Best Tastes 2018: Restaurant Edition

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Kid’s Veggie Burrito with Queso from Illegal Pete’s Northside (January 1) // We got an Illegal Pete’s at the very end of last December (guys, it’s in walking distance!!!) and I’d never been so happy.  Joey suggested picking up lunch on January 1st and I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in 2018 than with an Illegal Pete’s burrito.  The kid’s size is perfect for me, don’t make fun!  Also, this was my favorite combo: wheat tortilla, white rice, black beans, queso, mild salsa, lettuce and cilantro.

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The 5280 from The Bindery (January 16) // If a buttery biscuit filled with soft scrambled eggs and melty cheese isn’t the definition of perfection, I don’t know what is.  This entire dish was just so beautifully executed and I couldn’t think of a single criticism (even though Joey kept bringing up that it shouldn’t have been billed as a sandwich if you have to eat it with a fork).

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Valentine’s Day Dinner at D Bar (February 14) // Between the amuse bouche (a mini empanada!), the parsnip velouté and coffee crusted lamb, I could not pick a favorite.  They were all so delicious and satisfying in their own ways.  I will say I loved the soup in a way I don’t usually love soup (that creamy feta though!) but tagliatelle topped with the tenderest lamb ragu is a top life moment. 

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Huevos Ranchero Hash from Hash Kitchen (February 25) // I ordered this hash for pre-hike breakfast in Arizona and it was a PURE DELIGHT when this skillet covered in fried onions arrived in front of me.  It tasted even better than it looks and I’m now convinced crispy onion rings should be the topping on everything.

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Crab Cake & Greens at Twisted Grove (February 26) // Maybe you shouldn’t trust seafood in the desert, but this crab cake was so so good!  So flavorful and fresh tasting, plus the remoulade underneath was the perfect accompaniment.  The crab cake was obviously the star of the show but that simple salad with pickled red onion, avocado and green goddess dressing was pretty great too.

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Parsnip Croquettes at Root Down (March 2) // Is it weird that I periodically check the happy hour menu at Root Down to see if it’s changed?  It was a spring weather Friday when I decided to take a peek and lo and behold, it now had artichoke hummus, shrimp tacos, a peach and chai cocktail and parsnip croquettes on offer.  SAY NO MORE, I’M THERE.  The croquettes were simply incredible!  Perfectly crispy on the outside, a creamy cheesy filling inside and that romesco underneath just added the perfect hit of acidic flavor.  

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Happy Hour at Hearth & Dram (March 9) // Good thing this is my own blog, where I make the rules and I don’t have to choose just one dish from this epic happy hour spread, because I seriously don’t think I could.  From the tempura onion rings to the braided pretzel with beer cheese to the crab beignet to the shishitos (that half patty melt & fries belonged to Joey only :P), it was all SO well executed and delicious.  

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Pork Hash at Annette Scratch to Table (March 11) // If ordering the same exact thing EVERY SINGLE TIME I’m at Annette is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.  I’m not a “standard order” person (I don’t even have a go-to at Chipotle!), so the fact that I order the pork hash every time, without even questioning it, is a true testament to how good this dish is.  There’s tender pieces of pork, perfectly crispy potatoes, poached eggs that coat everything once you cut into them and most importantly, those picked mustard seeds!  

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Soup Dumplings at ChoLon (April 13) // I know, I know, I’ve talked about these soup dumplings far too many times.  But we got to share the wealth with Joey’s dad and brother this time around and seeing the surprise and delight when they ate one renewed my fervor.  Afterwards, I declared them the single greatest thing I’ve ever eaten and I don’t take it back.

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Shrimp & Grits at Surrey’s Uptown (April 21) // I almost didn’t order this because I knew I wanted to get shrimp & grits at The Ruby Slipper a couple of days later but then I couldn’t resist and thank god my willpower is so weak because this meal was truly divine!  It was thick and rich in a way only lots of butter can accomplish and I didn’t regret a single decadent bite.  

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Tahini Hummus + Pita at Shaya (April 22) // Was buying a single can of a cucumber lemon gose and strolling along Magazine Street until we happened upon Shaya, then sitting in their outdoor courtyard dipping pillow-y pita into ultra-smooth hummus the happiest moment of my life?  Hard to say, but it was certainly up there.  I don’t know how they do it, I’m just glad they do.     

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Every Ding-Dang-Thang at Meadowlark Kitchen (April 28) // This restaurant is low-key one of the best in Denver.  The vibe is almost dive-y but then you get this super elevated and sophisticated food that will just blow you away!  I want to pick a favorite dish but I can’t because the burrata dip was so luxurious, the Denver nuggets came with the best dips, the spring salad was so fresh and the burger… ugh, the burger!  It’s unlike any other.  

