Best Tastes 2018: Restaurant Edition

img_3378

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.

img_3493

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).

img_3731

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. 

img_3789

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.

img_3796

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.

img_3799

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.  

img_3839-1

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.  

img_3859

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!  

img_4829

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.

img_4260

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.  

img_4270

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.     

img_4331

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.  

img_4441

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!

img_4852

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.  

img_4902

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.

img_5073

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. 

img_5173

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. 

img_5467

(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.  

img_5548

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.  

img_5768

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.  

img_6038-1

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.

img_6160

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!

img_6622

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.   

img_6893-1

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!

img_6880

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

Mother Nature has been so cruel lately, giving us perfectly warm spring weather during the week then letting it rain all weekend.  But, last week she turned it around, meaning we had THEE BEST weather all weekend and as a result, we were able to clean up our yard, plant our garden, eat meal after meal outside and I just truly felt like my happiest self.  Our doggy even got to join us outside and I was like, “Andi, this is our summer life, isn’t it the best?!”  He concurred… then barked at a squirrel for 15 minutes.

img_4296

Friday, we headed home, walked Andi and mixed up these Spring Pea Veggie Burgers from Joy the Baker for dinner.  As meat eaters, we’re pretty pro-real burger but these were SO GOOD!  They held together NO PROBLEM, and decked out with cucumber slices, watercress, avocado, mustard and most importantly, a perfectly spicy Sriracha mayo, they tasted truly incredible.  Would have been the perfect opportunity to actually grill a burger (had I planned better), but we compensated by grilling some sweet potato discs.  Joey gifted me the very last can of Madame Psychosis from Fiction Beer Company.  In other words, this was a perfect night!

img_4302

Briefly considered Saturday morning waffles but then the idea of defrosting buttermilk, zesting a lemon and waiting for butter to melt then cool was all too much, so I mixed up our super simple go-to whole wheat pancake batter instead and wasn’t mad about it.  Also, we filled a growler of iced coffee on Friday and that’s how you ensure that the rest of the weekend is good.  Plus we needed all the caffeine for an afternoon of yard work!

img_4332img_4333img_4316img_4335img_4334img_4338

We maybe spent way too much time and way too much money at Paulino Gardens but we finally made it back home and to the backyard.  Joey did most all the hard stuff, but I planted our backyard pot and front porch buckets and I’m so in love with them!  How incredible are those stripped and speckled petunias??  We tag-teamed the garden bed and now our tulips — one of which finally opened up! — don’t look so lonely.

img_4331

Later on, I left Joey in the backyard and hit the grocery but then I came home and we cleaned up just in time for my sister to come over so we could all go to dinner ♥  We took her to Meadowlark and look, I feel conflicted about giving away this secret, but this might be one of the best restaurants in Denver.  I didn’t even know they had a back area but that’s where they sat us, so we got to be half inside/half outside and it felt perfectly summery.  We split a burrata dip with fried naan, a spring salad, chicken nuggets and the famous Meadowlark burger.  I’m kicking myself for taking an Instagram video and not an actual picture, because it was CRAZY.  Look it up!  Also, it tasted incredible.

Back at home, we all watched Tragedy Girls and it was super quirky and weird and gruesome and inappropriate but enjoyably so?  We think we liked it.

img_4321img_4330

Sunday started with another 5-mile run.  We did it in 47-something minutes, which is really fast for me and probably explains why I felt dead at the end.  We recovered with carrot cake overnight oats from The Savvy Cook and I think I want to make them again!  The rest of the day involved making Chili Mango Zesty Quinoa Salads for lunch this week — I’ve been cooking beans in our pressure cooker and even though I keep overcooking them, it’s been a fun experiment — and finishing up garden stuff, aka planting our seeds.

We jotted down some notes at the end of last year so hopefully we’ve refined the process just a bit more for this growing season.  I’m mainly excited for speckled lettuces!  It’s a bit more work — water, weed, harvest, repeat — but now that things are planted and there’s LIFE growing in the backyard, all feels right in the world.  We ended Sunday by watching 6 Balloons and while I didn’t LOVE it, I liked it and still thought it made for a perfect end to a perfect weekend.