Gaetano’s Italian Restaurant, 3760 Tejon St., Denver, gaetanositalian.com
Gaetano’s is the real deal, even after all these years. So is their take on the Italian-American staple, veal parmigiana. Gaetano’s pounds a veal cutlet supremely thin, coats it lightly and fries it quick for a thick, well-seasoned crust. The veal itself is remarkably tender and slightly sweet. It’s topped with a thick tomato sauce, one of those time-tested ragus that borrows flavor from simmered meats, staple veggies and understated seasoning. Atop that is fresh, milky mozzarella cheese, which is broiled on top to bring the dish to life. This, if you’re only going to have one veal parm in your life, is the one to have. Every bit of seasoning and technique has been perfected over time, and it’s something to marvel at. $20.
Duck Wonton Noodle Soup
Flower Pepper Restaurant, 2655 Broadway, Boulder, flowerpeppereats.com
What’s better on a cold day than chicken noodle soup? Duck noodle soup, that’s what. And the folks at Flower Pepper serve up a robust version of duck and noodles from their Broadway shop. It starts with rich duck broth, to which tender chunks of duck meat are added, some with the crispy skin still on. There’s a little bit of green onion in there too to focus the palate. To that, Flower Pepper adds a handful of warm, unctuous dumplings, with chewy, glassy skin and powerfully spiced duck meat on the inside. It’s all carried by a bed of thin wheat noodles and topped with lightly steamed bok choy. Still, at the end of consuming the bowl, what is striking is the remarkable duckiness of the dish — when it’s cooked incorrectly (often overdone), it loses its character, but Flower Pepper managed to retain the essence of duck despite the meat essentially getting a longer cook time in the hot broth. It’s just one of many authentic Chinese dishes at Flower Pepper, which happens to rotate their menu daily to keep things fresh. $15.50
The Spicy Buff
Moe’s Broadway Bagel, Several locations throughout Boulder County, moesbagel.com
Moe’s is on the move. They’re opening shops left and right, including one in East County, but what’s carrying the growth is the solid foundation of their traditional and consistent bagels. Their bagel sandwiches are worth diving into. The Spicy Buff, however, is the best. It’s egg, bacon, avocado and jalapeno cream cheese, but the real magic is in how Moe’s makes it. The bacon is chopped into bits, but they retain a perfect outside crispiness and inside tenderness. The cream cheese is kind of fruity, kind of spicy from the jalapeno. Actually, very spicy, which sets the appropriate table for the cool avocado. The avocado, which might seem too mushy an ingredient to add at this point, brings necessary herbaceousness and holds up surprisingly well. And the bagel, chewy on the inside and sturdy on the outside, is the perfect vessel. $7.15.
IZOTE Latin Foods, Mobile, Boulder County
Pupusas should be everywhere. They’re a perfect handheld treat that brings in a doughiness you won’t find in your average taco or burrito. The IZOTE Latin Foods food truck does the pupusa expertly. The outside shell is scorched to create primo crunch, while the inside retains a pillowy, yet substantial texture. The inside, filled with green chile, cheese and strips of carnitas, is piping hot and delicious. $5.50.