When Denver Westword critic Jason Sheehan visited Cracovia Restaurant and Bar, his summation of the meal ended up sounding less like a restaurant review and more like an Alice in Wonderland–style memoir dripping with passion and faux nostalgia. At one point, he recalled a desire to tackle a waiter who had walked by with a plate of cabbage rolls, so that he could "grab the golabki with [his] teeth and drink the tomato-mushroom gravy straight from the tureen." Later in the meal, he and his wife felt so connected to the food, they almost felt Polish themselves: "If our mothers had been Polish … this would've been what we ate growing up, " Jason said, "This tastes like home cooking in the best possible way, tastes of time and care and experience and love."
Love is probably the key word here: it's not surprising that Jason and his wife were so enamored with their meal, considering Cracovia is a labor of love for husband-wife team Lester and Marie Rodzen. They named the restaurant after a Krakow hotel where they honeymooned more than a quarter-century ago, and they pour this affection for their home country into each of the from-scratch Polish dishes they create. The aforementioned golabki—cabbage rolls stuffed with pork and rice—is one of the Rodzens' signature dishes, as are the homemade kielbasa and pierogi stuffed with meat, cabbage, cheese, or blueberries, all purchased at local farmers markets. In the spirit of its romantic inspiration, Cracovia is a perfect date-night restaurant—every Friday and Saturday night, live singers croon as couples make their way to the dining room's dance floor or three-legged racing area.
The year was 1967, and Stella Cordova was working in a restaurant called Chubby's Burger Drive In. One day, the owner made approached her with a curious offer—would she like to buy the place? Stella said yes, and today she keeps locals well-fed by managing the eatery she once worked in. Since then, The Original Chubby's has changed locations, altered its name, and sprouted a second spot in the arts district—now in the hands of Stella's grandson Julian. This time, though, the menu's fare features a Mexican twist. Stella's own favorite is the green chile-topped Mexican burger served with a side of cheese fries, but dozens of burgers, tacos, and burritos fly across the counter at Chubby's until midnight.
A four-tiered stone fountain welcomes visitors to Papa J’s, a 35-year-old restaurant whose food, decor, and family friendliness conjure a classic Italian ambience. Their chefs use recipes passed down to Ray Anthony, grandson of “Mama J,” aka Antoinette Giraldi, who inherited them from prior generations of her Italian family. The team reads these culinary blueprints to cook calzones and hot sandwiches with fillings of meatballs and cheese or bake pizzas with mainstay toppings such as mushrooms and pepperoni. The kitchen team can even stuff their pies with ricotta—the safest place to store cheese apart from a Roth IRA. Beyond Italian staples, Papa J's Italian Restaurant presents an array of seafood including shrimp and salmon.
At Japon—in business for more than 18 years—chefs slice the freshest cuts of fish and assemble platters of traditional sushi. Tender toro and barbecue eel drape over little mounds of sticky sushi rice, arriving at tables alongside creative rolls drizzled with housemade sauces and lined with bright avocado. Adventurous eaters can opt for a colorful sashimi plate, packed with cuts of octopus, white tuna, and seaweed treasure maps.
A lengthy lineup of traditional game-day fare and a sports atmosphere captivate fans at Fox and Hound - Bailey's, where the kitchen remains open as late as its neighboring fully stocked bar. Chefs cook until the wee hours of the morning and always until the bar closes, baking Bavarian pretzel starters, crafting towers of onion rings, and preparing hand-battered chicken tenders that are cooked until they are golden brown. They blend their own seasonings to sprinkle over grilled-to-order burgers, and draw from a diverse roster of cheeses and toppings to crown their wood-oven-inspired flatbreads.
While manning the bars, bartenders tap into a stash of libations, such as UV Whipped vodka and Patron Silver tequila, to mix their specialty cocktails. To further foster a sporting ambiance, high-definition TVs glow with sports games and custom music-video playlists, and guests partake in pastimes of ump bashing, billiards, or competitive people watching.
Rosati’s Pizza's history dates back to the early 1900s, when a recent Italian immigrant named Ferdinand Rosati moved from New York to Chicago with the dream of opening a restaurant. His first attempt was modest—with Ferdinand simultaneously fulfilling the duties of chef, server, dishwasher, and host—but quickly gained popularity for its crispy-thin-crust pizzas, originally served as complimentary appetizers. Encouraged by the public's response to the pies, Ferdinand and his son, Sam, decided to focus their efforts on opening a true pizzeria.
Today, at Rosati's Pizza locations across the country, plumes of heat swirl above piping-hot pies concocted from handmade sauce and dough. A smattering of toppings cling to five crust options—crispy thin, double dough, Chicago-style, pan, and superstuffed—as well as hide from their hungry predators inside hand-rolled calzones. Homemade lasagna and fettuccine alfredo battle for the top pasta spot, and fried chicken, baby back ribs, and fried-shrimp dinners work together to distract diners from hard-to-resist buffalo wings.