Critics’ choice: Tasty offshoots of the gastropub revolution

Bizarra Capital; Alla Spina; The Squeaky Bean

Bizarra Capital Whittier, Calif.

“It can be hard to stop ordering” at this Mexican-inspired gastropub, said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. The newest no-frills spot from Ricardo Diaz paints the names of specialties on its windows, advertising “Mole, Capirotada, Guacamole” in the same blocky letters a Parisian brasserie uses for oyster varieties. You might stop in for a couple shots of top-shelf mezcal “tempered with a taco or two” featuring cochinita pibil, a Yucatán-style slow-cooked pork. But if you’re sitting down for a full meal, be sure to try the huauzontle, a wild, broccoli-like vegetable whose preparation is best left to the professionals. Here, it comes fried until crisp, like chiles rellenos, and doused with “a vivid red stripe of chiles simmered with onions and pungent Mexican herbs.” Pair that with a pint of Victoria lager, plus a crisp quesadilla stuffed with house-made chorizo, and you’re golden. But there’s so much more. This is “grandmother cooking taken high rent.” The guacamole itself is “among the best I’ve ever had.” 12706 Philadelphia St., (562) 945-2426

Alla Spina Philadelphia

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This boisterous new Italian gastropub is one of those “‘not for everyone’ places,” said Craig LaBan in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Housed in a graffiti-sprayed former garage and run by one of Phila-delphia’s elite restaurant teams, it’s best suited to diners who instantly thrill to the thought of exotic Italian beers, mortadella hot dogs, and a $75 pig’s head for four. But Philadelphia could use some “two-fisted, whole-hog decadence,” and this spirited place is serious enough about blazing that path that it “promises to push our dining scene forward, one pig part at a time.” There are plenty of good dishes for timid diners as well. The house-made pretzel balls with spicy beer cheese are “dangerously good,” while the fried chicken—“glistening with sweet-tart maple agrodolce”—may now be the best in the city. Don’t miss the bar if you visit: The “extraordinary” drink program includes 20 taps that flow with “one of the city’s most uniquely focused and best-curated beer collections.” 1410 Mount Vernon St., (215) 600-0017

The Squeaky Bean Denver

The Squeaky Bean has done some serious growing up, said William Porter in The Denver Post. Formerly a small café that turned out craft cocktails alongside eye-opening small plates, it returned this summer in a soaring new space as one of the city’s finest restaurants—the first in seven years to win a four-star rating from the Post. “If you are serious about food, this place should be a destination.” Chef Max MacKissock’s passion “shows on every plate,” but no dish is overworked. His bone marrow and octopus plate is “a novel nod to surf-and-turf”: “The cleaved bone arrived as a small canoe, with the buttery marrow topped with chopped, charred tentacles laced with a tomato vinaigrette.” MacKissock serves pork loin with a burnt onion jus and both stewed and raw peaches—a gesture that “asks you to think about what you’re eating, though not in a way that feels like algebra homework.” His food is “masterful but not show-offy,” and his new locale has “raised the bar on Mile High dining.” 1500 Wynkoop St., (303) 623-2665

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