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Lamb Kofta at Stowaway Kitchen (May 10) // I thought I had eaten lamb every which way but this was my first kofta experience and I was blown away.  Especially surprising for someone who is really on the fence about ground meat.  For whatever reason, Joey seemed less enthused so I’ll probably order this again next time and hope he just gives me his skewer too.  It was so perfectly spiced!

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F’N Burger Slider at FNG (June 9) // You know how a slider can sometimes be really disappointing because it’s hard to cook such a small piece of beef to the right temperature?  So not the case with this little guy, that was one of the best burgers (let alone sliders) I’ve ever had.  The beef was perfectly medium rare and all the toppings enhanced it, instead of overpowering it.  

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Hulk Smash at BREW in the Village (June 16) // Maybe it’s because the service that went along with it was so good (I’m now of the belief that EVERY breakfast restaurant should ask if you want a coffee to go at the end of the meal) or because there was a very good garlicky mayo, creamy avocado, eggs that were actually scrambled well (a rarity that I’m always baffled by) and bacon all between two slices of soft ciabatta, but this breakfast sandwich made me very happy.

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Green Machine at Bamboo Sushi (July 1) // I would love to tell you how good the sustainably-caught seafood tastes (and it does), but in all honestly, my favorite sushi at Bamboo is vegetarian.  That sweet chili aioli is so dang good over that avocado-topped, tempura-stuffed sushi and I just can’t find a better roll anywhere I go. 

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Indian Train Cone Salad from Linger (July 6) // Joey was real confused about what a “cone salad” was, but lucky for him, I had stalked the menu/recent Yelp reviews and knew it was a salad of cauliflower, spinach, haloumi and Indian spices served in a paper cone.  Duh! 😛  It was sooooo good!  Mainly because: haloumi but that orange marmalade and tahini vinaigrette were pretty killer too. 

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(Last Ever) Chilaquiles from Candela Latin Kitchen (July 29) // What do you call it if you have a sudden urgent desire to eat chilaquiles for brunch at the place that makes them best and find out a day later that it was their last day of business?  Intuition?  Bittersweet?  Both?  RIP Candela, you made the very best chilaquiles and my life won’t be the same without them.  

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Smoked Beets Sandwich from Gorgeous Deli (August 4) // I know this sandwich might look simple and sort of lackluster, but it packed a punch.  That bread was so soft and flavorful, the beets were smoky in a interesting but not overpowering way and WHOA, I need to get my hands on some Soom Foods tahini because that stuff is SMOOTH.  This unassuming veggie sandwich turned out to be extremely good.  

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Barbacoa Taco from Chuey FU’s (August 19) // I ate A LOT of tacos at Tacolandia, but this one was the very best.  The meat was wonderfully tender and flavorful, the pickled red onions were the perfect contrast and the sauce tied them both together.  

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Lobster Roll + Fries from Wicked Maine Lobster (September 3) // Maybe it’s because I’m from the landlocked state of Colorado and we don’t have easy access to seafood but this lobster roll really delighted me.  The bun was so buttery and perfectly griddled and man, how good is lobster??  The icing on the cake was that basket of fries, which were so crunchy and well-seasoned.  Truly a perfect last meal in San Diego.

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Tahini Hummus + Pita at Safta (September 9) //  If this picture looks familiar it’s because Denver was the lucky recipient of an Alon Shaya restaurant and turns out creamy hummus and fluffy pita taste just as incredible at high altitude as at sea level.  I seriously cannot get over how good this seemingly simple dish is.  The flavors, the textures, the way you can eat it with wild abandon across from the one you love most.  It’s just too good to be true!

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Smashed Chickpeas at Leven Deli Co (November 12) // Post-Denver Film Fest, we needed lunch STAT and this deli I’d been wanting to try happened to be on our way back home.  Not only was it cute as hell in there (I know nothing of a neighborhood deli, but I just assume this is what they look like inside), but it had this bustling but friendly vibe that I truly loved.  I was second-guessing myself when I ordered because a vegetarian pita probably isn’t the quintessential deli sandwich order but every ingredient on here was a knockout.   

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Fried Chinese Eggplant Bun at Uncle (November 21) // Every time we go to Uncle, I think “I guess I don’t NEED a steamed bun” (the bowl of ramen is rather big), but then I cave every time.  We’ve had the soft shell crab, the shrimp, the pork belly, but this breaded crunchy eggplant slice smothered in miso mayo and sandwiched inside a soft bun is our absolute favorite.  And Joey isn’t even an eggplant lover!

