Every year 5280, which is Denver’s magazine cleverly named after the elevation of the city (Coloradans may or may not be obsessed with altitude), names the Top of the Town in its July issue. I love reading through this issue and finding new places to explore and try, and I had been intending on releasing my own Top of the Town also in July. Obviously it’s currently September, so I mean oops. Anyway, while I agree with some of the favorites that the magazine names, I definitely have my own Top of the Town list based on personal experiences.
Best coffee shop – Wash Perk
As a graduate student, I am the target clientele for cool coffee shops. I basically never study at Penrose Library on the University of Denver campus. Thanks 1970s carpet and white eggshell chairs but no thanks. I prefer to spend my hours reading and writing papers at coffee shops. Consequently, I have frequented several Denver coffee shops over the past few years. And while I have several favorites, there is just one coffee shop that rises above the rest – Wash Perk. I’m not sure what it is about Wash Perk, but something about that place has me hooked. Is it the fabulous location just blocks off away from undoubtedly the best park in Denver, Washington Park? Is it the cozy decor and sunny patio? Is it the friendly owner’s commitment to being as environmentally friendly as possible? Is it the adorable system of notecards for regular customers? Every tenth drink you order is free and my notecard holds over 40 drinks on it at this point. A lot of hard work has gone into that notecard, believe me. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above that makes this place so special. I’m sold.
Paula’s Recommendation: Iced nonfat latte with one pump of sugar free almond syrup
Best DU bar – The Pioneer
Admittedly, I have low standards for campus bars. My undergraduate college was located in a tiny suburb of Kansas City and weekends were spent at classy places like the local VFW and bars located in strip malls. However, there is one bar near the DU campus that my friends and I don’t entirely hate. There’s a lot of bars to dislike in the DU area, such as The Stadium, which is more commonly known as The Shadium. I’ll let that one be self-explanatory. Over the past few years though, my friends and I have kept supporting The Pioneer, a decent bar that serves surprisingly good Mexican food. Our level of commitment to The Pio is somewhat ridiculous. We attended a going away party of one of the bartenders, legitimately brought laptops and papers to the bar during finals week, and my friend Shreya even called the bar one night after the kitchen was closed and made them reheat queso and chips for us. Although I’m not sure I would necessarily make a special trip to go to The Pio, it’s definitely my favorite of the DU bars. Surprisingly, it’s also some of the best Mexican food I have had in Denver.
Paula’s Recommendation: Queso and chips with the seasonal New Belgium beer
Best place for a girl’s dinner – Lala’s Wine Bar
My friends and I love to have impromptu dinner parties and BBQs at Wash Park but on occasion we do get out to actual restaurants. One of our favorite finds in Denver has been Lala’s Wine Bar, which offers a great selection of wine and delicious pizza. It’s the perfect place for a nice girls’ dinner on a Friday night. Formerly my friend Sarah and I also thought it was a great place for first dates, however we have since decided it might be cursed and now designate it as a girls’ dinner locale only. Grab a glass of wine at the bar while you wait for a table and split the Roman artichokes as an appetizer. It’s hard to go wrong with the pizzas, but I have never been disappointed by the Il David, which is a naked pizza with three cheeses, herb grilled chicken, artichokes, oveb dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and peppadew peppers.
Paula’s Recommendation: Il David pizza with a glass (or three) of Doña Paula Malbec
Best place to grab a quick lunch – The Crushery
I was a little bit obsessed with The Crushery this past spring. Homemade bagel sandwiches “crushed” on a panini machine? Genius. The salads are pretty great too, and the croutons consist of warmed homemade bread in flavors like bacon and brie or sundried tomato and gorgonzola. My Friday schedule last spring consisted of class in the morning and work in the afternoon. But Fridays were often my favorite day of the week because those were the days I would pick up lunch from The Crushery. I’m getting hungry thinking about it now.
Paula’s Recommendation: Everything bagel egg sandwich with bacon, avocado and tomato
Best “Hi it’s Sunday night and I’m lazy so I’m going to order takeout” option – Little India
When I spent last fall in Atlanta one of my favorite things quickly became ordering Indian takeout from Planet Bombay in Little Five Points and watching The Amazing Race with my friends Caroline and Liz on Sunday nights. After I returned back to Denver in the winter, I started looking for a replacement Indian restaurant and settled on Little India. How good is Little India? My Indian friend and I constantly ordered Little India takeout if that tells you anything. I love the lamb biryani, chiken tikka masaala and especially the malai kofta. The garlic naan also never disappoints. The best part about Little India takeout is that you usually get enough for two meals. Yes, Indian takeout is truly the gift that keeps giving.
Paula’s Recommendation: Garlic naan and lamb biryani
Best ice cream – Lik’s
I am possibly extremely biased since Lik’s is my neighborhood ice cream spot but I swear Lik’s is the best ice cream in Denver. Bonnie Brae is overrated and while Sweet Action is decent it doesn’t compare. My mom visited me over the winter and she basically ate Lik’s ice cream almost every day of her visit. She’s normally a pretty healthy lady too. I mean I got in trouble for drinking her Diet Pepsis when I was a kid, since naturally that was the least healthy food item in our household. My absolute favorite flavor is pumpkin, which is only served during the winter months. The flavors constantly rotate since the ice cream is made by scratch. This just means I have to visit more often!
