As the air gets crisper and the days get shorter, we all need to make our own sunshine. Here are 15 taste sensations to warm your belly, brighten your mood and put pep in your step.
Tofu-mushroom "cheesesteak" at Obey Sandwitchery
Because their creativity just can't quit, the gents at Rebel have launched a new lunchtime venture: this onsite pop-up opens weekdays from 11 AM to 2 PM to serve up killer sandwiches from the takeout window, including this crushable vegetarian take on a cheesesteak. With loads of smoked tofu and sautéed Hazel Dell mushrooms, peppers and onions, as well as American cheese, on a Hinman's hoagie roll, it's a hearty, meaty, melty thing that looks too big to finish in one sitting — but isn't. You might even polish it off on the drive back to work.
3763 Wynkoop St.; 303-297-3902
Bump + Bubbles at Bar Helix
There are two types of people in the world: those who love champagne and caviar and those who don't yet know they love champagne and caviar. If you're in the latter camp, it's high time for your first fix — a shot of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and a bump of San Gregorio de Polcano Siberian Reserve (yes, it's served atop your fist) at Kendra Anderson's new RiNo lounge. At $20 a pop, there's no cheaper — never mind sexier — way to go.
3440 Larimer St.; 720-449-8587
Bacon-cheeseburger dumplings at Kaya Kitchen/Cinnabao at Cho77
How did Ryan Gorby come up with the ingenious, giant-flavored little morsels he serves at Lon Symensma's new Asian street-food stall at Avanti F & B (also available at Cho77, where he's exec chef)? "I had a dream about them," he admits. So will you once you've tried them. Just as sibling ChoLon changed the soup-dumpling game with its French onion–inspired version, so these up the ante for shumai with a stuffing of ground beef, Gruyère, bacon and scallions, capped off with fried onion bits and a pickle of cucumber, red onion and garlic. Bonus: If you get them at Cho77, follow them up with Gorby's equally brilliant play on cinnamon buns, featuring bao glazed with walnut cream cheese and topped with cinnamon ice cream.
Sweetbread banh mi at 12 @ Madison
Jeff Osaka is the unofficial King of Sweetbreads, and what he and Ashley McBrady are doing with 'em now only adds another jewel to his crown. The delicately fried glands sit atop a thick slice of toast spread with chicken-liver mousse beneath a bright tangle of pickled veggies, and a smear of hoisin-Sriracha reduction brings sweet heat to the funky mix.
1160 Madison St.; 720-216-0190
Whole roasted gourd at Emmerson
As if this Boulder destination weren’t hot enough, it’s now serving a dish that’s literally on fire. It starts with a whole squash (likely kabocha, acorn or butternut, depending on the day) that’s roasted and filled with rutabaga noodles and other veggies, as well as cream of coconut milk, sunflower and hay, then served on a bed of more hay that’s set alight for a smoky aroma. What better way to ring in gourd season?
1600 Pearl St. Ste. 100, Boulder; 303-953-9852
Oxtail and rice grits at Citizen Rail
Chef Christian Graves calls this emerging signature his “perfect rainy day plate.” But don’t let a little sunlight stop you from ordering it any time you need something to fill the belly and soothe the soul. Wood-grilled, then slow-cooked, the unctuous, dark meat is shredded and served in a mound over white cheddar–enriched rice grits, accented by fresh sorrel and a crunchy rice cracker with enough nooks and crannies to use as a scoop — no need to be dainty about this.
1899 16th St.; 303-323-0017
Roasted foraged mushrooms at Urban Farmer
One of the coolest features of the Oxford Hotel’s fab new rustic farmhouse–meets–city chophouse is the beautiful glass terrarium in which exec chef Chris Starkus grows Hazel Dell mushrooms. Another is this side dish featuring the fruits of his labor. Weekends only, the humble fungi become the star of the show when they’re prepared tableside with Marsala wine as well as an allium rainbow — garlic butter, caramelized onions, crispy shallots, chives. We can't say they outshine the stellar steak-tasting flight — but we won't say they don't, either.
1659 Wazee St.; 303-262-6070
Salisbury steak at Corinne
For the signature dining room of the new Le Méridien/AC Hotel Denver Downtown, chef Tobias Burkhalter has made it his mission to eschew flashy novelty in favor of careful execution, and it shows in this taste of nostalgia — a pure, deep comfort, from the velvety mushroom gravy on the juicy slab of ground beef topped with onion strings to the buttery-smooth mashed potatoes.
1455 California St.; 720-996-1555
Grasshopper pie at The Nickel
Speaking of blasts from the past, the boozy mint-chocolate icebox miracle that is grasshopper pie rarely makes appearances these days outside of your grandma’s holiday kitchen. All the kudos to The Nickel’s exec chef Russell Stippich and pastry chef Zach Meier, then, for giving us a sweet, sweet taste of Meier’s own grandmother’s recipe — cookie crust, luscious crème de menthe filling and all, plus a topping of housemade marshmallow fluff for good, gooey measure. (In other green-comfort-food news, Stippich also makes a fabulous creamed spinach.)
1100 14th St.; 720-889-2128
Pescaditos at Candela Latin Kitchen
Fish 'n' chips meet chips and dip in the form of crispy, crunchy, punchy fried smelts with aji amarillo mayo at this vibrant new LoHi haunt, which overlooks the Downtown skyline but may as well be a beach shack when you're digging into this seaside dish, especially with a house marg or icy cerveza. As the weather cools, the mini-escape's all the more welcome.
1691 Central St.; 303-477-4582
Milwaukee Sampler at Wally's Wisconsin Tavern
At this LoDo homage to the supper clubs of the Midwest, you'll find the ultimate old-school game-day platter of cold cuts and cheeses — the highlight of which has got to be obatzda, a Bavarian spread reminiscent of Cheez Whiz that goes down extra easy on rye crisps with house-pickled veggies. Best enjoyed with a Leinie's while cheering on the Packers.
1417 Market St.; 303-800-3746
Pork belly and churros at Table 6
Move over, chicken and waffles. At this Alamo Placito mainstay, chef Mike Winston rebuilds the sweet-savory sensation from the ground up with milk-braised, chili-spiced pork belly and sugar-sprinkled Mexican fried dough, plus roasted pineapple and crème anglaise for a flavor combo that's a little bit country, a little bit tropics, a little bit haute and a little bit street.
609 Corona St.; 303-831-8800
Bottomless happy hour at Wayward
From 4 to 6 PM Tuesday through Friday, this rockin' Riverfront Park attraction rolls out an unheard-of deal — all the selected wine, beer and/or cocktails you can drink (within reasonable limits, of course) for $20. Pace yourself with a snack like the superb carrots.
1610 Little Raven St.; 720-449-8300
Braised veal meatball at Marcella's Ristorante, PIzzeria and Wine Bar
It's all about the ball at this snazzy new Italian joint in LoHi. Over pasta or on its own, smothered in tomato sauce and cheese, big as a brick but soft as velvet, it's a dining domino — order one and watch the meatballs start to fall on every table in your vicinity as your fellow diners follow suit.
1801 Central St.; 720-484-5484
Coconut cake at Wewatta Point
This just-opened sibling of an upscale-breezy California coastal joint (as well as of Public School 303 next door) may specialize in seafood, but it sure doesn't skimp on sweets. In layer upon layer, the coconut cake shines — airy, tender, buttercreamy, rich, fresh and toasty by turns, with a pool of passionfruit coulis on bottom for tangy contrast.
1607 Wewatta St.; 303-893-6779