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.
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.
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.
Verdant flora ensconces Wishbone’s expansive brick-walled eatery, where up to 300 diners can indulge in a menu of home-cooked fare that’s been delighting diners for nearly half a century. Bursting with cream cheese, jalapeño poppers ($6.95) prime taste buds for gravy-smothered cuts of chicken-fried chicken ($9.50) that, like Boutros Boutros-Ghali, allows the redundancy of its name to speak for the integrity of its character. Diners can cycle through 11 different chicken dinners laden with drumsticks, thighs, or chicken gizzards ($7.50+) or plunge golden morsels of fried shrimp into waiting pots of cocktail sauce ($9.25+). Mini bowls of mac ‘n’ cheese ($4.50) tag-team pint-size tongues with chicken nuggets ($5.50), both located on Wishbone’s children’s menu. Slices of oven-fresh pumpkin pie ($3.05) and oreo mousse cake ($3.95) work to conclude nosh fests with more American swagger than Lyndon B. Johnson at a cowboy-hat convention.
Kabob Station’s owner, Ronda Saleh, crafts succulent Syrian and Middle Eastern cuisine with imported spices and exclusively homemade ingredients. With a single amour or an assembly of ravenous stuffed animals, diners can communally dive into one of the menu’s starter plates for two or four. An appetizer sampler collects hummus, falafel, tabbouleh and other enticing starters onto one plate for mix-and-match appetite whetting or multimedia food fights. Entrees, each served with a medley of rice, a house salad, hummus, and Kabob Station's daily baked pita bread, pique gustatory interest with kebab, shawarma, and vegetarian selections. Tear into a spiced lamb shank, baked and served with fresh veggies, or celebrate the many facets of meaty eats with a Kabob Station combination, which assembles three styles of kebab and three styles of shawarma into a rainbow of protein-packed sustenance.
Rumbi Island's menu swiftly serves tropics-inspired fare stocked with flavors that run the gamut of Pacific to Caribbean culinary traditions, artfully sidestepping the haughty Atlantic. Customizable rice bowls (half sizes starting at $6.99, full sizes starting at $7.99) fill grumbling stomachs with their choice of protein (chicken, Luau pork, organic tofu, and more) and handcrafted sauce, like the soylicious Hawaiian teriyaki or the sweet, spicy Jamaican jerk. Take a monster bite into the Kahuna burger ($6.99), with two ground-beef patties marinated in teriyaki sauce and crowned with grilled pineapple. All sandwiches come potently paired with your preference of Rumbi fries (mix of sweet potato and regular fries) or chips and tropical salsa. Herbivores can don lettuce-strung leis with the Aloha chicken salad ($7.99), featuring a robust blend of diced mango, gorgonzola, and creamy mango-passion vinaigrette.