Where to eat in Denver

One of my favorite activities is researching restaurants I haven't visited and consequently trying them, alone if need be.  After spending 10 years in total between northern and southern California and having an adventurous palate, I'll admit I have become a culinary snob of sorts. I enjoy a wide array of international cuisines and have come to expect such diversity from large cities. 

I was pleasantly surprised in my visits to Denver and can honestly say it now boasts a few of my favorite restaurants. 

Shredded bison Indian taco, Tocabe

-- Tocabe -- I can't claim to have stumbled upon Tocabe all on my own, though I wish I had. I actually turned on Food Network in one of the nights before my trip to Denver and Guy Fieri was featuring Tocabe on Diners, Drive-in, and Dives. And Tocabe lives up to all the high expectations I had for it -- generous portions, southwest flavors, and the absolute best fry bread I've ever tasted. Ben and Matt have their recipe perfected. While Bison is not uncommon on restaurant menus in Colorado, when Tocabe tops Indian fry bread with it, the result is an excellent balance of the slightly sweet fry bread, seasoned bison and spicy salsa. Furthermore, the owners are the friendliest people you'll meet, I went twice in three days during my visit and Ben welcomed me with a warm hello and "You're back so soon?" upon my return. It's not simply great food, but great service that keeps me coming back to my favorite restaurants. If only I lived closer than a plane ride away...

-- Rioja -- My sister, a recent culinary school graduate, introduced my family to Rioja. When she suggests a restaurant, I know that it's going to be good. What I enjoyed most about Rioja was the creativity in their menu, in their use of seasonal ingredients and inspiration from across the culinary spectrum. The resulting dishes were well thought out, carefully plated and layer upon layer of flavor. My dinner was an artichoke tortelloni, which had artichoke mousse filling and artichoke broth that sang together brilliantly. The soft flavors of the mousse were heightened by the truffle essence in the broth. Even more, dessert forced me to be adventurous and step out of my comfort zone. Not one who usually likes fig, I found myself enjoying the fig-filled beignets, and furthermore for one who doesn't like meringue I was surprised to find the baked alaska to be my favorite dessert. Rioja's baked alaska was once again a clever combinations of flavors and textures -- a coconut macaroon, the smoothest pineapple sorbet and a pineapple gastrique, and of course flambé on the meringue done tableside.

-- Amato's Ale House -- For craft beer aficionados Amato's Ale House is a must visit in Denver, with 42 craft beers on tap, that change daily, and a gorgeous rooftop patio. I went for Sunday brunch and enjoyed a generously portioned vanilla porter cinnamon raisin french toast. Also equally delicious was the lobster mac & cheese. But really my attention at Amato's was mainly on the beer. To accompany my meal, instead of a traditional mimosa, I got my perfect mimosa made with Breckenridge Brewery's Agave Wheat -- unique and so refreshing! For the adventurous, the less decisive or anyone in between, Amato's does mini flights so you can try their draft selections three at a time. Sharing with my sister, we sampled six beers, that ranged from light summer ales to a milk stout, and found a few new favorites.