COMFY FOODS: Get Totally Comfortable — Your favorite foods at some of our favorite places


20170630-Cherry Cricket-Denver, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Friday June 30, 2017 at Cherry Cricket. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

It starts in the morning.

You get home from your early run or ride or walk from the couch to the reading chair and that needling notion of wanting something really good that’s really bad gets really strong.

You know right then. Baked kale chips and cucumber merengue quenelles aren’t going to cut it.

This is a job for donuts. For tacos. For burgers. For pizza with cheese you gotta pull like taffy to get a slice off the pan. This, fellow foodies, this is a job for — fried chicken.

This isn’t about finding ways to cut calories so you can pretend to have what you really want. This is about setting out for the Holy Grail, and scoring.

Metro Aurora has no shortage of places to get the food that nothing else will substitute for, but we offer a few of our favorites where we know you want leave disappointed. Take an extra lap.

Perfectly Fowl

There are few pleasures in this life that are as simple and satisfying as well-made fried chicken.

Whether it’s from grandmother’s cast iron skillet or from a deep-fryer, that first bite of perfectly made fried chicken is a transcendental experience.

And conversely, there is nothing more disappointing that taking that anticipated first bite of a piece of fresh fried chicken only to discover the chef has produced a piece of crispy, dried leather. Eating bad fried chicken is like getting nothing but socks for Christmas or apples at Halloween.

20161229-Cora Fayes-Aurora, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Thursday Dec. 29, 2016 at Cora Faye's Cafe. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20161229-Cora Fayes-Aurora, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Thursday Dec. 29, 2016 at Cora Faye's Cafe. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20161229-Cora Fayes-Aurora, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Thursday Dec. 29, 2016 at Cora Faye's Cafe. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

There are plenty of ways to fry up a dirty bird. A brine is always a good idea, but many chefs take it up a notch and soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk along with salt and other spices. Some opt for a flour coating, some go for cornmeal and others get crazy and use crushed corn flakes to provide their chicken with that extra crisp sensation.

While there are numerous ways to prep and fry up chicken, there are some universal traits of great fried chicken. The crust should be crispy and not be falling off the bird. It needs some form of seasoning, whether that’s just a little bit of salt or a dash of everything off the spice rack, And most importantly, the chicken needs to be tender and juicy.

A perfect example of what fried chicken should taste like is in Denver at The Post Chicken and Beer on South Broadway. Chef Brett Smith said that while he didn’t grow up in the South, his appreciation and love for fried chicken was not diminished by being on the north side of the Mason Dixon Line.

Smith’s love for fried chicken is evident on the first bite. The Post opts for a gluten-free flour crust, which provides a coating that gives some substantial crunch without being too dense. And the restaurant’s use of a pressure fryer ensures every bite is moist and full of flavor.

The chicken itself isn’t over spiced, which allows for the flavor of the crust and buttermilk brine to shine through. There is a ‘Nashville Hot’ option that coats every piece of fried bird in a house-made hot sauce. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly worth getting a couple pieces tossed in the sauce if it sounds like something that would make you stand up and cheer.

— Ramsey Scott

The Golden Rule

Bastien’s Restaurant

3503 E. Colfax Ave.

303-322-0363

bastiensrestaurant.com

We’ve become a society of replacing old things with new things, always thinking that is the best thing. So for those that know that this isn’t always the right mentality, enjoy Bastien’s Restaurant while you can. The “Home of the Sugar Steak” has long been an iconic fixture on East Colfax Avenue, just west of Colorado Boulevard. It still stands tall as it has since 1938 despite massive modernization of the neighborhood around it. An eclectic restaurant to be sure, walking into Bastien’s is in many ways a move back into the Rat Pack era, complete with black-and-white pictures of famed and long-gone crooners on the walls. There are still strains of Frank Sinatra crooning in the background and dinner is served on black tablecloths. Bastien’s is only open for dinner and has limited hours (Monday-Thursday, 3:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. & Sunday, 4-9 p.m.), so it has a short time to impress. The quintessential Sugar Steak brings people back again and again, but think outside of the steak box there and lean on some of the restaurant’s other homestyle offerings. Under the specialties portion of the menu, fried chicken is the only one of the 11 offerings that doesn’t have a description. It needs just one word: perfect. While $22 is probably more than you’d generally pay for fried chicken on Colfax, you won’t be disappointed. Four pieces of crispy, crunchy, deeply flavorful chicken — which most importantly won’t overwhelm you with sweaty crust — will delight you, with vegetables and some remarkable mashed potatoes on the side. Lady sings the blues, chicken here sings comfort food.
— Courtney Oakes

Cora Faye’s Cafe

16251 E. Colfax Ave.

303-333-5551

corarfayes.com

Fried chicken can be a lot of things.  You can have it for breakfast with waffles, or as the main course at dinner. It even works great as brunch fare. But this isn’t health food. Sure, you can find any number of recipes that lop off a few calories, yank out the trans fats or slash the gluten crunch.  It’s just that the moment you head down a path toward something other than a calorie-filled comfort fare, you’ve changed the very nature of the dish. Calling them “fried chicken” is a culinary crime. Few people understand this iron-clad truth better than Priscilla Smith. The owner of a Colorado Soul Food staple, Cora Faye’s Café, Smith isn’t about to try some recipe that would lower the calorie count of her restaurant’s world-class fried chicken.  After a couple decades running one of the region’s top-notch Soul Food establishments — first on Colorado Boulevard in Denver and since last year on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora — she knows what her customers want. And she knows it’s a pretty simple demand. “They want to taste some grease,” she said with a chuckle not long after moving into her new Aurora digs near Colfax and Laredo Street in northeast Aurora. “They want that fried chicken to taste like fried chicken.” Bingo. So if you want some real, unapologetically crunchy fried chicken, head over to eastern reaches of Colfax and snag a booth at Cora Faye’s. Diet starts tomorrow.
— Brandon Johansson

