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Best of the West: Critics’ Choice Food and Drink


Best For When You Want The Best
Frasca, Boulder
Here, dinner is a symphony that at times feels light and airy and then hits you like a wave of heart-pounding percussion. Frasca’s ever-changing menu includes plates of perfectly sliced prosciutto, the famed Frico Caldo, ethereal soups, white bowls of delicate pastas and impeccably prepared Colorado produce and protein. It’s music to our ears.

Best 3rd-Date Restaurant
Sugarbeet, Longmont
The third date is special; it means there’s potential. And it means it’s time for Sugarbeet, Longmont’s warmest, most intimate eatery. It will impress, romance and seduce your date better than you ever can. Order the duck confit or the braised short rib, and you will surely make it to date No. 4.

Best Overhaul of an Icon
Salt, Boulder
There is a lot to say about Bradford Heap’s new Boulder creation. But the best compliment we can give is that with Salt, Heap has done justice to the location, the former spot of Tom’s Tavern. Chic, contemporary and flavorful, Salt has filled the void in a serious way. With focused yet playful dishes like the rosemary rotisserie chicken with sage butter squash and oyster mushroom bread pudding, Heap has begun a new era for the building.

Best cool, casual oasis in Longmont

Tortuga’s, Longmont
Sitting on the patio of Tortuga’s on a spring or summer or fall afternoon is like hanging out in your own backyard. Except here, there is magic in the air and a kitchen that serves up amazing Caribbean-inspired fare: Mahi mahi with sauces like jerk or mojo, jambalaya, craw-fish étoufée and much more.

Best Restaurant For After Work Drinks & Chow
Empire, Louisville
When you step in this downtown mainstay after a long week, order a happy hour cocktail—cucumber gin and tonic or Empire Lemonade—and dive into a round of mozzarella toast and deviled eggs. There is no doubt that Empire is the relaxed but modish stop for post-work imbibing, dishing and dining.

Best Boulder-style Bistro
The Kitchen, Boulder
The Kitchen is a near perfect representation of the Boulder culinary scene. It has a refined but casual bistro style; a focus on local produce; and balanced, well flavored dishes. And they do it with an adept simplicity, unpretentious sophistication, the feel of family dining, the seductiveness of a low-lit space and a perfectly poached egg, which make it the king of bistros.

Best Place To Catch A Game, Any Game, & Have A Beer
Pumphouse, Longmont
At Pumphouse and the Red Zone, you sit shoulder to shoulder with professionals, families, double dates and entire softball teams all looking for a break from the real world…and for the score of the game.

Best Concept Restaurant
Mod Market, Boulder
Mod Market is the future. And the future tastes great. With a clean, über modern interior and a wholesome, changing menu of classics (salads, flatbread pizzas and soup), Mod Market has introduced Boulder to a different way of dining: affordable, fast and soooo cool.

Best Tikka Masala
Flavor of India, Longmont
OK, OK. You get it. We like Flavor of India’s tikka masala. We probably brag more about this dish than we do about our own children. What can we say? We’re mesmerized. The tikka masala at this establishment is rich, creamy, intricate and truly divine. We will keep bragging. We don’t care what you say.

Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Cheese Importers, Longmont
First, we start in the giant chilled cheese room, eyeing the miraculous tiers of fromage. Then we peruse the market for pasta and chocolate, and then we gleefully walk to the counter and order something warm and gooey: any one of the buttery, creamy grilled cheese sandwiches.

Best Place To Fall In Love With A New Cocktail

Bitter Bar, Boulder
I gush over the Bitter Bar as if it were my own cocktail-making offspring. The drinks here are layered and complex, never too sweet, as aromatic as they are romantic. Try the Kiss the Sky, the Happy Pair or the Crazy 88 and vow to never drink a Seven and Seven again.

Best American-Asian Amalgam

Happy, Boulder
The national noodle craze has been embodied locally by Big Red F’s newest venture: Happy, aka Happy Noodle House. It’s a fitting name, because as you dig into chewy pork buns with sriracha mayo, savory pillows of gyoza, and the giant melting pot that is the hot and happy soup, you will know true happiness.

Best Use of Meat
The Rib House, Longmont & Boulder
After its expansion into Boulder and being named some of the West’s best barbecue, The Rib House is no longer just the little barbecue joint bringing smoke and swagger to Prospect. But just because our baby is growing up, it doesn’t mean its goods are any less spectacular. Take your pick: ribs, spicy smoked sausage, smoked ham and more.

Best Sushi Bar Experience
Sushi Zanmai, Boulder
Sushi Zanmai is a one-of-a-kind experience: a prime gathering place that’s part Japanese fiesta, complete with the best karaoke in town and part relaxed sushi mecca that lures an eclectic crowd of locals. When the sushi craving calls, Zanmai answers. Don’t forget the Z#9 roll, our favorite.

Best Anytime & Everytime Restaurant
Zamparelli’s, Lafayette
Every week or so, someone in the office asks the same stupid question: “Where should we eat?” No matter the time of day or day of year, the answer is most likely Zamparelli’s, the Italian stallion of 95th and Arapahoe. Whether it’s thin-crust pizzas to feed an army or a cup of garlic soup and fried risotto balls for one, Zamps is always our go-to spot for…everything.

