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Best of the West: Readers’ Choice Food & Drink

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.

The envelope please…


Overall Restaurant

Colterra : East County

This Niwot hideaway was Chef Bradford Heap’s first shining star, and it continues to be a gem of East County dining with seasonal dishes inspired by the cuisines of southern France and northern Italy.

The Mediterranean : Boulder

The Med (officially, The Mediterranean) does a little bit of a lot of things with great aplomb. The menu combines Italian, Spanish, French and Greek cuisine in an array of tapas, salads, seafood, paella, grilled meats, pizzas and house-made baked goods and desserts. No wonder it’s a perennial favorite.

Contemporary American

Terroir : East County

As its name might suggest, Terroir takes seasonality and locale very seriously. Its menu draws inspiration from the Colorado land and landscape, offering modern American cuisine doused with the flavors of the Mediterranean.

Salt : Boulder

It was a bold move to take over the venerable Tom’s Tavern space, but with Salt’s farm-to-table menu and innovative cocktail program, it’s living up to the reputation long established at its historic locale.

Cheap Eats

Martino’s Pizzeria : East County

Since it opened, Martino’s has quickly become a YS staff lunch favorite, with tasty traditional thin-crust pies, unusual flavors and a gluten-free option that everyone from sales to graphics can enjoy—whether we’re normally gluten-free or not.

Snarf’s Sub Shop : Boulder

Whether you’re hankering for a classic Italian, a cheese and mushroom or a prime rib and provolone, you can’t beat Snarf’s for a tasty, toasty sandwich every time, served up in a colorful sub shop, quick as you please. And with six locations, you’re never far from satisfying a craving.

Bakery

Indulge Bakery : East County

In the foodie faith, heaven is often described as a pastry shop, with gleaming glass cases brimming with gourmet treats as beautiful to behold as they are delicious to taste. Should you find yourself in need of a soul-stirring baked good, worship at the altar of Indulge and try a taste of heaven.

Tee & Cakes : Boulder

We recently discovered Tee & Cakes also sells really excellent Novo coffee, making that daily cupcake run just that much more legitimate. It’s a lot more socially acceptable to say you’re going to grab a cup of coffee than going to grab a cupcake…and maybe a whoopie pie…and some cookies…


Bagel

Big Daddy Bagels : East County

You may or may not be aware Big Daddy Bagels not only sells, well, really fine bagels, but they also toast them and put all sorts of fabulous things in the middle of them, creating bagel sandwiches that are some of the finest in the land. And their chocolate chip cookies aren’t half bad, either.

Moe’s Broadway Bagel : Boulder

Moe’s bagels are legit on two fronts: New York-style bagels served up in an atmosphere that couldn’t be anywhere but Boulder. Swoop in for a fix that’s Big Apple and People’s Republic all at once.

BBQ

KT’s Real Good BBQ : EC and B

With nearly 20 years and four locations under their belt, Kirk and Tricia Jamison (the eponymous KT) know a bit about barbecue. Their smoky trail took them from Seattle to Memphis to Boulder with a passion for great barbecue leading the way.

Breakfast & Brunch

The Huckleberry : East County

Sitting in pride of place on a prominent corner in Louisville, stepping into Huckleberry feels a bit like stepping back in time for the kind of country breakfast you thought went the way of phone booth. It really doesn’t matter what you order. As the kids say, “it’s all good.”

Lucile’s Creole Cafe : Boulder

Biscuits, gravy, red beans and grits. Need we say more? OK, then how about chicory coffee and beignets. Yeah. Thought so.

Breakfast Burrito

Santiago’s : EC and B

On the Santiago’s website, there is a little ticker showing customer-submitted answers to the phrase, “You know you’re addicted to Santiago’s when…” Someone apparently submitted “…the burritos work faster than Viagra.” We don’t know about that, but now we’ll know a happy customer when we see one.

Burger

SmashBurger : East County

It’s all about the crispy bits. Smash that meat against the griddle and the edges get deliciously crispy and carbonized while the middle stays moist and juicy. Add to that the fact that you can get it built any way you like with a side of fried potato goodness and this becomes the fast-food burger joint that puts all the others
to shame.

Larkburger : Boulder

Oh, trendy hamburger paradise. Why must you be in Boulder while we languish 20 or 30 minutes away in East County? Please bring your black Angus burgers, your truffle fries and your real ice cream milk shakes out our way. We’ll love you better. Promise.

Chinese

Spice China : East County

You wouldn’t think a restaurant with a 20-page menu would need to add anything, but when Spice China added a sushi bar last year, it only made it better. Bring your reading glasses and dig in; everything’s good, Chinese, Japanese and beyond.

