familiar enough and pairs well with sour beer.
What inspires each iteration?
We’re all part of putting it together and definitely want the cheesecake’s flavors to be a little lighter and crisper in spring and summer and heavier and richer in the fall and winter. We’re always thinking about pairings for it, too, and like to play with the flavors in the beers, which also are made with different ingredients every season.
How should we dig in?
Because the cheesecake is so delicate, we serve it at room temperature. It kind of eats like a quiche or soufflé and is fluffy, creamy, and delicious. If there’s any left on the pan, you can use our [house-baked] bread to get all of the extra bits. You can’t waste any of it.
Birria at Work & Class
How whole goat becomes a melt-in-your-mouth taco topper at Work & Class in RiNo.Over the past year, birria has popped up at restaurants across Denver in burritos, griddled tacos, and even ramen, but the meaty Mexican goat stew has been a mainstay at Work & Class since the RiNo hot spot opened its repurposed-shipping-container doors eight years ago. There, chef-owner Dana Rodriguez presents a traditional version of the dish called cabrito (roasted young goat). Currently an every-other-week special, the protein comes with a simple garbanzo bean salad and house-made tortillas. Here’s what makes Rodriguez’s cabrito the GOAT.
20 to 25: Pounds of cabrito produced from each whole goat the restaurant gets from farms in Boulder, Salida, and Evans and butchers in-house
12: Hours the bone-in goat pieces are brined to tender perfection (this also eliminates the meat’s gaminess) before spending another 12 hours marinating in a mixture of guajillo chile, onion, garlic, oregano, rosemary, and cumin
22: Quarts of collagen-rich bone broth that collect at the bottom of the pan as the goat bakes to a fall-off-the-bone consistency
20: Heat-conducting granite rocks layered in a pan with the protein and fragrant banana, agave, or avocado leaves as it all roasts overnight
7: Ingredients—garbanzo beans, cilantro, onion, olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper—in the salad that tops the ultratender, bone-broth-soaked cabrito