Yellowbelly Chicken

Stanley Marketplace

2501 Dallas St.

720-259-2393

www.yellowbellychicken.com

When planning where to open a string of restaurants in Colorado, the sequence isn’t typically Vail, then Boulder then…Aurora.  As great as Aurora’s grab-bag dining scene is, it’s wholly distinct from, say, the restaurant accessible via chairlift atop Vail Resorts’ local hill. Or Kimball Musk’s renowned The Kitchen concept along the Pearl Street Mall. But now, an unassuming warehouse in northwest Aurora is joining that elite group of gastronomic havens. And a freshly opened fried chicken concept is serving as one of the main links in that peculiar culinary network.  Started by three pals in Vail in 2012, Yellowbelly Chicken has spent the past five years perfecting single-portion chicken dishes and soul-food-inspired sides. And even for self-declared flexitarians (mostly veggies, most of the time) Yellowbelly makes a convincing case to lean into the carnivorous mindset.  People facing the scourge of a gluten or dairy intolerance aren’t left out to dry, either. An array of gluten and dairy free options makes the local poultry joint distinct from any of the other myriad fried chicken hubs across the metro area, according to Alex Neyer, assistant manager at the restaurant’s Boulder location.  “I think it’s the fact that we do have mostly dairy-free … and the gluten-free fried chicken — that sets us apart form the normal fried chicken,” said Neyer, who also worked at the Stanley location earlier this year as the new spot found its footing. All of Yellowbelly’s fried chicken is coated in rice flour — making it gluten free — and later bathed in rice-bran oil. The latter makes the spot’s finished dishes much healthier options than the fattier pieces of bird spun out by the likes of Colonel Sanders. “Frying it in the rice-bran oil is the most healthy way you can do it as far as frying goes,” Neyer said. “And the chicken is lightly battered, so it’s not too crispy — it ends up being pretty tender and moist. You’re not getting fried batter — you’re getting actual chicken.” And while all of the fried chicken is coated in a buttermilk marinade for at least four hours (making it less friendly to those with lactose intolerances), the roasted chicken skips that process, making it amenable to both gluten-free and dairy-free customers, according to Neyer.  At the new Stanley location, Neyer said to keep an eye out for summertime specials made using fresh greens purchased at the farmer’s market held right at the marketplace. He said the market could mean steamed greens like bok choy, spinach or green beans could soon make their way onto the Aurora spot’s menu.
— Quincy Snowdon

Anointed BBQ and Soul Food

2504 W. Hampden Ave.

303-781-5757

anointedbbq.com 

Southern food is trendy now. Across the metro area, restaurants are popping up offering Southern-inspired cuisine with the label ‘soul food’ attached to the menu. But Marriese “Mo” Jones, owner of Anointed BBQ and Soul Food, knows that just because something is called soul food doesn’t mean it has any soul.  “Those places around here, they’ve got the name, but they don’t got the game,” Jones said. Anointed has game. Jones opened up his tiny soul food restaurant in Sheridan on the Hampden frontage road in 2016. After working three jobs for 13 years, Jones was able to bring his dream to fruition and now slings some of the best soul food this side of the Mississippi.  And for a place that highlights its barbecue, the fried chicken shouldn’t be slept on. Fried hard with a flour coating, the first bite is crisp and bites back. But every subsequent bite is tender and juicy.  And as anyone who has had the chance to eat real soul food knows, the main dish is only as good as the sides. And Jones, using recipes his grandmother passed down to him, has plenty of sides to choose from. As a transplanted Southerner, I can attest to the fact that everything Jones makes is top shelf. If you’re looking for highlights, the black-eyed peas, collard greens and hush puppies are worthy to be included in a last meal on Earth menu.  With food this good, there isn’t really a need to find another reason to eat at Anointed. But Jones’ story is worth the trip alone. After spending his first eight months in the metro area homeless, Jones volunteered with a homeless shelter to cook food. And he still sends food over to the shelter every week.

— Ramsey Scott

Out on the Streets

It’s highly doubtful that anyone has ever started a conversation with the phrase, “Let me tell you why I hate tacos.” Tacos are like the Adele of the food world. Everyone loves them and the people who say “meh” are lying just to seem different.

20170619-Tacos-Aurora, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Monday June 19, 2017 at Los Carboncitos. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20170619-Tacos-Aurora, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Monday June 19, 2017 at Los Carboncitos. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

There’s nothing complicated about tacos. Meat, peppers, cheese, salsa, maybe a little cilantro and lime juice. Toss all of that in a warm tortilla and you have a simple meal that is simply amazing.  Aurora has a lot to offer as a city. It’s abundance of choice for tacos is one of its biggest selling points. A quick five-minute drive through the city will result in at least 10 options for tacos, probably all good. Ask five people from Aurora where to grab tacos and the result will be five different restaurants, all serving joy.

Comida Cantina

The Stanley Marketplace

2501 Dallas St.

303-484-1632

www.eatcomida.com

A wise cook once said, “I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food!”

Since Ms. Julia Child first uttered that sage phrase, it’s made its way onto aprons, magnets, canvases — you name it. The line is ubiquitous.

And the folks over at the newly christened Comida Cantina space at Stanley Marketplace take that famous quote pretty literally — and they don’t stop at wine.