China Gourmet : Boulder

Don’t be shy; step up to the counter and order the best Chinese food in Boulder. Sure, the atmosphere may leave a little to be desired, but the food more than makes up for it. Lunch specials here are a great deal.

Coffee shop

Brewing Market Coffee : EC and B

Start with a great bean and you get a good brew. Add baristas who are never too busy to add a heart or leaf pattern to your latte and who never blink when you order something weird like decaf. Top with the genius of burritos heated on a panini press, and it’s pretty clear why Brewing Market leads the coffee chains around here.

Restaurant for a date

Magnolia : East County

Steak and sushi are sexy, but you can order anything off the menu at Magnolia and feel the romantic vibes. Allow us to recommend the blue crab macaroni and cheese, mon petit chou. A swank dining room and patio won’t hurt your cause either.

Frasca Food and Wine : Boulder

If your date knows anything about food or the restaurant scene in Colorado, just mentioning you’ve booked a table for two at Frasca will set her heart aflutter. Forgot the reservation? If the fates are with you, there might be room for two at the salumi table. Tell her you requested it specially. We won’t say anything.

Dessert

Indulge Bakery : East County

There’s a reason this place is called Indulge. It’s because you’re already thinking about dessert at 9 am on a Thursday. It’s because you plan ahead to swing by and pick up a “little something” for that special dinner at home. It’s because you’d rather go here than order off of a dessert menu anywhere else.

Tee & Cakes : Boulder

Cupcakes are the perfect dessert: they’re decadent without being overwhelming (no great wall of cake here); they’re individually sized so you don’t have to share; and they come in as many flavors as there are moods. Who cares what’s on the dessert list? Let’s just have cupcakes.

For Families

Zamparelli’s Italian Bistro : East County

Unlike most “family-friendly” pizza places, there are no scary animatronic creatures at Zamparelli’s. You will not be forced to listen to the ruckus of screaming children playing noisy midway games. Instead, you and the kids will experience real food from a real menu in a real restaurant. And bonus: They can make you a martini.

Turley’s : Boulder

Please don’t take this the wrong way Turley’s, but to us, you’re like an upscale Denny’s, made for families hungry for real food instead of corporate dreck. You’re the sort of place where parents can feel good about feeding their kids, and kids feel really good about the food on their plates. It’s a compliment; trust us.

Green Chile

Santiago’s : East County

Santiago’s now ships its chile all over the state and beyond. If that’s not a vote of confidence, we don’t know what is.

Efrain’s II : Boulder

The chile at Efrain’s reminds us of John Mellencamp crooning that it “hurts so good.” No greasy gravy here; just straight up authentic heat. Come on, baby. Make it hurt so good.

Indian

Taj Mahal : East County

Hiding in a nondescript strip mall is a jewel of India. Ornately decorated with food as exotic and rich as the décor. The lunch buffet is a steal, and the take away a great way to bring India home.

Bombay Bistro : Boulder

Fresh ingredients from local farms mix with modern and traditional Indian flavors in this hip, hot spot. Try the boneless beef short ribs for a taste of everything Indian cuisine can be. A new cocktail menu rounds out the experience with fresh flavors to compliment your meal.

Italian

Zamparelli’s Italian Bistro : East County

Zamparelli’s is so much more than pizza. Their risotto balls are transcendent. Their pastas hit the mark every time. Their salads go beyond just lettuce. If you can manage not to order one of their fantastic pizzas, you’ll realize they have fantastic everything else as well.

Laudisio : Boulder

Laudisio was farm-to-table before it was cool. For 20 years they’ve served up the very best in local products with a true Italian flare. Their wood-fired pizzas (and mobile oven) were ahead of the trend. In fact, Laudisio seems to be ahead of the curve in pretty much every department.

Mexican

Efrain’s : EC and B

Personally, I could eat the chile verde bowl (with a side of guacamole) at least once a week. It’s my favorite. But the mondongo bowl also has a crave-worthy allure, as does the mystique of the Efrain’s burrito. No matter what, you get something delicious, something that will soon become your favorite.

Patio

Martini’s Bistro : East County

Martini’s is always a nice spot for dinner or lunch. But come spring, the beautiful Victorian with charm unto itself opens its lovely patio for diners. It’s like a normal restaurant patio but with all the perks of a hip lounge—cozy chairs, fireplaces, perfect lighting, excellent people watching and cocktails, of course.

The Mediterranean : Boulder

The Med’s patio is coveted. If it’s not raining or snowing or doing one of Colorado’s odd climatic freakshows, you want a spot on the patio. You want it because, maybe, just maybe, the slight breeze, sunshine and fresh air will make you feel as though you are sitting seaside on the coast of Spain, eating mussels and paella.

