Best of the West: Critics’ Choice

Published on: April 15th, 2011

Photo by Gray Box Studios

This year, we’re giving our Best of the West winners the red carpet treatment: The readers have spoken, the critics have made their picks and several local celebrities have added their two cents. Here are our picks for the best Boulder County has to offer.

The envelope please…

Best Beer

Mojo IPA, Boulder Beer

Mojo IPA is not a session beer, and it’s not for the faint of palette. But for the hop-lovers out there—and there are many of them—Boulder Beer’s Mojo is the people’s choice.Best Ribs

The Rib House

I remember the first time I had Rib House’s ribs. I had just moved all of my possessions into my little Longmont abode and was still dirty from the morning’s manual labor. But then there was a cold pint of Sawtooth and these amazing ribs, which fell apart so easily and tasted of char and spicy barbecue sauce. You just never forget the first time.

Best reason to go to an industrial park

Sugarbeet

You don’t just happen upon Sugarbeet. It’s a destination parked in the midst of railroad tracks and car-repair shops. But when you get inside, you’re pleasantly brought into an upscale contemporary American eatery serving hearty, piquant dishes. The food is certainly the biggest attraction—the short ribs are a staff favorite and their homemade chips and salsa are a summer luxury. Best new tasting room

The Tasty Weasel

It doesn’t look like much from the outside…That is, if you can find it. But once you do, The Tasty Weasel’s charisma becomes apparent. It’s part warehouse, part tasting room, part brewery, and it has a funky hipness and ever-flowing Oskar Blues beer on tap (as well as a weekly firkin). Best family breakfast

Two Dog Diner

On a weekend morning, that’s our favorite time to go to Two Dog, when the sunny space is packed full of families: pancake-craving youngsters playing with mom’s iPhone while waiting for a table and syrup-soaked kiddos yelping with the excitement of finishing off a fluffy waffle. Best reason to visit Erie

Colorado Coal Company

I once ate a whole plate of Colorado Coal Company’s fried pickles for dinner. And as irresponsible as that sounds, it was worth it. Being right next door to Yellow Scene means the staff at CCC sees us a lot, but if it weren’t for our proximity, we’d still travel for their steaks and burgers and, of course, the fried pickles. Best New York transfer

Hanna’s

We get a lot of transfers in these parts (because Colorado is totally awesome and everyone knows it), and usually the natives scowl upon their foreign ways. But when it comes to sandwiches, we love Hanna’s (aka owner Susan Yurish) New York style—as long as there is a meatball hero, a Rueben and a black and white cookie involved.

Best shop for coffee snobs

Vic’s Espresso

What makes Vic’s great is so simple (but not always easy to find): Vic’s has great coffee, espresso and baristas who understand people who love coffee and espresso (the delicious breakfast burritos help too). They pour a lovely Americano, and if you go in enough, they’ll totally remember just the way you like it.

Best menu in a neighborhood joint

The Empire Lounge

Chef Jim Cohen has a unique charm, and it manifests itself in bold dishes that tiptoe the line between American classics with seasonal, contemporary twists and bar food. That means we get to eat a crispy calamari salad in a local hangout. Best restaurant when you want to casually impress

Arugula

Open for two years, Arugula still impresses us with great food (mmm, orechiette bison Bolognese), a casual-meets-upscale vibe and really nice service. And it impresses the friends we take there and all the people we meet for business there. It’s actually impressive how impressive it is. Best plate of food that requires a knife

Pizzeria Locale

Rarely does a knife need explaining, but at Pizzeria Locale, when your server sets an entire pizza down in front of you, it becomes apparent that no one will do your slicing for you. The new eatery’s knives are imported from Italy, and they are the only thing standing between you and demolishing an amazingly perfect Neapolitan-style pizza.

Best use of a family heirloom

303 Vodka

If wine is the juice of the gods, then 303 Vodka is the juice of the Viezbicke family. The story goes something like this: Steve Viezbicke discovered his grandfather’s potato vodka recipe in a steamer trunk that was brought to the United States in the early 1900s. Today, it’s one family tradition Boulderites have adopted as their own.