A smattering of the gourmet (like $4-a-piece-gourmet) tacos, tostadas and gorditas at one of Aurora’s newest Mexi-joints are made with various beverages prevalent south of the border. To give you an idea, the Sombra Shroom — made with slow-cooked mushrooms, garlic mash and cotija cheese — is lathered with Sombra Mezcal during the preparation process. The Situation (whether or not it’s named after the infamous MTV personality Mike Sorrentino, we don’t really want to know) employs slow-cooked sirloin, gouda cheese and a healthy dose of Negra Modelo. And if that’s not enough, the Stella’s Pork Carnitas are not named for the “Streetcar Named Desire” heroine; they’re lathered with Stella Artois Belgian beer. Pork Shoulder, gouda cheese and sweet potato mash finish the dish.

Cooking with booze has been a staple at Comida since it first opened in Stanley’s sister from another mister just across the municipal border at The Source in Denver several years ago.

Patrick Dizon, the general manager of the newest Comida Cantina at Stanley, said the brand-name beverages on the joint’s food menu tend to stick out.

“That definitely jumps out at people for sure,” Dizon said of menu items that employ Modelo and mezcal.

He said that while the grub won’t get you buzzed — the actual alcohol is cooked out during the preparation process — the flavors remain. The pair of beer-infused dishes are left with a wheaty flavor, and the Mezcal-coated mushrooms are left with the somewhat smoky notes common in the specialty tequila, according to Dizon.

But if you want to have your cake and get a little sauced, too, Comida — first launched as a food truck in 2012 by local restaurateur Rayme Rossello — has consistently offered a dos leches cake that packs a bit of a punch. Head chef Sandra Banchs makes the treat with doses of brandy and Cointreau liqueur. Unlike the main menu items however, the alcohol is not “cooked out” of the cake and is therefore not served to minors.

And although the dessert is off-limits for the whippersnappers, the joint offers a special kids menu that features toned-down versions of many of the main menu staples. That often means less spice for pallets that are more used to mac-n-cheese than mezcal.

“We know that kids sometimes don’t like those big layers of flavor,” Dizon said.

Whatever your spice tolerance, Dizon said, Comida’s customizable menu will bend to meet people’s preferences, while maintaining its quirky flare.

“It’s not everywhere people can get potato mash on their tacos,” Dizon said with a chuckle. “But that’s what Comida is really known for: unique, Mexican-inspired tacos.”

— Quincy Snowdon

Tacos La Morenita

15493 E Hampden Ave.

720-379-3058

Any taco tour on the metro’s east side demands at stop at La Morenita Mexican Food at Hampden Avenue and Chambers Road. The tiny Mexican joint with an open kitchen is tucked into a strip mall and produces some of the best flavors in the city.

Be warned, tacos are not quickly produced off of a steam table at La Morenita. During a recent taco tour of Aurora, we waited for about 30 minutes on a busy Saturday for our order. The wait is worth the result.

The highlight that day was the carnitas tacos. The pork is flavorful and tender with just the right amount of heat. Throw on some of La Morenita’s salsa verde and the experience borders on the transcendental.

— Ramsey Scott

La Gaviota

2280 S. Quebec St.

303-368-9947 

Mystery shrouds the taco joint at East Iliff Avenue and South Quebec Street.  Tucked into a nondescript unincorporated Arapahoe County shopping center — flanked by a gas station to the west and an adult store to the east — the sign above the door blares only: “TACOSS.” That second “S” brings to mind some serpent teasing their name and dragging out the sssssssss.

Google maps probably won’t find it for you, either. And yelp.com reviews list it as La Jakalito, though the receipt says it’s called La Gaviota — a name that means seagull but in this context is largely Google-proof.

What looks like a hole in the wall from the outside is surprisingly big when you walk through the door under the double S, stretching into an adjacent storefront and all the way to the back of the building with seating for a couple dozen.

And despite the bright sign out front, it’s easy to miss the taco section of the menu. The menu board posted high above the cashier’s counter shows photos of dozens of Mexican and Central American staples — but no tacos. For those, look over the cashier’s shoulder to a handwritten sheet of paper listing the names of the tacos they have on offer. Fair warning, if your Spanish doesn’t at least include some culinary staples — carnitas, pollo, asada, etc. — you’re gonna struggle with this particular list.

Yes, it’s a lot of trouble to score a plate of tacos.

But once your get your plate of chicharon or lengue or barbacoa or whatever other taco filling you desire — and, obviously, once you get their well-stocked salsa bar for some burnt-orange habañero salsa that will scald you in the best way — you’ll be more than happy you braved the mystery at this odd little taco shop.

— Brandon Johansson

Tortas ATM

3143 W. 38th Ave

303-433-1764

No, it has nothing to do with tortas or anything coming out of an ATM. It’s short for “A Toda Madre.” It’s a regional Spanish phrase that literally means “to every mother.” It translates to, “awesome.” You might have seen the “ATM” blended into a graffiti wall somewhere.

In this case, it’s truth in advertising. This humble counter-cafe serves up miracles on 38th. The namesake tortas are giant sandwich creations of tender, fiery mixtures seemingly as big as your head. The balance of crusty bread, succulent meats, avocado, lettuce and other accoutrement brings tears to your eyes when your realize you can’t finish it because you’ve reached that limit, maybe for the first time ever.

Same goes for the gorditas. Fat little pockets of rich beans that aren’t starchy, just the right thickness of maiz or harena pocket and, our favorite, the chili verde injection.

