Last fall, Boulder City Council approved the Boulder ChopHouse's valet service on one condition: The restaurant had to supply free valet parking for anyone who wanted to use the service, whether or not they were planning to eat at the restaurant. For reasons unknown, the ChopHouse agreed. As a result, folks hungry for a parking place in this congested part of town between Wednesday and Saturday nights (when the service is offered) now consider the ChopHouse a must-stop.


No, you can't bring Bear or Baldo inside; that wouldn't be sanitary. But Poggio's, a fresh-faced addition to the eateries of Highlands Square, provides a water dispenser for thirsty mutts outside; posts photos of pet-owning customers inside; and serves free doggie treats for canines who wait while their handlers pick up breakfast bagels stuffed with eggs and roasted peppers, panini or some of the best gelato in town. Woof!


A great family restaurant begins with a great family, and you won't find a better one than the family behind Rosa Linda Mexican Cafe. As their northwest Denver eatery grew -- from a little walk-up burrito window to a series of colorful storefronts -- the children of Virgil and Rosa Linda Aguirre grew, too, from polite kids who used to hang out after grade school to chefs in their own right. But you'll still find the entire crew here, hanging out with Destiny, the first grandchild (her baby paraphernalia overflows from a front booth), pitching in wherever they're needed. And when Virgil and Rosa Linda aren't in the kitchen, mixing up that fiery green chile that goes so well over a shredded-beef burrito, they're keeping things cooking in the community, offering free feeds on holidays for the homeless and pushing for greater parental participation in the schools.


As Pesce Fresco's name implies, the specialty at this stylish restaurant is fresh fish; the seafood dishes, particularly any involving pasta, are superb. (So is the Gorgonzola cheesecake appetizer.) But don't sell dessert short. Owners Joel and Merrilee Diner have trained their staff to always go the extra mile, and they model that behavior by making their own gelato-style ice creams -- rich, creamy stuff that they whip up in a small-batch ice-cream maker. Pesce Fresco always has two sorbets on hand, along with a vanilla and some form of chocolate ice cream; more creative flavor mixes range from white chocolate pistachio to raspberry daiquiri sorbet. Cool.


If the movie Chocolat had been about pastries instead of chocolate, the Cream Puffery could have played the part of the sensuous shop. Partners Amy DeWitt, a pastry chef and cake designer, and Cuban-born Lourdes Sanchez have created a dessert-lover's paradise. Although the Puffery also serves commendable authentic Cuban sandwiches and espresso, the cream of the crop are the cakes and tortes: luxurious concoctions made from European chocolate, marzipan, buttercream, ganache, mangos and passion fruit, as well as liqueurs and japonaise (almond meringue). The wedding cakes are unique and gorgeous, and the cuatro leches cake milks vanilla, caramel, chantilly and heavy creams for all they're worth. Meanwhile, women on the verge of something, anything, should check out the PMS torte, a soothing mixture of frangipane (almond pound cake, the richest, moistest version imaginable) layered with chocolate chiffon cake, soaked with a brandy-spiked simple syrup and coated in ganache.


There are indeed two boys who run the 2 Boys Baking Company, but they're shy. Instead of tooting their own horns, they insist that their baked goods speak for themselves -- and they're right. Still, it's hard to believe that just two people can produce all the wonderful items that fill this tiny spot to overflowing. Everything is made from scratch -- 2 Boys doesn't believe in preservatives or stabilizers and features natural ingredients and organic whenever possible -- and the busy bakery will even take special orders. But you can't go wrong with any of the regular offerings: six-layer chocolate-mousse cake; Italian cherry-ricotta deep-dish pie; Portuguese sweet bran bread with currant and walnuts; pretzels made from pastry dough and coated with chocolate or almonds; three-seed loaf made from cottonseed, linseed and flax; Cajun quiches; oversized peanut butter cookies; and soups and sandwiches. Obviously, 2 Boys is better than none.


A real baguette is a work of art. While many bakeries attempt to create the elongated, cylindrical French bread, few are able to master its crisp, brown crust and airy, chewy center. But Breadworks succeeds were so many others fail. Here the baker rolls the dough tight so it rises just right, then leaves it in an enormous brick-and-tile oven until the crust has formed a crunchy, rustic-style shell that will tear into craggy, soft-centered pieces while still holding up for crostini slices. You can now enjoy the finished product at Breadworks -- the store was recently remodeled to include a cafe, where its breads are shown off in sandwiches -- and still buy baguettes to take home. Bag any imposters: We give our dough to Breadworks.


Nestled in the middle of a nondescript strip mall, Daniel's of Paris is a cheery little bakery that makes gorgeous cakes, tarts, cookies and the town's best cinnamon rolls. These soft, doughy bundles of goodness are flecked with plenty of cinnamony sugar and topped with a thick slick of fondant, an icing made from sugar, water and cream of tartar that's been cooked until it sticks up in cresty waves. But what makes these rolls really rock is the thin shmear of baked almond cream in the center. C'est magnifique!


Done right, this yeast-pumped egg bread, traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays, is something worth craving any day. Every Friday, Breadsmith has perfect challah ready to go: sweet, spongy-soft, braided loaves that sport even, smooth crusts with a thin, egg-yolk sheen. Eat it right away for the most velvety of fresh-bread textures -- oy! -- or let it sit out for a few days and then make the best French toast ever. Looking for something else to fill your bread basket? Breadsmith offers a dozen other fresh-baked loaves each day, including their toothsome honey-sweetened multigrain.
Get to D'Eggos early if you crave the best biscuits in town. They come out of the oven piping hot at the crack of dawn, whisked to your table by the efficient and personable Rose. Chewy and immense, they're good as the centerpiece of a hearty biscuits-and-gravy dish or on the side, slathered in honey and butter, accompanying one of this cozy cafe's other eye-opening breakfast dishes.


Best Of Denver®

Best Of