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Beer-Battered Squash at Dio Mio (December 4) // This item was on the menu last year and by the time I made it into Dio Mio is was gone.  I’ve been chasing them ever since!  We popped in one Tuesday evening and I said a silent prayer when I saw them on the menu.  They were the opposite of delicate.  Thick and heavily battered, in a good way, and extra good dipped into that pesto dipping sauce.  I think I skipped back to the car after eating these.

I’d like to assume whatever I eat for New Year’s Eve dinner will also make this list, but as this post is going live on December 28th, we’ll never really know! 😛

Weekend Things

Two nights out with friends, a trip to the Farmers’ Market, much Saturday relaxation, beer brewing on Sunday morning, seeing Mama Mia! Here We Go Again with my mom and sister late Sunday afternoon and to cap it all off, Joey making me dinner.  So even though I think I was feeling sort of crabby on Saturday afternoon, I’ve all but permanently deleted that memory from my mind because the rest of the weekend was too good!

Oh and I finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and only cried like five times 😛

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Friday afternoon, we met Hannah and Josh at Community for some happy hour action and my gosh, has a cuter baby dino ever existed??  I spend a lot of time thinking “Mason is growing so fast, where is the time going?!” but when I saw him sitting in the restaurant high chair, he looked positively teensy.  He can now do things like feed himself cereal pieces and pull himself up to standing!  Also, we ordered approximately a million plates of food and it was all really good.  We had to grab gelato up the street afterward, because there was no AC in the restaurant and it was SO HOT so we needed a way to cool off 🙂

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We woke up Saturday and headed straight to the Farmers’ Market and it was blissfully the opposite of what the last visit was like, THANK GOD.  We left caffeinated — first stop is ALWAYS Pig Train for nitro iced coffees! — and with peaches and thee fluffiest pita that I am so excited to try.

Not going to lie, much lounging happened during the rest of the day and it was perfectly wonderful.  We watched Ant-Man for the first time and I’ve gotta be honest, it was sorta dorky.  If Paul Rudd wasn’t in it, I probably would not have been interested.  Someone could have warned me about close up shots of ants!  I still have PTSD from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  

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I cracked open my “Melonilla” kombucha and I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever made!  I absolutely love the vanilla flavor and it’s perfectly carbonated.  Unlike the lime-ginger I made last week that I keep making Joey open for me because it’s explosively carbonated… Oh and we made a trip to our homebrew store for ingredients and got the trim and door painted on my little library.  Just needs to stencil work and it’s ready to go in the ground!

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We met Bobby and Becca at The Source later on for dinner at Comida.  That taco platter is a beaut and all of the tacos were good, but for me, the grilled taco still reigns supreme so I’m probably only ordering those from here on out!  Since we were so close to a handful of breweries, — but can you really be anyplace that’s NOT close to a handful of breweries these days? — we walked over to the Great Divide Barrel Bar for a beer.  There, we reminisced about how perfect the wedding was and I kept hearing myself say stuff like “I remember, at our wedding…” and felt like a real old married person.

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We woke up Sunday and, while Joey got our beer brewing, I made us pancakes and then we had like four hours to kill while we brewed.  I posted a few Sunday clips on my Instagram story and told Joey “it looks like I’ve done a million things today but I’ve really just done like 5 minutes of all of them!”  Those things being garden harvest/upkeep, black bean pressure cooking, reading, a little workout/yoga session and watching the OG Mamma Mia! because I needed to prep for sequel time later.  I was incredibly embarrassing dancing around to “Dancing Queen” but I can’t help it!  Also, that synth sound at the beginning of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” gives me life!

As for the sequel, as my mom said afterward, “it’s not a good movie but it’s so much fun!”  That fleet of ships carrying dancers performing “Dancing Queen” made me the happiest I’d ever been.  Also, Lily James is a knockout, Jessica Keenan Wynn is a dead ringer for Christine Baranski and I was very very thankful for far fewer musical numbers by the three, ahem old mature men.  Cher doesn’t have a huge role or much screen time but she is a LEGEND, so we should feel lucky any time she graces us with a performance.

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I came home to this stunning dinner that tasted even better than it looked and most importantly, didn’t involve me lifting a finger, except the one I used to swipe my credit card when I bought the salmon on my way home.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing better than having a homemade dinner prepared for you!

What did you do this weekend?!