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! 😛

Thanksgiving Weekend Things

I want to be honest and tell you I was not in the mood I wanted to be in for much of this holiday weekend.  Sometimes the makings of a perfect weekend are there — extra time, family traditions, good food, fun plans — but my emotions and attitude just don’t line up with it all.  Or, more likely, it’s BECAUSE of all these good parts that I just set my expectations too high.  I really have been working on that habit this year, but I maybe didn’t do my best this Thanksgiving and found myself in a funk I couldn’t fully shake.

But it’s okay because even when you think things are bad, there’s always good stuff mixed in too!

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We left work a bit early on Wednesday, prepped a few things for Thanksgiving — please give me props for allowing Joey to handle the sweet potato casserole I make every year, thus giving up the opportunity to take credit for its deliciousness — before heading to Uncle for our traditional Thanksgiving Eve ramen dinner.  We are four for four on snagging chef’s counter seats and watching the hustle and bustle of the kitchen does not get old.

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We’ve been doing this double Thanksgiving thing for many years now and while I’m mostly glad I get to spend time with everyone, I also can’t wait to just have one Thanksgiving some day when I win the lottery and can afford a bigger house.  Thanksgiving #1 highlights were Lori somehow being able to get everything to the table while it was still hot, this year’s Christmas ornament and trying to talk Chad into cooking the turkey “whole hog-style” next year. Thanksgiving #2 highlights were STUFFING, Mom handing us each a piece of turkey skin and having our little pup with us all night.

Sometimes I get real impatient like “can we sit down and eat already?!” but as we were all crowded in the kitchen — Joey carving the turkey, my sister mixing the cocktail, me re-heating the Brussels and my mom conducting the whole symphony — I realized this (slightly chaotic, sort of loud, maybe disorganized) part, where we are all doing something to help get the meal on the table, is actually the best ♥

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I just realized I have ZERO pictures from Friday.  Did that day even happen??  I guess I was too caught up in a slow morning, a quick trip to the gym, grocery shopping and a double date night with Wayne and my sister and I’m totally fine with that.  We hit Cart-Driver for pizza — it’s official, this is my favorite pizza place in all of Denver — then saw Widows and look, all the performances were amazing — Viola Davis performs grief like nobody’s business — and it’s shot beautifully, but why make a heist movie if you’re not going to put a lot of detail into the heist??

Saturday started with gingerbread waffles (SO GOOD!) and progressed into cookie baking and Christmas decorating before I headed into Louisville to visit my favorite small businesses 🙂 and when I got back, I came through the back door and straight out the front so Joey and I could have a coffee date.  We ate Thanksgiving leftovers (thanks, Mom!!!) before heading to the Avs game.  The walk to and from the car were MISERABLY COLD but the game was seriously so fun!

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What day are we on??  Oh yes, Sunday 😛  We took ourselves to breakfast at Stowaway — there was brief moment of panic when their front door said “NOPE” but turns out the N was just on the wrong end and they really were open.  Lots of coffee, a chocolate pomegranate doughnut and my beloved mushroom tartine perked me up long enough to make lunch salads, mix up Dorsey Bars and clean the bathroom and despite momentarily falling asleep on the couch, I did make it to Sunday yoga.  My teacher kept reminding us to stay in the moment — “anxiety is what happens when we try to predict the future, depression comes from dwelling on the past” — and that hit me hard.

Back at home, Joey had already started dinner (the best!) so I helped finish it all up and we were awarded with a dinner feast of salmon burgers and sweet potato fries that I LOVED.  The fennel slaw was out of this world and please know that I’ve been waiting for these sweet potato fries since 2016, when Chrissy Teigan first teased a picture of them.  Whoa!  They were worth the wait because they were truly crispy and delicious.

This post is already way too long but also know that we started Atlanta and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this weekend and I’m enjoying both!  Please tell me how your holiday weekend was, I’d love to hear ♥