Best meal deal

The Boulder Chophouse

The Boulder Chophouse knows how to wheel and deal. Monday–Friday, between 4 and 6pm, diners get half off wines by the glass and half off the tavern food menu (as long as you’re sitting in the bar or on the patio). You can almost taste the savings!

Best beer fest that’s not GABF

Stout Month at Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun is a favorite, so when they talk, we listen and when they pour, we’re there to drink it in. Especially, and it’s Stout Month, when the local brewpub celebrates the darker breeds of brew.

Best restaurant we hope reopens soon

Oak at Fourteenth

When a fire-shuttered Oak at Fourteenth last month, the Boulder foodie community was devastated. Regardless, the accolades have continued to roll in (Food and Wine named it one of the best new bars in the country) and the restaurant is on the road to recovery.

Best Palestinian food

Arabesque

Don’t worry. Even if you think you’ve never had Palestinian food, the menu here is likely to look familiar: fluffy flatbreads, delicate dolmades, heavenly chicken shwarma and homemade baklava that will make you wish you hadn’t eaten all that hummus.

Best use of alcohol not in a glass

Kim and Jake’s Cakes

The specialty cakes here read like the drink list at your favorite bar. How about a slice of strawberry margarita? Or maybe you’d like a cake made from your favorite vino. Beer cakes? Sure, they’ve got that too. We say combining dessert and happy hour is pretty brilliant.

Best modern wine list

Flagstaff House

This venerable Boulder institution has long been known for its outstanding wine list. But this year, in honor of its 40th birthday, Flagstaff House brought the list into the 21st century, programming it all onto iPads customers can browse through and even use to make a list to discuss with the sommelier.

Best weekday breakfast that feels like a weekend breakfast

Café Aion

The fact that you can walk into Café Aion on a regular Tuesday morning and order fresh, house-made bagels and house-smoked salmon, or eggs and braised short ribs, or even just a made-from-scratch chocolate croissant makes us feel a little giddy. Excellent breakfasts aren’t just for the weekend any more.

Best use of a cow pasture

HUSH

The HUSH Denver secret supper club brought its pop-up restaurant concept to Colorado’s Best Beef last summer—believe us when we say dining in a cow field is a lot more fun than it sounds. Here’s hoping they have more Boulder County stops lined up for 2011.

Best way to go whole hog

Arapahoe Hog Roasters

We used to drive into Erie wondering who was cooking up that delicious-smelling bacon. Now, we happily know it’s Arapahoe Hog Roasters, the area’s source for delicious whole roast pigs with all the fixings.

Best way to get stuffed

Culinary Connectors

Three multi-course meals—with wine or cocktails—in three hours? Good thing you have to walk a few blocks to get to each, or you might just call that overdoing it. Delicious dining tours of Boulder, Denver and Aspen.

Best prix fixe for a good cause

The Kitchen

Every Monday night The Kitchen hosts Community Night with a five-course $35 prix fixe menu, served family style. Twenty percent of the proceeds are donated to The Growe Foundation, so not only do you get great food at a stellar price, you’re eating for the greater good at the same time.

Best royal pedigree

Elephant Hut

Elephant Hut offers excellent, authentic Thai food with European sensibilities and a cool story: according to chef and owner Pi Kasemsant—who is a descendant of King Mongkut of the musical The King and I—the restaurant is named for a herd of elephants the famous king offered to President Lincoln during the Civil War. It does not get much cooler than that.

Best Taos-style Mexican

Richard’s on 3rd

There’s a distinct difference between the kind of New Mexican food you find in Taos or Santa Fe, and the kind you find in Albuquerque or Truth or Consequences. Richard is a Taos man, and it shows in his excellent enchiladas, relleños and killer green chile.

Best Vietnamese

Chey Thuy

Soft shell crab is an ominous animal to see on a plate. But when Chef Thuy gets her hands on these little creatures, it’s magic. In fact, you’ll daydream about her deep-fried crustaceans until your main course arrives: tamarind prawns, crispy duck, lamb chops or one of the many Vietnamese-with-a-twist items on the novel-size menu.