But the real star here are the tacos. They’re all good, but order at least two al pastor. This is the global crossroads food of the gods. “Al Pastor” refers to the pastoral shepherd. It seems that generations ago, Lebanese immigrants brought their shwarma goodness to central Mexico. The art of spit-roasting seasoned meats and turning them into pebbles of goodness morphed into what’s one of the world’s favorite tacos today. Tender and fatty pork is marinated with guajillo chiles and achiote. This is flashed on a grill to give it that biting edge. That’s foiled with tidbits of cooked pineapple. Tortas ATM serves up a generous scoop, doused with fresh white onion and cilantro, in two  fresh corn tortillas, soft but solid enough to hold up to what comes next. There’s no disappointment in getting these right into your pie hole as they come across the counter. But at the salsa bar are a wide variety of fresh-made fires that give the pineapple teases a run for the money. Roasted salsas, fresh picantes and even a tomatillo based verde that could second as chilled soup.

A little drizzle of crema and a determined squeeze of lime and, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. It’s a fistfight for flavor buds in your mouth. Salty, fiery, smoky, creamy, chewy, aromatic that lets the lime and cilantro linger after each bite.

All this will set you back $1.75 each. Three tacos and split a gordita and the world is a fine place.

The family-run operation says it’s attention to detail that sets these tacos apart. Fresh spices. Fresh onion. Fresh cilantro. Care in handling the tortillas and not rushing the meats makes a big difference. That it does.

— Dave Perry

Los Carboncitos

15210 E. 6th Ave

303-364-2606

This is where you come to win your taco mission. Wander through 11 different kinds of tacos and with prices ranging between $2 and $2.50 per taco. These are not designer tacos. These are tacos mama made that kept you at home for so long. Homemade corn tortillas made to order serve as a perfect starting block for each street-style taco, which also includes onion and cilantro in addition to your choice of meat.

You don’t need the cheese (an extra .50 per taco), so save the calories and the money, especially with a wide variety of sauces at your disposal alongside fresh lime wedges. The Al Pastor (marinated pork) is a serious go-to and a full plate would be more than satisfying, but leave room to try to the other options: bistec (steak), carnitas (slow cooked pork), pollo (chicken), cabeza (head), chuleta (pork chop), chorizo (Sausage Mexican Style), lengua (tongue), tripa, pescado (fish) and camaron (shrimp). Each variety is patiently created to keep you eating plate after plate.

— Courtney Oakes

Burger Nation

It’s obvious but a little known secret that burgers succeed from the outside in.

You gotta have great buns to have a great burger. It’s not hard to see why. That first and every subsequent bite of the good stuff depends on getting through the bread wrapper. Too much bread is too much trouble. To soft is too lame. Too tough or thick is too bad.

20170630-Cherry Cricket-Denver, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Friday June 30, 2017 at Cherry Cricket. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20170630-Cherry Cricket-Denver, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Friday June 30, 2017 at Cherry Cricket. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20170630-Cherry Cricket-Denver, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Friday June 30, 2017 at Cherry Cricket. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

It starts with the bun. Smart pubs and taverns across the region, which is where burgers evolve and flourish, have upped the game by creating  their own grainy, briochy, seedy, toasty bread wrappers or hiring out serious experts to the job. It’s created a whole new world of wow. It means that extra trouble and toil can be devoted to the inside of the burger for serious pay off.

And the rest of the payoff comes from minding this golden rule of burgerdom: fresh. Fresh, crisp lettuce and onion, real tomatoes, not those starchy red things that look like tomatoes and taste like stage props. Freshly ground beef. Freshly cracked pepper. Fresh.

And finally, like it or not, it’s all about fat. Artery-congealing beef fat. We like it. Lean burgers. Fish burgers. Bean Burgers. Mushroom burgers. Chicken burgers (ewww) and Buffalo Burgers are interesting ideas, but they’re just sandwiches. Ground chuck or sirloin that is about 80 percent lean makes the only burger worth eating. If you’re on a diet, don’t eat the fries. Fat is what delivers that scintillating caramelized grilling taste. It’s what gives it  that perfect steak haché chewyness, and it’s what gives it that one-of-a-kind taste.

The more you add to your hamburger, the less important the fat is. Hence, at one point, your mushroom-sour-cream-bacon-Spam-and-fried-onion belly-buster burger with egg and peanut butter  depends more on your stamina and less on your chef’s good sense. We’re purists and snobs here. Some fancy bacon or rare imported cheese is great. But adding voluminous liquids or stews or buffets unto themselves to your burger distracts you from enjoying this uniquely American dining sensation: The Cheeseburger. Not that there’s anything wrong with short-rib or salmon sliders, and we know a guy.

— Dave Perry

Park Burger

1890 S Pearl St.

720 242-9951

www.parkburger.com

What sits in a wax paper basket, lives between two buns and comes from the deep blue sea?

If you guessed the best damn burger in the metro area, you’d be spot-on, friend.

However unlikely, the best burger in the Mile High City comes not from a free-range ranch somewhere in Wyoming or Eastern Colorado, but instead from the Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of South America.

The recently renamed “burger of the sea” (née the ahi tuna burger) at Denver’s renowned Park Burger is to the local burger scene what Aquaman is to the rest of the DC Comics Universe: An aquatic king among lesser, poorly-dressed land lubbers.

Clocking in at a modest one-third pound, the ahi tuna steak that comprises the guts of the sandwich is shipped to Park Burger’s three Denver locations twice a week by Chevron Food Service, according to Robert Abelardo, assistant general manager of Park Burger’s hilltop location in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood.

Abelardo says what sets the burger apart is its far-eastern flare and balanced flavor profile.

“What makes it unique is the protein itself, the flavor profile and the fact that it has kind of an Asian zing to it,” he says. “The sesame seeds, pickled slaw and ginger create kind of a nice vinegar profile vs. the fish, so it really matches well with the tuna.”