Lunch

Sun Rose Cafe : East County

There’s no want for deliciousness at Sun Rose—it’s all yummy. But there is a special you get from a cup of homemade soup (it changes daily) and a smoked turkey and bacon panini with slices of avocado, sweet basil vinaigrette, sun dried tomatoes and Dijon mayo. It exemplifies the Longmont eatery’s balance between hearty, familiar flavors and homemade inventiveness.

The Mediterranean : Boulder

Power lunches are for getting work done (or at least looking like you’re getting work done). But ya’ll gotta eat too. The Med has long been a destination for East County and Boulder power-lunchers and casual-lunchers alike, serving up all sorts of amazing tapas and entrees. Kind of makes being productive a lot more appetizing.

Salad

Zamparelli’s : East County

There are salads and then there are Zamp’s salads. Never overwrought or overcrowded, these are light and scrumptious. The Caesar is a tangy spin on a classic (with buttery croutons), the arugula salad is doused in Parmigiano-Reggiano with a tangy balsamic, and the pear and gorgonzola has tremendous balance with fruit and cheese, walnuts and greens. It’s a whole new world of salads.

Mad Greens : Boulder

It happens all the time. You have 30 minutes for lunch, and your choices are a handful of fast food or fast casual eateries. But all you want is a spinach salad with grilled portobello, blue cheese, artichoke hearts, almonds and maybe shallot tarragon vinaigrette. McDonald’s definitely isn’t gonna do it. But Mad Greens really does do it your way.

Sandwich

Martino’s Pizzeria : East County

When you want your sandwich to be a little more like pizza—melted mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce and Italian sausage—you would be remiss to overlook the Italian grinder at Martino’s. It’s overflowing, rich and gratifying, this sandwich leaves you stuffed.

Snarf’s Sub Shop : Boulder

If you can stand its loud music and a little wait for the food: Snarf’s kitchen crew and amazing food make it totally worthwhile. These famous sandwiches are served on hot, fresh bread, and each ingredient is sure to have you’re taste buds tingling through to the very last bite.

Seafood

Tortuga’s : East County

Tortuga’s is consistently referred to as the “hidden gem” of Longmont. Set in a pretty little historic home, they serve up amazing Caribbean- and Southern-inspired fare with flavors that you can’t find anywhere else in the area. If you know what’s good for you, discover this gem.

Jax Fish House : Boulder

Jax garnered national fame when its chef Hosea Rosenberg won Top Chef a few years back. But way before Rosenberg wowed Bravo obsessees, Jax was making locals drool over stellar seafood. Jax consistently does inspired plates of beautiful fish and shellfish, paying homage to the natural flavors of the ocean and rivers while showing their innovative muscles.

Pizza

Martino’s Pizzeria : East County

In this day and age, it’s tough to find a place where all people with all dietary restrictions can gather and enjoy a meal together. But Martino’s has gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options. It’s always a crowd pleaser—no matter how picky your crowd is. Martino’s unites us all!

Abo’s : Boulder

Abo’s serves up a straight-forward pizza that pleases both college students and wayward office workers searching for mid-day sustenance, especially when that’s a big, thin-crust slice of pepperoni pizza. Whether you’re on a country road in Erie or in the heart of Boulder, Abo’s has a slice waiting for you.

Steakhouse

Magnolia : East County

Magnolia is the James Franco of restaurants (it’s good at a lot of things). But steak? Their steaks are swagger and savoir fair, like their grilled Angus sirloin with roasted garlic demi, which is served with buttermilk onion rings. Delicious and sexy…like the time James Franco guest stared on General Hospital.

The Boulder Chophouse : Boulder

The Boulder Chophouse brings a bit of upscale romance to the traditional steakhouse concept. There are no peanuts on the floor, but there is meat—crazy good slabs of perfectly grilled, well-seasoned steak.

Sushi

Sushi Mara (Magnolia) : East County

Lafayette’s Magnolia has different personalities: At one moment it’s a steakhouse, the next you’re being served a beautiful salad and leg of lamb. Then you’re getting an annihilator roll and two orders of unagi. And that’s a good thing, because we know that no matter our mood, we’re covered.

Sushi Zanmai : Boulder

You leave Sushi Zanmai with a smile on your face. It’s the sake. Then, of course, you’ve just had more raw fish than a binging shark, and you stayed late to catch surprisingly tolerable karaoke. Just try not to smile.

Thai

Thai Kitchen : East County

Thai Kitchen is legit. Which is our way of saying the Longmont restaurant may be the easiest way to connect with Thai culture while staying in town. The dishes—like the larb, pad prig and Thai curries—are traditional, full of exotic flavors, spices and heat.

