Originally published on Monday, January 09, 2017

The moment you’ve been waiting for is here: the everything-food-and-drink list to end all lists. We’re undertaking a rather ambitious project—a year-long endeavor that lays out our flat-out best picks of the most exceptional culinary experiences in Denver and Boulder.

We’ll cover the usual suspects: tacos and ramen, for example. Pizza and burgers, too. But think of this as the Herculean version of Denver and Boulder’s gastronomic universe. We’ll give you the lowdown on the flat-out best neighborhood restaurants, bottle shops and butchers, food festivals, pop-up dinners, industry nights, cooking classes and kitchen stores, chef counters, spice shops and cake shops, Cuban sandwiches, Chinese hotpots, and even the best food from truck stops. Who knows? We might be compelled to feature a fantasy-filled list of strip club grub that goes beyond thighs and breasts.

Speaking of fantasies, the Denver Central Market {2669 Larimer Street}, a 12,000-square-foot culinary emporium from developer Ken Wolf, unites all of your food fantasies under one roof. Here, among the 10 vendors satiating the overflowing crowds with everything from ceviche to squid ink spaghetti, and a rollicking bar pouring wine, beer, and cocktails, there’s a bite and a sip for every persuasion. But with so much to bait your belly, it can be difficult to navigate your way through the snare of seductions, so we’ve narrowed down the choices to these 11 dishes and drinks that showcase what the market does best.

1. Italian Sandwich from Culture Meat & Cheese {303.292.2222}

If there’s anyone in Denver who knows his way around a sandwich, especially one torpedoed with house-cured meats, it’s Justin Brunson, chef-owner of Masterpiece Kitchen, a duo of Masterpiece Delis, Old Major, and the Royal Rooster, a chicken concept that rules the roost during Old Major’s lunch hour. Here, at Culture Meat & Cheese, the crew pimps a slew of breakfast, lunch, and dinner sandwiches, including the Italian, which is on the petite side but every bit as delicious as you’d hope: sheets of soppressata and finocchiona, slices of Pecorino Toscano, some oil-and-vinegar-slicked greens, and pickled red peppers sinking into the pores of a crusty French baguette baked at Marczyk Fine Foods.

2. East Coast Porchetta Sandwich from SK Provisions

Porchetta is the siren song of SK Provisions, a rotisserie dispensary from Sean Kelly, executive chef and owner of Desmond Bar and Grill. His terrific porchetta is sold by the pound and platter—and it’s the starring role in three different sandwiches, the best of which is the East Coast number layered with insanely fragrant, crisp-edged fragments of roasted pork belly, dabs of ricotta, slightly charred broccoli rabe, and cherry peppers. It’s a hefty two-fister that doesn’t require a sidekick, but no one will fault you if you order a side of the tawny French fries, their internal creaminess and crunchy exteriors the prototype of potato rapture.

3. Salmon Coconut Ceviche from Silva’s Fish Market

A joint venture between Jeff Osaka (Osaka Ramen and 12@Madison) and Jesus Silva, who spent eight years slicing and dicing fish at Sushi Sasa, this full-fledged butchery, complete with a retail market, shuck shop and counter restaurant, ballyhoos a spare menu that channels the marvels of the deep blue sea. The first taste of the salmon ceviche, spiked with acid and bobbing with ribbons of red onion and fresh herbs in a creamy coconut milk broth stained yellow with ají amarillo paste, lets you know that you’ve ordered wisely. The tuna poke splashed with soy sauce and flecked with green onions, fennel, and a handful of seaweed, is excellent, too.

4. Spaghetti Neri from Vero

Most people order a pizza from Vero, the stall owned by Andrea Frizza (Il Posto), whose wood-burning oven, a show-stopping mosaic of ceramic tiles, dispenses bubbling spheres of char-etched crusts topped with primo ingredients. But while the pizzas are worth their weight in dough, I’m drawn to the the handmade pastas, most notably the spaghetti neri, twirls of squid ink spaghetti tussling with shrimp, garlic, capers, basil leaves and roasted tomatoes that explode with sweet juice. It’s deeply flavored and as memorable as any pasta I’ve had in recent months.