By the time it hits one of Park Burger’s signature baskets, it’s lightly seared, dotted with sesame seeds and slapped between two, well-lubricated buns. But before it hits a customer’s frothing gullet, it’s painted with guacamole, pickled red cabbage cole slaw made with red wine and distilled white vinegars, and a ginger aioli. With that, it becomes one of the heartiest protein sandwiches in the metroplex — one even those veg-heads can enjoy, too.

But it’s not to be messed with, according to Abelardo, who recommends ordering the burger without any of the myriad add-ons his joint offers.

“It’s perfect as it is,” he says. “It’s a signature burger that stands on its own. I would suggest ordering it as is just because those components were designed to go together.”

— Quincy Snowdon

Cherry Cricket

2641 E. Second Ave.

303-322-7666

cherrycricket.com

Some people just like to be contrarians about everything. Tell them the sky is blue and they’ll say it’s green, tell them the Earth is round and they’ll say it’s flat. For those who have been Denver for some time, tell some people you are going to have a burger at the Cherry Cricket and they’ll roll their eyes. That’s OK, it’s their loss. Those who have been to the establishment in the heart of Cherry Creek North know exactly what they are getting. A four-month absence from the local scene — the result of a kitchen fire at the venerable old location that has been around since 1945 — made the heart grow fonder for burger aficionados, who got their groove back in March of 2017. Many burger places tout the ability to build your own burger, but nowhere else can possibly match the Cherry Cricket in making that a reality. Pick a burger — the Cricket Burger, a 1/2-pound angus patty, is the most basic building block — and then get to building. With a staggering 30 toppings on its menu, including nine types of cheese, making your perfect burger could take awhile. At $3 extra, corned beef is the Cadillac of toppings, but everything else runs between .75 to $1.50. Never had grilled pineapple on a burger before? Try it. Feel the urge to try peanut butter and grape jam on top of your burger? The world is your oyster at the Cherry Cricket. Or, trust those who know best and order the restaurant’s Burger of the Month, which in June was the Cowboy Burger, a 1/2 pound Cricket burger topped with smoked cheddar, bacon, fried onions, coleslaw and a side of BBQ sauce along with french fries for $11. Argue with that contrarians.

— Courtney Oakes

Helton Burger Shack

Coors Field

2001 Blake St.

303-292-0200

Nothing beats a hot dog at a baseball game. That statement is intrinsically false when it comes to Coors Field.

Because out past the seats in left field sits the best burger stand in the area, #17 Helton Burger Shack. While others might be satisfied feasting on Rockie Dogs, the best way to start any game is with a Helton Burger, fries and an adult beverage brewed down the street in Golden.

The Helton Burger is named after the Toddfather himself, Rockies legendary first baseman Todd Helton. So in a way, having a Helton Burger is just a way to show pride in the home team. But nostalgia for the Blake Street Bombers isn’t the reason to chow down on a Helton Burger. No, the reason simply is it’s one of the best burgers you can find in town. Chargrilled and made to order with a special sauce that makes The Hamburglar jealous, the Helton Burger is what summer tastes like. Add an order of big onion rings and that beer, or a milkshake if you prefer your drinks alcohol free, and it’s the perfect summer night meal.

And let’s be frank, the Helton Burger gets extra points for ambiance. There isn’t a better place to eat a burger than in the stands of Coors Field.

— Ramsey Scott

Sloan’s Bar and Grill

5850 W. 25th Ave.

303-274-4244

www.sloansbarandgrill.com

If your burger doesn’t come with a legend, move on. The Maytag burger at Sloan’s Bar and Grill, a comfortably quasi-swank haunt on the west side of the work, not far from Sloan’s Lake, has such a story.

It’s the cheese. Sloan’s uses the famous Maytag bleu cheese from Newton, Iowa, to grace it’s succulent burger on the perfect bun. Don’t know about Maytag? Shame. This family-run operation has been rolling out wheels of some of the creamiest, sharpest bleu cheese this side of the Rhone River. The secret? Excellent milk and the patience to let that cheese get good and smelly while it rests in the creamery caves.

The blend of rare-ish burger meat and the pungent cheese topped with a few grilled onions a smattering of pickle is something that will prompt you to drive back for, no matter how far the trek.

A well-rounded selection of the region’s best brews, and even a few favorites from places like KC and Oregon, make this pub an even better reason to drive to when you’re feeling bleu.

Caveat: This burger is not a good choice for first dates.

— Dave Perry

Park Burger Part Deux

Park Burger

1890 S Pearl St.

720 242-9951

www.parkburger.com

As any Seinfeld fan can tell you, salsa was having its day near the top of the condiment heap back when Jerry and George were yakking about nothing in a booth at Monk’s.

And ketchup, mustard, pickle-relish and a handful of others have never really veered from their spot atop that heap, always enjoying a status as staples when ya need to slather something on an otherwise bland dish.

Today, Sriracha seems to be enjoying its well-earned moment in a spicy sun.  Sadly, the criminally-underrated giardiniera has yet to score the sort of prestige many other, lesser condiments enjoy.

It can’t even lay claim to being in the discussion, it seems — unless you’ve got the jus from Italian Beef dripping down your forearm somewhere in or around Chicago, or taking a salty bite out of a mufalata somewhere around New Orleans.

But the good folks at Park Burger know better than to sleep on this spicy pickled mix of peppers and veggies. They also know that while this complex array of flavors is usually found on those Italian-inspired sandwiches in the cities Windy or Crescent, the wonders of giardiniera are a delightful add to just about anything between two buns.

