BY CHRISTINE VASQUEZ

Meet Christine Vazquez, former food writer and founding partner of Cake Agency. For those of you who don’t know, Cake is a creative and communications agency that delivers brand advocacy, media relations and stunning storytelling in a variety of mediums. She’s also a badass influencer with her wildly popular Instagram feed, @forksociallab, but only if you’re into good food, drinks and shoes. So, it’s no wonder we turn to her for her wisdom…

Here’s the thing. So many people travel to find adventure and experiences, and I believe in travel, too. But, there is so much to discover in your own city, especially when it’s one as vibrant and compelling as Denver. One of the absolute best ways to explore is through food. I moved here in 1994. Back then, it was hard to get even a great loaf of bread, where now we have an embarrassment of riches just in that category — Izzio, Denver Bread Co, Hinman’s, Raleigh Street Bakery, I could go on . . .

Restaurants and cafes and bars are the soul of a city. Imagine a city without them. It’s unthinkable. We go there to be in the mix, connect with one another, with our community at-large, to better understand what makes the culture tick. Food is a universal language. The best bridge. The greatest connector. So much of what we do at Cake Agency is build impactful brands and help them tell their stories in meaningful ways. That connect. That shape conversations. That matter. It’s a privilege and one we don’t take lightly.

Personally and professionally, I spend so much time getting a first-hand feel for the city I love through food. Some of that comes from having been a food journalist, and in that vein, needing to see and experience a food or place through my own eyes, and sensibilities, and then write from that, in my own words. I still experience things through that lens. I’m an observer by nature — most good writers are — so I’m also watching how a space takes its place within the community, its thoughtfulness and impact, how do people respond when there, are they drawn to return, and if so, why. If not, why. And I watch for the same in myself. Why do I go back to the places I do? What compels me? I have found some through-lines to this question. For me, first I have to know you care. About what you’re doing and its quality. About how it affects our community. Next, I have to feel joy when I’m there. We’re suspicious of joy so often. But, it’s the best barometer to measure where you spend your money and invest your time. Finally, the bottom line is, is it delicious? It has to be delicious.

I’ve rounded up 20 of my best recommendations for how to more joyfully experience our city. They range from Denver’s best fried chicken & Champagne and Pho on Federal to not-to-be-missed carryout marinara from a Denver OG. All of them are spaces that are interesting and caring and community-driven.

• La-Zi-Ji & smoked tea Old Fashioned at Hop Alley ( the duck roll, a close second )

• Garlic pork dip & matcha colada at Pony Up

• Bucket of fried chicken & bottle of Champagne at Low Country Kitchen

• Soft shell crab bao at There

• Scallop sushi at Bamboo Sushi

• Mushroom, goat cheese and fig jam burger at The Royal

• Anything at Morin

• Napoleon Champagne cocktail at Corridor 44

• Roasted chicken or any of the pastas at The Wayback

• Piada bread at Wolf’s Tailor ( get the tap saké too )

• Sweet biscuits at Annette

• Cognac Sazerac at Lady Jane

• Anything at Nocturne

• Diablo roll at Sushi Sasa

• Pho at Pho 95

• Lobster club with fries ( maybe the best fries in the city ) at Wash Park Grille

• The 8-glass wine flight at Blanchard Family Wines

• Lechuga’s marinara — by the pint or quart

• Chinese 5-spice Old Fashioned at Linger

• Anything at Mercantile

So there you have it, a Top 20 list that will take you out of your comfort zone and point you in the direction of finding joy in the undiscovered nooks and crannies of our city. This is not a list for those of you wanting to kickstart that diet in the New Year. To everyone else . . . Mangia! Mangia!  For more visit: www.cake-agency.com

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