Stella's Coffee Haus

The eclectic array of rooms that make up Stella's Coffeehaus reflect the evolution of this spot since it first opened on South Pearl in the early 1990s, and every nook and cranny has its own rich personality that changes with the crowd. During the day, Stella's is ideal for work and study, when a pensive silence hangs over each table, most shared by strangers. At night, live music, board games and conversation dominate, as people catch up over a snack or stretch the night with one last, non-alcoholic drink. The sprawling porch in front is so lovely that the space is always packed in the summer and almost as frequently full in the winter, when heaters make it bearable to sit outside. For its always-warm ambience, Stella's is just our cup of tea.

 
Photo by Johnny Molfetta
 

Aviano is the only Colorado cafe to source beans from Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based roaster with a cultish following that has just six shops in the country — three in the Windy City and now three in L.A. The beans alone get Aviano a lot of the way to a great cup of coffee, but owner Doug Naiman also trained with the obsessive staff of Intelligentsia, who will throw out any latte or cappuccino that doesn't have art. Because art, it turns out, is a reflection of how well the foam is made. At his own coffee shop, which moved to Cherry Creek last year, Naiman's obsession is manifested in his brew-to-order pourover bar, his refusal to make blended drinks and his insistence that all shots of espresso be enjoyed immediately...and in porcelain. He's a stickler for the rules, but they result in a perfect cup of coffee, every time.

Common Grounds

A regular gathering spot in a busy stretch of Highland, home to some of the town's most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, Common Grounds is teeming with people from all over the neighborhood at just about every time of day. Young singletons walk their dogs over for a cappuccino, students and solitary workers hack away on laptops in the corners, and groups of friends gather over weekend pastries. And because socializing is so easy in this crowded shop, first conversations are often struck up when two strangers are forced to share a table and romantic excursions sometimes planned at the cream and sugar station. Get ready to spoon.

Lola has always embraced the power of the ocean, turning out coastal Mexican food in a city — as people will annoyingly remind you — framed by waves of mountains. But co-owner/executive chef Jamey Fader knows his way around a fish, and he's cast his net far and wide to hook seaworthy creatures that are the prize of his new cold bar, a few yards of counter space tucked into a tight corner on the edge of the dining room overlooking the patio. The four stools facing the cold bar could be the hottest seats in town, the perfect spot to order a flight of ceviches, tart with citrus; beautifully fresh ahi tuna carpaccio; briny oysters on the half-shell or snowy white ono festooned with pineapple kimchi, avocado and microgreens.

Firenze a Tavola

In the jovial, cafe-style dining room of Parisi, the tables are littered with irresistible airy pizzas and housemade pastas, frilly salads and hearty sandwiches. But downstairs, in the rustic, subterranean hearth that's Firenze a Tavola, the mood is flavored with the camaraderie of community. Every month, on sporadic Wednesday nights, owner and chef Simone Parisi turns this chamber into a full-blown family affair, handing out huge, shared platters of Italian-inspired dishes, usually paired with an abbondanza of wines. By the end of the night, the space has turned into a boisterous party of fat, full and deliriously giddy diners and drinkers already marking their calendars for the next go-around.

Green Russell
Joni Schrantz

Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno's subterranean speakeasy in Larimer Square is a show-stopper. "Fronted" by a diminutive pie shop that gives no indication of what exists beyond the swinging doors, the low-ceilinged, moodily lit space reeks of sensuality, romance and swank elegance, and the clever, highbrow liquid assets, all masterfully concocted by some of the city's most renowned bartenders, who don't miss a drink, complement the polished crowds that sip the night away. Yes, there are rules — no cell phones, no rowdiness, no standing, and a plea for conversation that doesn't inflate the decibel level — but the thrilling cocktails more than compensate for them.

Syrup
Mark Manger

Syrup's got plenty of sweet offerings on the menu, but the star of the list is savory: Chef Tom Willis makes his own corned beef hash, mixing succulent chunks of salty meat with sweet onions, cooked until soft and translucent, and crispy bits of golden-brown potato. The hearty blend is satisfying on its own, served with crisped hash browns and a side of toast. But it's even better as the base of the Cherry Creeker, a variation on eggs Benedict. Two toasted halves of an English muffin are heaped with piles of the meat and potatoes, then topped with two poached eggs and smothered with creamy, tart hollandaise. It's quite the way to start your day.

The Kitchen
Courtesy the Kitchen

No other kitchen in the area makes makes croissants like those at the Kitchen, which has perfected the luxurious treats that pair so well with strong black coffee. Rich but feather-light, and so flaky that crumbs blow across the table at the lightest touch, these croissants are especially spectacular because they're buttery, not butter-flavored. And while the plain croissants are stunning on their own, the version stuffed with a thick layer of dark chocolate is basically happiness incarnate. The only problem? The Kitchen only bakes croissants for weekend brunch. Which, of course, is why the restaurant almost always sells out of the pastries long before it stops serving that lazy, mid-morning meal.

Buenos Aires Pizzeria

While Buenos Aires Pizzeria is an Argentine restaurant, members of the family that owns it are from Cuba, and they recognize that the key to a really good Cuban sandwich is the bread. Cuban bread: a long baguette of white bread that's similar to French bread, but richer, denser and chewier, thanks to the lard that goes into the dough. For its Cuban sandwich, Buenos Aires Pizzeria slices real Cuban bread, then stacks it with ham, fat-laced roasted pork and Swiss cheese, and presses it flat to the griddle. Once the cheese is melted, tangy flat slices of pickle and plenty of mustard provide the finishing touches.

Kim and Jake's Cakes
Samantha Baker

Jake Rosenbarger has been meditating on cake since he was a kid, baking the stuff in secret in a health-conscious household and stashing it in his room. As a result, he formed a philosophy that cake should be more than a hunk of sugary substance that ends the meal — rather, the pastry should be a balance of unique flavors, just like any savory course. That's the theory that he and his wife, Kim, apply to every cupcake they come up with in their Boulder shop, Kim & Jake's Cakes. The Rosenbargers have dreamt up some interesting ones, too, combining cilantro and lime and topping it with an avocado frosting, or pouring red wine into the batter and then icing the cake with ubriaco del piave cheese. In fact, a hefty portion of their list is inspired by alcohol: stout cupcakes made with local brews, a full line of cocktail-copying treats. But even the classics, such as vanilla and red velvet, are made with a rare eye for balance, and they're fluffy and light enough that you could eat one — or more — every single day.

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