Best Ceviche Outside of Mexico

La Botana, Thornton
La Botana’s ceviche is an uncomplicated bowl of pure Mexican sunshine. The flavors are lively, fresh, toothsome and addictive: the seafood bathing in the juices of lemon, tomato, onion and cilantro.

Quintessential Boulder Experience

Boulder Farmer’s Market
There is no better place—no brighter, more vivid, more beautiful place—to be a Boulderite. Crowds flock to the Boulder Farmer’s Market for local fruits and veggies, breads and pastas, kombucha, tamales and dumplings. The goods are always tasty, the vibe is boisterous, the people-watching is prime.

Best Burger, Fries & Shake
Larkburger, Boulder
The burgers here are big, juicy, packed with fixings and full of beefy flavor. The fries are thin-cut and dancing with grated Parmesan, Italian parsley and truffle oil. Add a strawberry shake, and you’ll see what the classic diner looks like in the 21st century.

Best Reason to Go To Prospect

Two Dog Diner, Longmont
It doesn’t matter whether Prospect is miles from where you live or right down the street: Two Dog makes it worth the drive. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, their classic diner fare with a twist is the perfect reason to visit Prospect.

Best Locally Owned East County Coffee Shop
Cannonmine, Lafayette
Cozy, eclectic and cool, Cannonmine has a warmth that starts with the super friendly staff and radiates a local’s feel throughout the café. Plus, the drinks are always tasty.

Best place to soak in Boulder

Trident, Boulder
The Trident is the type of place where writers and thinkers sip Americanos on the sidewalk. Inside, college students literally rub shoulders with tattoo-covered couples and the NPR crowd. While the espresso is stellar, we go to get lost in the earthy, academic Boulder culture.

Best locally owned coffee empire
Brewing Market, everywhere
Brewing Market is the working man’s café. It’s fast, easy and unpretentious. There’s WiFi (though, it’s a two-hour limit) and sustenance in the form of snacks and all the espresso and coffee you could ever want. And lucky for us, we can find one almost anywhere we go in the North Metro area.

Best Liberal Haven in Longmont
Café Luna, Longmont
Someone recently told us that “cleanliness is next to Godliness and Longmont is next to Hygiene.” True, Longmont is a conservative bastion in Boulder County’s progressive tsunami, but there are a few spots to bump into like-minded liberals. Café Luna, followed closely by Java Stop, has more donkeys than a Grand Canyon tourist trap.

Best Baguettes
Breadworks, Boulder
If “artisan” means doing the basics well, then Breadworks is the Rembrandt of bakeries. And their consistent quality is no where more evident than in the baguettes they produce. Crisp, perfectly browned crust; light, but not chewy, interior; and a classic flavor reminiscent of the best boulangeries Paris has to offer.

Best Cajun Breakfast
Lucile’s, Longmont & Boulder
Lucile’s is best in the mid-morning, when it’s packed and bustling. True, the wait sucks, but the fast pace and delayed satisfaction make this traditionally untraditional Cajun meal even more enviable. Sample the thick, flavorful Carlin County?or the pain perdu. Or follow our lead and order the special.

Best Place to Enjoy Sunday Brunch at the Foot of the Flatirons
Chautauqua Dining hall, Boulder
Nobody can match the views; but the food is pretty great, too. A long buffet bar filled to the brim with terrific breakfast standards and special tidbits like smoked salmon and tasty desserts tempt vacationers, locals and hikers fueling up for the day.

Best Boulder-esque Country Breakfast
Huckleberry, Louisville
In this purple-painted historic storefront on Main Street, the eggs benedict, crepes and potato latkes are served up with a healthy dose of country and a little bit of Boulder-flavored rock and roll. Go country with the classic Country Breakfast, or spice it up with a crab cake benedict.

Best Place to Enjoy a Meal with Your Local Live Music

Waterloo, Louisville
Let’s set aside for a moment the legendary potato burgers and killer happy hour drinks and focus on the stage at the back of Waterloo where the best local acts set up nearly nightly. The owners wanted to replicate the feel of their famous Austin record store with a restaurant and venue, and it seems they brought the music scene with them.

Best (and Biggest) Chinese Menu
Spice China, Louisville
The menu at Spice China can be a little daunting; clocking in at around 20 pages, you can spend a good cocktail hour perusing your options. You can’t go wrong with the classic favorites up front, or be a little more adventurous and order something from the more authentic Shanghai menu at back. It’s truly not your typical Chinese eatery.

Best Place to Enjoy a Slice of Heaven
Indulge Bakery, Lafayette
It honestly does not matter what you order at Indulge: It will be fantastic. Nibble a cookie or a tartlet for a treat, nosh on a stuffed croissant or scone for breakfast, or order a full cake for a special occasion—
like Tuesday.

Best Use of Local Produce
Terroir, Longmont
Because their menu is so focused on using local, seasonal produce, what you can and should order here varies from week to week—if not day to day. Go with your gut or ask your server’s advice; either way, it’s delicious.

