The best things I ate and drank this year in Denver

From brand new spots to old favorites, cheap slices to expensive cocktails, these are the best things I ate in Denver in 2016.

"Suze, Susie, Suzy" rests on the bar at home at Hudson Hill on 13th Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)food; grapefruit cocktail; denver; drinks; nightlife; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado;

It’s been a wild year, Denver, but through the madness, at least we’ve always had food.

And alcohol. That helped, too.

Let’s look back on all my favorite meals and bar stops this year. Maybe you can look back fondly on some of it, too, or maybe you’ll be inspired to try something for the first time.

From brand new spots to old favorites, cheap slices to expensive cocktails, these are the best things I ate in Denver in 2016.

The Valium at Mister Tuna
The Valium (front), the Velvet TV (right) and the Suspiria at Mister Tuna. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
The Valium (front), the Velvet TV (right) and the Suspiria at Mister Tuna. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

This Montelobos mezcal, benedictine, amaretto, fresh lemon, vino float and torched cherries concoction has an intimidating name and a potentially intimidating mix of ingredients, and it’s the No. 1 cocktail I crave.

It more or less tastes like red wine and mezcal — two of my favorite things, and two things that go very well together.

Drinking one of these, by the way, is just the first step in going a little bit crazy at Mister Tuna.

The short rib at The Nickel
Shortrib at The Nickel, 1100 14th St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
Short rib at The Nickel, 1100 14th St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Outrageously tender and charmingly presented with sauce royale, butternut squash chimichurri and a little garden, I could eat this once a week (but it’s a little on the pricy side).

It was part of the fall menu at The Nickel, which chef Sean Stengel built around two familiar ideas — Americana and community.

Fried chicken at Welton Street Café
To-go fare from the Welton Street Cafe. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) food; welton street cafe; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty
To-go fare from the Welton Street Cafe. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

If gentrification ever comes for Welton Street Café, I will lose it.

It doesn’t look fancy and it doesn’t have to. It’s just hearty and delicious. You could eat the fried chicken straight up, but you don’t want to miss out on a little hot sauce.

Right this way for other top-notch fried chicken.

The Suze, Susie, Suzy at Hudson Hill
"Suze, Susie, Suzy" rests on the bar at home at Hudson Hill on 13th Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) food; grapefruit cocktail; denver; drinks; nightlife; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado;
“Suze, Susie, Suzy” rests on the bar at home at Hudson Hill on 13th Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hudson Hill was always going to win me over. With a name that combines the region I grew up in with a neighborhood I now live in, it was inevitable that we shared sensibilities.

The cocktail menu has changed a bit since it opened in May, but this drink remains, probably because it’s particularly delicious. The mix of grapefruit, lavender, gentian, vodka and plum somehow works just as well now as it did in the summer.

You should also try the quadrello di bufala cheese while you’re there. It’s just the right amount of stanky.

(For more grapefruit cocktails we love, click right on through here.)

New Haven pizza at Black Sky Brewery
The bartender at Black Sky Brewery strikes a metal pose behind a New Haven style pizza. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) metal; baker; pizza; food; dining; denverite; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty;
The bartender at Black Sky Brewery strikes a metal pose behind a New Haven style pizza. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

I’m a traitor to my people here, but you know what? New York pizza is everywhere. And New Haven pizza is just wonderfully doughy.

Here’s how Harry Smith, who is from the New Haven area and co-owns Black Sky with his wife, Lila Mackey, explained it to me:

“It’s a cold-rise pizza, so we keep all the flour in a cooler and we mix everything cold, including the yeast, and then we put it back in the cooler for a 24-hour rise. The really slow rise gives it more of an airy dough — more of a chewy dough. New Haven also has a signature clam pizza — clams and white sauce with bacon and garlic.”

The mac ‘n’ cheese at The Fort

I was so absorbed with consuming this mac ‘n’ cheese that I completely forgot to take a photo of it. But trust me, it’s so good. My dinner dates and I agreed that we’d go all the way back to Morrison just to eat this mac ‘n’ cheese. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I want to write poems to this mac ‘n’ cheese. I want to spend every day for the rest of my life with this mac ‘n’ cheese. I want to make grand romantic gestures for this mac ‘n’ cheese until it forgives me for that time I had salad instead.

I love you, Fort mac ‘n’ cheese.

I stand by this.

Pork green chili taco at Torchy’s Tacos
Torchy's Tacos Missionary-Style Green Chili Pork. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) torchy's tacos; food; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Torchy’s Tacos missionary-style pork green chili taco. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

You know, I’ve heard some people say Torchy’s hasn’t lived up to the hype. Maybe I’m biased by my happy memories of getting their tacos during trips to Austin, but I disagree.

And while The Democrat is one of my go-to orders there, the pork green chili taco really has my heart.

The Standard Etiquette at Interstate

The sake piña colada at Finn’s Manor

Having a perfect summer evening with this sake piña colada at Finn's Manor, 2927 Larimer St.

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The rotisserie roasted porchetta sandwich at Brider
The late-night fare at Rhein Haus

Ashley Dean

Author: Ashley Dean

Ashley Dean covers dining and nightlife, and other odds and ends. She previously covered music and did some copy editing for the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. She's from New York, likes her bourbon straight and has strong opinions about Kanye West. She can be reached at adean@denverite.com, 303-502-2804 or @AshleyDean.