Ask the Critic: Forget Anthony Bourdain, these restaurants stand on their own

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We have been shamelessly shilling for Anthony Bourdain for the past few days, talking about his upcoming trip to Denver, giving away tickets to his lecture and Q&A on November 18, throwing up pictures of him whenever we can.

Shameless? Absolutely. Not for nothing, the man is very popular -- and every time we use Bourdain's name, people seem to find their way to our little corner of the digital world and stay a while to have their say. Love the guy or hate him, he's good at what he does. And what he does is eat, drink, write, travel and photograph well. And get paid for it by the bucket.

But one very handy thing came out of our relentless pimping: the comments following our original "Win a Dream Date with Tony" contest (whereby we asked the good citizens of Denver to come up with three appropriate restaurants for Bourdain to eat at while he was in town). These responses actually serve as a very handy reference guide to some of the best eating in the city, assembled by people who actually care enough to have favorites that don't rhyme with Schmolive Garden.

These are the restaurants that Denver's gastronaut community like to hold up as proof that Bourdain was not just wrong, but terminally deluded (and probably drunk) when he swore he would never come back to the 303; the restaurants we are most proud of, that most define the character of our fair city and make us all not quite so jealous of our friends and family living and eating in Manhattan, Chicago or the Bay Area -- or Hong Kong, Saigon and gay Par-ee. They are our shield against the Midwestern doldrums, the Flyover Blues; our hard-and-fast proof that if you build a big chrome cart full of reindeer sausage and sriracha, they will come.

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Pretty much everyone who commented and wasn't dim, deluded or totally out to lunch chose Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs as a place that would suit Mr. Bourdain to a T. More to the point, Biker Jim's is a place that suits Denver -- a city tragically short on street food, which seems to be building a cart-culture from the top-down rather than the bottom-up. Outside of certain neighborhoods and certain hours of the day, it's very tough for me to find a decent dirty-water dog in this town. But with Biker Jim, I always know where to go for a jalapeno, cheese and elk brat with spicy mustard. Not only that, but I also know where to go for the best pad Thai in town and the most glamorous street tacos ever.

Fruition got a big boost from the locals, and deservedly so. It is one of the most consistently excellent restaurants in town and runs with a menu that's like a master class on what New American cuisine should be, but very rarely is. Personally? I would've gone around the corner to Table 6. It's not that I don't love Fruition. I do. Often in a completely dreamy, twelve-year-old girl kind of way. But Table 6 is my grown-up love--the one that has never let me down and never failed to surprise me. For the confit bacon and plates of sweetbreads with honeycrisp apple and apple gastrique alone, I would say that Table 6 is my favorite restaurant in the city. And those are just two of the apps...

Other repeat restaurants on the hit list? Domo (because it's awesome, freaky, weird, beautiful and, occasionally, brilliant); Z Cuisine (because chef Patrick Dupays makes a cassoulet better than anyone else in the entire city, and possibly the entire country); El Taco de Mexico, simply because El Taco does the simple stuff (tacos and enchiladas and more tacos) and the peasant stuff (brains and tails and tripe and other unlovely bits) just as good as they're done in the places where these simple, peasant dishes come from. Oh, and also? Its menudo broth can magically cure any hangover. No lie.

Pho 95 made an appearance on many lists, and with good reason. At the moment, it is probably the best pho restaurant in town. And if repeated watchings of Bourdain's No Reservations have taught us anything, it's that Bourdain's heart, soul and nethers can be bought and sold for a good bowl of pho. That's one of the reasons I like the guy so much. He knows what's important.

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Tony should go to Bud's, Tony should go to My Brother's Bar (for both the history and the cheeseburgers), Tony should go to Osteria Marco (because Bourdain loves him some hog--but then, who among us doesn't)? And Super Star Asian, Star Kitchen, Parallel 17, Steuben's, Lao Wang, Duo, Il Posto, Squeaky Bean, Bones and Deluxe. Tony should go here, there and everywhere that our readers mentioned. Except maybe Snarf's.

And anyone who said Buckhorn Exchange is just wrong. The man has put enough balls in his mouth; leave him be.

Otherwise, the suggestions make up a very useful catalog of all that's good or weird or unique about Denver -- everything from the borscht at Cracovia to bread from Trompeau and whiskey from Stranahan's. Seeing all of them made me proud of this city and our readers. Who could hate a town that has both Bones and Oshima Ramen? Both La Loma and La Fiesta? Both Ba Le and Beatrice & Woodsley?

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As a matter of fact, screw Tony Bourdain and screw everyone else who finds it easier to overlook what we've got going here in the Rocky Mountain West. If they don't have time for Denver, that's just fine by me. That just means more pork, more noodles, more pancakes and sweetbreads and tacos for the rest of us. Reading all these suggestions has made me nothing but hungry, and I think it's time to go and find something to eat.

Who's with me?


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