Paula’s Recommendation: One scoop in a cup with half pumpkin ice cream and half yellow cake
Best place to run – Jefferson County Open Space
Let’s face it, Washington Park is nice but it is the most boring place on earth to run. After moving to Denver in 2010, I quickly became bored with city running in Denver, and eventually stumbled upon the mecca of Colorado running, Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS). JCOS consists of some 20 open space parks with trails in the western suburbs of Denver including Lakewood, Golden, Evergreen and Morrison. I have since fallen in love with trail running, and I am now on my third pair of trail running shoes. On one truly epic run at Apex Park, I saw a rainbow over the Denver skyline and a baby deer. I have never run into a baby deer at Washington Park. Case in point.
Paula’s Recommendation: Matthews/Winter Park for beginning trail runners and White Ranch Park for advanced
Best all-around Colorado Beer – Dale’s Pale Ale
Colorado is a great place to be if you love beer, and there’s definitely a wide selection available. One beer that never disappoints and is good all year round is Dale’s Pale Ale made by Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont. I am a lover of IPAs, so I love hops, but I think Dale’s Pale Ale is a nice compromise for those who are not huge fans of IPAs. There are two types of people that I don’t understand: 1) the people who claim that cilantro tastes like soap and 2) the people who don’t like IPAs. Regardless of your feelings towards hops, Dale’s Pale Ale is a tasty beer all around. The brewery describes it as, “America’s first hand-canned craft beer, a ‘voluminously hopped mutha’ with hoppy nose, assertive-but-balanced flavors of pale malts & hops.” Did I mention the beer is only available in cans? This is actually awesome and makes it the perfect camping, hiking and mountain adventure beer.
Paula’s Recommendation: Hike a sunrise 14er and celebrate with a Dale’s Pale Ale
Best liquor store – Argonaut
There are some interesting liquor laws in Colorado, which make it impossible to buy beer or alcohol in supermarkets or convenience stores. Personally, I like these laws and find them to not be a hindrance, as there are always liquor stores near grocery stores. Plus not only is it easy to find liquor stores but the quality of these liquor stores is pretty high. My favorite liquor store is definitely Argonaut on Colfax, and I enjoy going to Argonaut to pick up a bottle of wine or case of beer. It has an amazing selection, and I have always found the staff to be knowledgeable and helpful. Also Argonaut has this great preferred shopper card where you can accumulate points, and for every $500 you spend, you get a $20 voucher. Not that I am even close to achieving this, but I figure I will get there eventually.
Best brewpub – Vine Street Pub
Based on these past three categories, it sounds like all I spend my time doing is drinking beer. Don’t worry, I eat food along with my beer sometimes too! I am a huge fan of Vine Street Pub for their microbrews and delicious food. Vine Street Pub is the Denver extension of the Mountain Sun Pub based out of Boulder, and the Boulder influences are quite apparent. The fare is mostly sandwiches, burgers, hummus, salads and the like, but they also are well known for having amazing buffalo wings. Westword actually named Vine Street Pub as its pick for best wings. It’s a popular place, so unfortunately there is sometimes a wait. But they usually set out homemade french fries to munch on while you wait, and it’s close enough to Thin Man that you also can put your name on the list and grab a drink there first.
Paula’s Recommendation: Buffalo wings and Colorado Kind Ale
Best local Colorado food product – Noosa Yoghurt
I made up this category basically just to plug Noosa Yoghurt, the most amazing yogurt that I have ever had in my entire life. For long-time followers of the blog, you may remember that time I blogged about how much I loved the yogurt from Publix grocery stores in Atlanta. Basically I’m a bit of a yogurt foodie. Anyway, Noosa Yoghurt is incredible. The Noosa Web site describes it as “uniquely thick and velvety, deliciously tangy/sweet yoghurt”, with which I wholeheartedly agree. It’s kind of a cross between all the things I love about Greek yogurt with more traditional yogurts. My favorite flavor is Strawberry Rhubarb but I mean really it’s as arbitrary as picking a favorite ice cream flavor. They’re all good! Noosa is produced by northern Colorado’s Morning Fresh Dairy Farm and can be found at any of the million Whole Foods in the Denver metro area.
Paula’s Recommendation: Strawberry Rhubarb Noosa
Best brunch – Devil’s Food
Denverites seem to really love their weekend brunches, which is understandable because leisurely weekend brunches are indeed an excellent pasttime. Correspondingly, there are a lot of trendy brunch spots and strong opinions about the best brunch places. While I’m not denying that Snooze has excellent pancakes and Jelly has great scrambles, I think once you consider all factors, my overall favorite is Devil’s Food on South Gaylord. It’s the one brunch place to which I keep returning. The wait is never as bad at Devil’s Food as the regular two hour waits at Snooze, and the fare is local, natural and organic. The challah bread french toast is seriously to die for along with the roasted grapefruit with brown sugar and brandy. Plus the atmosphere is completely charming, and if you want an amazing Bloody Mary, just head over to neighboring Wash Park Tavern which has one of the best Bloody Mary bars in town. It’s the best of both worlds on South Gaylord Street!
Paula’s Recommendation: Challah french toast and a grapefruit mimosa
Best fancy shmancy restaurant – Fruition
Best wine bar – Village Cork
Best local boutique – Decade
Best place to take out of town visitors – Red Rocks Amphitheater
Best weekend activity – Wash Park BBQs
Best place to cool off in the summer – Tubing on Boulder Creek
Best outdoor goods store – Wilderness Exchange
Best intimate concert venue – The Bluebird Theater
Best karaoke – Ogden Street South
Best bakery – Buffalo Doughboy Bakery
Best meal after a day of skiing – Pho 95
Best burger – Park Burger
Best sweet potato fries – Root Down
Best vegetarian/vegan fare – City ‘O City
Congratulations to all the 2011 PTOTT winners. The PTOTT is probably the biggest award since the Oscars, yes. I look forward to another fun year of trying new places, shops and adventures in Denver! Until the 2012 PTOTTs…