The Colorado-based burger chain — which has four locations around the metro  area — makes giardiniera a centerpiece of their Scarpone burger. This 1/3 pound patty comes with a healthy dose of that mix of peppers, carrots, cauliflower and vinegar — a batch not quite as spicy as you’ll find in Chicago, but plenty spicy — followed by crispy pancetta and truffle garlic aioli.

And if you don’t get your giardiniera fix there, have them dollop more of the stuff on whatever other burger you choose for just 50 cents.

— Brandon Johansson

Pie Eyed

As regional food debates go, none get quite as heated as a battle over which region has the finest pizza in the land.

That would be our land, not the land that claims to have invented this distinctly American dish.

Ask a New York pizza lover why they think their thin greasy slices are light years better than any hulking Deep Dish pie they sling in Chicago. Then tell your closest Chicago transplant friend about the conversation and enjoy the fireworks.

20170622-Pizza-Denver, Colorado

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite placeson Thursday June 22, 2017 at Patxis. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

And if you want to get hyper-regional, ask fans of New Haven, Connecticut, pizza about the square pies that pop out of ovens in Detroit. Or, if you have to, ask some Ozark hilljack to defend that cracker-crusted stuff topped with some sort of cheese whiz they call pizza in Saint Louis — just be sure to walk the other direction if they say a nice word about Emo’s.

In each case, pizza lovers will go to bat for their region the same way they’d defend their mom’s lasagna or granny’s meat loaf. Pizza holds that sort of prominence in American diners’ hearts.

But unless you’re one of those rare Colorado pizza partisans loyal to the thick-doughed Mile High pies you find at Beau-Jo’s or a handful of other Colorado pizzerias, you likely agree that Colorado doesn’t really have a “Colorado Style” the way New York or Chicago or New Haven or Detroit or, even, mercifully, Saint Louis, do.

The perk to all of that, though, is that we live in a state that has been a magnet for transplants from those pizza-rich but mountain-poor locales. And increasingly, those transplants are setting up shop here in Colorado, flinging their regional pie styles into ovens with the occasional Centennial State flair.

Gone are the days when getting a pie in the Mile High meant one of the way-too-many national delivery chains or the occasional New York style shop that came and went.

— Brandon Johnasson

Angelo’s Taverna

620 E 6th Ave.

303.744.3366

angelostaverna.com

I have consumed an inordinate amount of pizza from Angelo’s Taverna in the past year. I used to work there. And I still can’t get enough of it.

I have, as a pizza-eating pro, eaten a mountain of pie from locales all over the country. So, like you, I should know.

Angelo’s still comes out on top for best pie in the metro area. It simply has the best sauce and crust combo hands down.

The original Angelo’s opened decades ago on Sixth Avenue and while new owners took over in the past few years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the original recipe for the pizza. When new owners take over a spot, it can be hard for them not to tinker with inherited recipes and try and improve upon them. Luckily for everyone, this pie is a classic.

The sauce is rich with the right amount of garlic and basil without being overpowered by either. The crust is flavorful without being salty. It comes out of the oven just a little thicker than a New York-style pizza, firm yet not crispy and overcooked. So it’s possible to eat an entire slice without having to resort to using a fork and knife to finish the job. And one should never use a fork and knife to eat pizza.

— Ramsey Scott

Patxi’s Pizza

3455 S University Blvd.

303-783-2000

patxispizza.com

Although it seems like you could drive to Chicago in the time it takes to get your pizza at Patxi’s Pizza — a wait made even more torturous by hunger pangs — it’s well worth the wait. Many people intimately familiar with the Windy City’s classic deep dish pizza swear up and down that Paxti’s Pizza has got it right when it comes to the buttery crust and blend of ooey, gooey cheese that makes it so good.

According to the Paxti’s Pizza website, the chain opened in 2004 in Palo Alto, California, and has expanded many times, with three locations now in Colorado (Cherry Creek, Cherry Hills and Uptown). You can certainly order thin crust at Paxti’s Pizza, but the deep dish pie that requires at least 35 minutes to cook properly — depending on if you choose the 10-inch, 12-inch or 14-inch variety — is truly where it’s at.

Build your own pizza with homemade tomato sauce and your choice of whole milk mozzarella, low-fat mozzarella or daiya vegan cheese or go with one of seven house combinations. The Special is particularly good, loaded up with all-natural garlic-fennel sausage, fresh mushrooms, green peppers and white onion. When it finally arrives at your table, take it all in, pull each slice out slowly to admire the melted cheese and enjoy the remarkable flavor after your wait. Even the lactose intolerant will suffer through some discomfort to have a piece or two. Paxti’s Pizza is a bit on the high end when it comes to pizza prices, but look it this way, getting to Chicago would cost way more, right?

— Courtney Oakes

Blue Pan Pizza

3930 W 32nd Ave.

720- 456-7666

bluepandenver.com

If you need proof, just think about this: On a first, or even a second date, would you share a cheeseburger with your date? Unless the two of you are the type of creeps who are already sharing one side of the booth, the answer is almost certainly no. Hell no, even.

But would you share a pizza? Of course you would.

“It’s a unique food experience because it’s so shared, it’s so communal,” says Giles Flanagin, owner of Blue Pan Pizza in northwest Denver. For Flanagin, pizza has always been about dining with someone else, whether it’s sharing a pie with new or soon-to-be friends, or having family pizza night every Friday back in Michigan with his parents and two siblings.

And regardless of the social situation, be it a date, work function, post-game snack or study group, sharing a pizza can often lead to sharing something else — opinions.