5. Truffles from Temper Chocolates and Confections

Chocolate eye candy. Everywhere. For that, you can thank Jon Robbins, chef-owner of Bistro Barbes, whose follow-up to his Park Hill restaurant is a shrine of handcrafted truffles displayed in a come-hither glass case offset by shelves propped with high-quality chocolate confections from around the globe. If you’re born of discipline and have the superpower to limit your yearning to just one truffle, make it the Strawberry Fields filled with both basil and strawberry ganache. If, however, you lack willpower — like the majority of us — splurge on a box of six, find a secluded corner, and exercise your right to moan out loud.

6. Pudding Croissant from Izzio Artisan Bakery

Jason LeBeau is the chief pastry chef of the dynasty that’s the U Baron Group, while Maurizio Negrini, for whom the bakery is named, is head of the bread. At this offshoot alter to baguettes, buns, muffins, scones and pastries, there’s a dizzying parade of temptations, including the bewitching butterscotch pudding croissant, a glorious creation that involves a drift of creamy butterscotch filling plunged into a flaky pastry that fills the air with flutters of snowflakes if you so much blow a kiss in its direction. It justifiably sells out before the clock strikes noon.

7. Italian Beef Sandwich from The Local Butcher

When you meander past The Local Butcher, you’ll probably stop to pause. That’s because it’s more likely than not that the butcher block squatting behind the display case showcasing dry-aged cuts of beef, housemade sausage links, whole chickens, pork chops, and slabs of bacon will be surrounded by butchers breaking down the carcass of a Colorado-raised animal. For a voyeuristic view, plop down on a stool overlooking the meaty peep show and order an Italian beef sandwich that’s heaped with ropes of meat pulled from a slow-cooked chuck roast and weaved with Chicago-style giardiniera.

8. Paper Plane Cocktail from Curio

At the epicenter of the Denver Central Market is Curio, a bar with plenty of buzz—even more so when the wall-spanning TV broadcasts sporting events. A robust wine-by-the-glass-and-bottle list, supplemented by a handful of craft beers (there’s also a Genesee cream ale on the cheap), is fortified by a formidable cocktail syllabus of classics and contemporary conceptions. The cocktail that you shouldn’t miss? A potent potable called the Paper Plane (named, incidentally, after the song by British rapper M.I.A.), and its assets involve bourbon, Aperol, Amaro, and lemon juice. It’s absent from the cocktail roster, but if you ask for it, the bartenders will know exactly what to do.

9. Five-Scoop Flight from High Point Creamery

What’s a food hall without ice cream? Rain, snow, sleet or sun-smooched skies, there’s always a line for the small-batch ice cream at this satellite location of High Point Creamery, which brightens the bleakest of days with traditional Brooklyn egg creams, shakes and floats, old-fashioned sodas sweetened with custom syrups, ice cream sandwiches, and the pièce de résistance, a five-scoop ice cream flight, served in bowls on a wooden board, that’s made all the more decadent with a bowl of housemade chocolate sauce.

10. Miso Hungry Salad from Green Seed

Green Seed bills itself as a “vegetable-forward” food emporium, an apt description for this one-stop produce shop, juice bar, and salad stall that features a half-dozen custom creations that zigzag from the Kale Yeah frolicking with shaved Brussels sprouts, apples, almonds, raisins and Gorgonzola to the miso hungry, which is currently my favorite salad. A forest of mixed greens tossed with curried broccoli cauliflower florets, carrot curls, and shaved onions, it’s dressed with a miso-ginger vinaigrette and substantial enough to make a meal.

11. Cappuccino from Crema Bodega

From the owners of Crema Coffee House comes this stylish coffee kiosk and bona fide bodega that sells bags of small-batch java jeans, plus eggs butter, yogurt and, of course, cups of caffeine-jolted fuel pulled by super-friendly baristas who make one the best cappuccinos in the city. And after a romp through the hall and a swollen belly that begs for a nap, a heavy-duty cappuccino is exactly what you’ll need to need to preserve any vigor you’ve got left.