Best place for dogs and people to get a snack

P.C.’s Pantry for Dogs & Cats

What could be better than a bakery? How about a bakery where you and your dog can dine together? P.C.’s Pantry makes it so. Their baked goods—including a choc-o-lab brownie and hushpuppies—are all human grade. And barkday cakes are available, too.

Best bang for your buck

Rags Consignments

Our associate editor is very patient at Rags; she slowly goes through every piece on every rack and is rewarded with several tops for $15 each. Our publisher goes right for the shoes. Our editor moves around, confused and overwhelmed and eventually settles on Prada sunglasses (for $70!!!). Together, we end up spending more than a grand, but it’s what we didn’t spend that makes us smile.

Best place to find little treasures

Adorn Home & Gift Gallery

When you are getting Christmas gifts for your boyfriend’s mom and sister or a birthday present for your bff’s 30th, you go to Adorn. It’s not a huge store with a huge selection, but they have a great inventory of pretty, funky, cool things (jewelry, scarves, soaps, lotions, ornaments, etc.) that are perfect for both a new friend and your best friend.

Best store for women who like shoes

Two Sole Sisters

Pretty pink pumps? Colorful wedges? A classic ballet flat? It’s tough to be a woman, and even tougher when Two Sole Sisters makes life’s most difficult decisions even harder.

Best on-trend, locally-made jewelry line

Frisk Jewelry

We learned a lot about the Rubino family during our February singles issue, and one thing we definitely came away with: the girls know their accessories. The young ladies and their mom started Frisk jewelry in 2004 and their funky/flirty creations are as wearable as they are fashion-forward.

Best shop for classic additions to your home

Fuzzy Antler

Louisville’s Fuzzy Antler is a classy place. The kind of place where you might get concerned glares if you knock over a bowl of fake fruit with your over-sized purse (which has never, ever happened to me). But once you pick everything up and regain composure, you’re sure to find something elegant or eclectic for your home.

Best makeover

Whole Foods

Really, the only thing that could have made the Whole Foods on Pearl better would be to add more of it—luckily, that’s exactly what they did. The new prepared foods section is like a 30,000-square-foot food court of awesome, with super healthy and not-so healthy (but super tasty) choices from wall to wall.

Best place to keep it local

In Season Local Market

Wanting to try that 250-mile food diet? This place makes it easy-peasy, as they only sell products that come from within a strict 250-mile radius. Best CSA

Isabelle Farm

With the wide selection of unusual, heirloom veggies, a partnership with a Western Slope orchard CSA and a local coffee CSA, and their own farm-fresh eggs, this is the little farm that could, with the best selection for the buck, as far as we can see.

Best place to score cheap kid stuff

Just Between Friends

With events in Longmont and Broomfield happening every couple of months, these pop-up shops are like gigantic garage sales filled with barely used kids’ stuff: from clothes (so many clothes) to cribs to toys and more. You may never again have to step into another store with a backward R in the name.

Best way to spice up your life

Savory Spice Shop

Whether your spice rack gets regular use or could use a little dusting, Savory Spice Shop is sure to get your creative juices flowing. They’ll not only sell you the spices, they’ll help you figure out what to do with them, too.

Best place to find regional deals

DenverBargains.com

We only discovered DenverBargains.com a few months ago, and already we’re hooked. The daily posts alert you to the best sales at local grocery stores, deals and freebies at local restaurants and shops, and even call out the best deals on the group coupon sites. So, you only have to follow one website instead of a million to get the best deals for your dollars.

Best all-around athletic experience

Lakeshore Athletic Club

If you want to get in shape—or more likely, if you want to stay in shape and improve your marathon time—Lakeshore in Broomfield has all the tools you need to be a prime athletic specimen.

Best use of nail polish

Evergreen Cottage

Our publisher is a busy woman—but she still takes time to keep her cuticles clipped and her nails nice. Her favorite spot is Evergreen Cottage in Lafayette. And because she demands the best (ugh) from her staff, we know she’s found the best nail people in the business. Try their Caribbean therapy treatment, and you’ll see why.

Best place to splurge on personal pampering

Sunflower Spa

Life is tough, but there are a few things that make life a little easier: friends, family, wine and spas. When we need a good rub down or a cleansing facial, we head to Sunflower Spa in Longmont. Make a day of it: get a package of services, which will not ensure that your life gets any easier, but at least it’ll feel like it.