Chy Thai Cuisine : Boulder

I judge Thai food restaurants by their tom kha soup. It’s not as ubiquitous as pad thai or curries, and when you take a sip of a truly delicious tom kha, you know you’ve found something special. Chy Thai’s is spicy but sweet, filled with meaty mushrooms and a subtle perfume of lemongrass. From there, keep eating.

Vegetarian

Flavor of India Inc. : East County

This happens every year: Flavor of India, by no means a “vegetarian restaurant,” is voted best vegetarian restaurant. But we feel for the non-meat eaters, and we’re happy they’ve found solace in their veggie samosas, aloo gobi and sag paneer.

Leaf : Boulder

We have a couple of vegetarians on staff, and they are a vocal, passionate few (they’ve even muscled the meat-eaters into Meatless Mondays). Boulder’s Leaf is a celebration of them: a restaurant that honors the vegetarian, preparing truly delicious food sans animal.

Bar

Waterloo : East County

Waterloo is the little black dress of bars. Seriously, hear me out: it’s classic yet trendy, it’s sexy and cool, and your mom would totally approve. With exposed brick, local beers on tap and a band usually playing your song, no matter your mood, it’s just the right fit.

The Bitter Bar/Happy : Boulder

The Bitter Bar is an adventure. It can be a pick-your-own-adventure. Or you can stow away on one of their mixologist’s expeditions. Order off of the menu (the Aviation is a dream or try the Green Tea Pimm’s) or simply tell the bad-ass staff what you like. Either way, prepare for a journey.

Dive Bar

Dillinger’s Food & Spirits : East County

Discover your inner delinquent at this bar with wide-set bar stools and pool tables to break away from the usual crowd. Stop by to get real bar grub with a nice bottled beer.

The Dark Horse : Boulder

Make your way into the belly of the beast with this untamed bar. Much like its name signifies, you’ll dive into a darkened, tight-quartered tavern and relish the flea market décor galore. With food like peanut-butter cheeseburgers and flowing beer on tap, I challenge you to giddy up.

Pub/Tavern

Waterloo : East County

Pub must-haves: beer and food. Waterloo doesn’t just have food. It has a list of burgers (the potato burger will seduce you), barbecue and some killer jalapeno poppers that go perfectly with a glass of local beer. Done and done.

Conor O’Neill’s : Boulder

I have a confession: I’m a former Conor O’Neill’s regular. The reason for the “former” has less to do with Conor O’Neill’s and more to do with me no longer being a barfly (that happens when you age). But as I think about having a boxty and a pint of Strongbow, there are still temptations.

Brewery

Oskar Blues : East County

If breweries were periods of ancient civilization, Oskar Blues would be the Roman Empire. It seems, these days, the funky Lyons brewpub has exploded with multiple locations—a restaurant and a tasting room—and a true national brand. We’re just the beneficiaries of their reign.

Boulder Beer Company : Boulder

The creations of Boulder Beer are crowd pleasers: drinkable but inventive, bold and flavorful. It’s no wonder our readers drink Boulder Beer’s beers by…well…the pint.

Happy Hour

Magnolia : East County

Happy hour is supposed to be happy, so when you finally get there, all you want are friends, a discounted cocktail and snacks. Magnolia has two of those—with a menu of bites and bits, including tempura avocado, in the casual cocktail lounge or the patio. Just bring friends.

The Mediterranean : Boulder

The best thing about The Med’s happy hour is the selection. They don’t just hand you a tiny list of happy hour restrictions. There are mussels, hummus and tapas to share or to hoard. And fear not, they serve up quality, not just quantity.

Margaritas

Efrain’s II : East County

The Efrain’s margarita comes in a jar—an unintimidating glass of golden liquid. It’s a bit sweet with flecks of salt and a soft hint of tequila shining through. It’s a summer day in one sip.

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant : Boulder

The Rio marg is the stuff of legends. It’s toppled grown men and crushed many a 21-year-old. Slightly sweet and full of tang, these are not the type of cocktails served in fishbowls or downed by the gallon. There’s a limit of three, but trust us—three Rio margs could be your downfall.

Wine List

Zucca Italian Ristorante : East County

We love wine lists that have range. Zucca, Louisville’s new Italian stallion, has a well-curated list that spans Italy’s best wine regions. Have a little glass of Piedmont or a glass of Tuscany. That’s the kind of range we can drink in.

Frasca Food and Wine : Boulder

James Beard knows his stuff, and when he talks, we listen. The James Beard Foundation has repeatedly honored Bobby Stuckey, the co-owner of Frasca and master sommelier, for his mad skills as the wine director at Boulder’s Friulian gem. Their wine list has breadth and depth, it’s world-class but locally inspired.

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