Best Taste of the Southwest
Richard’s On Third, Longmont
There’s a quirkiness to New Mexico that is perfectly captured by this hidden gem: in the atmosphere, the attitude and the food. Go for the green chile; stay for the giant and delicious margaritas.

Best High-End Restaurant to Enjoy Family, Friends and Food
Colterra, Niwot
Colterra is that certain type of high-end restaurant that doesn’t flaunt itself. The food is impeccable, the wine world-class and the atmosphere comfortable enough for a family dinner or a fête with friends. Sit back and let Colterra take care of you.

Best Locally Owned Grocery

Niwot Market, niwot
Certainly one of the perks of living in Niwot it the Niwot Market. Besides the fact that is saves residents a trip into the city for staples, it’s also home to a great deli, a sushi bar, a fantastic bakery and even a florist, not to mention featuring locally grown produce. It’s enough to make those of us who don’t live in Niwot a little bit jealous.

Best Place to Grab a Steak and a Beer
Colorado Coal Company, Erie
We had to give a shout out to our favorite neighbor—because, in a town that continues to struggle to keep its eateries, CCC is still serving up great Texas-style steak and potatoes. It’s worth the trip, even if you’re not right next door.

Best Lunch To Go
Hanna’s, Lafayette
Plenty of places claim to be gourmet-to-go; Hanna’s actually is. House-roasted beef and turkey for the sandwiches, homemade salads, fantastic lasagna and chicken cutlets all bring a little taste of New York’s gourmet lunch counters to Lafayette.

Best New York Fare with a New York Attitude
Brooklyn Deli, Longmont
There just aren’t many places in Colorado where you can order an egg cream, a knish and a pastrami on rye without the kid behind the counter giving you a blank stare. Belly up to the counter at Brooklyn Deli and don’t expect to get your hand held; instead, inspect an authentic New York deli experience with food to match.

Best High-End Surf and Turf
Magnolia restaurant & sushi bar, lafayette
We’re not talking about a boring traditional steak and lobster tail here, we’re talking about a peppered NY steak in a red wine reduction or a grilled angus sirloin with buttermilk onion rings alongside a classic spicy tuna roll—or even a Surf and Turf roll, with shrimp tempura and Wagyu beef. Kick your surf and turf up a notch.

Best Chain that Doesn’t Feel Like a Chain
Bloom, Broomfield
If you didn’t know, you’d never guess: Bloom is part of a chain. But let’s be honest, this isn’t cookie-cutter dining. When you manage to catch lightning in a bottle and replicate a fine dining experience, we say more power to you.

Best Lunch Spot to See and Be Seen
14th Street Bar and Grill, Boulder
OK, so it might have a little something to do with the wall of windows lining the corner at 14th and Pearl streets, offering prime people watching, but the hip atmosphere (and killer food and drink) make this the sort of place to hang out and wait for the cool crowd to come to you.

Best Place to Feed Your Inner POLE
Cracovia, Westminster
There’s something homey about Polish food, even if you’ve never had it at home. And let’s face it, any cuisine that espouses dumplings filled with cheese and fried crepes is fine with us. Never had Polish food? Fix that. Immediately. Head to Cracovia.

Critics’ Choice: Drink

Best use of Local Honey
Redstone Meadery, Boulder
With the exception of special varieties that come from Arizona, Redstone Meadery gets 75 percent of the honey it uses to make its delicious wines from Madhava Honey in Lyons. Stop by for a tour and give the 2005 Black Raspberry Reserve a try or, if you prefer something dry, the Pinot Pyment.

Best Sake Selection
Hana Matsuri, Westminster
While enjoying the expertly prepared sushi at Hana, take your tongue on a tour of the 14 specialty sakes on the menu. The dry and feather-light Houhoushu is most amazing and the cherry-blossom scented Treasure Ship is divine.

Best local hangout 
Niwot Tavern, Niwot
Five years old and going strong, the Niwot Tavern is the best place to hang. From the friendly wait staff who remember your name and what you drink to the pub fare kicked up a couple notches by Chef David Gray, the NT is as close to your living room as you can get.

Best local distillery
303Vodka, Boulder
Translating the vodka recipe found in the steamer trunk of his grandfather who emigrated from Poland 103 years ago—and using only Colorado potatoes and Indian Peaks spring water—Steve Viezbicke has grown his garage distilling operation into one of the region’s best spirit producers.

Best brewery that doubles as a local’s hangout

Left Hand Brewery, Longmont
On any given Friday, Left Hand is packed full of locals. More than half are regulars; the other half wish they were regulars. It becomes not simply a tasting room but a neighborhood bar (except not in a neighborhood) filled with people who only need one thing: a pint pulled from a Left Hand tap.

Best locally made liqueur
Roundhouse Coretto, Boulder County
Think about the best Kailua you have had. Now, take away the overly sweet taste and syrupy feel. Add depth. And you have Roundhouse’s Corretto, a brilliant local coffee liqueur. No need to add milk or
cream (though, you can), just pour, drink and repeat.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google


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