At Blue Pan — which specializes in Detroit Style pies but also cranks out top-notch pizza inspired by some quintessential American pizza regions — those debates are a common occurrence.

Chicago-style deep dish is more like a lasagna than a pizza, some New Yorker might contend. And a Chicago loyalist — who is likely more fond of that city’s square-cut, crispy, sausage-covered thin crust pies than those famous deep dishes anyway, but still parochial enough to defend even the thickest pies the 773 has to offer —  will likely note the inherently floppy nature of New York slices.

Flanagin says while he loves the Detroit style Blue Pan serves up — which is marked by cheese that stretches from edge to edge, a caramelized crust and sauce ladled in two thin tracks on top of the cheese — he knows better than to wade into those “best” pizza arguments.

After all, there really isn’t a “bad” pizza out there, just different pizza.

— Brandon Johansson

Cart Driver

2500 Larimer St.

303.292.3553

cart-driver.com

The best part of the best pizza in Denver isn’t pizza.

In fact, it’s not even circular. It has an intact spinal cord, it’s extremely oily and it comes in a tin can.

That’s right folks, we’re talking about sardines.

The sardine toast at Cart Driver, the obligatory order before a $5 Neapolitan-style Daisy Pizza between 10 p.m. and midnight every day of the damn week, just might be one of the simplest, most dialed-in flavor combinations in the Front Range.

Sardines have a bad rap — a really bad rap. We get it. They’re slimy, they smell like the docks where a guy named Finnegan works, and, sometimes, their bones get a little stuck in your molars. Those are valid reasons for criticism, to be sure. But the way in which the team at Cart Driver in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood disguises those initial cringes oozes pure genius.

A homemade olive butter is the foundation of this tiny, fishy wonder, coupled with a sweet-and-slightly-spicy chutney. Add the slimy ocean dwellers and a splash of lemon, smoosh it between two piping hot cuts of homemade piada bread and you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to gastronomic nirvana.

Then, of course, you’ve got a pizza to eat, too. The aforementioned Daisy — with fresh mozz, tomato sauce and basil — is about as basic as pies get in 2017, and it’s an undeniably delicious time, every time. They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and this personal dish should be absolutely left alone.

The fact that you can wash those dishes down with yet another $5 combination of fernet branca and a short glass of Prost pilsner on draught seals Cart Driver as not only the best pizza slinger in the metro area, but the best deal as well. Seriously: When was the last time you spent $20 on dinner and drinks for two in one of the Queen City of the Plains’ poshest neighborhoods? And in a converted shipping container? Yeah, we’ll be waiting on that answer, too.

— Quincy Snowdon

Icy Screams of Joy

Whether it’s you, me or the whole fam damily screaming for a candied cone filled with cold sugar, there’s something for everyone in Denver’s growing ice cream galaxy.

Vegan scoops infused with fresh fruit from the Western Slope? You’ve got Sweet Action on South Broadway.

A hectic but entertaining night waiting in an interminable line beside the state’s largest cream can? You know the spot in LoHi.

Display window of assorted ice cream flavours

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite places

Ice cream cofee and chocolate

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite places

Delicious Pistachio Ice Cream

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite places

scooping chocolate ice cream close up shot

GET COMFORTABLE: A short list of your favorite foods at some of our favorite places

And the best damn ice cream cakes and cookie sandwiches this side of the Mississippi? The grinning, blue Sweet Cow now has six outposts sprinkled across the Front Range, including a new milky mecca in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace.

Most metro-area residents live just a short drive, or maybe even a walk, from a world-class ice cream shop these days, and there’s no better time to indulge in saccharine scoops of chilled dairy than during Colorado’s sweltering dog days.

But, who really needs an excuse to run to the nearest shop or grocery store to get that ‘screamin’ fix? (July is National Ice Cream Month, in case you actually, like, needed one.

Apparently, not many people, according to some brain-freezing stats from the International Dairy Foods Association.

Here are just a few slices of chilled gold, courtesy of the IDFA, for the umami-obsessed masses: The average American sucks down as much as 23 pounds of ice cream each year; the U.S. produced more than 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream and frozen desserts in 2015; and, sadly, the bean reigns supreme — the country’s best-selling flavor is still vanilla. Come on, people, it’s time to broaden the oral horizons a titch.

So how does one seller of creams differentiate his/herself from another seller of creams in such a crowded field of cream-sellers?

At Sweet Cow, it starts with the mixing, according to Tashia Dohren, stand-in manager of the company’s new Stanley location.

Dohren says Sweet Cow whips every batch of ice cream using an Emery Thompson batch mixer. The secret, though, is that the cream connoisseurs at “The Cow” turn off the freezing mechanism right at the end of the whipping process, which significantly lightens the batch’s texture.

“It gives it an airier, fluffier consistency,” Dohren, who typically oversees Sweet Cow’s Platt Park location on Denver’s Old South Pearl Street, says.

She added that unique, local collaborations also help set Sweet Cow apart from the increasingly crowded pack of creamers. Recently, the shop whipped up a root beer ice cream with the help of Wynkoop Brewing in Denver, as well as a watermelon sorbet with some assistance from Pica’s Boulder Mexican Taqueria. At the Stanley location, the sugary bovines have already teamed up with nearby Cheluna Brewing Company, and there are whispers of a possible collaboration with fellow Stanley tenant Glazed and Confuzed Doughnuts. Ooh la la.

Read on to learn more about what makes Sweet Cow so gosh darn delicious, and for some additional scoop (ha!) on where you should order you next cone (or cup or sandwich or cake or pint or … you get the idea).

