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While we may not celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the same fervor that tequila-shooting college students do, we’ll gladly take the excuse to throw back a few well-crafted margaritas, preferably afuera. Weather permitting, this year you’ll find us at nine-month-old Cochino Taco in Englewood. The Squeaky Bean Farm & Table owner Johnny Ballen transformed a former gas station into this funky taqueria with a southwest-facing patio and a killer happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. We can’t get enough of playful snacks such as the $5 Evil Cheetos: cheese-powder-dusted chicharrones with jalapeño vinegar. The $4 Fritos Locos is a crunch fest of corn chips, jicama, carrot, cucumber, cilantro, and Japanese peanuts served right in the chip bag and dressed with both Valentina hot pepper sauce and sweet, tangy, spicy “chamoy” (pickled fruit) sauce. Wash it down with $5 frozen palomas—Mexican holiday or not. 3495 S. Downing St., Englewood, 720-573-6174
Rick Koerner of Stack Subs isn’t trying to reinvent the sandwich—he’s aiming to perfect it. The former management consultant spent his corporate career traveling around the country, sniffing out the best bites between two slices along the way. That research informs the toasted subs at his nearly three-year-old Lakewood shop. Koerner is meticulous about bread in particular; he sources pretzel rolls from Texas for his turkey bacon special (with house-made spicy cream cheese and pesto) and crusty baguettes from Chicago for the Stack (roast beef, turkey, honey ham, salami, and your choice of cheese). Ingredients are layered with care for uniform taste and texture from end to end. Soon, you’ll be able to taste the difference at a new location, set to open at 17th and Market streets early this summer. 420 S. Teller St., Lakewood, 303-742-7827
Hearth & Dram calls itself a saloon, but don’t expect dusty cowboys and shots of no-name whiskey. The four-month-old restaurant and bar in the Union Station neighborhood is far more sophisticated than that. Warm wood, steel, and leather elements bring a stylish feel to the space by day and an elegant vibe after dark. The open kitchen, helmed by executive chef Jeffrey Wall, is decked out with a wood-fired hearth, custom rotisserie, and “planchas” (flattop grills). These toys allow Wall to showcase his expertise with veggies, proteins, and grains alike—think pan-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms with a creamy celeriac purée and rosy slices of grilled, dry-aged duck breast resting on chewy farro. The extensive cocktail and whiskey lists arrive via iPad, and a bartender will deliver reserve whiskeys to your table and mix you custom cocktails. You won’t miss the saloon girls, we promise. 1801 Wewatta St., 303-623-0979