Best class to take when you just want to dance

Ballet Nouveau

As young girls, lots of us dreamed of being ballerinas. Now, whether you can remember your pliés from your pas de bourrees or not, Ballet Nouveau Colorado can reignite your toe-shoe dreams with adult dance and fitness classes catering to a variety of needs, interests, abilities and ages.

Best way to score free yoga

Prana

This yoga-pants enclave is the flagship store for the popular brand and offers as many as 20 free yoga classes and events each week. Full-body enlightenment doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

Best way to balance your body and life

Happy Cat Pilates

At Happy Cat, Susie Haggas not only helps you to strengthen your core and improve your balance, but her work-outs also improve your mind-body balance (you might even be able to watch American Idol and do a crossword at the same time).

Best place to enjoy your own girlishness

Ten20

A marathon of Gilmore Girls and Glee reruns playing on a giant screen make this the perfect place to hang out and enjoy some girl time. You’ll go for the expert manicures and pedicures but you’ll lounge around because it’s cozier than your house.

Best climbing gym

The Spot

It could be the constant presence of a slackline to wear out our legs when our arms stop functioning on The Spot’s two boulders and four walls, but The Spot in Boulder hit our spot this year. Now, if we could just nail those fours on the Hueco wall…

Best small town pride

Erie Town Fair

Working in Erie, we get a good serving of town pride (the Homecoming Parade is priceless). But nowhere is it more obvious than the Erie Town Fair, which packs the Old Town corridor with vendors, booths, bands and lots of residents. This year, they’ll also launch 40 hot air balloons.

Best team to be overlooked for a national bid

CU Buffs Basketball

Dear CU men’s basketball team. If we were in charge of the NCAA tournament selection process, you totally would’ve been picked. But since we weren’t, here’s your consolation prize!

Best venue for Longmont’s artistic muscle

Muse Gallery

Didn’t know Longmont had an artistic community? Then you’ve been missing out. Muse Gallery puts on shows with the best of the region and it stands up to anything the People’s Republic has to offer.

Best place to enjoy Austin without going to Texas

Waterloo

There’s just a certain vibe at Waterloo that exudes that Austin cool. Maybe it’s the barbecue, burgers and beer. Maybe it’s the tiny stage that hosts great big talent. Maybe it’s just the people. Whatever it is, it’s keeping Louisville weird.

Best headline maker

Mystery artist

The most interesting (read: “only in Boulder”) occurrence of 2011 is arguably the mysterious appearance of two giant pieces of installation art on two Boulder properties, home of 80-year-old Donna Coughlin and the Boulder History Museum. The artist is suspected to be a man named Mark Guilbeau, but we prefer to think of him as a masked creative crusader who makes our lives a little more exciting. Best way to inspire your inner bluegrass fan

Rockygrass

Before going to Rockygrass, I wouldn’t have considered myself a bluegrass “fan.” But now…OK, I’m still not an avid bluegrass fan, but I am a fan of Rockygrass, which brings in stellar acts in the heavenly Lyons setting. This year: Hot Rize, Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers and Sam Bush. See you there.

Best bring-the-family-and-see-everyone-you-know event

Louisville Street Faire

My mama would say, “It’s like old home week.” With tons of food, beverages and music, it’s no wonder the Louisville Street Faire continuously brings out everybody and their dog (no, really) to hang and chat and just feel like part of the community—whether you live in Louisville or not.

Best show of female empowerment

Denver Roller Dolls

Where else can you see ladies elbowing, clothes-lining and shoving in fishnets and roller skates? It sounds nuts, but this is what women’s empowerment looks like.

Best event that brings Hollywood to Colorado

Boulder International Film Festival

This year’s BIFF brought out the Hollywood types: James Franco, Oliver Stone and makers of indie flicks, documentaries and shorts. With the celebrities come great films that pack local venues for three days.

The best part: No LA traffic.

Best reason to wish you were a kid

WOW Children’s Museum

This place is so cool it makes us wish we were still pint-sized. Monthly special events make it fun to go back again and again—as if that were a problem in the first place.

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