— Quincy Snowdon

Sweet Cow

At The Stanley Marketplace

2501 Dallas St.

303-484-1573

www.sweetcowicecream.com/

So you already know that the team at Sweet Cow Ice Cream makes cold magic through a high-tech mixing process. That’s what makes the stuff as fluffy as a sugary cumulonimbus. You also know that their mind-blowing mashups with the likes of Pica’s in Boulder, Wynkoop Brewing in Denver and Cheluna Brewing Company in Aurora yield some seriously sumptuous recipes, like a watermelon sorbet, and multiple beer-infused blends.

But it’s the sugary, wafery vessels that really solidify Sweet Cow’s spot atop the heaping sundae of metro-area ice cream shops. You know, those all-important vehicles used to deliver that chilly sucrose to your frothing gullet.

That’s right: We’re talking about the cones, people.

Sweet Cow has devoted significant time to perfecting the just-right waffle cone to hold their delightfully fluffy scoops. Made in-house, the waffle cones at “The Cow” are kissed with a special Indonesian cinnamon, which creates that irresistible aroma when you drift into their shop in the early morning hours.

“That (cinnamon) is what you’ll typically smell,” says Tashia Dohren, stand-in manager of Sweet Cow’s new Stanley outpost.

But on top from those spicy ‘scream wrappers made right in the shop, there’s another, even more delicious cone Sweet Cow nabs all the way from the East Coast.

For years, Sweet Cow has offered perfectly salted pretzel cones, which are shipped in all the way from Bristol, Pennsylvania. That’s where the aptly named “The Cone Guys Inc.” have dialed in the ideal pretzel cone. In fact, inventing the pretzel cone was the lifelong dream of the firm’s owner, Ian Cooper, according to the company’s website. Some men want to be astronauts, some men want to improve the experience of eating ice cream for millions. Not all heroes wear capes, you know.

So, thank you, Mr. Cooper. And thank you, Sweet Cow Ice Cream for bringing the fruits of the Far East and the fruit of a quirky Pennsylvanian’s childhood dream to the Front Range. The humble, ice cream-obsessed masses thank you.

— Quincy Snowdon

Liks

2039 E 13th Ave.

303-321-2370

www.liksicecream.com

Denver has no shortage of expert creameries these days serving up silky smooth frozen desserts, but they can all still learn from the master: Liks. Since the time of bell bottoms and Klik-Klaks, Liks has been scooping up perfection on Capitol Hill to long lines all year-long. It’s humble red-brick abode belies the unique goodness inside.

“Fresh,” is the mantra here. Fresh milk. Fresh cream. Fresh adds. Freshly churned and frozen. Peaches from Palisade mean you’re only going to get one of Colorado’s creamiest dreamiest treats for a few months of the year. Each flavor is hand-packed with skill and love for this favorite art form.

The mouth feel here is premium. Stellar gums, part of all quality ice cream, make sure the pleasure lingers.

But it’s the flavors that set Liks apart from the rest. Caramelized sugar that gives scotches and toffees power to rise above the sweet and cream. Cherries that dance in your mouth. Chocolate that means business.

All this and all the friendly oddness that makes waiting in line on The Hill and then promenading in Cheeseman Park a regular pleasure for local dwellers and a must-do when others venture to this part of town.

— Dave Perry

Bonnie Brae Ice Cream

799 S. University Blvd.

303-777-0808

bonniebraeicecream.com

Ice cream shops can often be hubs of a community, no matter how big it is. Bonnie Brae Ice Cream — part of the long-standing enclave of Bonnie Brae businesses on University Boulevard in Denver — is just such a place in an ever-expanding metropolitan area. On any given summer evening, old folks, couples, kids and everybody else saunter down to the northwest corner of University and E. Ohio Ave., and wait patiently in line under the perfectly-bright neon lights until it is their turn to order, much as they have since the business opened up back in 1986. The inside of the shop itself is a throwback, with white countertops and old-fashioned red chairs, but the real community happens when people share the patio outside or stroll through the neighborhood with their cool treats. Right above the door, a sign declares “Yes! We make it here!” and the family-owned business does just that, producing 30-plus different flavors of ice cream each and every day with a personal touch, churning out tastes from old staples like vanilla and mint chocolate chip to the exotic such as Triple Death Chocolate Turtle, Pineapple Cheesecake or Deep Dish Apple Pie. Rotating fruit sorbets — such as Cranberry and Cherry — provide a great option for those not inclined to chocolate in public. The mix is especially creamy and smooth. The custard lingers with the flavor, just long enough to keep you from shoveling it too fast. The flavors are all honest and up front, but in the end, it’s the cream you came for.

— Courtney Oakes

Little Man

2620 16th St. 

303-455-3811

www.littlemanicecream.com

It’s hard to believe that Highland and everyplace that now calls itself the Highlands had a history or even existed before the Little Man Icon made it so.

No it’s so. The giant milk-can ice-cream shop halfway down Denver’s big hill attracts aficionados from across the globe, and for many good reasons. Owner and North-Denver veteran Paul Tamburino not only serves up some of the best frozen goodness in the metro area, he does it in a style no one can compete with. Much more than an ice cream stand in the region’s trendiest neighborhood, it’s a place where bands play, outdoor movies are watched, Christmas trees are traded, tea-dances are held and neighbors become friends.

It’s the sweet creamy goodness that brings everybody back time and again to happily wait for an hour or more on busy days to taste and choose flavors that come in like Colorado weather. Flavors like Creme Fraiche and French Toast are marvels. Toffee Coffee and Purple Cow are sensations that are no less commanded by superior creaminess and just the right richness.

Come for the selfie, stay for a second trip through.

— Dave Perry