We stayed downtown at the Hotel Monaco, where we took advantage of free wine, free cocoa, a free suite upgrade and comfy beds. The best part of the hotel, however, was the restaurant located within it, Panzano. Panzano had the best happy hour deals that I've ever seen, and unlike some happy hours, you actually would order these items even if they weren't discounted. Take, for example, the deep fried brussels sprouts with pistachios and green apple matchsticks (a revelation!) that cost only $3, or a truffle oil and mushroom pizza for $4. Since drinks in the lobby were free, I don't think I've ever spent so little on such a great culinary experience.
We also dined at Panzano for a less frugal breakfast meal, where I had a bottomless bellini and Eggs Benedict with pesto and prosciutto. It was interestingly served over sun-dried tomato polenta (another revelation). Though this was pricier than happy hour, it was still worth every penny.
Another favorite dish was at Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant that makes their own cheese. One such cheese was an uber silky capra ricotta, or goats milk ricotta, that we spread on crusty grilled Italian bread. So simple yet so divine!
I try to avoid thinking about how much we overpay for exceptional food in Vegas, but I'm always reminded when traveling that noteworthy food doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive. I almost look forward to getting the bill after a meal in other cities. Such was the case at Rioja, where we had a six course tasting menu and four drinks for just $100. The grilled black truffle gnocchi with wild mushrooms and arugula was the highlight here.
If you get to Denver, don't miss the following:
909 17th Street
Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dog Stand
16th Street and Arapahoe
(unfortunately we didn't get to eat here since Biker Jim is closed on weekends, but the reviews are phenomenal)